Art of Message

Art of Message – May 29, 2023

The battle of worst vs best practices

When you’re building a new product, feature or message, “best practices” are often “worst practices”.

It’s different when you’re building an aircraft carrier. At least nowadays it is.

Originally, when the British and US Navies first started building aircraft carriers in the 1920s and 30s, there was constant experimentation. They were even given autonomy to experiment – early attempts at holacracy.

But by the 1960’s, the system was fairly codified and plan-driven.

The first chapter of the PMP book, the sort of “best practices” manual for project management, claimed that the US Navy “invented” project management, by which they meant massively complex, multi-year plan-driven project management.

I highly doubt this claim – I mean, the pyramids of Egypt were built 4,500 year ago.

But the concept of best practices, wedded to project management, has become popular in US business culture and beyond.

For example, it’s central to the design of ChatGPT, to the frustration of users who don’t need constant best-practices-nagging – which make it tedious to extract useful information.

Best practices are also applied to marketing. For example:

  • abiding by a “content marketing calendar”
  • always putting periods after headlines (which make people stop reading, for many reasons)
  • never putting periods after headlines

Look, if you have a sinecure at a massive corporation, then best practices like these might work for you. Because your firm gets business through maintaining its grip on media, government, distribution, etc. Look at Google’s supposedly fruitful 20% policy – it’s produced nothing for 20 years, except for perhaps psychological benefits. And for most people in companies big and small, best practices make sense to cling to. For example, Jacob Nielsen has codified some very useful UX best practices.

But for people making new things based on new ideas, it pays not to accept best practices without serious scrutiny.

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