Why and how to avoid “best practices”

by | Sep 24, 2018 | Blog | 0 comments

“Anytime somebody starts talking to me about ‘best practices,’ I thank them for their time and shut down the conversation. Things move so fast today that by the time you identify something as a ‘best practice,’ there’s a good chance it’s already out of date.”

– Economic Development Executive

The speed and volatility of change has contributed to “best practices” morphing into outdated practices.

In a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, you need to switch your focus. If you spend less time looking in the rear view mirror and more time looking through the front windshield as well as watching the periphery, you’ll be better positioned to spot trends and experience insights that can help you prepare for the future.

Also, keep in mind “the future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed,” according to William Gibson, the science fiction writer who coined the word “cyberspace.”

Since my enthusiasm for best practices waned years ago, hearing this economic development executive share his perspective was music to my ears – as well as confirmation bias.

If you too think that “best practices” are lagging indicators and past their prime, what can you do instead of benchmarking others?

Consider these seven actions that are focused on the present and future:

  1. Analyze your data. Don’t just speculate on what people are doing; find the data that tells a story. For example, one of my clients doesn’t know the extent to which employees are reading emails on their mobile devices. If mobile usage is increasing, which is a reasonable hypothesis, employees would appreciate a reformatting of the messages to make them easier to read on the go.
  1. Observe, either to supplement your data or to fill in if you don’t have it. For this same client, we also talked about noticing the degree to which employees are using their mobile devices in the lunch rooms, meetings, parking lots, etc. You can even try to interrupt those glued to their smart phones and ask them what percentage of the content they’re viewing is business related versus personal.
  1. Conduct an environmental scan. Look at trends in the economy, government, demographics, and other indicators that may reveal insights for your situation. For example, another client took time during its recent professional services meeting to demonstrate how Amazon’s Alexa may be able to replace or supplement the services its members provide to their clients.
  1. Use perspective-taking. This exercise helps you look at a situation in a new way by taking the perspective of another individual. The classic example of this is to ask the question: “What would our successors do if they were in our shoes?” By taking the outsider perspective and asking that question, Andy Grove and Gordon Moore of Intel became convinced they needed to exit the memory business and switch to microprocessors. (For more about this check out Intel’s Andy Grove on Looking at Problems from an Outsider’s Perspective.)
  1. Convene an innovation session or a hack-a-thon if you’re looking to use technology. The advantage to this approach is it gives you a safe and brave space to explore new ideas.
  1. Consult a futurist. Most of us are awful at predicting the future. That’s why it’s valuable to seek out futurists such as Bob Johansen, Ph.D. of the Institute for the Future, who will speak at the 2018 NeuroLeadership Summit the first week in October. He and others will also explain how we can try to think better about the future. The theme for this year’s program is “Invent the Future: Big Ideas, Breakthrough Practices.” Stay tuned for more about this when I return from the conference.
  1. Do reverse benchmarking, especially if you’ve got a specific business challenge you want to address. Reverse engineering involves deliberately doing something extremely different than what your competition is doing. Think Apple, Netflix, and Dyson.

These actions can help you and your team stay focused on the issues you and your business are grappling with today. That’s much more valuable than examining a best practice that by now may be older, not better.  


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *