A talented musician friend told me a story that went something like this… When learning a classical piece for guitar, my friend didn’t want to follow Segovia’s fingerings. Being a headstrong youngster, my friend had his own ideas about how to play the piece, but his guitar teacher just wasn’t having it.
“Segovia was a genius,” the guitar teacher said. “Are you a genius?”
The lesson here is obvious: If you are working on a piece of music that is several hundred years old, and a recognized master figured how to best to perform it, you would be best served doing it his way—unless you happen to be a genius.
If we were to broaden that lesson, we might add: If you are doing something technical, there is probably one really good way to do it and a multitude of not-as-good ways. So, go with the one really good way.
But what if you are doing something as open-ended and unpredictable as running a business? While there may be best practices when it comes to accounting or wiring your phone system, are there really unassailable best practices for developing products, setting prices, hiring people, and planning for the future?
Some general guidelines exist (e.g., “Make sure more money comes in than goes out”). My gut feeling, though, is that for every specific business, best practices can rarely be applied as is; they always have to be adapted and modified to fit the specific context.
I say this for two reasons. First of all, when I’m moderating seminars here at MarketingProfs, our presenters invariably get questions that have to be answered with the simple phrase, “It depends.”
It depends. The answer depends on your business, on your competition, on your resources, on your goals, and so on. In other words, it depends on the context, which brings me to my second reason for calling the practice of following best practices into question.
In the book Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World, Jamie Notter and my guest on this week’s episode of Marketing Smarts, Maddie Grant, put it rather bluntly: “Best practices are evil.”
According to Notter and Grant, the problem with best practices is that they are abstracted from context, and as their book argues, “With the speed of the social media revolution, the context is changing faster than we can adapt our best practices.”
If best practices are context-dependent, and the context is rapidly changing, then we need to do something different. Notter and Grant suggest that, rather than “looking backward” at what others have done, we should instead look forward and focus instead on innovation. Because the problems we’re facing are new, don’t the solutions need to be new as well?
So, what do you think? Are best practices stupid and evil?
(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Man Thinking)