I hate "Best Practices"

As a fairly cranky individual there are a few phrases that in the past have been figurative nails on a chalkboard to me (as actual nails on a chalkboard I like). “What’s the best practice for …” has been one for the longest time.

Today I came across the phrase “Best Practices” in a syllabus for some training I was looking at, and for once it didn’t send me into a spin. Instead I started to think more about why before asking for best practices has been a trigger for me.

What it comes down to is that though I believe that best practices can exist, I don’t think that they’re off-the-shelf items. They should come from careful examination of what you’re trying to achieve and how you’re trying to go about it. My “best practice” when it comes to eating breakfast isn’t going to serve you well if you’re training for a marathon.

It’s like the old advertising phrase - “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM equipment” - there’s something implicitly ass-covering in trying to find a published best practice or set of recipes.

Often when I encounter the “What’s the best practice for …” - I hear future echoes of someone saying “well we followed best practices and failed”, which doesn’t sit right.

Now of course as a person with my own internet printing press I feel like I’ve got useful things to share with the world, things that you could describe as best practices but that I prefer to think of as idioms. To me idioms are building blocks you can use to build your own best practices from, not always a fully formed practice to consume.

I’m working on some posts to get myself back in the swing of writing. They’ll be short identifications and expansions of some idioms I find in my toolbox, though if you do feel the urge to call them “Best Practices” I’m going to try very hard not to mind.

Richard Clamp 13 March 2011
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