Innovation: Is there such a thing as ‘best practice?’

Best practices transferred and applied without contextual knowledge can be dangerous, and is as much use as a chocolate teapot.

On many blogs and websites there is evidence of people asking for examples of best practice in innovation and many (often poor) responses. The question is are those seeking an answer asking for the impossible and are those providing answers actually talking gibberish?

I have no doubt that the pleas for help are genuine but do those behind them know what they are asking for (and even why)? Those seeking knowledge about innovation often do so for four main reasons:

  • They are stuck and want some (free) help to extract themselves from the mire
  • They are thinking about innovation and believe that if they obtain the correct formula they can “wing it” without really understanding the process
  • They are thinking about innovation and want to have everything planned before they start
  • They are trying to set themselves up as gurus and want to attain “guruship” the easy way

Each of these reasons stems from a belief that there is one true way, which is not the case. There are many examples of “best practice” being borrowed or transferred and working less effectively, or even not all, in its new environment. Environment and context are key here.
 
Consider the simple example of constructing a model aircraft from a kit made of plastic components, paint and glue. Such a kit made in Europe might be assembled with no problem in Europe or the U.S., but for reasons of heat or humidity there might be issues in India, that is unless someone with knowledge of the components of the kit and local environmental issues assists.

So when a kindly soul provides you with a copy of the One Minute Innovator or Innovation for Dummies and states “it worked for me,” you need to make sure you pay attention to the following:

  • Go elsewhere and obtain information about as many information projects as you can and learn from both successes and failures
  • Try and map the information you have onto your copy of Innovation for Dummies to get some sort of plan together
  • Thoroughly understand the differences between the examples given and your own environment paying particular attention to both corporate and organisational culture
  • Be prepared to learn as you go along and change your plans on the fly

Remember: “best practice” transferred and applied without contextual knowledge is about as useful as a chocolate teapot.

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