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How Good Are “Best Practices?”

by David Brock on February 13th, 2020

Thousands of blogs, books, articles, video’s, and podcasts talk about “best practices.” They cover every topic imaginable. Every nuance of marketing, sales, customer experience, business, dating (oops) talk about best practices.

As consumers of information about how to improve, we devour best practices. The thought is, “If I know what’s best practice, and apply it in my organization, we will be doing the very best things we can be doing and should see huge performance improvements.”

The problem with best practices are that they are only “best” in a specific context. That is, what is best for others, may not be the best for us for a whole number of reasons. The organization may have very different strategies and goals. The products and services offered may be very different and targeting different types of customers. The customers may be very different.

In reality, best practices, at best can be only very general. Nothing can ever address our specific situation or the context of what we face right now. Even best practices within our own companies have limitations because they cannot address every context/situation we face.

So should we abandon best practices?

Absolutely not, best practices still have a lot of utility and relevance. They give us a starting point. They enable us to understand, for general situations, things that can be very effective and impactful.

But the trick to leveraging best practices is recognizing they are just a starting point. We have to think about the specific situation we face, adapting, tweaking, adjusting the best practice to be relevant to the situation or context we are facing.

Too often, we follow the best practice blindly. We don’t apply our critical thinking and problem solving skills to adapt it to our specific situation.

In some ways, the people who present best practices, hopefully unintentionally, mislead people they are presenting the best practice to . They neglect to recognize the situational and contextual component of execution. They fail to recognize that it represents their experience in a specific context or situation, but that what others face, while it may look similar is actually importantly different.

Best practices can be helpful, but they are just a starting point. We have to adjust them to fit our specific situation.

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