Positive deviance is Dr. Arvind Singhal’s inventive mindset to solve problems using a positive spin.
Singhal, the featured speaker at the recent Ouachita Speaker Series, brought inventive ideas that have solved problems with malnutrition in children, suicide among prison guards and poverty alleviation.
Professor of Communications at the University of Texas, El Paso, Singhal has taught in colleges across the United States and around the world including Canada, Japan, Germany, Thailand and Malaysia.
In 2010, he was appointed as the William J. Clinton Distinguished Fellow at the Clinton School of Public Service, Little Rock and since 2015, Distinguished professor 2, faculty of business administration, Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, Elverum, Norway.
As entertaining as he was informational, Singhal began the session explaining to his audience methods to “flip their mind.” He told the story of a man who admitted to smuggling to the customs officials. Year after year the “smuggler” would bring a donkey hitched to a trailer through the customs department. The agent would carefully inspect the trailer never finding any questionable items that would not be allowed to cross the border without proper duty charges. The smuggler would announce loudly each time he passed that he was smuggling. The customs agent checked his goods over and over to no avail.
When both men retired the agent, completely perturbed over the years, asked the smuggler, “What did I miss?”The smuggler replied, “donkeys.”
“Sometimes,” explained Singhal, “the solution is right in your face. The challenge is to reset your mind to zero or blank and reset it to problem-solving that is truly productive.”
He offered another true example of positive deviance offered by President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was visiting a hospital for wounded soldiers. One stood up to salute the president and said “Mr. President, you are so tall. How tall are you? “Lincoln replied, “Son, like you, I’m tall enough that my feet meet the ground.” Lincoln had flipped his mind-set and possessed the unique ability to solve problems from a sense of value and sensibility.
Dr. Singhal was 16 years old when he wrote a short letter to Mother Theresa. “Mahatma Gandhi’s spirit of liberty was always in my home growing up. I admired Gandhi’s teachings and those of Mother Theresa. She lived in Calcutta and my family lived in Delhi, so writing to her was my first contact.” She wrote a four-page response to him. “It changed my life to the direction I take today.” He said she told him to visit the Home of the Dying if he came to Calcutta, and “try not to judge.” He followed her guidance, her positive problem-solving, and challenges offered by Gandhi.
In 1990, along with Save the Children, Singhal was involved in determining what was causing malnutrition of the children under 5 in Vietnam. Instead of analyzing what was wrong, the study examined what was going right in the homes where children were healthy.
There were practical behaviors practiced in homes with fit children and those were passed on families with sickly children. “It resolved the situation. We asked what is working and applied those practices and solved the problem,” said Singhal. “The solution was right in front of us, just like the donkeys to the customs official.”
Singhal teaches and conducts research on the diffusion of innovations and organizing social change. His outreach spans public health, education, human rights and many other sustainable developments. He is the co-author of 14 books.
Next in the OSS will be Dr. Thomas Holland. If some of your favorite television programs include NCIS and CSI, you won’t want to miss April 11.
Holland is a forensic anthropologist and presently the scientific director of the Department of Defense’s Central Identification Laboratory.
Tickets are available online at www.hsvticketsales.com or at the Ponce de Leon Center office, 1101 DeSoto Blvd., Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Students with school IDs will be admitted no charge.
The Ouachita Speaker Series offers open, thought-provoking forums for intellectual and educational enrichment and the exchange of ideas to adult and student audiences.