Best Practices: Part One

Some people go to great lengths to make sure they’re not taken seriously. That’s sad because it’s really quite simple. If you want to ensure whatever you have to say is dismissed immediately and out of hand, all you have to say this:

“We [select your favorite verb construction here: employ, offer, built our practice on, developed our software using, have exhaustively studied, are slavishly enamored of talking about] industry best practices.”

Here’s why it works so well:

As a term of any meaning, credibility, or effectiveness, best practice was pronounced dead in 2012. (Actually, like Keith Richards, it was dead long before that. And, like Keith Richards, it just hadn’t fallen down yet.) So, use of the phrase now signals an absence of critical, substantive thinking. If you’re a company that provides any kind of service, it also may indicate the distinct probability that you’ve stopped paying attention to your prospects, if not your customers. The longer you haven’t been paying attention, the more out of date your practices may be with the ways in which your prospects do business:

Sales Person: We use best practices to provide state-of-the-art, interactive communications media.

Prospect: Yeah. I can see that. But weren’t smoke signals banned when the EPA was established in 1970?

I’m not suggesting there are no policies, procedures, or processes that might be generally applicable within given industries — or even across industries. We’re human beings. Consequently, we’re creatures of habit. We like to indulge ourselves in a little predictability, thank you very much.

What I am suggesting is that we’re also creatures of creativity. We think. We adapt. We evolve. We grow and change. We develop better ways of doing. We chafe at restraint and aspire to ideals. So, best practices become yesterday’s news; and our quest for improvement never ends. It’s the way of the world and exactly as it should be.

The next time you pull out your PDA, your smartphone, or your tablet, think about this: If we’d adhered to best practices, we’d still be contentedly sending smoke signals.


Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

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  1. In the world of change, “best practice” is the next shiny thing, the answer we’ve been looking for, the panacea. It also connotes stagnation and a bit of laziness. It’s not that we can’t learn from others – “Bring on your results and how you got there, so that I might consider things.” – but simply implementing a practice that worked somewhere else under who-knows-what circumstances will likely take you down the path of failure.

    Rather than ‘best practices,” call it “You might consider this.” Or “This worked for us.”

    • I agree with every word of your comments, Jeff. And I suspect the devotees of best practices would never cop to laziness.

      In the follow-up on this topic, I’ll be linking best practices to science. Stay tuned. 😉

      Thank you for chiming in.

    • Thank you, Larry. I’m with you. Best Practices always remind me of two things: (1) The old expression, “The operation was a success, but the patient died. (2) The difference between doing things right (best practices) and doing right things (succeeding).

      I’m grateful for your comments.