Thirteenth century mystic, Nasrudin, is a fixture of Middle Eastern folklore. His parables combine irony with wisdom, superficial with the profound. In one, he is a notorious smuggler, routinely crossing the frontier between Saudi Arabia (where he was a resident) and underdeveloped Yemen. Ostensibly, he was a simple vendor of fresh food products, carrying fruits and vegetables in his camel caravans from Saudi Arabia’s sophisticated farms to arid Yemen. Over the years, he grew richer and richer. Government tax authorities and Custom officials were certain he could not account for his growing as a simple fresh food transporter. So, they searched his person and the camel’s saddlebags and hoofs for drugs, alcohol, and other forms of contrabands. (And found nothing!)Years go by. Nasrudin retires. One day, he encounters the former Head of Customs in the tea house. The retired official broaches the long suppressed question: “Nasrudin, we are now old men and retired. We pose no threat to each other. Tell me, during all those years, what were you smuggling?”Nasrudin answers: “Camels.”
Assigned three particularly poor pilot villages in Thanh Hoa Province, a tortuous four-hour drive from Hanoi. The invitation to mothers: “Would you like to know if your child is normal for its age and sex?” Almost all said, “Yes!” Created a village health committee of volunteers who began weighing all children under four with a handheld fulcrum used for weighing rice (the first universal census in that village). 64% suffered from malnutrition.Then, they asked the volunteers to rate their socioeconomic status. They came up with three categories: poor, very poor, and very very poor.Place each child’s name, age, sex, and weight on a crude black painted panel of plywood with the data inscribed with a soft chalk-like rock.Time for the somersault question: “Do any of the well-nourished children come from very, very poor families?” (“Co, co!”—”Yes, yes!” came the replies.)
The Situation:While 86% of children in Argentina completed their elementary education, only 56% of children in the rural province of Misiones did.Hostile (unpaid) teachers; indifferent Ministry of Education.Teaching Points:Reframe with facts.Mobilizing a community via curiosity about, “People just like me.”Guiding Principles Begin to Emerge:It all begins with an invitation: You can opt in or opt out.Reach beyond the usual suspects.Common practices provide the baseline. Engage the community.Identify potential positive deviants and the practices that enable them to succeed.Community designed/practice-based workshops to disseminate its discoveries.
MRSA: Antibiotic-resistant staph infections:Kills 18,000 patients each year in the U.S.100,000 serious infections/year which extend hospital stays.CDC surveys confirm only 29-42% adherence to safety protocols.
Notes: Gandungsari:East Java (town of 25,000).300 people missing, of which 140 were girls age 14-17. Data in one precinct:In 2004—33 left.In 2008—6 left.Approach has since spread to 100 communities:5,000 families.19,500 at-risk children.Teaching Point:Making it safe to learn.
Contrasting Approaches to Change:
The power of Enactment to transform beliefs and behavior is starkly evident in experiences such as Marine boot camp, college hell week, and tribal initiation rites. When people go through a lot of pain or effort to attain something, they tend to value it more highly than when it is provided with minimum effort. (Perhaps that’s why expert advice and “best practices” often don’t stick—no pain, no gain.) The arduous first steps of a PD process—weighing children, conducting multiple group discussions to establish common practices, and ferreting out potential PD behavior through follow-up sessions—invisibly serve to extract commitment. The feeding workshops were based on practice—both collecting shrimps, crabs, and greens and getting one child to eat them. Enactment is most effective in shifting a person’s attitudes, self image, and behavior if involvement is active, public, and effortful. A PD process fires on all three cylinders. Participants own their choice to be involved. The kickoff meeting and subsequent PD workshops entail small investments of individual time and attention. Slowly and gradually participants morph from observer to activist. The process also catalyzes the energies of the collective, subtly shifting group norms and assumptions from fatalism to curiosity, and the social political structures from more formal hierarchies to open systems in which, at times, the least empowered participants can offer the most important findings.(Book, Pg. 46)
Narrative/Teaching Points:(Social Proof Video; 1 minute, 36 seconds.)Social proof? Simple idea, really: it boils down to “seeing is believing. ”When someone “just like me” does something, I’m much more likely to do it myself. Consider canned laughter. Audiences say they dislike it, yet it is widely employed in TV and radio, notwithstanding well documented objections. Why does the media ignore audience sentiment? Because laugh tracks evoke louder and longer laughter. More remarkable still, canned laughter has its biggest effect when the humorous material is of poor quality! Social proof is especially important under conditions of uncertainty when we rely on others to guide us. Imitation is our fallback when reason doesn’t suffice. This is true for situations from the trivial to the profound. We use social proof to decide how to dispose of an empty popcorn box in a movie theater, how fast to drive on a highway, or whether to tackle that fried chicken or corn on the cob with our hands at a dinner party. At the more consequential end of the spectrum, we rely on social proof to inform moral choices—whether to assist an inebriated football enthusiast who falls on the sidewalk or to step forward as a whistleblower and call attention to illegal or inappropriate conduct. In Egypt, social proof was both enemy and ally. Social proof had held FGM in place since the pharaohs. And social proof was the key to FGM’s undoing.(Book, Pgs. 78-79)
Amazon Delta of Brazil:Rosario Costa Cobral—small homestead alongside tidal wetlands.Thinks about how to harness vast swaths of rich delta soil subject to twice-daily quick tidal flooding.Studies daily cycles and seasonal moods. Notes that the river bottom is relatively stable over an entire dry season with channels and islands. Result: Cultivates cassava lemons chilies.In the Amazon Delta of Brazil, cash crops grow on tidal wetland previously regarded as unsuitable for agriculture. Rosario Costa Cobral is a diminutive woman with determined eyes and prominent cheek bones. Her family occupies a small homestead on the banks of the great muddy river. With barely enough dry land to eke out a subsistence living, she sought a way to harness the vast swaths of rich delta soil inundated by twice daily flooding. Rosario questioned the orthodoxy that farming and tidal flood plains don’t mix. A close observer of the Amazon’s daily rhythms and seasonal cycles, she noted that in any given year the contours of the river bottom were relatively stable. Higher patches drained quickly when water receded. Could some plants survive if only submerged a few hours a day?Her first experiments were with cassava—a vigorous, water tolerant staple of the Amazonian diet. Selecting for mutations that flourished in especially wet places, she planted rootstock in the dry season when the river was low. Seedlings gained a foothold. Success emboldened her to experiment with lemons and chili peppers. Today, the family not only feeds itself, but also generates an income. Rosario is recognized by plant biologists for pioneering discoveries.
