Forget Best Practices?

What would have happened if today’s best business leaders followed the best practices of their time? A whole lot of nothing.

Every few years or so, it seems, there is a cycle of new buzzwords and phrases that take the business world by storm. Most recently, according to sitepoint, we’ve been bombarded by the ideas of paradigm shifts, Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAG), and “best practices.” Best practices, in particular, have begun pervading every aspect of running a company. From marketing to automation to hiring decisions, there is someone out there who claims to have the best way to do it. We say screw best practices. Here’s why.

They Don’t Exist

The idea that there exists a best practice for any business decision is inherently flawed. It’s a dangerous notion that threatens to stunt any company, as Greg Cowin wrote in LinkedIn. On a basic level, the term implies that there is no longer any room for improvement, that there is only one way to achieve your goal and if you don’t do it that way, sorry, you’re out of luck. It is the same flawed logic that gave power to the phrase “Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM” — namely that the safest, most common method is the best, and no one can blame you for trying.

It suggests that there is a one-size-fits-all solution for any problem. It implies your unique situation is, in fact, not unique. It disregards the context of your business, its market, the clients, etc. and contends that you lack the independent thought and problem-solving skills needed to address whatever issues are at hand. It is, in fact, insulting.

The reality is that “best practices” do not exist. There are, of course, better practices and it is certainly worth noting what tactics were successful, and where. More importantly, though, it is essential to understand why those practices worked, and under what circumstances. The world is not black and white, and to operate under the assumption that the “best practices” that worked for one business will work for you is risky indeed.

No Room For Innovation

More and more we are looking to giants like Google and Microsoft to inform our decisions. “Oh, we should do this,” someone will say, “because these are the best practices of Google.” The problem with assuming that what works for companies like Google or Microsoft will work for you is that Google and Microsoft are not like most companies. Most companies don’t operate near those levels of revenue streams or profit margins. Also, what worked for Microsoft before is clearly not working now. Google is a huge enterprise and they have their own challenges — every company is unique, with a unique set of challenges.

This is not to say that you should completely ignore the popular methods in use — quite the contrary. Take a close look at those techniques, but do so with a hard, critical eye, and look for ways to improve them. The fact that the “best practices” are so widespread mean that they no longer give you a competitive advantage because, like a new technology the moment it is released, they are already obsolete.

So What?

Running a business requires constant movement, flexibility, and adaptation — why expect a rigid and stagnant solution to solve your problem? You should always be pushing the way things are done and striving to find new ways and better methods. Challenge breeds innovation. So challenge the status quo and challenge yourself. Foster creativity, use discernment, and never, ever settle.

Ken Sterling is the Chief Marketing Officer at BigSpeak Speakers’ bureau – the leading keynote and business speakers bureau in the world. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California and an MBA from Babson College. Ken teaches Entrepreneurship, Marketing and Strategy at UC Santa Barbara. He is a serial entrepreneur, keynote speaker, business consultant and sales & marketing expert. For press interviews, contact

(Main image credit: Michael Koukoullis/flickr)