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Cathy Brown

I read the dialogue about Best Practices with intrigue given that I am the CEO of a philanthropic organizations. Charitable organizations should be obsessed with ensuring practices that are able to be benchmarked against other organizations that comply with federal standards. In addition, we really must be committed to transparency. The issue in the social sector, is that we are not "regulated" beyond what federal legislation requres. Unfortunately, due to some bad cases of fraud and illegal practices, our sector is engaging in an active dialogue around self-monitoring.

Jamie Notter

Seeing something out there that inspires you to do your thing better is fine. But "best practices" is more than that. It is a mindset. Best practices are answers. When you go looking for best practices, you are looking for answers, and you are likely not spending enough time thinking about your questions (thanks, David, for pointing to Block's "The Answer to How is Yes" book, which has that as a thesis). I think if you are clearer about your questions, then the issue of "fit" and "context" with the best practices that you come across will be more immediately apparent. Then what other people are doing CAN inspire your own innovation.

Kevin Holland

There has to be a balance between learning from what other people do, adapting what works and jettisoning what doesn't, and "innovating" new concepts. I side with Sue in that I think it's important to look at organizations or industries (or entities or societies or cultural groups) that are completely different from your own if you want to learn how to create better programs or concepts.

But I also agree that the old-style best practice concept -- "here's how Company X did Y and achieved Z" -- is not useful if it's merely a roadmap for others to copy. Better, perhaps, may be an analysis of how Company X came up with the idea of Y in the first place.

But I'm also wondering: Just as important as understanding that there's a limit to what best practices can teach us, isn't there also a limit to what customers/members can tell us? The most interesting and innovative companies/organizations come up with products or services that their customers never even realized they needed and could never have pointed to in a survey. Organizations that slavishly devote themselves to fulfilling wish checklists based solely on focus groups and market surveys don't leave themselves much room for innovation.

Cecilia Sepp

I think best practices are like punk rock music and hair -- best left to the 1980s.
Today's business and non-profit environments call for innovation. How are we to innovate if we just copy?

Sue Pelletier

I tend to lean toward Rich's point of view on this one, with one addition. Look at best practices for organizations that are completely dissimilar to yours if you want interesting new ideas instead of just playing follow the leader.

But the best is, as David suggests, to look within, really look hard at what you're doing, talk to your members (novel concept!) and staff. Be open to suggestions. Be open to change. Ask lots of questions. Blindly grafting someone else's best practice onto your organization obviously isn't optimal, but I wouldn't throw out the concept entirely.

David Lorms

It is interesting to note that when organizational leaders become stymied they often turn to a consultant. Said consultant marshals information frequently based on "best practices" of that particular industry. And, they frequently invoke the all powerful phrase..."Let's think outside the box on this." Unfortunately, for many of these instances, the organization has yet to explore the full extent of their own 'box.' By not exploring their own space and resources more fully, as recommended in Peter Block's book, The Answer to How is Yes, the attempt results in creating an organization more likely to lose itself in attempting to find itself among the tired practices of another organization. Rich said it well in the questions he poses. If the "best practice" does not fit, then it really isn't a "best practice," just the manner in which another organization goes about its work.

Rich Westerfield

There's no one way of doing anything. But there are "best practices" that merit copying.

Half the things Starbucks does are useful to every coffee shop. Half are only useful to Starbucks. A smart cafe owner knows which half to choose if they plan on staying open for long.

Best practices discussions are a starting point. Can we fulfill orders within 24 hours like company X? How does company X do it? Can we do that? Can we improve on that? Does it fit with our business plan? Does it fit with our culture? Do our customers care enough to pay for it?

Always a discussion worth having, so yes, there is a value to looking at other's best practices.

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