What's the best practice on best practices?

Seriously. I hear requests all the time on the MIMlist listserv for templates, forms, etc., that people can use as a base to develop their own versions--sort of like best practices starter kits. But then, this morning, I read this post on Jeff De Cagna's Association Innovation Blog about what's bad about best practices, and it got me thinking (always scary!). Here's a snip:

    Great organizations do not create value for members, customers and stakeholders by copying the work of others. They understand that in today's marketplace, creativity and originality are the primary drivers of value.

Whether it's a sample hotel contract clause or a blueprint for making some big organizational shift, what's a "best practice" for someone else might be a "worst practice" for your organization. Then again, why reinvent the wheel for the more boilerplate kinds of things and save your energy and creativity for the important stuff? My heart agrees with Jeff, but my head wants a little of one (finding out what others are doing and analyzing how something similar might work for you) and a lot of the other (really digging in to see what you can come up with that's truly unique to your organization).

Then Kevin Holland blew me away with this comment:

    But I'm also wondering: Just as important as understanding that there's a limit to what best practices can teach us, isn't there also a limit to what customers/members can tell us? The most interesting and innovative companies/organizations come up with products or services that their customers never even realized they needed and could never have pointed to in a survey. Organizations that slavishly devote themselves to fulfilling wish checklists based solely on focus groups and market surveys don't leave themselves much room for innovation.

I hate to say it, but so many businesses and associations are still trying to figure out how to talk with their customers/members to figure out what they think they need. It would be a quantum leap for them to know their customers/members so well that they could come up with a must-have that their customers/members themselves don't even know they want. Then again, it has been done. What would it take for you to get there, to create what Seth Godin calls a Purple Cow?

I'd like to think I've walked enough miles in your shoes to come up with something remarkable, something that has yet to be done for you all, but I have to admit that I'm not even close. It's easy to say, "embrace the challenge of innovation," but when it gets to the sweaty work, it's easier said than done.

But getting back to best practices (or not), Jamie Notter kind of summed up my feelings in a comment on Jeff's post:

    Seeing something out there that inspires you to do your thing better is fine. But "best practices" is more than that. It is a mindset. Best practices are answers. When you go looking for best practices, you are looking for answers, and you are likely not spending enough time thinking about your questions...I think if you are clearer about your questions, then the issue of "fit" and "context" with the best practices that you come across will be more immediately apparent. Then what other people are doing CAN inspire your own innovation.
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