It seems that everybody wants an easy solution. They want best practices and case studies they can copy. They don’t want to do the hard work of learning for themselves. They want a cookie-cutter solution.
Well there aren’t any.
Case studies abound in business and many sell for a significant amount. Other than for general education, they’re rather useless. Each organization’s situation is not only different, it’s changing. Case studies and best practices in business are like the arbitrary subjects in our schools. They’re easy to package but don’t transfer well into real life.
Few managers ask the tough questions, like what are the underlying assumptions of how we do business and do they make sense? Are any of our practices self-defeating?
Complex problems require require different thinking. Once again, I’d like to refer to the book, Getting to Maybe. The authors say that in complex environments:
- Rigid protocols are counter-productive
- There is an uncertainty of outcomes in much of our work
- We cannot separate parts from the whole
- Success is not a fixed address [what I call perpetual Beta]
Rigid protocols are prescriptive and tell you what to do. For dealing with complex systems, we need to make sense of the data and THEN figure out what to do, as Dave Snowden explains in this video.
“We conduct safe-fail experiments. We don’t do fail-safe design. If an experiment succeeds, we amplify it. If an experiment fails, we dampen it.”
The problem with best practices is they presume simplicity and this can cause the organization to fall off the cliff into chaos. Beware the cookie-cutter salesman!
The next time you pick up a report on best practices, ask yourself:
- Has anything changed since this report was written?
- How is my organization different from these?
- Who stands to gain from the report?
Many best practices are self-evident. They’ve worked for years and address relatively simple systems. But the business issues that consume us are most likely complex. Instead of looking for best practices, take that time and money and invest in an experiment (a probe).
Perpetual Beta is an attitude toward learning and working. It is accepting that we’ll never get to the final release and our learning will never stabilize. Perpetual Beta is affirming to principles and actually committing to do something, while remaining open to change. But most of all, it’s actually doing something.