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October 6, 2011 / davebirss

Digital best practice, my arse

In the course of my training, I often get asked if I can present some ‘digital best practice’. And my response is always ‘no’. I’m happy to show case studies, share principals that usually work and tell people about my own experiences. But you’ll never hear me saying that something is ‘best practice’. And after reading a ‘best practice’ document that has just raised my blood pressure a few notches, I wanted to share why I never want to hear the term again.

Bullshit bingo

The term is so overused that it doesn’t mean anything any more. It’s become a box-ticking exercise to show clients that you’re being responsible and safeguarding their money. However, the contents of ‘best practice’ can at best be ‘things that have worked for us in the past’ or ‘some numbers that indicate that something worked in a specific scenario’.

Static world delusion

‘Best practice’ can only be believed if the world is a static place where you can replicate the laboratory conditions every time. Clearly it’s not. We’re talking about different audiences who are influenced by the ever-changing world around them. A rational black-and-white approach isn’t the best way to understand emotional decisions. It’s the equivalent of dissecting a corpse on a mortuary slab to try to understand how people fall in love.

A total misnomer

The phrase ‘best practice’ leads people to believe that following the rules will lead to the best option. It doesn’t. It leads to standard results. To predictable results. To ordinary results. I’ll aim for extraordinary, thanks.

Lazy bastards

The people who ask for ‘best practice’ are people who don’t understand something and are looking for a shortcut to knowledge. Nothing beats learning by doing. I could read all about ballet moves and hear tips from the best ballet dancers in the world but I’d still dance like an uncoordinated, rhythmless oaf. There’s no shortcut to expertise. If you want to be good at something you need to put in the work.

Creativity killer

I’ve seen good ideas gored by the bull of ‘best practice’ (and if they survive that ordeal they then have to make it across the piranha tank of research). It all leads to ideas that are so insipid and predictable that they don’t get noticed by anybody. And that’s a waste of everyone’s time and money.


So am I anti-knowledge? Do I disagree with learning from past experiences? Hell no! I run an education company for goodness sake! I just don’t think this is the kind of knowledge to propagate. It’s rules-based. And following rules discourages people from engaging their brains. There’s a difference between tools and rules.

Let’s kill off this term ‘best practice’ and make a return to intelligence and applied thought. Who’s with me?


Leave a Comment
  1. matt / Oct 6 2011 12:26 pm

    Here’s to the crazy ones…

    • davebirss / Oct 6 2011 2:08 pm

      Is that a statement on MY sanity?

      Or a tribute to Mister Jobs?

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