Sometimes we just want to be told what to do. To be honest, we all have days when that seems far preferable to thinking for ourselves. Unfortunately, it’s exactly this temptation that has led us to make a fetish of “best practices” in knowledge management. However, we would do ourselves a great favor if we were more candid about the real value of best practices.
In his October Newsletter, David Gurteen includes a great piece entitled On Best Practice and Thinking for Yourself! In it he explains why slavishly following so-called “best practice” may not always be the right approach. In fact, best practice may sometimes be illusory. Best practices are, in theory, a wonderful thing. After all, who wouldn’t want to know how the best and the brightest do something? The problem is that the solution those exceptional folks have found works precisely because it is their solution. It succeeds because it was created for their context and was carried out by them. Unless you are operating under exactly the same circumstances (and with the same type of people), there is no guarantee that it will work equally as well when you try to make it your solution.
The sources David Gurteen cites point to the true value of “best practices.” That value doesn’t lie in having a foolproof recipe. Rather, those “best practices” are most useful as examples of what can be done (rather than what must be done) to address a specific situation. You could then take those examples and adapt them to the particularities of your situation. Better yet, you should take those examples and use them as a launching point to spur some truly creative thinking on your part and devise a solution that is uniquely suited to your circumstances. That creative thinking should lead you to Next Practices rather than Best Practices. And, in so doing, help you to discover practices that will work more powerfully in your context. Now, be honest — isn’t that the best practice for you?
[Photo Credit: Joan Thewlis]