Saturday, June 4, 2011

Best Practices Vs. Next Practices: Are You Looking Forward or Backward?

Over my career, I have been coached by bosses, mentors, and colleagues that successful businesses build their business strategies upon best practices.

Business people have often considered introduction of a new best practice as thought leadership. My question is should business leaders focus on developing best practices, which are based upon the past, or should they be thinking ahead?

Looking Forward or Backward?

I’m not so sure that touting best practices equates to thought leadership.  It certainly is not innovation.  About three months ago I came across an article written by an Eventprofs colleague, Adrian Segar, that really resonated with me.  Entitled “Next Practices, Not Best Practices” his blog article very appropriately points out that Best Practices:

  1. Are founded upon what has worked most successfully in the past.
  2. Distract us from thinking about “Next Practices” or new ways of doing things for the future.

I think Adrian hit the nail on the head with those comments.  Make no mistake, I do believe there is a place in business for both.  I just believe the pace of business and the reality of rapid change are forcing businesses to continuously innovate.  To not do so is corporate suicide, as society has become too competitive to allow folks to rest on their business laurels for too long.

Next Practices Are All About Innovation

Interestingly, the concept of “Next Practices” is not a new one.  For fun I googled the term and immediately found pages upon pages of articles, going back several years, addressing this topic.  Here are some interesting nuggets from my research:

Dr. John Sullivan (HR Thought Leader), June 2006 — “Best practices only allow you to do what you are currently doing a little better, while next practices increase your organization’s capability to do things that it could never have done before. By jumping a level up to next practices, you’re taking a giant step in that you are actually creating your future recruiting capabilities, rather than relying on the innovation of others.”

Saul Kaplan (Founder, Business Innovation Factory), May 2009“It is not best practices, but next practices that will sustain your organization on a strong growth trajectory. While you continue to pedal the bicycle of today’s business model make sure that no less than 10% of your time and resources is dedicated to exploring new business models and developing next practices.”

C.K. Prahalad ( Harvard Bua. Review) April 2010 “Organizations become winners by spotting big opportunities and inventing next practices … Next practices are all about innovation: imagining what the future will look like; identifying the mega-opportunities that will arise; and building capabilities to capitalize on them.”

Clearly, we are all doing business differently than we did a few years ago.  The economic climate, combined with continuously developing technology, and the impact of social media have opened the floodgates of innovation.  Businesses mostly have less dollars to spend, and have become more prudent in their choice of vendor partners.

One sure way to draw attention to your business is to find new and game-changing ways of delivering business value to your customers and prospects.  There is risk associated with trying new things, but the ultimate payoff could be huge.

Question:  Are you and your organization finding ways to build for the future that will resonate with customers?  Are you stuck in the benchmarking world, or are you stepping outside of the box and finding a new way to deliver value to your customers?  Tell us about it please!

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Donna Kastner June 5, 2011 at 10:31 am

Excellent post, Mike — you’ve hit some big hot buttons for me.

As you mentioned, the sweet spot is often a mix of best & next practices. If we could laser in and decide which BEST’s to keep and which NEXT’s to create, just imagine the impact this would have on our organization AND the industry.


Michael M McCurry CMP June 5, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Hey Donna,

True enough! I think the first step if for us all to realize that we need those next practices to remain relevant! I love this stuff, and look forward to watch how next practices unfold over the coming months.

Thanks for weighing in.



Midori Connolly June 5, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Hi Mike!
Yay, finally a Sunday with a McCurry’s corner posting!! You’re not allowed to go on vacations again haha.

Anyways, this June’s Harvard Business Review was based on How Great Leaders Unleash Innovation and I’ve read it cover to cover twice already! So your post is so timely and I’m really interested in what you’re talking about here as well.

The challenge for those of us who are trying to create the Next Practices is helping others to see the value and potential for adapting new practices. It can be a really frustrating situation to try to help others envision the possibilities. I’d like to learn more about how, as leaders, we can better communicate our Next Practices and gain buy-in from those above and below us.
So, @Donna, I LOVE what you’re saying about building upon the best of the past. That is a great way to help me structure new ideas and concepts to make the future vision more relevant in order to show the industry and my colleagues what we can achieve by adapting Next Practices.

