Best Practice – The Killer of Innovation

Guest Blogger Jean Boen shares:


Do you create a safe space for your team to cultivate innovation? What would happen if you force yourself to step beyond the comfort zone of someone else’s success? I’d like to propose that we all agree to stop using “best practice” as an excuse to shoot down an innovative concept. Let me set the stage for you…

After hours, weeks, maybe even months of research and careful planning, you’re ready to pitch your big new concept. Or you’re in the middle of a team meeting and a problem is thrown on the table. Since you’re a problem-solver by nature, you throw out what you think is a great solution….and then, you hear your co-worker take a deep breath. As you make eye contact with them, you see a look you can only describe as cynical…and then the dreaded phrase comes out, “Well, is this best practice? Can you show me another [organization/business/institution/agency] who has done the same, with success?”

It is an instant kill joy and there is nothing that makes me more frustrated. I’ve expressed my disappointment each time and have been told everything from “don’t be defensive”, to “yes, please do some research to see if that has been successful”, to my favorite “That may work for others, and it’s a great idea, but it’s too risky for us.”

Let me lay out what should not be a groundbreaking statement to the true leaders in the room…someone has to be willing to take the first risk to discover the newest “best practice”.

Newsflash…every single best practice out there started as someone’s crazy new idea! If you keep chasing the methods that worked for others, you will never be innovative. You won’t find new solutions to your problems and you’ll keep running the hamster wheel. Guess what? That’s the definition of insanity. Trying the same thing, over and over, and expecting a different result.

Listen, I understand the need for a conservative approach and there are certainly times to turn to tried and true methods of success. However, if you want to truly change the game, you have to be willing to jump and try something new, something that seems a little “out there”, a little crazy. A concept that makes you a bit uncomfortable, within reason of course.

Sure, you might fail, but let’s do a quick exercise…research the most successful person in your field. I can promise you this, you will find a quote, story, interview, or soundbite of someone asking them about their greatest failure. In each example of this that I’ve ever found, their biggest failures often taught them the lessons which lead to their greatest successes. What would have happened if they decided not to take the risk and listened to the person at the table who suggested they go with the best practice?

It also must be acknowledged that many work in an industry where funding opportunities are granted, in part, based upon your ability to leverage AND execute a best practice. I recently had a conversation with a mentor of mine who works in a field where best practices are sought after. He said something that really stood out to me. He said that without excellent and sometimes innovative execution, even the most trusted “best practices” will fail. You still have to be willing to take risks, constantly put checkpoints in place to ensure accountability, and yes, be innovative in your execution of any best practice. There is no perfect road map that will work for everyone.

There it is – as leaders, we can’t rely on best practice to equal our success. We have to push the envelope and be willing to create an environment where our teams are comfortable to dare to suggest a new concept, strategy, or way to execute.

Here is my challenge – the next time you are in a meeting and you notice a colleague who is brave enough to suggest a risk or a new idea, be quick to encourage dialogue. Try asking more about how the project will work, talk through concerns about risk, and make a commitment to a discussion about the risks and potential rewards. Create a safe space for your team to come up with innovative ideas and issue an official statement that you have called an end to “best practices” as an excuse to shoot down a risky new idea.

I can promise you that true innovation and solutions to your problems lie beyond the comfort zone of someone else’s success.



Jean Roberts leads J. Roberts Consulting, LLC where her team partners with StoryWork and Guardian Owl Digital Boutique for The Marketing Engine. Together, we help companies build their marketing strategy, target the right audience with an effective message, and drive revenue.


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