A skeptical look at 2012 and best practices

Skeptic does not mean him who doubts, but him who investigates or researches as opposed to him who asserts and thinks that he has found. [Miguel de Unamuno, "Essays and Soliloquies," 1924]

What shows up for me when I reflect back on 2012?  It occurs to me that most of what is written on all things business – including customer – is driven by the need of people and organisations to sell something: a product, a service, a solution, themselves.   Put differently, it is marketing.  The job of marketing is not ‘truth’ nor ‘usefulness’.  No, the job of marketing is to bypass the mind and pull the heart strings so as to move the human being to act in accordance with the wishes of the marketer.  And as such that which is written – including every post that I write – should be questioned.  More accurately, it should be tested to determine if it is science or merely philosophy masquerading as science.

I say that the area that needs the most urgent and critical examination into that which is merely philosophy masquerading as science is  in the areas of customer theory (CRM, Customer Experience, loyalty) and best practices.   

Why go to the trouble to question, research, investigate and test stuff out for ourselves?  Because there is a world of difference between genuinely useful theory (‘good theory’ the term used by Clayton Christensen) and that which masquerades as useful theory.  What do I mean?  I’ll let Clayton Christensen speak on the matter:

“Consider, for example, the history of mankind’s attempts to fly.  Early researchers observed strong correlations between being able to fly and having feathers and wings.  Stories of men attempting to fly by strapping on wings date back hundreds of years.  They were replicating what they believed allowed birds to soar: wings and feathers. 

Possessing these attributes had a high correlation ….. with the ability to fly, but when humans attempted to follow what they believed were “best practices” of the most successful fliers by strapping on wings, then jumping off cathedrals and flapping hard … they failed.  The mistake was that although feathers and wings were correlated with flying, the would-be-aviators did not understand the fundamental causal mechanism … that enabled certain creatures to fly.  

The real breakthrough in human flight did not come from crafting better wings or using more feathers.  It was brought about by Dutch-Swiss mathematician Daniel Bernouelli and his book Hydrodynamica, a study of fluid mechanics…. he outlined …. a theory that, when applied to flight, explained the concept of lift.  We had gone from correlation (wings and feathers) to causality (lift).  Modern flight can be traced directly back to the development and adoption of this theory.”

I say that most of what is pushed as “best practice” in business – including the areas of CRM, CXP, customer loyalty – is merely anecdote and correlation.  And putting in place these ‘best practices’ and expecting to win the game of business is about as sane as strapping on feathers and wings and expecting to fly! I say that you should adopt/live the best practice of deeply questioning best practices.

If you disagree with me then please share your perspective.  I am particularly interested in anyone who thinks they have found the equivalent of lift (causal mechanism) for business success, for engendering customer loyalty.  Please know that I am open to being proved wrong, to be shown the error of my ways – and I mean that genuinely.  Or as Clayton Christensen puts it:

“But even the breakthrough understanding of the cause of flight still wasn’t enough to make flight perfectly reliable.  When an airplane crashed, researchers then had to ask, “What was it about the circumstances of that particular attempt to fly that led to failure? Wind? Fog? The angle of the aircraft?” Researchers could then define what rules pilots needed to follow in order to succeed in each different circumstance.  That’s a hallmark of good theory: it dispenses its advice in “if-then” statements.”

And finally, I recommend Clayton’s book How Will You Measure Your Life.  It is a great read. And if embraced it will make a contribution to your life, your business.

Posted on December 30, 2012, in CRM, Customer Experience, Customer Loyalty, Customer Strategy, Leadership / Change / Transformation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Hi Maz,

    A thought-provoking post!

    I do believe that Best Practices can be useful and valuable, as a guiding principle to serve as a STARTING POINT in a journey toward success, particularly for the (new) business that has not other insight into CRM, CEx, etc.

    The Best Practice should not be used as the ultimate compass, nor followed like a “North Star.”

    Every business is different; and operates in different environments under different conditions. The business leaders must be smart enough to make decisions, and act in light of those real, OBSERVABLE CONDITIONS which they encounter, rather than simply following the Best Practice, or “star in the sky.”

    A metaphor that comes to mind:

    A Medical Doctor prescribing a medication for a patient:
    Today, MD’s prescribe based on best practices; theories that are based on statistical data in which medication A has been statistically successful in treating a combination of symptoms X, Y and Z.

    Tomorrow’s MD’s will have better data than that; tomorrow’s MD’s will prescribe treatment based on the unique genetic profile of the patient; an approach that will lead to more precise, and more effective treatment, and better results.

    To your point, businesses and individuals must ask questions that will enable them to understand, and treat according to the “genetic profile” of their unique business-customer dynamics.

    Happy New Year,

    Jim Watson
    Portland, Maine

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    • Hello Jim

      It has been a long time and I am grateful for you making the time and putting in the effort to share your take on that situation.

      My issue is with dogma – every kind of dogma – is the acceptance of dogma without adequate investigation. As you say every business is different. And I go further, every business is different at different time and circumstances.

