A positive deviant is a person who constantly breaks the mold. It is someone who moves away from the norm, challenging themselves and others to see the world differently. They are highly passionate people with a high regard for moral and social purpose. They know there is more than one right answer. In fact, they know there are multiple answers. However, positive deviants move toward what they want, not away from what they don’t want. They see “failure” as a step closer to their goals rather than a cause for depression because they didn’t win the first time out.
Attorney, real-estate developer, businessman, and author Marshall Thurber coined the phrase Positive Deviant, as he considered himself to be one and encouraged his workshop participants to carry the torch. He helped us understand that rapid cognition provides positive deviants with the ability to move from micro to macro as they focus on the bigger picture rather than on the immediate obstacle. “They “perturb” the system” he said, knowing that this will increase the likelihood of breakthrough, as they constantly refine their techniques by exploring what is happening on the cutting edge. Positive deviants follow their internal compass, dance to the beat of their own drum, and are not swayed by traditional convention.
In fact, their motto is: All the dogs barking up the wrong tree doesn’t make it the right tree.
When we see leaders who have led with social and moral justice — the businesses they’ve created, the artists they have become — perhaps it’s time we adopt some of the positive deviant qualities they’ve imbibed.
Jane Fonda is still speaking out and using her celebrity; currently to bring attention to the battle of the North Dakota Oil Pipeline.
Rosa Parks, a black seamstress who refused to relinquish her seat to a white man on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, sparked sit-down strikes for equal rights for African Americans throughout the South and across the nation.
Martin Luther King received the Nobel Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his unwavering determination to promote nonviolence.
Frida Kahlo never held back. She went on painting, even holding the paintbrush in her teeth as she lay in a body cast after a streetcar accident that left her permanently disabled.
And then there are the irrefutable icons of our day: Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Harvey Milk, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Lady Gaga, Arianna Huffington, Jacque Coustau, Gloria Steinem and Oprah (to name a few) who changed the way we looked at the world and ourselves.
In some fashion, the individuals we admire all had to move out of their comfort zones in order to create something beneficial and lasting. In so doing, they perturbed the system. They became “perturbators.” Sounds a bit naughty, right? Perturbation, the dictionary tells us, means the disturbance of a course; the elliptical course of motion of a celestial body produced by some force additional to that which causes its regular motion. In his or her own way, each of these individuals has disbanded the structure, changed the form, and created a new course.
At some point in our lives, we will be faced with having to conjure the courage to become perturbators. What else is life about, anyway? Think about it. Is it really exhilarating to be on the same course day after day after day? Is it enough to wake up, go to work, earn a paycheck, eat, and go to bed every night? Maybe, for some! But is that kind of life enough for you? Wouldn’t you say it’s high time to step out, reach out, leave your comfortable grooves — no matter what your profession. Challenge yourself to do what you love, to make a difference, and help make this planet a little better than when you entered it.
Just a thought …