We’re all searching for them. Call them Best Practices, Benchmarks or Trends, we’re all looking for the secret sauce, the safe choice, or the proven solution. That’s actually not a bad thing. The only problem is, we’re evolving into a cut and paste world, void of original thought, critical thinking, or patience for trial and error.
Perhaps it’s because we’re being judged so swiftly on performance. Maybe it’s because instantaneous results and feedback have become such the norm, that we’ve lost patience – for just about everything (from elevators doors that won’t close within mili-seconds to Web pages that fail to load at the speed of light.)
In any event, I’m afraid we may be arriving at an unfortunate destination. I’m being optimistic in making that statement. In reality, we’ve probably already arrived. But rather than make a definitive statement, I’ll ask the question. Are we all becoming Replicationists? Has our desire to imitate others (coupled with an increasing risk-aversion) fueled our herd mentality? Perhaps it has.
This idea of crowd psychology (also commonly referred to as herd or mob mentality) was first put forth by 19th-century French social psychologist Gabriel Tarde. This area of social psychology tests theories to explain the ways in which behavior differs from individuals in a crowd and the crowd as an entity.
“No one ever got fired for hiring IBM” was a common phrase (often referred to as one of the most powerful marketing phrases ever) in circulation in the 1980?s. If you worked at IBM, you fed into this. If you were one of IBM’s competitors, well, you had an uphill battle in your fight against crowd psychology. Marketers who coined this phrase surely understood the power of group think and our desire to imitate other successful firms. But they also played on something else that seems to have taken hold today – Fear. This slogan was not simply, be successful with IBM. It implied you could get fired for making another choice.
I’ve noticed a recurring trend in my work as a consultant at Pursuant. People (organizational leaders all the way down to summer interns) appear to be making major decisions based on FEAR. Suddenly we are less compelled to action by a grand vision or societal impact. Rather we seem to be motivated by short-term, fiscal year performance measurements and risk-aversion. As a result, we’re in constant pursuit of Best Practices. We’re watching our peer firms, hospitals, educational institutions, etc. for practices to adopt. In doing so, we’ve self-handicapped in a way that provides protection for our decision-making. The safety net of knowing you are doing what everyone else is doing creates a false sense of protection in the event that results are less than expected. In reality Best Practices today have become little more than Common Practices.
In light of this theory of mine, I will boldly propose to you five best practices you should adopt today. Be advised though these practices will force you to leave the comfort of the pack and hopefully encourage you to blaze new trails.
1. EMBRACE ORIGINAL THOUGHT – Build upon the proven works of others, but reinvent processes, organizational structures, and practices. Stop cutting and pasting. In some case there is no reason to reinvent the wheel. However, many decisions are avoided from fear of failure, retribution, or embarrassment. Be Bold. Be Original.
2. EMPLOY THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD WITHOUT ABANDONING FAITH & INTUITION – Develop theories, then test them. But do so without losing your gut intuition, experience, and awareness that what we do is both Art and Science.
3. BE CURIOUS – Look for new ideas, new ways of thinking, new technologies to leverage. Commit yourself to a healthy diet of new information. We live in a dynamic world. Go explore it with curiosity.
4. ENGAGE OTHERS IN THE PROCESS – Gaining buy-in is important in any process seeking mass adoption. So engage others in the process early and often. In doing so though, remain guarded against naysayers who enjoy reminding you “we’ve tried that before.” or “that won’t work here.” They say misery loves company. I believe mediocrity loves company as well.
5. BE HUMBLE, COLLABORATIVE, AND SUPPORTIVE OF OTHERS – Working well together requires a commitment to collaboration, support, and shared enthusiasm for both individual and collective accomplishments.
We can only hope these “Best Practices” become Common Practices.