Today I was interviewed on SiriusXM’s “Business Radio.” The conversation started with the show’s host, Dave Robertson, a Wharton professor, asking me why I thought best practices are stupid. I gave him the three reasons that you’ve read about before on this blog:
- While you are implementing someone else’s best practice, they’ve already moved on to the next practice
- What works for one company may not work for you
- The undersampling of failure; we rarely know if a practice was the real source of a company’s success
Dave then went on to mention that earlier in the show, an executive from UPS discussed how they love internal best practices. As soon as someone inside of UPS figures out a better way to do something, they share it with the rest of the company and try to make it standard policy.
Given this, Dave asked how the experiences at UPS jive with my perspectives on best practices.
I said that although my book is called Best Practices Are Stupid, a more accurate title would have been Best Practices Are Sometimes Stupid. Unfortunately that would make a crappy book title.
When are best practices useful? I find there are three primary times:
- Internal best practices: This is exactly what UPS is doing. When someone inside your organization cracks a tough nut, everyone should learn from it.
- Competitor best practices for non-differentiating capabilities: It probably does not make sense to reinvent the wheel on how to do basic functions. Therefore, if efficiency, not differentiation, is what you want, then replication can be useful. Just be careful to watch out for points #2 and #3 mentioned above.
- Cross-industry best practices: Although competitor best practices may lead to a game of “catch-up” on your part, when you look to solutions from other industries, you will accelerate the generation of breakthrough innovations.
Learning from others can of course me helpful. You just want to use these insights in the best way possible.
P.S. Read my article on “Purposeful Tangents” to learn another way to learn from other industries.