If you want to pursue innovation, consider next practices instead of best practices.
Best practices look into the past to document processes that can be repeated for specific business problems. Next practices are future-oriented blueprints which allow organizations to better anticipate and respond to strategic issues which have inherent unknowns and risks. Best practices allow you to be efficient; next practices allow you to be pioneering.
The Centre for Public Impact’s Policy Lab describes each one this way:
- “Best practice seeks and explores what works by looking for something that has been done before and is therefore successfully proven.”
- “Next practice in contrast has no precedent, it is future focused and therefore has many unknowns and ambiguities.”
Wild Oak Enterprises created this simple chart with differences between next and best practices:
To me, the difference is whether your focus is on creating the best (and potentially last) version of an existing model or the first (and likely to-be-improved) version of the new model. Improving existing practices can incrementally improve the performance of your current operating model but can’t address the need to transform your business model. Every organization in every industry needs both.
Unfortunately, most organizations still measure their performance against industry best practices. Some go beyond this and look for inspiration in other industries. But to truly become innovative, you must have a culture that encourages discovering and implementing next practices rather than just relying on existing best practices.
So, how do you establish a culture of innovation which supports next practices?
There’s no cookie-cutter recipe but two ingredients seem to have a disproportional impact:
Break down internal silos: Create side hustle workgroups which bring together different disciplines and cross organizational boundaries. Encourage (and potentially compensate) forward-looking ideas which are inspired by current business problems but not tied to current structures. Generating ideas, even ones never implemented, develops new organizational muscles.
Raise digital acumen: Create a continuous learning program which enables everyone to better understand the scope and disruptive impact of new digital technologies. A lack of knowledge and understanding about what’s new and what’s possible increases fear and uncertainty. With less fear, next practices are more likely to be successful.
It’s not enough to have a future-oriented strategy; you need a culture that supports it. In an environment that relies on best practices, distinguish yourself by getting involved in next practices. A high performance organization needs both best practices to improve existing performance and next practices to innovate for the future.