Sunday, January 28, 2007

Innovation – why best practice could be bad for you

Even though Quality is no longer the buzzword that it was in the 1980s, its offshoot, ‘Best Practice’ unfortunately lives on. In the private sector this does not have a huge impact because many organisations try and keep their cards close to their chests and often ‘reinvent the wheel’. In academia or public sector organisations, the sharing of Best Practice is widespread. In some cases, the accompanying knowledge is also transferred, but the dangers of doing this are great.

It always seemed to be the case that Quality was ‘inspected in’, i.e. the more you inspected a system, the more quality you got. This was thankfully superseded by modern quality systems where the emphasis was on the process itself. Best Practice seems to have followed a similar fate. It seems to be something that you give to other people and the more you give (or receive) the better it is. Or so the theory goes.

If someone tells you to do something but without telling you why, you would think twice about doing it, particularly if it might hurt. Often, organisations adopt working practices and tools simply because someone else is using them successfully and they have no idea why that course of action should work in a new situation or what the side effects might be.

For instance, I have a classic car which occasionally has a problem with a sticking carburettor float. The remedy is to tap it gently with a small hammer. Someone else might deduce that the way to fix a car which has stopped without explanation is to hit it under the bonnet with a hammer. I have made use of some knowledge that was transferred with the ‘Best Practice’. This is just one of the reasons why knowledge transfer is an important part of any Innovation Programme.

If we look at the world of Literature or Art, then copying what someone else has created is known, rather bluntly, as plagiarism. This is quite rightly frowned upon. Even if the originator gives you permission to duplicate the work, the original ‘soul’ or ‘emotion’ that went into the work is lost.

Next time you adopt Best Practice, think about what else you should be transferring into your organisation to make sure that it works.

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