I don’t recall having put together a blog post over here on the specific topic of capturing "Best Practices"; so after reading last Friday’s blog post by my good friend Oscar Berg on this very same topic (Under the title "Forget about copying best practices") I thought it would be a good opportunity to share a few insights, specially since I’m one of those folks with a traditional KM background that never believed in them, even back then! Years have now gone by and I suppose you may be wondering whether I have changed my opinion on them, or not, right? Well, no, I haven’t. Quite the opposite! And here is why …
"Best Practices" are the worst thing you can apply to any kind of knowledge work. Any kind. Social Computing is no different! More than anything else because best practices will always suggest concepts like static, fixed, inalterable, unmodified, unbeatable, perfect. And, as you can imagine, those are the kind of characteristics that would be rather the opposite to what knowledge is all about and the capturing of some of it; knowledge is supposed to be dynamic, flexible, malleable, modifiable, flowing, a continuous learning experience, imperfect. Always leaving room to improve the already existing knowledge by acquiring plenty more!
So can you capture those "Best Practices" on knowledge work? No. You just can’t! That’s exactly what Oscar talks about in his blog post, where he claims how you can’t copy best practices from one company to another because eventually it would turn itself, over time, into what he calls a "common" practice. They would devalue themselves over time with their continued reuse to the point where at some stage they would no longer add any additional value to that business. On the contrary. And I just couldn’t help agreeing with him 100% on this one, but I would go even one step further: even within your own business and across organisations best practices would follow that same dead end!
That’s why whenever someone asks me whether I have got documented somewhere some "Best Practices" on Social Software and Social Computing, so that they would have a good starting point for them to start experimenting with these social tools, based on what other knowledge workers may have been using themselves successfully in the past, my answer keeps coming up with the same sentence: "No, sorry, I don’t have any; there aren’t any!" This surely surprises them quite a bit, since most of them are very well versed, and very much used to, as well!, to the concept of best practices, since that’s what they have been accustomed to from last century’s labour based economies, where, to some extent, they could make sense. To a certain extent…
But not in today’s knowledge economy. Not in today’s working environment where information and knowledge flows faster than ever before improving itself more and more by the minute without an opportunity to become static, so you can capture it. However, that’s typically not my answer to their amazement when confronted with the fact there aren’t any best practices for social software, and for knowledge work, in general. My typical answer is that in most cases best practices would probably work for those folks who put them together for themselves in the first place. And that’s about it.
Why? Well, to me it’s all about a key concept we keep neglecting back and forth and with no remedy: context. Indeed, when trying to capture those best practices, you may be doing a very good job at it, but still they are being put together in a specific context, that, of course, will not correlate to other areas of the business, nor other companies, and as such that’s when we would be entering that "common" practice. And I always make use of an example very close to people: blogging. I have been blogging for about 7 years now and plenty of folks have suggested I put together some of those best practices on blogging. Kind of like a Blogging 101 for newcomers.
And time and time again I keep telling those folks that, yes, I could do that, I could document them, but I also mention that they would only probably work for me, and my context. No one else’s. I mean, all of the stuff I have learned about blogging over the years pretty much applies to me. To my own blogging style and voice. And not anyone else. Just because they don’t have the same context I do, just because they don’t have the same goals for their blogging as my own. Simple, but it gets the message across.
Another interesting read on the topic of capturing best practices, and its various flaws, is one blog post (In Portuguese, originally [Link here]) put together by the always insightful Ana Neves under Capture Best Practices. Or No [Translated link into English]. In that article Ana just nails it, in my opinion, when she states what they usually convey:
- "Cannot be improved
- Must be followed to the letter
- Applies in all circumstances"
That’s exactly why I, too, would prefer to use the term "good practice" versus "best practice" and more than anything else, because of something I learned a long while ago as well: there is always room for improvement. Always! And that’s exactly where Best Practices fail to deliver time and time again.
A long while ago I was actually attending a live event where KM extraordinaire Dave Snowden was the main KM keynote speaker, talking as well about the main fundamental flaw(s) behind best practices that I thought was worth while mentioning over here as well, which I think has also been rather underestimated all along: the fact that, as a human being, there is very little you will learn from a best practice. We just can’t learn from something that is perfect, that works all the time, that doesn’t challenge us over and over again.
Our brains, contrary to what most people think, have been designed to learn much more from lessons learned instead; from what didn’t work; from conflicts; from situations that were everything, but successful; from what would force us to (re)think what we have just done and do it better, trying harder next time around…
So, if anything, businesses should encourage knowledge workers to capture those lessons learned, to document them as good as they possibly could (Perhaps with the use of narrative / storytelling to make it much more compelling), but always leaving plenty of room for improvement. Because that way we would be capable of guaranteeing something even better will come along the way. And, eventually, re-word best practices as good practices to perhaps then allow them to transform themselves into "common practices" and, finally, die off completely. Somehow I just feel we would all be so much better off altogether. Without them, of course!
Tags: Best Practices, Good Practices, Common Practices, Practices, Oscar Berg, Knowledge, Knowledge Flow, Perfection, Imperfection, Learning, Knowledge Work, Knowledge Workers, Context, Blogging, Blogging 101, Ana Neves, Dave Snowden, Lessons Learned, Narrative, Storytelling, Enterprise 2.0, Social Software, Social Networking, Social Computing, Social Media, Collaboration, Communities, Knowledge Sharing, KM, Knowledge Management, Remote Collaboration, Innovation, Productivity