Best Practices Are Stupid. (Book Review)

Here’s what I wanted the book to say:

“Best Practices are Stupid.” Why should we always use what others are doing to define our own limitations and success? Screw that. We should find out what’s special about our department, our division, our institution and ROCK IT OUT. What are we made of? Other folks’ best work? Copied ideas from someone better than us?

Alas, this book didn’t say any of that so I can’t quote it. They DID say this:

“When you copy someone’s best practice, you are not staying ahead; you are playing a game of catch-up. Your differentiating capability, in particular, must be unique and distinctive and not based on what others are doing.”

That’s what I’m looking for! Boo-Ya!

So let’s move on to some highlights from the book that I found to be interesting…

There are five areas that can help you with the ways you create new initiatives:

1. Process – You need to find an efficient process for addressing issues and opportunities.

2. Strategy – You have to know your target audience’s wants and needs.

3. Measures – Your measurement systems might be hindering the innovation process. You want to be able to foster creativity, not stifle it.

4. People – Right people. Basically a well-developed team full of different viewpoints and backgrounds.

5. Technology – You gotta have the right Tech for the job. Invest in what you need to stay up to date.

I loved the title of one particular chapter: “Asking for Ideas is a Bad Idea”. I’ve always said that if you go up to a Freshman during a Late Nite event and ask them what they’d like to see at Late Nite, they’d look around the room listing things that are already happening with only a few additions that are usually not helpful. This book goes on to mention that you can’t just come up with random ideas thinking you know what folks want because you’ll miss the mark.

There was a quick story told (that I’m going to shorten even more) about how an idea-driven approach is like a fisherman throwing out a huge net in the middle of the ocean in a random spot. He catches a lot of stuff and may find what he’s looking for, but he’ll catch a lot of garbage too. But if he was to purposely use the right equipment, fish in an appropriate location (“If you want to catch fish, go where the fish are.”) he’ll probably find exactly what he’s looking for. The real life example I have – we need to target events to the types of students that get transported to the hospital for alcohol issues. You can’t just say, “Hey wouldn’t it be fun to hold a big DJ party?” because you really have to look at the target audience to see if that’s what kind of event would keep them on campus.

Chapter Tips in this book had great titles: “Not Survival of the Fittest – Survival of the Adaptable”, “Don’t Think Outside the Box; Find a Better Box”, “The Difference Between a Pipeline and a Sewer Is What Flows Through It”.

One section about talk how Indiana Jones gets out from his academic world to go on adventures and learn first hand about the things he teaches. That’s how you’ll find out what your customers really like. I completely agree with this as well. Only those Student Affairs professionals in the trenches on the weeknights and weekends know about how they can get a sense of the “general feeling” students have about “XYZ” due to the fact that they are mixed in with the students on a daily basis. When I was coordinating Late Nite, I would be able to guess without fail what “types” of students had attended that weekend – BECAUSE  I WAS THERE. It was all numbers to the assessment folks.

Another point made was that if you want innovation – you have to allow time for it. Time crunch someone – they will not be able to think creatively. If you want the top folks in your organization to come up with visionary type items – that takes brain power and time alone to work on it. It’s hard with folks in a “one person shop” who have no one to help them and need that space to consider the larger picture instead of spending all their time just making things happen.

So I liked this book and really felt like it was agreeing with my standpoint of needing to reflect internally, spending time being creative – instead of doing a quick grab of someone else’s work.

To be fair – the authors do mention times when Best Practices can be valuable. Core and Support, Best Practices from Outside Your Industry were mentioned. Ok. I’ll allow that.

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