Why ‘best practice’ is oftentimes the ‘worst practice’ for transformational innovation

In your day-to-day, how many times has someone referenced the need to seek ‘best practices’ to drive strategic innovation?

In my circle of innovators, I hear it more often than not, but am afraid that we toss around this phrase as if it’s assumed scripture without any consideration for how ‘best practices’ should be leveraged to drive transformational change.

Henry Ford Quote (1000x300)

If we truly want to create transformational innovation, then we must rewire our brains in ways that avoid the common pitfalls of ‘me-too’ innovation syndrome.  After all, if Henry Ford looked to implement best practices, then today we would all be riding faster horses, not driving around in souped up cars.

So why do so many corporations give unduly importance to the phrase ‘best practices’ when trying to conceive new ideas of their own? My guess is because if it’s been done before, then it can be proven and measured. And we all know according to W. Edwards Deming, if it can be measured and benchmarked, only then can things be improved upon.

Edward Deming Quote (1000x300)

This to me is an innovation illusion.

A dangerous place to tread if one truly seeks to leapfrog the competition and become a market leader, not follower.  It gives the false impression and hope that we too know what is best for our users by copying the ‘best’ out there.  The truth is, what is best practice for one scenario, does not necessarily hold true for another. We all know that many ideas that are truly transformative in nature oftentimes don’t have hard measures at first.

From what I have seen, only a select few unusual innovators know how to stand on the shoulders of giants and tweak what is considered ‘best’ to make it even ‘better’, or better yet, ‘transformational’. Most everyone else falls into the ‘me-too’ bucket, leveraging what’s currently considered ‘best’ to ultimately become average.

So how do we escape this trap?

Based on my professional experience and encounters, here are a few (non-scientific) tips to help convert best practices into transformational thinking:

  1. Observe and learn from the best practice, but don’t necessarily copy. Don’t assume that what has worked for someone else, will hold the same value in your situation. Every customer audience is different, and so its no surprise that every result will be different as well.
  2. Measurement is an output, not input. Create the new solution, and then conceive of appropriate benchmarks once it is developed to measure success. Don’t start the process with existing metrics of success because that will only limit your potential. Remember, not every new transformational idea can be measured at first.
  3. Poke and prod. For most of us, we don’t have secret access into the back story with how these best practices were conceived. Odds are, it was in the journey of creating that idea where most of the value lies. Not in the end solution. So ask lots of questions, and dissect the best practice to see what elements can be applied to your specific situation.
  4. Think LEGOs, not IKEA. Most best practices don’t come with an instruction manual, a la IKEA. This copy and paste methodology is a risky strategy at best.  Rather, deconstruct the LEGO pieces (the building blocks of the best practices), and then reconstruct to meet your specific needs.

In conclusion, without a rewiring of how we think and challenge basic assumptions, we run the risk of creating ‘worst practices’ masquerading around as ‘best practices’ that will undoubtedly be shared by colleagues at your next innovation cocktail event. Don’t be fooled!

Do you have some additional tips? What does ‘best practice’ mean to you? Please comment below.


%d bloggers like this: