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Best Practices Suck. What is Your Real Problem?

Ask "Why" Until You're All Out of Why's

My kids won’t eat their broccoli.” She sighs, telling the group.

I literally have the same problem.” Another woman agrees.

My kids too.” One of the men chime in.

You know what you should do?” Someone perks up, “You should cover it in cheese sauce, my kids eat it right up!

It’s so true, it works every time…” Someone agrees.

It even works on cauliflower!” Another cheers.

Everyone nods, smiling, making mental notes. Problem solved! Thank you, best practices!

Wait. Stop. STOP.

I have a couple of questions for the first lady: do you own a broccoli farm? Are you part of a broccoli dynasty? I ask because unless you’re just trying to off-load your bountiful broccoli harvest by any means necessary, I’m assuming you’re going about this conversation all wrong. And worse, it’s quickly getting derailed by the contributors.

Let’s assume for a moment “too much broccoli” isn’t really the issue. Why won’t your kids eat their broccoli? What is the real issue? Maybe your kids never want to eat anything green? Maybe they say they hate vegetables? Maybe that they won’t eat healthy foods?

Assuming we’re closer to the truer problem at hand, the best practice you just agreed was a “good one”, is really a fairly bad one. Putting cheese on something–in an attempt to get them to eat something green, or healthy–is a terrible solution. It’s literally counter-intuitive. It makes your problem worse.

But again, maybe you’re some Broccoli Heiress, who has to meet some strange broccoli-devouring quota and you’re leveraging your children are part of the solution. I don’t know you. But then sure, my any means necessary. Cheese sauce. Ranch dressing. At gunpoint.

Again, I don’t know you.

Best Practices Are Usually Fairly Worthless

*clears throat*

Wikipedia states, “A best practice is a method or technique that has been generally accepted as superior to any alternatives because it produces results that are superior to those achieved by other means or because it has become a standard way of doing things, e.g., a standard way of complying with legal or ethical requirements.

So why am I picking on best practices? Because in my experience, they are often used as a form of crutch. A quick fix. A half-invested response to a half-heard complaint. Often a term to look over the fence to see what someone else has basically done.

And there is nothing wrong with that, necessarily. Assuming you are really focused on your real issue. Because the ways and methods someone might use to solve a universal or nuanced problem isn’t worthless. Unless you don’t have a true grasp of your real problemand are instead just focused on a side-effect of the real problem. Because then, a best practice never really solves anything.

I hear my nonprofit and corporate clients alike frequently say something like “Our problem is that we don’t have enough volunteers…” and in response I’ll reply with “Then mandate! Make volunteerism mandatory and you’ll hit and/or exceed your numbers really quickly!

Wide eyed, I then watch them quickly stutter and start to backfill the real issue with a few more facts and figures such as “No one reads our promotions for events…” or “We don’t get a lot of return volunteers between events…” or “We expect 100% participation and we never seem to get past 30%…

Ah, now we’re getting a little closer to the real problem, right? Not having enough volunteers is a side-effect of your real problem. And side-effects are the worst. But again many people, nonprofits and businesses alike, struggle to even know how to identify their real problem because they’re often too consumed with side-effects.

And you can’t always hire someone like me to help you work past your side-effects, looking to identify your real goals and focus on real solutions — although you could. And should.

So you’re in luck! I have 2 quick tips to virtually insure you’re focused on your real problem in order to move past the side-effects and therefore pointless best practices or at least leverage the right ones.

Skip the Metaphors

This one is hard. For me. For you? Maybe not. But sometimes you need to skip the flowery or slick examples. Often metaphors help us express ourselves in really dynamic ways, but moreover they often and inconveniently cloud our issues in prose and cloud true problem identification. It’s usually poetic but often far too abstract too. So skip the metaphors and use a simple sentence or two to identify your base problem. Because from there….

Ask “Why” Until You’re All Out of Why’s

Start with any “problem” as you would normally express it. “My kids won’t eat their broccoli.” And then start asking why. Because they hate vegetables. Why? Because they think they are bland. Why? Because I usually just steam them and forget about seasoning. Why? Because I’m not a great cook. Why? Because I’m a Broccoli Heiress and had servants to do all my cooking in the Royal Broccoli Palace.

See! Your problem really is that you’re a part of a broccoli dynasty! But I digress.

My Point?

Sometimes you need to back out of your own mistaken misconceptions and think deeper than the side-effects. Side-effects can consume your frustrations, not allowing you to truly focus on your real problem. But to do that you need to use the power of “why” and forgo being poetic to help you get to the center of the situation.

I share this with you because I’m a problem solver not a magic maker. To me, most “best practices” often sound like magic because they’re not grounded in your real issue. People feel wowed and comforted by a best practice and then when applied, your problems are never really solved. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

Oh sure, those kids ate that broccoli. But also an entire brick of velveeta cheese. So your next problem will be “I can’t get my kids kids to lose weight…” and someone will say “Have you tried getting them to eat more vegetables? Broccoli is great!

And? Well? Welcome to best practice hell.

But don’t blame yourself. 

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