Unit 4

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Positive deviance is behavior, attitudes, and actions that set you apart from the norm in a positive way.

Positive deviance is an approach to behavioral and social change through uncommon but successful behaviors or strategies. A positively deviant person uses this approach to find better solutions to a problem than their peers, despite facing similar challenges and having no extra resources or knowledge.

A person can be positively deviant, so can an organization, or even a department. In my work as a consultant, I look for the positive deviance in organizations along with the organization’s strengths.

Positively deviant companies dramatically exceed the norm in a positive way.

Perhaps they have raving fans for customers and hence a very high customer loyalty rate. Perhaps they have unusual programs for keeping employees happy and loyal. Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Patagonia, USAA, Zappos, New Pig Corp, Cabela’s, and Garnet Hill are just a few of the companies I know and love as examples of positive deviance.

They do things differently, and most significantly, they think about things differently. Southwest Airlines (whose stock symbol is LUV) does bring love to work. They also bring an entrepreneurial spirit, a sense of urgency, and religious fervor to hiring people with a sense of humor and humanity. What most people don’t realize about Southwest is that they are a very disciplined company. They consistently focus on a clear purpose and a strategy for getting there. Their purpose is to connect people with what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable air travel. Their culture is the soul of their enterprise.

Positively deviant companies have an affirmative bias.

They lean toward the positive and build capacity for more positivity. They focus on strengths over weakness, optimism over pessimism, and they are supportive rather than critical in their communication. This makes them great places to work and great companies to do business with.

Positively deviant companies focus on virtuousness and values.

They care about people and their impact on them. They care about moral goodness and social betterment. We’re social creatures and we need each other for survival. We have care-giving circuits in our brain, also known as empathy circuits that produce chemicals like oxytocin.

According to Dr. Matthew Lieberman at UCLA, we are motivated by a greater good to try harder, work faster, persevere longer, cooperate better, and control our least productive impulses. Virtuousness is expressed though optimism, hope, gratitude, wisdom, forgiveness, compassion, and resilience, all of which are associated with richer and deeper relationships.

These companies clearly know what their values are and they live them. They take the time to define, articulate and operationalize their values. They not only recognize strengths, they build on them. Leaders in these companies focus on the best of the human condition and the best in their people. Dr. Kim Cameron of the University of Michigan explains that there is a positive impact of “Virtuousness” on five key measures of organizational performance: innovation, customer loyalty, turnover, quality, and profitability.

Positively deviant companies have standards of excellence in every area.

They challenge themselves to improve by challenging their assumptions frequently. One of my favorite companies is the New Pig Corporation – they manufacture and sell the world’s best stuff for leaks, drips, and spills and create an experience that happy customers love to come back for.

Whatever they say or do as individuals or as a company is from this perspective. They always ask, “Does it add value for the customer?” Everything is done to make the customers feel special, because they are! They call it the “PIG Experience.” Answering the phone within two rings by a real person who is a friendly, informed expert is standard at New Pig. Their product development and customer insight teams are constantly monitoring nasty problems so that they can create innovative solutions to make life easier for their customers. Receiving 30 “Plant Engineering Product of the Year” awards is testimony to their skills and tenacity. They understand the fundamental guiding principle of any successful business; happy customers come back. It’s an embedded mindset.

Are you positively deviant? Probably!

If you have been doing the practices I’ve recommended so far, then you are on your way! Keep looking – go on a deviance hunt. Who’s doing it right? Who’s got happy customers? Who’s got great ideas? Who’s got more energy in their department? What places are doing cool things? What departments rock? Who’s getting outrageous results? Who’s engaged, passionate, and purposeful? What can you learn from them?
Perhaps people right inside your own company or people in the company down the block are doing great work – go find out.

“If you’re not getting better you cease being good.”



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So looking for the positive deviance in your own system can often provide a viable solution in the best way possible. Sometimes you want to look for positive deviance outside your own system too to see what’s working for others.

My buddies over at the New Pig Corporation, a company known for its high quality and happy customers, make it fun. The PIG moniker came about because the founding partners considered themselves “Partners in Grime”. Over time employees began to refer to themselves as “Piggers”, and to their company as the “barn” or “the pig pen”, and their catalog as a “Pigalog”. No boardroom meetings for them, but you just might find “Piggers” in the “Boar Room” at 1 Pork Ave. The employees of New Pig “sowlute” each other for a job well done! When they get off the phone with you, they wish you a “Swine Day”.

Orders over certain dollar amounts earn customers piggy T-shirts, hats, crazy ‘bout clean undies, and other pork-themed surprises that customers look forward to collecting. Customers also love the “swine song” that plays when they’re put on hold; some intentionally call the company just to hear it!

And what does all this fun get them? Employee and customer loyalty, first class products and services, and top ratings in everything from research and development to staff empowerment and education. Oh, and yes, profitability.

Zappos is another company who exemplifies positive deviance. Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh wrote about it in his bestseller book, Delivering Happiness, A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. The story is legendary.

It’s a story about a guy who starts an online shoe business in a declining economy, and less than 10 years later sells it for more than a billion dollars to Amazon. He did it with a relentless focus on improving the customer experience. It wasn’t just the customers whose experience got better, but Tony’s focus on using happiness as an organizing principle made Zappos an awesome place to work. It was hard to get a job there because they only accepted the right people.

Before a new-hire starts their job, they have to spend several weeks in the call center listening to and talking to customers, even if they are at a top management level. After they finish their paid training, they’re offered one month’s salary to leave the company – thousands of dollars to quit! * This is a positive deviant move – right?

