The World Needs More ANTS

Ants are all around us: dragging objects many times their body weight or being a nuisance when you find an unending line of ants marching on your kitchen counter. But for the most part, we think so little about them, walking right past their colonies or squashing their highways without noticing. Yet the Bible tells us: “Go to the ant…consider her ways, and be wise” (Prov. 6:6).

positive deviance by ANTS

The Ant Corp…

An ant colony is no less than a big, global corporation, but only better for it exemplifies the wonders of teamwork and communication. Ants are industrious and immensely focused. They are driven by purpose, to find food for the colony, and devote themselves diligently to the task. They communicate using pheromones and solve problems together. The tiny ants are masters of strategizing and optimizing their resources, time and skill effectively to store as much food as they can in the seasons of plenty. Natural self-starters and disciplined, they don’t need a leader to whip them to work.

Despite the various constraints of size and seasonal food, ants harness the distributed wisdom and collective intelligence to sustain each other.

The successful functioning of ant colonies exhibits the power of trust, communication and understanding. More importantly, it tells us that the key to any problem is to find the Positive DeviANTS.

Who are Positive DeviANTs?

Positive deviants are individuals who practice uncommon practices and consequently experienced better outcomes than their peers to a certain problem. The Positive Deviance (PD) approach to social and behavioral change is designed to tap these positive outliers and their methods. It focuses on communities’ collective intelligence and expertise to address their problems, to discover the most sustainable solutions. The way to live life is to learn from others’ wisdom and accomplishments, to find out what worked amidst the adversities. PD approach facilitates exactly this process, by leveraging local uncommon practices and encouraging communities to adopt these solutions, by highlighting social proof. Since its inception in nutrition research in the 1990s, the PD approach has been extensively used in development research. Even in the COVID-19 pandemic, the PD approach helped us understand why some countries could respond quickly and clamp down the outbreak with maybe higher testing and recovery rates or accepted social practices like wearing a mask. A prominent example is Ghana’s deployment of the “pool testing” method in the early phases of the pandemic. Conserving the limited testing kits available, pool testing grouped samples and tested individuals only if the pool tested positive. This strategy was successful in curbing the virus initially. Another interesting story is from a nursing home in France. While in most of Western Europe and the US nursing homes were COVID-19 hotspots because of the vulnerable older population, this nursing home in France recorded zero cases by fully quarantining the staff and residents, instead of just the resident’s self-isolating in their respective rooms, a norm followed everywhere else.  

As the world was trying to grapple with the novel coronavirus pandemic, it was confronted with the age-old horrors of police brutality and racial bias. The deaths of George Floyd in the US and Jayaraj-Fenix in India sparked public distrust of the police force. Amidst this criticism, the US’s North Little Rock Police department still had the unwavering trust, respect and cooperation from the local minority community of color. Reason- the positively deviant Policeman Tommy Norman, who is known for his unorthodox methods of community policing, interactive engagement with the youth and friendly gestures that win even the children’s support. His approach is aimed to be more holistic for reducing crime and fostering positivity and safety in the community.

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Do we actually need more ants?

The insignificant ants are an example of how positive outliers are present from the tiniest creatures to people around us. What we need are not more ants, but people with ant-like powers of perseverance, cooperation and strategy, and an outlook to learn from them and observe their ways for harnessing the distributed wisdom within our communities. We require people who innovate and act differently from the norm and those who can identify such Positive DeviANTS and incorporate their strategies through widespread cooperation to become ExcellANT.

This video and blog is a part of The Change Designers Spotlight Series- The Positively DeviANT Approach Webinar by Dr. Arvind Singhal, Samuel Shirley and Edna Hold Marston Endowed Professor of Communication at The University of Texas at El Paso and Founder of The Positively AbundANT Collaborative, USA.

Aparaajita Thakur
Aparaajita is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s in Economics from University of Delhi. She is a feminist who wishes to make an impact upon the world some day. Her idea of fun is dissecting movies over pizza.

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