Why Following “Best Practices” Could Be the Worst Thing You Could Do Today

Best practices have served management consultancies well.

They rose to prominence and influence in a simpler era when the overriding objective for most industries was the smooth and efficient expansion into a booming economy. The study and emulation of established approaches and processes  that delivered results was, in many ways, what enabled the consulting industry to grow and flourish over the past 40 years.

These “best practices” as they became known, enabled industries to scale with predictability and consistency by looking at what has worked in the past.

In truth, best practices are nothing more than disparate groups of methodologies, processes, rules, concepts and theories that attained a level of acceptance across many industries. Because of their perceived success, they assumed the status of universal truths, applicable anywhere and everywhere.

But in an era of so-called “disruption,” what has worked in the past won’t get you very far. Many industries are being disrupted into oblivion by digital technology, and the pace of change makes it positively hazardous to rely on the conventional wisdom. What got you here today won’t necessarily get you where you need to be tomorrow.

Technology is so quickly shaping the future that leaders have to be ready to build business models that don’t have a precedent, and to imagine customer and employee experiences in ways that haven’t been seen before.

Accenture Strategy recently surveyed 1,252 business leaders from diverse industries across the world to better understand the degree to which companies are anticipating change. The survey found they are pursuing new business models to navigate, or even lead, disruption. In fact, 76 percent of business leaders surveyed agreed that current business models will be unrecognizable in the next 5 years.

Tesla’s meteoric rise to become the world’s most valuable car maker was based on an outright rejection of old-school practices. Founder Elon Musk’s plan was defined by a Silicon Valley approach which enabled Tesla to upturn a century-old industry and reinvent manufacturing, distribution, marketing and sales – in fact, he reinvented everything but the wheel (and that might well be next on his list).

In fact, the rise of “AutoTech” as it’s been coined, will have wide-ranging and potentially devastating implications for many established players and brands in the auto industry. A modern vehicle is a two-ton computer on wheels. Just as the digital revolution swept away Blockbuster, Tower Records, Borders Books and pushed the entire publishing industry to the edge of extinction, so will AutoTech have the same impact for gasoline retailers, the numerous service brands such as Jiffy Lube, Valvoline and Grease Monkey, and every automotive company in the world. Volkswagen for one is already repositioning itself as a “software driven mobility provider,” a radical leap for an automobile manufacturer to make.

While it’s extraordinarily tempting to choose the comfort of the familiar over the uncertainty of disruptive thinking, particularly when businesses and their executives are pressed to generate quick results, the writing is on the wall. It says, “Best practices are a follower’s strategy.”

Is it any wonder most banks, supermarkets, airlines, retailers, and consulting firms look astonishingly similar—they’ve been busy copying each other’s best practices for years.  Why differentiate when you are exactly the same as your competitors?

It’s why you see websites of providers in the same industry looking exactly the same using the same messages (often with the same words), the same photography and offering the almost identical digital user experience. How many times have you been in a meeting and somebody says: “let’s not reinvent the wheel!”  I doubt that much of the progress we’ve witnessed just in the last 100 years would have happened if that philosophy had prevailed. Imagine – no iPhones, no Internet, no Netflix, and no Elvis!

The road to mediocrity is paved by good intentions and best practices. It’s time to be courageous and embrace creative thinking and the power of imagination over conventional thinking to deliver new value on every level.

So, go ahead, reinvent the wheel if you can. Or, as Steve Jobs urged us to do several decades ago – “Think Different.”