We may think we should adopt best practices, but to be really effective and innovative we need to practice to be best.
First, we have to do the hard thinking about how to do things better. Jay Deragon talks about how important it is to think about what we do and not just emulate others:
Social Doo Doo’s are those that practice and copy, what others do expecting to get the same or better results. Social Doo Doo’s are a dime a dozen and the market seems to think hiring the Doo Doo’s will help their business do something different. Doing something different and getting more than you’ve gotten in the past requires you to know how to think which isn’t what others are doing.
Gaining new knowledge or creating new knowledge and knowing what to do with it is more productive than doing what others do. To gain or create new knowledge requires thinking which is a lot deeper than doing.
Another example of advancing practice in a field is provided in The New Yorker’s The Bell Curve: What happens when patients find out how good their doctors really are? In this article, a doctor explains how radically new thinking saved the life of a fire fighter but his mates refused to try something different and they perished.
As Berwick explained, the organization had unravelled. The men had lost their ability to think coherently, to act together, to recognize that a lifesaving idea might be possible. This is what happens to all flawed organizations in a disaster, and, he argued, that’s what is happening in modern health care. To fix medicine, Berwick maintained, we need to do two things: measure ourselves and be more open about what we are doing. This meant routinely comparing the performance of doctors and hospitals, looking at everything from complication rates to how often a drug ordered for a patient is delivered correctly and on time. And, he insisted, hospitals should give patients total access to the information. “ ‘No secrets’ is the new rule in my escape fire,” he said. He argued that openness would drive improvement, if simply through embarrassment. It would make it clear that the well-being and convenience of patients, not doctors, were paramount. It would also serve a fundamental moral good, because people should be able to learn about anything that affects their lives.
Imitating what others do is not the way to make progress, or as Marshall McLuhan said, “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” Individuals and organizations need to chart their own courses but “Best Practice” thinking is still widespread. I have found that decision-makers in organizations can be too lazy to extrapolate and figure out how to apply practices in their own context. They want easy, clear answers and hence have the tendency to hire cookie-cutter solutions from big name consultancies. But there are no easy answers. As my colleague Jon Husband says of his wirearchy framework, it enables the mass customization of business, and that is what we need to replace best practices. Individuals and organizations continuously practicing to be best, on a large scale.
No technology or process improvement will save an unraveling industry or organization. What is needed is better thinking and learning while practicing to be the best. This starts with transparency in sharing our knowledge and doing our work.