      I advocate being amidst and immersed in the business so as to get present to what is really so. And then using one’s intelligence and one’s relationships with one’s fellows to intervene effectively so as to improve the performance of the organisation.

      Which brings me to the Toyota Production System, Lean and Taichi Ohno. Please check out the TPS/lean video: https://www.vanguard-method.com/content/380/

      Why spend three minutes watching this? Because it gives life to that which we are talking about. And it is a powerful exposition of all that does not work in consulting, in business, in performance improvement!

      I wish you the very best for 2013. And once again, I thank you for taking the time to read and then share your views on that which I write/share.

      At your service and with my love
      maz

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  2. Maz,
    Thanks for the thought provoking – and wise – post. The difference between correlation and causality is too often overlooked!

    Another cautionary tale of best practices is that they are often invoked in conversations about competitive position. “We want to be world class at ABC” or “We want to differentiate on XYZ.” But there’s a rub: By the time something is well-defined and accepted as a “best practice” it is something a firm’s competitors have also likely tried or achieved.

    Jim Watson demonstrates this so clearly in his “future physician” example (and I anxiously await that!). Better than too general or philosopical best practices your competitors have already tried, why not define what need you can best solve for your target customers, and solve it well? Said differently, IF we know the experience that could solve a need for our customers THEN here’s what we must practice daily….performance is the reward.

    Thanks you for a terrific conversation.
    Linda Ireland
    Aveus

    Like

    • Hello Linda
      First, I ask for your forgiveness in not responding earlier. I have no excuse. And it is also true that I forgot that you had commented.

      As for what you say, I say that I find myself in total agreement with you. You show up as a wise person. Yes, it all starts with the value proposition. Specifically, a value proposition that gets a job done for customers that customers want done and are willing to pay for. Once you know what the ‘job to be done’ is from a customer perspective then you can design the entire experience: product plus all the interactions that go around that product – research, evaluation, purchase, payment, receipt, installation, usage, service…

      And that is what so few companies do.

      All the best to you for today, for tomorrow, for this year, for life. I thank you for your delightful, generous, words. I make time and put myself into writing in order to make a difference. For you to let me know that I make a difference is validation. And who does not need validation – of themselves and of how they are using their precious life?

      At your service / with my love
      maz

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  3. Hi Maz,
    I share your concerns about ‘best practices’ as it seems to me that it advocates that firms strive for an average of best and to be the same rather than better.

    Yes, they can be a starting point of use for some but are dangerous as an end in of themselves.

    Best,

    Adrian

    Like

    • HEllo Adrian
      Best practices as a source of insight which leads to reflection/investigation/experimentation which in turn leads to better practices in the organisation which are appropriate to the organisation works for me as an approach.

      Best practices as they are used today does not. I have spelled out the issue in my response to James comment.

      Maz

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  4. Maz, I think that best practices exist.

    Clearly it is “best practice” if you are small and bird like to use feathers if you want to fly

    But best practice only exists in a very specific context. If you are small and rat like maybe feathers are not the way to go.

    So looking at best practice can be useful provided you are prepared to really look rather than take things at face value. Maybe being light weight and having a high power to weight ratio are things worth investigating.

    Unfortunately, as a species we are very quick to take things at face value. As you said recently “we don’t think”

    James

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    • Hello James
      I find myself in agreement with your fundamental point (at least to some extent) on your assertion that a best practice is linked to and a good fit for a specific context.

      The issue that occurs is that the specific context, at least when it comes to the business world, is a context of one – it is unique. No two organisations are the same – exactly the same to the last detail. Put differently, when it comes to organisational life we are in the human domain not the domain of physics. And there is a huge difference between the two.

      Look a block of granite is a block of granite and will forever remain a block of granite. This is not the case with a human being. Just take a good look at yourself. Yes, I know that you believe and want to believe that you are consistent and the same all the time. And if you face reality and take a good look you find that you vary: your moods vary, your attitudes vary, your emotions vary, your energy levels vary. This is what gives rise to ‘contexts of one’.

      Next the world, especially the organisational world, is a network of relationships/references. EVERYTHING is linked and interacts with EVERYTHING else. When we get present to this we find that there is no such thing as a ‘best practice’. Most likely there is an interlinked ‘network of mutually related best practices’. So if you then take a ‘best practice’ and put it into another organisation then your not putting this ‘best practice’ into the ‘network of mutually related best practices’ that it is a part of and thus shows up as a best practice. And so the results that you get can be substantially different to what you expected!

      At a fundamental level the whole approach to ‘best practice’ is flawed, deeply flawed. The way we approach best practice is from an atomistic/discrete/reductionist perspective. Put differently, the metaphor is the Newtonian universe of discrete objects with an extremely weak force mediating interactions/relationships between these objects. Certainly, mutuality – as an mutual influence – was excluded from the Newtonian paradigm. And that is the issue. Human life is not like that.

      Maz

      Like

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