We often use the term “best practices” when we advocate for a certain practice and even policy. Beyond the attractive label, what hides behind the phrase and how really useful is it? Does it at any time come into conflict with innovation? Does one or the other take priority? Can they successfully coexist?
I have considered several aspects to help better define the concepts at hand.
Habits vs Best Practices
Best practices are approved and proven methods for delivering particular results. The definition clearly underscores their empirical, time-tested nature. They are based on experience, have been tried many times and are thus deemed effective.
It is important to note that best practices must change together with the needs as well as new and improved processes or demands. It is easy to see though that a practice, however effective at one point, may grow out of date, and thus be no more than an old habit which renders your processes stale and hard to explain and results dubious or insufficient. All practices need regular re-evaluation and, if found to no longer bring about sufficiently good results, revisions.
Standards vs Best Practices
It seems that best practices and standards are related and may be conflated under certain circumstances. Standards, however, are typically more settled, required or set forth by some authority and are often the result of an endeavor – best practices tend to be more technique or method which results in meeting a standard if you will. Practices tend to vary and change as part of the process – standards tend to be more stable although subject to revisions.
Innovation vs Best Practices
Best practices being a result of many trials, innovation has to be at odds with practices. All adopted practices at one point served to address a problem (think Blackboard – if you find Blackboard LMS clunky, it is that the reality and demands have changed, but the platform may still be focusing on solving the old problem). That’s a sure sign innovation is needed and is critical. We tend to think of innovation as big, sweeping and rare – I would argue that frequent tweaking of existing processes and solutions is nonetheless innovation. By all means, a system that has exhausted its capacity for modifications is to be discarded, but many small changes along the way should ensure an organization’s agility.
What Innovation is and What it isn’t
Eric Reiss has defined innovation and laid down the law(s) for innovation. Here they are:
#1 If an innovation does not solve a problem, it will create one.
#2 Problems do not exist in isolation. Solutions often have unintended consequences.
#3 True innovation is impossible if you haven’t done the research or do not understand the research.
#4 Invention may be accidental. Innovation is always planned.
#5 Innovators understand the rules. This is the difference between innovation and idiocy.
#6 Intuitive solutions do not need instructions.
#7 Innovation almost always represents the combination of two well-known technologies to create a new, useful synthesis.
#8 Innovations can take a long time before they are accepted.
Once articulated, these are quite obvious and make sense.
How does your organization handle innovation? Is it encouraged and how does it coexist with best practices? Is innovation your deliberate practice?