Best (Worst) Practices
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"The present is the ever moving shadow that divides yesterday from tomorrow. In that lies hope." - Frank Lloyd Wright
We love best practices.
They provide a sense of certainty in an uncertain world. By codifying what has worked before, they promise a shortcut to success.
But best practices have a dark side.
Here are four reasons why they often hold us back:
They anchor us to the past. Best practices reflect yesterday’s solutions. Yet business today moves at unprecedented speed. As technology and society transform, slavish adherence to best practices chains us to approaches growing obsolete.
They incentivize incrementalism. By definition, best practices offer slight improvements over existing norms. But as ransomware and remote work have shown, seismic change happens in leaps and bounds. Real innovation requires a clean break from the status quo.
They stifle dissent. Once “locked in” as accepted wisdom, best practices brook no debate. Those challenging the conventional model risk marginalization. This chilling effect on dissent destroys the diversity and debate on which progress depends.
They provide false confidence. When best practices eventually fail (as they always do), organizations finds themselves flat-footed. Lulled into complacency by seemingly “safe” approaches, they struggle to understand what happened—or adjust course.
None of this argues best practices lack value. Of course we should learn from those ahead of us on the path.
But progress lies not in replication, but transcendence.
Standing on the shoulders of giants lets us see further, if we choose to look.
In a disruptive age, best practices must serve as guideposts rather than guardrails.
They should inspire, not constrain, expansive thinking. Rather than obsess over precedents, ask: If we removed all constraints, what might we achieve?
The most resilient organizations follow best principles, not best practices.
They craft bespoke solutions fueled by first principles thinking: Let’s reimagine this from the ground up.
Had Steve Jobs obsessed over prevailing practices in the music industry, no iPod emerges.
Had Elon Musk accepted what automobile makers deemed “realistic,” no Tesla exists today.
Of course, breaking from legacy models heightens short-term risk. But those marshaling the courage to diverge from the norm stand to shape the future rather than be shaped by it.
So be wary of best practices in a world needing creative destruction.
Remember: Yesterday’s rules may undermine tomorrow’s revolutions.
The path forward lies not in walking the trails others have blazed, but striking out to forge our own.