Next practices, not best practices!

Next practices, not best practices This is broken 256018876_b6259fff79_b
Photo attribution: Flickr user heygabe

Best Practices look backward, providing advice that worked in the past; Next Practices focus on what to do in the time ahead.
The Internet Time Alliance

I always felt irritated, but never knew why, when I heard someone talk about best practices as the business processes we should strive for. Reading the excerpt quoted above, taken from the Working Smarter Glossary of the Internet Time Alliance led to an aha! moment.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with learning about and comparing different approaches to solving problems or satisfying business requirements. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel or repeat mistakes that others have made.

But when we limit ourselves to the best that others are doing, two things happen.

First, we blind ourselves to the reality that our world is constantly changing, that the “best” of today may become quickly obsolete. As examples, we only need look at how the music & publishing industries continue to cling to outmoded business models as digital distribution becomes commonplace.

And second, we don’t think about ways we might come up with something better. Example? Unlike the rest of the airline industry, Southwest Airlines has been profitable for 37 consecutive years. Not by implementing well-established practices of the fiercely competitive air transportation business but by introducing new ways (flying out of smaller airports, standardizing airline fleets, employee profit-sharing etc.) to satisfy customers and grow their market.

Learning about what’s best is fine for novices who need to get up to speed on what an industry currently does. And implementing next practices can be scary, because they may require us to do things that we, and perhaps no one else, have ever done before.

But, if we restrict ourselves to what’s currently best, then at best we’ll maintain the status quo, with the ever-present danger that at any time a competitor could make our industry’s best practices second best. Instead, focus on next practices. Doing this allows us to be open to reinventing our work, leading us to the potential of a profitable (and interesting) future.

Process, not product

process not product

Process, not product.

“We shape our buildings, then our buildings shape us.”
Winston Churchill

For about ten years I had a piece of paper thumbtacked at eye level on my office wall. It said:

Process, not product.

I needed that piece of paper in plain view to remind me as I worked on projects that, ultimately, the process I use to achieve my goals is more important than the end-result.

No, I’m not saying that the products of my work aren’t important; far from it. Rather, if I concentrate on my end-goals to the extent that my awareness of the process I am using to obtain them suffers, then:

  1. My end results will be inferior to what I could have achieved; and
  2. I’ll be living a miserable life.

It took me ten years before I removed that piece of paper. Ten years to be able to reliably remember not to plunge into achievement at the expense of mindful action.

Sometimes, old habits take a long time to change.

There’s a silver lining, though. By practicing implementing change in small ways in our daily lives, we can get better at facilitating the change we seek.

Which is more important for you? Process or product?

Image attribution: Flickr user sixmilliondollardan

When will we wake up about the need to change our conference designs?

When will we wake up about the need to change our conference designs?

change our conference designs Edward's Arm in the Hands of his Medical Advisors

Medicine in medieval times consisted of blood-letting, exorcism of devils, spells, incantations, and a proscription of bathing. It didn’t work. In fact, like traditional management, it made things worse. Doctors who had been taught to do it believed in it. The establishment defended it. The universities kept teaching it. So people went on doing it, despite all the evidence to the contrary. It took hundreds of years before these counter-productive practices were set aside in favor of modern medicine. Eventually, people awoke from their collective delusion.
More or less innovation? Duh? by Steve Denning

In the above quote, Steve Denning describes the persistence of the fledgling medical establishment in inflicting medical treatments that didn’t work. He draws an analogy with how managers still cling to traditional management practices, despite a century of calls for change, and mounting evidence of the social and economic damages they are inflicting.

Let’s hope it isn’t much longer before we face the stultifying effects of traditional conference designs on hapless attendees, and take the necessary steps to change our designs, based on what we are learning about how adults best learn and connect.

Mission: Working for the earth

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Working for the earth. I came across this excerpt from an eloquent speech by Paul Hawken today, and want to share it:

We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. Think about this: we are the only species on this planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time than to renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can’t print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.

Paul Hawken, environmentalist and head of the Natural Capital Institute, from his commencement address to the University of Portland, May 3, 2009.

Image courtesy: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center