Screw best practices. I really mean it. Well, mostly, at least.
We hear the phrase a hundred times a day, no matter what field we work in. IT, sales, marketing, finance - everything is about following best practices, taking a "best practices approach," learning from industry best practices, blah blah blah blah.
Here's my beef(s):
- If we all follow best practices, who will ever do something new?
- We are all too quick to assume "best practices" are final and definitive, and that there couldn't be an even "better" practice that is either untried or less successfully publicized.
- There is no regulation on the use of "best practices." Anyone can make up a best practice and declare it as such, as I am doing now by formally declaring it a best practice to slip a poop reference into any conversation you have with someone senior to you in your place of employment.
In marketing, the quickest way to get me to vomit directly on you is to say "but best practices say" when I am talking about an out of the box idea. I like to take calculated risks. I like to push how we might do things tomorrow, not base them entirely on how they were done yesterday or today. I know there are similar thinkers in IT and all other industries, or we would all still be churning our own butter manually and I'd be writing this with a chisel.
In perhaps the ultimate example of hypocrisy (and tongue in cheek wit), here are my best practices for using best practices:
- Identify what you get by using them. Seriously. Then look for gaps against what you hoped to deliver. I.e. if best practices tell me that a headline should be 5 words or less, and I write a headline that fits the bill perfectly - but doesn't make sense, or is no longer exciting - is the best practice serving me well?
- Decide whether the area is one in which you would like to lead or follow. Sometimes, following the masses isn't bad. Maybe you don't want to stand out.
- Setting, or even challenging, best practices are great ways to demonstrate leadership - as long as you get uptake. The risk is that you end up the BetaMax, marching to your own drum without anyone else behind you.
- Never assume that what works best for someone else will by default work for you. Test things. Be inquisitive. Sip the kool-aide before you drink it and serve it to your friends.
Lastly, in an ultimate conspiracy theory, I'll leave you with this: can best practices be used as weapons? I can envision a scenario where seemingly "best" practices are promoted into an industry, then while most major players are adopting and practicing them, a much more devious and brilliant competitor is going against the grain and truly differentiating themselves. Maybe a clever ad agency starts pushing social media strategy as the key place to focus marketing dollars, then uses the downturn in email volume to win big in prospect's inboxes. Any real world examples?