Positive Deviants Are No Longer Deviants

Fifteen years ago, when I began talking about groups that were achieving high-impact-resilience and having high-vibrancy experiences, it was clear that these groups were positive deviants, doing something very different than the norm, and getting much better-than-normal results.  I have written a lot about the positive deviants we are working with over the past fifteen years.  In 2014, I estimated that there might be upwards of tens of thousands of groups living this way around the world.  When I would say this, people wanted to know what made the higher-performing groups work that way, and I would give examples like firms of endearment and asset-based community development.  Most people seemed to be hopeful that these cases were true, and a bit skeptical.

Now I am having a very different experience when I talk about what differentiates groups with abundance-based agreements, people are now understanding what I am pointing at, trying it out for themselves, and connecting us with groups that they know that are also learning how to act this way.  I wonder if the time when the positive deviants who were working with abundance-based agreements were considered weird and lucky is passing, and now it is becoming more part of the new normal to choose to interact with greater abundance.  I see evidence of this all over the place now.  Not just a few rarified examples, rather millions of them everywhere.

What do these numbers mean?  If there are just 100,000 groups of 100 people like this around the world, then those 10,000,000 people would be 0.13% of the global population or 13 in every 10,000 people, or only 51,000 in each of the 195 countries of the world, or the population of the 89th most populated country in the world, between Portugal and Sweden.  Another way of thinking about this is that 1 in 763 people alive today would be experiencing one of these higher-vibrancy groups.  I think that number is now low.  And, if there are many more than this, everywhere, then we are looking at a phenomenon that is approaching a new normal.  Just a 10-fold increase of this estimate would make it the 14th most populated country, between the Philippines and Egypt.

If this is true, that the experience of how to work with abundance-based agreements is showing up everywhere, it is time for us to being to map this topography of social agreements, mapping ecosynomic deviance and impact resilience, in all of its forms, across the globe.  I bet, if we do, we will find some amazing treasures, right in our own backyards, showing us how to do what we want to do with far greater impact resilience and in a much more engaging way.  That would be good to know.  Maybe then we could figure out how to achieve systemic solutions that work for everyone everywhere everyday.  I wonder.

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Local Peaks of Wisdom Everywhere

We tend to look to the “great ones” for wisdom about how to face particularly challenging situations.  From changing diapers to favorite recipes to schooling systems to health care.  We usually don’t know what to do when the world requires us to think afresh about what we want.  The world shifts, the old system doesn’t work as well, and we go to the “great ones,” who we usually look for in the “great places,” large mountain peaks in a very small group of places.  Global destinations.

What if the wisdom you needed was already in your own back yard?  What if you didn’t need to travel great distances to get advice that you then would have to customize to your own context?  For example, what worked for an educational system in Europe 100 years ago, or in a political system in Greece 2,400 years ago, or in an agricultural system in Egypt 5,100 years ago, or in an existing banking system in Bangladesh, or in a family down the street, will not work in the exact same way for you, here, with me.

My colleagues and I are finding that people everywhere are figuring out new ways to do things, within a very similar context to our own, every day.  They have figured it out.  They are local “great ones.”  They are everywhere.

UCLA professor Jared Diamond has observed a similar phenomenon across the globe, which he describes in his 2012 book The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?  “Traditional societies are far more diverse in many of their cultural practices than are modern industrial societies…Yet psychologists base most of their generalizations about human nature on studies of our own narrow and atypical slice of human diversity…Traditional societies in effect represent thousands of natural experiments in how to construct a human society.  They have come up with thousands of solutions to human problems, solutions different from those adopted by our own..socities…Perhaps we could benefit by selectively adopting some of those traditional practices…[While] we should also not go to the opposite extreme of romaniticizing..traditional practices..we can consider ourselves blessed to have discarded…[they] may not only suggest to use some better living practices, but may also help us appreciate some advantages of our own society that we take for granted” (8-9).

There is much to learn from the wisdom all around us, if only we could find it, understand it, and integrate it.  That is what the Global Initiative to map the social topography of human agreements is attempting to do: to help you see where the wisdom is in your own community, the local peaks.

Guest post — Ecosynomics in Ghana — an update

Guest post by Christoph HinskeGlobal Vibrancy Steward

In June 2014, Christoph Hinske, an ISC Senior Fellow based in Germany, was invited to meet with Prof. Dr. Lars Castellucci, a member of the German Parliament, Abdul-Rashid Hassan Pelpuo, the Honorable Minister for Private Sector Development from Ghana, Joe Tackie CEO of the Private Sector Development Strategy at the office of the president and representatives of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Foundation.   The meeting was a success, and Christoph was invited to Ghana.

This October Christoph visited Ghana for a week, contributing a paper and a presentation at the last meeting of the Ghanaian Panel for Economic Development. After inviting the panel to participate in our collaborative and global action research project on sustainable societal outcomes through collaboratively developed abundance-based agreements, members started to see a shared possibility and their unique contributions to it. For example, one panelist asked, “What innovations from the abundance-based practices in the Ghanaian informal sector might improve the impacts and healthy social interactions in the other projects (USA, Mexico, Germany, South Africa)?“

Members of the panel, ranging from ministries, companies, worker unions, academia, donor agencies and youth organizations started to see actionable pathways of how ecosynomic principles foster balanced and inclusive economic development in Ghana.

Now a small and impact-driven group of academics led by the Department of Economics at the University of Ghana, will use the facilities of the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation to design a Ghanaian project. Spanning all industries, this project identifies, connects, shares, and scales insights gained from Ghana’s positive economic deviants, “natural experiments” in abundance-based ecosynomic agreements, and unites them in a national multi-stakeholder economic development process.