Another IO experience: positive deviance revisited

A little while ago I read a story written by Brian Fanzo, Director of IO.OS® Technology Training at IO. In the story he recalls how an experience in Iraq led him to a cool job. The story was a serendipitous read for me four a couple reasons

First, IO is an acronym for the Indian Ocean, which was where I was on a certain day in the Fall of 1978 when Fanzo and I, in a metaphysical sort of way, met. Fanzo, in his story, relates how an experience in Iraq with a CONEX (you'll have to read his story to find out what that is) led to a job some years later at IO. I had a similar experience with a Navy CONEX (milvan in Navy jargon). Mine was welded to the deck of the USS Elliott; I had my CONEX moment when I had to go out and do some repairs on one housing communications and intercept gear one afternoon while the ship was anchored in the lagoon at NavComSta (now NavSupFac) Diego Garcia.

Anyway.. fast forward to the present day. I'm the instructional designer at the Border Patrol's Basic Training Academy (BPA) at the Federal Law Enforcment Training Center (FLETC) in Artesia, NM. It's in my nature to be looking out for and trying new things. It's been surprising me of late how sometimes new is actually quite old. Case in point: Postive Deviance (PD). The way I understand it PD is when someone in a community, working within the same environments and using the same resources as other community members, is successful at something: everyone else, not so much. The community then seeks to identify the positive deviance from the norm and gets others to act this new way and so change thinking and behaviors. I thought PD was new. It turns out I was wrong.

I had my first PD encounter during my deployment to Diego Garcia. It was 1978 and we worked under primitive conditions. Support and resupply from the States, while reliable, often took a long time to arrive. We had to make do. For instance, shortly after my arrival one of the CT first class petty officers took me to where the freshest fresh water was: a 55 gallon drum lined with trash bags under a mesh screen fed by rain water hitting a corrugated aluminum panel. This Rube Goldberg-esque contraption had been there for some time and was ably maintained. It was also replicated by others throughout the island. When the 40,000 case shipment of Oly beer failed to arrive on schedule (it was bumped from the ship by a load of heavy equipment) someone in the community figured out how to make coconut (there were plenty to be had on our tropical island) wine. This was improvisation, making do with what one had. What kept this from being a true PD process was that it was unguided: they were kludges that just happened. Contrast this with my recent serendipitous PD experience.

At BPA the other day one of the senior staff sent me a message through my manager Riley. In it the staff member asked me to see what it would take to get webinars from the Training Magazine Network to play on our conference room PC. The message contained a list of several webinar topics; right there at the top was one by Jane Bozarth on Positive Deviance.

I think I'm a positive deviant. The literature suggests that most everyone considers themselves one. Anyway, if it turns out that I'm not a PD natural I'm happy to say that it can be learned.

We're beginning to use PD at the BPA. The first step in our process involves pulling together some of the course developer/instructors (CDIs) to watch Bozarth's PD webinar. Aftwards we'll debrief and come up with a plan to start asking unscripted questions, find things to count and share our findings with others.

I'll let you know how it turns out. I suspect it will be a long drawn out (fun) affair.

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