How resilient people are different

In previous posts I’ve explored some of those differences, qualities such as intentionality, resourcefulness, and the motivating force of a few fundamental purposes and principles that inspire and guide them.

As I have thought more deeply about resilience I was reminded of the work by Jerry Sternin and others on “positive deviance.”

“Positive deviants are people whose behavior and practices produce solutions to problems that others in the group who have access to exactly the same resources have not been able to solve,” Sternin told me in a 2004 JSD interview. “We want to identify these people because they provide demonstrable evidence that solutions to the problem already exist within the community.”

Sternin and his wife, Monique, applied the concept of “positive deviance” to their life-saving work for Save the Children in the villages of Vietnam and to solving other seemingly intractable problems. (You can read more here.)

Positive deviants, I concluded in an earlier post, have one or more of the following habits which I think also apply to many resilient people:

1. Writing to gain clarity and to communicate;

2. “Counting” things to improve their performance (most things that count can be measured, even if only in rudimentary ways);

3. Reading widely in search of new ideas, perspectives, and inspiration;

4. Continuously seeking more effective and efficient ways to do things;

5. Engaging the support of others when challenged by stretching goals or demanding circumstances;

6. Persisting over many months and even years to achieve important goals because the values represented by those goals were so important;

7. Seeing things in unique ways that were in opposition to accepted wisdom or common practice; and

8. Assuming that important problems can be solved, and that working alone or in collaboration with others they would contribute to their solutions.

As you think about resilient people you have known, what behaviors or attributes would you add to this list?

4 Responses to “How resilient people are different”


  1. 1 rickrepicky May 25, 2017 at 1:21 am

    Expanding a bit on Item 5, I saw a TV interview tonight with Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. When asked about important aspects of leadership, Coach K emphasized his desire to be part of a team that consistently raises performance expectations and develops “OUR” process/product to get there.

    Similarly, Harvard’s Nit Nohria, stresses “authenticity.” People generally like leaders who are genuine and care as much for the group’s success as they do about their own. These leaders work collaboratively with the group to take all to a better place, i.e. making them all better at their jobs.

    • 2 Dennis Sparks May 26, 2017 at 12:06 pm

      You’ve hit upon two important qualities of successful leadership, Rick. The ability to be (not act like) authentic—that is, transparent and without artifice. And cultivating a sense of “we” rather than “me.” As always, I appreciate your comment.

  2. 3 Kent Peterson May 30, 2017 at 10:53 am

    Fantastic article. All leaders should read this and reflect on the ideas.


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