Just Tell Me What Works!

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]

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13 thoughts on “Just Tell Me What Works!

  • October 19, 2009 at 12:50 am
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    Mary – I couldn't agree more with you, David Gurteen and Steve Billing. 'Think for yourself' but learn from others is becoming increasingly important in a world where 'old truths' are challenged daily but new developments.

    Where we are seeing real breakthroughs at our firm is in areas where do things quite differently, make the occasional mistake, talked to others and adapt rapidly. For example, at the moment we are working on a couple of developments that are radically changing transparency for our clients but without threatening our lawyers or impacting our clients' internal confidentiality rules. In this instance we are planning to share email correspondence securely and in real-time. I don't think this has been done before in exactly this way. Well start small & go from there.

    Gerard.

  • October 19, 2009 at 1:06 am
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    Thanks very much, Gerard.

    You and your team are famous for thinking creatively about how to improve the practice and business of law. It appears that the starting point is innovating sufficiently to make the inevitable mistake or two. Then, the key is to respond quickly. You've mentioned the need to listen carefully and adapt rapidly. Both of these essential behaviors are too frequently ignored when we are fixated on implementing best practices.

    Good luck with your e-mail transparency project!

    – Mary

  • October 19, 2009 at 2:36 am
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    Nice post!

    It all depends on how desperate we are to accomplish something – quickly. We must rather let a “Best Practice” inspire us than make us want to blindly follow what it advocates. We must “derive” info from such practices rather than use them as they are. They will not be harmful as long as one focuses on the core concepts that the practice stems from and, of course, the context associated. And then, we must debate and discuss it within our own environments before we decide whether it will work for us or not…

  • October 19, 2009 at 8:49 am
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    Nimmy –

    I like your idea of distilling the core concepts derived from best practices
    and then adapting them for our own environments. In that way, we learn from
    others, borrow the best from them, but still create a solution that actually
    works for us. It's a win-win all around.

    – Mary

  • October 19, 2009 at 9:22 am
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    Mary,

    I agree with you that “Best Practice” should not be the rule of how something should be done. I think it is more about what should be done and why it should be done.
    It is useful to study best practices in terms of what could be changed and what results could be achieved.

    Phil

  • October 19, 2009 at 10:05 pm
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    Thanks, Phil.

    It's possible that some disciplines (for example, medicine?) actually have best practices that work in most contexts and should be followed scrupulously — at least until research shows that they shouldn't be. However, I wonder if this is the exception rather than the rule? How many other disciplines can make a similar claim?

    – Mary

  • Pingback: Resting on Your Laurels Ruins Best Practices | Above and Beyond KM

  • October 20, 2009 at 10:58 am
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    Mary,

    I think that the more constant subject of discipline is the wider context where best practices should be followed scrupulously. Even medicine with the human body as a subject has best practices working in most contexts but from time to time researches proof that the practice should be changed.
    For those disciplines which have less constant subject like KM best practices should be more general guidelines than the action plans.

    Phil

  • October 20, 2009 at 10:35 pm
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    Phil –

    You raise an intriguing question. Are there ANY best practices in any disciplines that may safely be followed blindly? If not, what's really a best practice?

    – Mary

  • October 22, 2009 at 5:42 am
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    Mary,

    You already had answered first question in your post Resting on Your Laurels Ruins Best Practices 🙂

    I am personally against blind following of any best practices in any case in any discipline. I know only one best practice which applies to any of discipline in any case “…actually do the hard work of thinking for yourself..”. I am trying to do my best to follow this best practice every single day.

    I believe that best practices should not be followed blindly but rather for should make people think themselves. However I can't say all disciplines as I have experience in some of them only.

    Phil

  • October 22, 2009 at 9:20 am
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    Phil –

    As you can see, my blog posts reflect my ongoing internal conversation on these topics!

    I like your nomination for the best of best practices (i.e., do the hard work of thinking for yourself). It's guaranteed to work, assuming one's thinking is sound!

    – Mary

  • October 22, 2009 at 9:42 am
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    Mary,

    You already had answered first question in your post Resting on Your Laurels Ruins Best Practices 🙂

    I am personally against blind following of any best practices in any case in any discipline. I know only one best practice which applies to any of discipline in any case “…actually do the hard work of thinking for yourself..”. I am trying to do my best to follow this best practice every single day.

    I believe that best practices should not be followed blindly but rather for should make people think themselves. However I can't say all disciplines as I have experience in some of them only.

    Phil

  • October 22, 2009 at 1:20 pm
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    Phil –

    As you can see, my blog posts reflect my ongoing internal conversation on these topics!

    I like your nomination for the best of best practices (i.e., do the hard work of thinking for yourself). It's guaranteed to work, assuming one's thinking is sound!

    – Mary

Comments are closed.