How to Become a Positive Deviant–in Business!

The other day while skimming through Atul Gawande’s book, Better,
searching for a piece of research I got to the Afterward in my
search and I had to reread it.  It’s not just Gawande’s brilliant,
readable style, but the substance, his ideas about how to become a
positive deviant in medicine, apply just as readily to business
careers. 

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The Afterward
lays out,  in brief fashion, 5 ways that a physician might make a
“worthy difference.”  Here are his suggestions:

  • Ask an unscripted question.
  • Don’t complain.
  • Count something.
  • Write something.
  • Change.

In his discussion of change, Gawande points out that in medicine,
just as in anything else people do, individuals respond to new ideas in
one of three ways.  A
few become early adopters, most become late adopters, and some never
stop resisting and very seldom change.
  Wow!  That
brought a flood of memories.

My basic sense of what drives the response to new ideas comes from
Everett Roger’s’ textbook on the diffusion of innovation.  Rogers
defines diffusion as “the process by which an innovation is communicated
through certain channels over time among the members of a social
system.” The bell curve by which Rogers explained adoption rates became a
template for me to understand acceptance and resistance toward new
ideas or innovations. The resistance may be either personal or
organizational.  Understanding change through his model is widely
accepted in communications, sociology, agriculture and technology.  In
fact, Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm drew from Rogers to
explain how and why technology companies succeed. 

What’s intriguing about Rogers’ research is the insight into who does
and who does not adopt readily.  The research reveals that about 2.5%
of the population as innovators, with the next 13.5% as early adopters. 
The majority of the population, representing about 75% according to
Rogers, take far longer to adopt new practices and another 13.5% rarely
make change until they’re forced to.

So when Gawande recommends that
physicians look for opportunities to change, and to become early
adopters,  he’s challenging them to lead in ways that differ from most
of the population.  Be willing to
recognize the inadequacies in what you do and to seek out solutions. 
As successful as medicine is, it remains replete with uncertainties and
failure.
  His recommendation applies just as well to business
careers.

Gary Hamel, the well-known business guru, argues that what fuels
business success is not operational excellence or new business models,
but management innovation.  Similarly, I argue that what fuels career
success, keeps you interesting to your colleagues, and provides new
options is the ongoing desire to make change, to become an early
adopter.

New ideas, well-researched ideas are regularly surfacing from
business research, just waiting for people to pick up on them.  The
better magazines and journals such as Wired, Fast Company or Harvard
Business Review are filled with new ideas.   So, as Gawande writes, find something new to try, something
to change.

P.S. If you’ve recently tried on something new, I’d be very
interested.  Send me an email through my website.  Thanks very much.

 
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