I’ve Had Enough of All These “Best Practices”

Search. Display. Digital. Social. Mobile. Local. Blogging. Ebooks. Podcasting. Video. Influencers. Retargeting. ABM. Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn. Pinterest. Instagram. Snapchat. Bootstrap. Angels. Profits. Venture. Inbound. Outbound. Cold call. Warm leads. Outdoor. Out-of-home. Automation. Gamification. Tips-and-tricks. Growth hacks. CRM. ABM. AI. AR. VR —
— ENOUGH.

All these things are just spokes on a wheel. (Hat-tip, Daenerys Targaryen.) First THIS one’s on top, then THAT one’s on top, and on and on it spins. And all these best practices hold us back from doing our best work.

The whole ordeal is like the worst Billy Joel song ever, twisted into some kind of corporate parody nightmare: We didn’t build the wheel; it was always turning since our boss was yearning (for results).

Okay, that was terrible, but so is this: We’re stuck in this endless cycle of every single best practice that promises to deliver the best results. Whether they arrive in our work as exciting trends or as documented precedents, best practices all have that fresh new-savior smell.

(Inhales) …Ahhhh! I love the smell of bullshit in the morning.

Enough.

Every best practice promises to be the best. But do our results shoot up-and-to-the right? Do we feel more fulfilled? Do we create our very best work? Not without adding the missing variables of our own unique context.

Because in reality, that’s what a best practice is: a formula with some missing variables. It’s an approximation, an assertion that, “in general,” this works.

But who operates in a generality? Last I checked, we’re all in very specific situations. And those specific differences make all the difference in the world.

At worst, a best practice is pure hype, or maybe a huckster hucking his mother-hucking hucks.

At best, a best practice tries to recreate the past, and that’s simply no way to get ahead.

Big wheel keep on turnin’ // Through best practices, keep on churnin’ // Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river.

(Spoiler alert: The river is Shit Creek. And that guru’s advice is a terrible paddle.)

Enough.

We might cling to a spoke on the wheel for a time, but if we refuse to let go before it’s too late, we’ll hurtle straight into the ground. Maybe we reach out for another, then another, and in doing so, stretch ourselves too thin. Other times, we try to grab hold of something that’s still on the way up, something others haven’t seen yet, so we spin the wheel faster and faster. And these actions … these are our choices:

Cling to the wheel. Stretch across the wheel. Or spin the wheel ever faster.

Year-in and year-out. Over and over again.

Cling to it. Stretch across it. Spin it. Cling to it. Stretch across it. Spin it. Those are our choices.

But what if they’re not?

Throughout this season of the Unthinkable podcast, it’s become clear: It only looks unthinkable from the outside. Everyone we’ve profiled ran counter the best practice in some way. What they did was never a spoke on the wheel in the first place. It was never an answer presented to them as a best practice whatsoever. In fact, none of them professed to know THE answer — but they all knew how to find their own. They asked the right questions of their own context to pull out their answers from within. THAT is how you hone and trust your intuition, in the end.

It’s crazy … unless you’re in their context.

It’s Unthinkable … until you hear their side of the story.

Best practices are just spokes on a wheel. First this one’s on top, then that one’s on top, and on and on it spins, crushing our aspirations.

But enough. Let’s aspire to something more. Let’s refuse to cling to the wheel any longer. Let’s refuse to stretch across it. If we want to do exceptional work, let’s stop wishing we could stop the wheel and instead do something “unthinkable”…

Let’s break it.

Season 3 finale: “Break the Wheel,” featuring Tim Urban of Wait But Why:

JAY ACUNZO is a keynote speaker, the host of Unthinkable and author of the forthcoming book, Break the Wheel: Why Best Practices Hold Us Back From Doing Our Best Work. He’s a former digital media strategist at Google, head of content at HubSpot, and vp of brand and content at the VC firm NextView.

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