Truly Innovative Ideas Have No Best Practices

As marketers in the age of big data, we can measure nearly everything – and our obsession with measuring things too often results in the quest for best practices that can be safely followed.

But then we see others doing truly new-to-the-world and innovative things and we wonder “Why not us?”.

Is it possible that the safety net of best practices is, in reality, a cage? And, if so, could the answer be to ditch the playbook completely?

A best practice is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a procedure that has been shown by research and experience to produce optimal results and that is established or proposed as a standard suitable for widespread adoption.”

Innovation is defined as “the introduction of something new; a new idea, method, or device.”

How do we reconcile talking about these in the same breath? How can we introduce truly new ideas or products while at the same time adhering to “standards suitable for widespread adoption”?

Sure, the argument can be made for having best processes in terms of, well, PROCESSES. But, too often, marketers spend so much time seeking the safety of prescription that the structure bleeds beyond process and well into execution. And that is where best practices can move from safety nets to cages.

True innovation does not follow in someone else’s footsteps – it creates a whole new path.

Regardless of your politics, you have to agree that last year’s Presidential race was a prime example. Talk about throwing the playbook out the window. Career politicians with decades of experience felt they had a pretty firm idea of what the “standards suitable for widespread adoption” looked like. Sure, over the years, some of the tactics had changed – but the fundamentals seemed to be fairly universally understood. And then one candidate seemingly threw all the “best practices” out the window. We all know what happened next.

For something a little less controversial, consider Warby Parker. In the world before Warby Parker, buying eyeglasses was an expensive and complicated process. There had been innovation in the glasses themselves, but not in the ordering and distribution process.

Then some students who couldn’t afford new glasses realized that the prices of glasses were artificially inflated due to a single company controlling the market. So they did what nobody before had thought possible – they went around the traditional channels.

They designed their own glasses, interacted with consumers directly, and made it incredibly easy to order glasses online in minutes. As a result, they found themselves able to deliver glasses to consumers at 50-70% off traditional prices AND they still make enough money to give away a free pair to someone in need.

Warby-Parker’s success did not originate from best practices in the eyeglass industry. It evolved from doing things that, before them, had been unthinkable.

According to Jay Acunzo (host of the “Unthinkable” podcast and Creative-In-Residence at NextView Ventures), doing the Unthinkable is exactly what is necessary to really succeed. It requires that we ditch the playbook and innovate by doing what others won’t. It demands that we break away from what has always worked and look for ways to evolve.

I am really excited that Jay will be joining our speaker lineup at Brand ManageCamp 2017. While there, he is going to guide us through stories of how companies break from old practices, get un-stuck from themselves and industry norms, and become truly creative, modern successes – undisrupted and irreplaceable. (See more detail about Jay’s session here)

So, the next time you are thinking of putting together some best practices – first ask if what you should really be doing is creating a whole new path. And to learn how to do it, think about joining us at Brand ManageCamp.

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