Midori Connolly, Chief AVGirl


Michael M McCurry CMP June 7, 2011 at 9:10 am

Hi Midori,

I am really curious about the HBR article you are referring to… can you share the URL?

There definitely pain associated with rolling out next practices, as change does not come easily to many people. I also would love to gain some insight into how to best sell new ideas and concepts to my colleagues and leadership.

I am sure we will learn together and hopefully exchange insights!

Thanks for contributing Midori.



Jeff Hurt June 6, 2011 at 8:27 am

Glad you wrote this post.

I’ve always had a challenge with best practices. They set a standard for action, which is a good thing. Unfortunately, people aim for that bar and then never try to do something better or innovative. They stop once they reach the best practice. I think best practices actually stifle creativity, insight and doing things differently.

I prefer the term foundational practices or something like that. Then we can move away from the term “best” as meaning there isn’t a better way.


Michael M McCurry CMP June 7, 2011 at 9:12 am

Mr. Hurt, always love it when you chime in with some of your wisdom. :)

I think you and i are on the same page that best practices can stifle creativity and shift our focus from innovation to accepting the status quo. I love your term “foundational practices” … it hits the nail on the head.

Thanks for weighing in on this topic… much appreciated.



Andy Smith June 6, 2011 at 9:56 am

Thanks for sharing this blog Mike. For too long some have been proud of demonstrating “best practices”, while actually failing to find methods to insert innovation. Your use of the Dilbert cartoon effectively delivers a warning message to us all that challenges us to push for something new. That’s what makes our careers simulataneously fun and stressful.


Michael M McCurry CMP June 7, 2011 at 9:15 am

HI Andy,

Thanks for your comments and yes, I was glad I stumbled upon that Dilbert cartoon. It was a perfect addition to the article.

I look forward to seeing where we can go with shifting business thinking in the events world.

Thanks for adding to the conversation.



Billy Kirsch June 9, 2011 at 8:11 am

Great post Mike. I’ve always thought that ‘best practices’ can tend toward stagnation. Putting up the concept of ‘best’ as a static term/place/thing is not innovative or flexible. Thanks for the research you did on this one.


Emily Breder June 9, 2011 at 8:37 am

‘Best Practices’ isn’t even an option for an internet startup like the one I work for. If you aren’t hacking a new path through the jungle, then you’re lost in it. Every single day we have to ask ourselves, “Is this still working? What do we need to re-think? Where to we need to emphasize?”

There is no formula, but there are general guidelines that can help stay on the right path, especially staying client-focused. Money and image are fluid, but customer service stays the same: respond, respond, respond (not react, react, react).

Thinking out of the box in terms of problem-solving and focusing on making each experience better for everyone involved creates the kind of atmosphere that’s ideal for innovation of any kind.

Thanks for your great post!


Michael M McCurry CMP June 9, 2011 at 12:02 pm

@Billy Kirsch

Thanks for the comments and I agree that best practices can lead to stagnation.

@Emily Breder

I guess you bring your machete with you wherever you go :)

We do need to get ourselves thinking more strategically with our customers than reactive. It can only lead to great things.

Thanks to both of you for adding to the conversation!



Dan Sundt June 20, 2011 at 7:36 am

Great post Mike,

How many times have many of us introduced a novel idea to a client only to be asked if somebody else has successfully implemented the idea previously?

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with several more courageous clients who are willing to innovate and risk, and clearly next practices do involve a certain element of risk. But we must always ask ourselves and our clients if a lack of change is the greater risk (often the case for many).

To borrow some thinking from Jim Collins, if good is the enemy of great then certainly best practices are the enemy of next practices.




Michael M McCurry CMP June 20, 2011 at 11:20 am

Hi Dan,

Love your closing paragraph… I will have to find somewhere to use that.

It is truly amazing to me that so many people/organizations get caught up in the “if its not broke don’t fix it” routine. The true reward in business comes through Innovation.

Thanks for contributing to the conversation.



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