Looking at satellite photos taken of the Sahel Desert of Niger thirty years apart (1975 and 2005), attention is drawn to vast swaths of former desert that turned green. On closer examination, it is evident that the vegetation is densest in the most densely populated regions. Most remarkable of all, this transformation took place in a fragile ecosystem where only 12% of the land is arable and 90% of the 13 million who reside there live off agriculture. How, against impossible odds, did the community turn back the tide of sand dunes that had been inundating their huts?
2. Sahel desert of Niger:Satellite photos 1975-2005, reveal anomaly of vast swaths of desert that has turned green. Vegetation is most dense in most populated areas.This is a fragile ecosystem where 12% arable land supports 90% of 13 million who live there. Enter Ibrahim Donjjimo, village of Guidan Bakoye. He observes tides of sand inundating his village.Circa 1975, instead of cleaning all trees that attempt to sprout to maximize crop density, he protects Gao and Baobab.Stumbles on a resource-neutral strategy. Fallen leaves=nutrition.Roots fix nitrogen and control topsoil erosion.Sells branches and fruit.Pods used for animal feed.No canopy during growing season.Net incremental cash income amounts to $300/year.We call Ibrahim and Rosario, “Positive Deviants.”Farmer Ibrahim Donjjimo believed that the worsening condition was more than a seasonal aberration or the fatalistic consequence of global warming. The long prevailing practice of clearing all trees to maximize crop density on scarce land had given rise to a treeless landscape. In the mid-1980s, Ibrahim began to quietly challenge the orthodoxies. Instead of clearing the saplings that sprouted from the earth each year, he protected them. In particular, he nurtured the indigenous gao and baobab trees which flourish in harsh conditions. Turns out, he stumbled upon a highly effective resource neutral strategy. Fallen leaves add nutrition to the soil. Roots fix nitrogen from the air and help prevent erosion when infrequent torrential rains batter the brick impoverished earth. Because these deciduous trees are bare during the rainy season, the canopy is absent when crops densely planted below their branches need sun. Ibrahim’s experiment bore fruit. After several years of observing his better crop yields and cash flow, a few neighbors began to follow suit. Then more. Today, farmers sell branches for firewood, sell or eat the fruit, and use the pods for animal fodder. Revenue from 20 trees brings $300 a year in additional income. As tree-planting spread from one town to another, the region began to evolve a more benign microclimate that mitigates the impact of searing droughts and arid winds.
Teaching Points:The What was shrimps, crabs, and greens. The How was changing habits (via feeding workshops). Ketchua Indians, Altiplano, stunting.Black kettle, black fire enclosure.5-6 carrots.8-10 potatoes.¼ kilogram of dried fish.Leafy vegetables.Ladle.The How was ladling from the bottom of the kettle, providing children with protein and other nutrients customarily reserved for working adults. The pragmatic Mocua tribe of Mozambique have a succinct adage:“Thefaraway stick does not kill the snake.” Positive Deviants in your midst are thestick close at hand—readily accessible and successfully employedby people, “just like you.” No need for outside experts or best-practice remedies that, “may work over there, but won’t work here.” No need for deep systemic analysis by the World Bank, or a (unusually unsustainable) resource intensive assault on root causes. Just discover the closest stick and use it.
El Enfoque de la desviación positiva
Invisible in plain sight National Geographic Copyright 2010 Pascale & Brown, Inc.
The First Positive Deviant Copyright 2010 Pascale & Brown, Inc.
The Vietnam Experience Copyright 2010 Pascale & Brown, Inc.
Tufts PD InitiativeShrimps, Crabs, and Greens Copyright 2010 Pascale & Brown, Inc.
Argentina: Tufts PD Initiative School Retention Copyright 2010 Pascale & Brown, Inc.
Magpies and Robins Copyright 2010 Pascale & Brown, Inc.
The Social Life of Learning Copyright 2010 Pascale & Brown, Inc.
Commitment Gordon 2009 Copyright 2010 Pascale & Brown, Inc.
Enactment Fitbomb 2010 Copyright 2010 Pascale & Brown, Inc.
Consistency 16_Stalag_17B Copyright 2010 Pascale & Brown, Inc.
Social Proof Copyright 2010 Pascale & Brown, Inc.
Acting Your Way Into a New Way of Thinking Columbia Pictures Copyright 2010 Pascale & Brown, Inc.
Unintended Consequences: “Childhood Malnutrition” “Shrimps, Crabs, and Greens” “Change Adult FeedingProtocols and Children’s Eating Habits” Problems Morph as You Solve Them Copyright 2010 Pascale & Brown, Inc.
Nature is Incremental Copyright 2010 Pascale & Brown, Inc.
Nature is Modular (20,000) (20,000)(60,000) (50,000) (30,000) Copyright 2010 Pascale & Brown, Inc.
Nature is Diverse Copyright 2010 Pascale & Brown, Inc.
Amazon River Copyright 2010 Pascale & Brown, Inc.