What If?

Best Practice or Next Practice

I meet with so many people who lament, “I am following the best practices for my industry, but my business is floundering.” Really? Best practice is a term that drives me crazy. Best practices are a point in time. They are not the Gospel. They are not written in stone. They aren’t a forever thing. If it doesn’t work for you then it isn’t a best practice, is it?

Far too many organizations use best practice as a crutch. I hear many reasons—or better yet, excuses—why they cling to a practice that is not in their best interest. “I follow the best practice, after all really smart people came up with this model.” “I’m not sure changing will make things better” and my all-time favorite excuse, “I will do whatever the consulting company suggests. This is why I can’t be blamed.” I have actually heard this statement from Vice President level people. These are people who are paid to make the hard decisions.

History is littered with organizations who stubbornly followed their best practice all the way to extinction. The only constant in business is things are going to change and if you don’t change with the times, you will not survive. How many of us still use a Blackberry or rent videos from Blockbuster or take Polaroid pictures?

There have been times when I have suggested, “What if we try this?” Floundering organizations say things like, “That won’t work because my organization is different,” or, “No one in our industry is doing that so obviously it must not work.” I heard this from insurance companies, tech companies, home builders, non-profits, and even college athletic programs. Instead of asking “What if?” they came up with their own set of adjustments to a broken practice. More times than not these adjustments were “Band-Aids,” not solutions. The problems continued to exist. The business continued to flounder. Key personnel grew frustrated and left in hopes of finding a better run and more innovative business. Competitors chipped away at their market share; they lowered prices as a last ditch effort to stay alive and the business ultimately died a very painful and expensive death.

Let me give you an example. Several years ago, the computer world consisted of IBM and a group called the BUNCH (Burroughs, Univac, NCR, CDC, and Honeywell). I was working with one of the BUNCH companies whose best practice was to challenge IBM in the mainframe space. There were spending millions of dollars trying to develop and maintain proprietary hardware and software. They had a minor degree of success but were not achieving the critical mass needed to be a serious player. I suggested, “What if, instead of competing with IBM, we surround their mainframes with smaller systems while using off-the-shelf components for a cost advantage?” Then the fight broke out. “Are you crazy? If we use off-the-shelf components, we will lose our hold on our customers. No way! We will beat IBM at their game.” That company no longer exists. In fact, of the BUNCH, only NCR and Honeywell still exist—although not in the computer manufacturing market.

Industries differ, people differ, management styles differ, but what remains the same are the basic rules. These are rules that most never bothered to learn, or if they learned then felt they didn’t apply. They do. The survivors are the disruptive organizations. The ones who challenged the best practice and asked “What if?” Companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, Netflix, and you can name others yourself. These companies decided what established best practices weren’t the best for them and changed the world.

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Frank Zaccari

Written five books based on life altering events; teaches aspiring entrepreneurs at Arizona State; mentor with the Veterans Treatment Court and University of California Entrepreneurship Academy; Radio show host - Life Altering Events

See all posts by Frank Zaccari