A wicked problem is one that is difficult to solve because of a vague definition, complex interdependencies, and hidden constraints. The use of term "wicked" denotes resistance to resolution, rather than evil. Stress at Carnegie Mellon looks like a wicked problem.

This course is intended to bring about a positive, durable change to Carnegie Mellon student life. The entire process takes at least a year, this course is the first phase. We will use a design practice called Positive Deviance, which enables communities to discover and spread their own hidden solutions.

To accomplish this, you will learn these skills:

  • The Positive Deviance Method for Solving Cultural Problems
  • Literature Research
  • Interviewing
  • Studying Behavior in Large Populations
Signing Up

Officially, the class is a group independent study (05-588), requiring a brief interview and completing a form to be registered. The number of units is negotiable, and P/NP is an option. For an interview, contact james.morris@cmu.edu. The size of the class will be 10 to 20 students.

The nominal units for the course is six units. For three units, a student should participate in half the course and one of the reports. More than six units are possible if you perform suitable additional tasks.

Communication Technology
  • A Google Drive folder, Campus Stress, will be used to share material. 
  • A Google group, Positive Deviance, will be used for discussion. It is best to ask questions there so the answers are available to all. 
  • This site is the primary source of course information, but some material is also accessible at http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~05610


The class will meet on Wednesdays from 1:30 to 3:00 in GHC 7501. Most class time will be spent planning studies and discussing results.


Each student will carry out several interviews, producing notes that will be integrated into a comprehensive affinity diagram.

The group will produce two reports: an analysis showing the causes and effects of stress at Carnegie Mellon, based on the literature and interview results, and a description of common student practices compared with the practices of positive deviants.

Books (not Required)
Innovating for People briefly describes thirty-six good design techniques.
The Power of Positive Deviance presents several case studies of the application of the technique.

Subpages (1): Postive Deviance