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The Challenge of Best Practices

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

In many disciplines and industries, we often hear and see the term "Best Practices." We are invited to a conference or to read a book to learn about the best practices. The implication is that we should learn about best practices so we can emulate them in our situation. I've been in meetings during discussions about ways to solve a certain problem or deal with a certain situation and heard someone say "How do others handle this?" While emulating someone else's best practices can help prevent a lot of mistakes made by others, best practices should be a starting point for figuring out how to do things in a better way. 

Make Best Practices Better 

Apple did not become the leader in that industry by going to conferences and emulating the best practices of the industry. They dissected the best practices to see how they worked and then went about the business of coming up with better solutions; in some cases, new solutions that had not existed. This is where the idea of continuous innovation comes from. We should all have a best practice of making the best practices of our disciplines and industries better. Sometimes innovation can be disruptive as when Apple made personal computing affordable when some in the industry said no one would ever want or need a personal computer at home. Or when, a little over 100 years ago, Henry Ford brought affordable automobiles to the population when most people would have said they wanted faster horses. 

Improve What We Do While Lowering Costs 

The missions of our businesses and institutions should be based on providing solutions of some kind to the problems that abound in our society. Once the mission is established, everything we do should be to improve the products and services we offer in fulfilling the mission or becoming more efficient (i.e. lowering costs) in the use of the resources required to provide the solutions. We should be engaging everyone in the business or organization, not just those at the top, to work on better solutions for customers or stake holders while lowering the costs. We live in a world where many of the people in our businesses and organizations are not engaged in making improvements and thus we struggle to maintain relevancy and stay competitive in our markets. If our mission is compelling and our people believe in the "why" we exist, they can be challenged to actively participate in the efforts of continuous innovation. 

Analyze Don't Emulate Best Practices 

Best practices should be looked at not to emulate, but to analyze, always to look for ways we can change those practices to make them even better. Sometimes the ideas for improvements can seem crazy. That’s where small experiments and testing can minimize risk while providing a safe way to test radical new ideas before implementing them system wide. 

When we go to the meetings and conferences to hear about "best practices," before we even return home, we should be thinking about how we can take those best practices and improve them in our own situation. 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at or Twitter @jimcorrellks.  

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