2017-06-26 HRExaminer when best practices dont work photo img cc0 via pexels abstract idea clay think original creative mold pen idea bulb paper 544x364px.jpg

If you want to do what other people were doing last year, spend a lot of time navel gazing, and define success according to conventional standards.

Creativity thrives in wide open spaces and impossible constraints.

Best practices are all about playing it safe and avoiding risk, failure, and conflict.

You can’t have it both ways.

Best practices are about policies and rules. All you get with policies and rules is more policies and rules.

Then someone has to enforce the policies and rules.

Then there have to be procedures for people who ignore or break the rules.

Then pretty soon, work becomes all about the procedures and rules.

And that sucks.

But, you say: Shouldn’t we learn from others and determine the most effective way to reach our goals, benchmark our progress, and achieve success?

Sure, go right ahead. If you want to do what other people were doing last year, spend a lot of time navel gazing, and define success according to conventional standards. Maybe you do. (And maybe you are also an A student with lots of certificates on your walls, who drives and wears all the right brands, and is still wondering why you are not happy.)

Conventional wisdom is just conventional. Best practices are only best if you’re just practicing. And I have no clue what a benchmark really is, or what you do with one.

Instead of worrying if you are doing it right, figure out what works for you. It may require that you make mistakes, take extra time, make a mess, be uncertain, and take risks. But you will figure it out. And it probably won’t be anything like you imagined at the beginning. Because creativity works like that.

So instead of adding more rules and procedures, see which ones you can subtract. (If you need help, start with The Laws of Subtraction: How to Innovate in the Age of Excess Everything by Matthew E. May.)

If that sounds too scary, then start by imagining what would happen if your employees were focused on doing great work instead of conforming to best practices?

“Don’t look at your feet to see if you’re doing it right, just dance.”  Anne Lamott.

  • Gary Dumais

    Very interesting perspective on best practices – thanks for writing the article. While reading it, I couldn’t help wondering if the exponential rate of change in our technologically advancing society (along with the information age) will one day make the idea of “best practices” obsolete. In other words, things may move so fast that a “best practice” could become outdated within a matter of weeks!

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  • From my perspective, ‘best practices’ are already the surest path to mediocrity. While there may be some places that you don’t want learning to take place, it certainly isn’t anything strategic. When you import a best practice, you’re saying, “We don’t care enough about that area to figure it out for ourselves.” There are plenty of places where that’s a useful approach. But, it’s silly to believe that you win that way.

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