Sep 24, 2008

Why following best practices won't take you too far?

Just got back from Vegas, where I heard C.K. Prahalad (renowned management thinker at University of Michigan) discuss his new book - "the new age of innovation". Enjoyed it!

One of my key take aways was the way he defined and contrasted Best Practices with Next Practices.

We often use the phrase "Best Practices" in IT. I discourage its all purpose use, primarily because of how its interpreted by most... Often it is understood as "here's the gospel, use it, don't question it, just follow it". It doesn't encourage thinking, questioning conventional wisdom. It might be fine in some cases, but not always.

Moreover, there are factors to consider while using Best Practices like context: What worked in a certain situation may not work everywhere; time: What you're facing today is very different from what you/someone else faced a week ago; etc.

Here's what I understand and like to practice...
  • To be distinctive we need to innovate - question the norm, think, adjust continuously. C.K. Prahalad calls this Next Practices. These practices are live i.e. designed to change. If you want to be "better than the rest" in an area, you need Next Practices, typically in core areas (e.g. software development is core to development teams, whereas infrastructure isn't)
  • In non-core areas, we expect only to be as good as others. In this case we can learn/follow what experts have defined - Best Practices. This can make us "only as good as the rest"

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