To a man with a hammer everything seems like a nail – a few words on best practices

This famous quote from Mark Twain does not seem to age. To a person with a certain tool in his hand the most obvious and the only right way will always involve using this particular tool. It well describes a certain mindset in which a habit or routine determines the way we approach problems and this reminds me of what the best practices are all about. If you have a problem take the suggested, widely acknowledged solution and apply it. Done.

Well, It may not be that simple. Or maybe it is that simple but the outcome you will eventually obtain may differ from what you really want. In order to reason about the goods and the bads of this “all-problem-solving-tool” called best practices, I decided to write this short text, that hopefully will bring some interesting points applicable in your field.

Do they ever work

I think I would be dishonest with myself to completely deny usefulness of best practices. One can argue they bring structure and solid basis, that ensure certain level of performance. This might be true especially in the well established sectors, which do not seem to expand anymore.

Mature technologies in traditional industries, like perhaps steel-working, where little room for improvement is left, value mostly steady level of performance and reliability. Best practices, being an informal way of standardization, are means through which it can be achieved.

Universal cure to customized problems

However, every problem is different therefore a general, universal solution provided by best practices often may miss the target. It is not that it will not work, but instead of providing a specific, tailored solution, you apply a wide spectrum tool.

It would be a little bit similar to using an antibiotic every time you feel bad. For some bacterial infections it will work great but for majority it would be simply too much or not enough.

To follow or to lead?

As far as best practices make us avoid common pitfalls and rediscovering the wheel, they leave no room for disruptive changes. Rethinking your usual way of approaching problems may give you an opportunity to learn something new, find sources of inefficiency and excel in your field.

If mediocre performance is not what you aim for and you aspire to become and keep the position of a leader in your sector you need to innovate. Instead of doing things as they were always done, try rather to do them in a way that no one has tried before. Search for new ways and new results. Non-reflective execution is not going to put you ahead of others.

Useful benchmark

If you decide to abandon your industry’s best practices you can still benefit from them as a neat tool for validating performance of your solutions. Instead of having them as guidelines, you may simply treat them as benchmark. If your innovation has performance better that what is generally considered as good you are on the right track. If not, well, maybe it is the time to pivot around your idea.

The bottom line

I believe that mixed in good proportion with creativity and innovation best practices may be a mean to maintain certain standards and stability at the same time ensuring a steady growth of the enterprise in the future. However, over relaying on them may be a straight path to mediocrity. To summarize my talk I would like to quote another great man, whose word somehow seem to well capture the issue:

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” – A. Einstein