Who does this? Tony does, because if you take the money and run it’s a cheap way for him to weed out the people that won’t fit into the culture, which is admittedly a little crazy. And, just like the “Piggers” from my earlier example, the employees at Zappos call themselves, “Zapponians”.


 These two examples prove that profits, passion and purpose can all exist at the same time. This path of positivity you’re on will get you there. 


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Change is always challenging. Our “crocodile brains” do their best to keep us in the past where things are familiar and safe, even if those things aren’t working for us anymore.

It’s so easy for us to rely on habitual ways of thinking and being. Changing the conversation from, “What’s wrong and who’s to blame?” to “What’s right and who can we celebrate?” is a very big shift in thinking. And it’s a shift that will be painful for some who fear that being what they think of as “soft” won’t have hard bankable results.


The data show clearly that increased happiness at work improves every business metric: productivity, performance, creativity, quality, health, retention, and loyalty. So rest assured that while it may be challenging to shift people’s perceptions and beliefs, the results speak for themselves.

Like I said in an earlier unit, the negativity bias which comes from your “old brain” is strong. The brain is like “Velcro” for the negative and “Teflon” for the positive. There’s a strong evolutionary reason for that and I’ve got a great deal of gratitude for it.


When it comes to getting good results in the “Tripod” of relationships, mentioned in Unit 1, you want to increase the ratio of positive to negative in your life and business at least to three to one. Three to one seems to be about the minimum ratio that helps you “flourish,” according to Dr. Barbara Frederickson. Harnessing three times more positivity than negativity will help you tip from “languishing” to “flourishing.”

Click the button below to find your out your positivity ratio.

Find out your positivity ratio

Research shows that if you are looking to create a high-performance business (and who’s looking to create a low performance business?), the ratio needs to be a little higher at five to one. That means you need all the positivity you can get to achieve the High-Performance Ratio you’ll need to really “wow” your customers consistently.

This includes:

Five times more acknowledgement, affirmation, praise, good will, recognition, compliments, and focus on strengths rather than sarcasm, criticism, cynicism, or corrective actions related to weaknesses.

Five times more questions focused on what’s strong rather than what’s wrong.

Five times more focus on what’s right and what you want to create, rather than focus on what needs to be fixed and what you don’t want.


It turns out that Dr. John Gottman and his wife, who have been studying happy marriages for 30 years, have found happy thriving marriages also have a five to one positivity to negativity ratio. That’s reason enough to learn these skills and tools. *

Increasing positive interaction will also increase your organization’s Positive Capacity – its ability to create, experience and expand on all the benefits of positive emotion for the good of its stakeholders. Happy people are not only more productive, they also make better leaders and negotiators. They also have more friends and social support, and are more resilient and cope better with change, stress and even trauma. They have stronger immune systems, living seven to nine years longer than pessimistic counterparts. They are more philanthropic, generous, and kind to others. They are more creative, more innovative, and wealthier because they have more resources to draw on.

The great part for organizations is that in addition to the positive effects of increased productivity and performance, happy people have fewer accidents, fewer quality defects, lower health care costs, less absenteeism and turnover, and this leads to more loyalty and better bottom lines.

Let’s keep remembering that the customer experience is the sum total of the feelings evoked as a result of any interaction that takes place at any touch point in the company. It’s based on the value you deliver, both tangible and intangible. Imagine your happy staff creating positive feelings more often – at all those touch points! You will be building a big, deep and rich emotional bank account with the customer.




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This is a lot to take in. May I suggest that you begin this reflective exercise by turning off bells, buzzers, and flashing lights. Positive Energizers take time to tune in. There is a lovely zen quality to that.

Begin by sitting back into your chair, slowing your breath, holding your hand over your heart, just like you did in Positivity Practice #6 (Heart Based Breathing). As you breathe in, consciously breathe in the quality of positive deviance and let it sink down into your body. I invite you to close your eyes to remove any visual distractions, and breathe positive deviance and positive capacity right into you. Open and expand with your breath as you do.

Take a few breaths there, open your eyes and think about these questions. You can think about the organization you work for, or choose to look at other organizations that are getting these kinds of positive results. Jot down your first thoughts.

Who’s doing it right?

Who’s got great ideas?

Who’s got more energy in their department?

What departments rock?

Who’s getting outrageous results?

Who’s having fun?

Who’s engaged, passionate, and purposeful?

Who really loves the customers?

What places are doing cool things?

What can you learn from them?

Enjoy this fun reflection. Can you even begin to imagine how much fun this would be to do with your team?

 Think about what you can learn from this exercise. 


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Three to five times during the day, stop what you are doing, think about and write down three to five things that you appreciate. (About work, your day, your life, your activities, your feelings, etc.) Go ahead and start right now!

(Answer Field)

Breathe deeply from your heart as you do this. Allow the good feelings to spread in your body.

Over time you will build your capacity for joy and for noticing what is good.

When you are looking to raise your positivity ratio, this is a great way to build the muscle. Remember, happiness is a muscle.

A 2010 study done at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill found that when people feel more gratitude toward their partners, they feel better about the relationship. Additionally, their partners did too! This also applies to work partners.

Moments of gratitude act as a booster shot for relationships, at work or at home.


Trigger your Reticular Activating System. Set an intention for yourself about noticing the pockets of positivity around you.

I intend to:

I intend to:

I intend to:



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