Beware of blindly following all industry best practices. They can lead you down a path of conformity and compliance.
An industry best practice is acknowledged as the best means of executing a task or process in your business. For instance, the optimal length of a website Page Title should be less than 60 characters and include relevant keywords. Google’s search results display 50 to 60 characters of a Page Title, so it’s a good idea to adhere to Google’s standards if you want your website pages to rank high in search results.
Best practices exist in every industry, and most are very helpful. Someone figured out how to do something well, and they set a standard for performance. There’s no point trying to reinvent the wheel when you can follow the instructions someone else has created before you.
This comes with a caveat. Best practices are amazing until they needlessly constrain you.
Some of the most innovative and disruptive companies were started by people with no industry experience — and no sense of industry best practices. Jeff Bezos was a hedge fund manager before starting Amazon. Richard Branson was in the music business before launching Virgin Airways. Apple was a PC company before it launched iTunes, and what did it know about cell phones when it launched the iPhone?
What set these leaders apart was they were unconstrained. They didn’t follow industry convention. They charted their own course and applied “Best Feasible Practices” from outside of their industry.
The glorious part of our business environment is we have access to never ending volumes of content. Name the industry and you can find their best practices. All of that data is available at your fingertips.
The obstacle is there’s simply too much data. To find Best Feasible Practices you need fresh eyes to help you separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff. For instance, in 1985 Andy Grove fired himself to shift his perspective.
Andy Grove was the co-founder and legendary CEO of Intel. Before Intel launched the wildly successful “Intel Inside” campaign, the company was struggling. It was being grouped in with all of the other memory chip makers and treated as a commodity. With Intel’s share price plummeting, co-founders Andy Grove and Gordon Moore had to find a new strategy to make the company relevant, profitable, and competitive.
To kick start a strategic planning session Andy asked his partner, “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do?” Moore’s answer was quick and decisive, “The hypothetical CEO would get the company out of the memory chip business.” Andy replied, “Why shouldn’t you and I walk out the door, come back and do it ourselves?”
The two men did just that. They fired and re-hired themselves so they could approach the business with a fresh set of eyes. They took what they already knew, but approached it unencumbered by the company’s history and industry best practices. They decided to chart a new course.
You have the power to do that too. You can find Best Feasible Practices everywhere. Every industry offers a wealth of knowledge, ideas, and tactics that you can draw from. But you have to open your mind and your curiosity to find a new path or practice.
My challenge for you is to study an unrelated industry — any industry. Choose one that intrigues you and ask two deliberate questions:
- What do these companies do to create an unfair competitive advantage?
- How could I apply these ideas in my business?
You never know what you’ll find in this exercise, but chances are you’ll find a Best Feasible Practice that can help you serve your customers better, increase profits, or beat the competition.
Great innovators look beyond their industries for ideas. Instead of looking to your own industry for best practices, look more broadly. What are companies doing in other industries that your company could use to change the game and serve your customers even better?