Saturday, July 06, 2013

Best Practices, Reinvented

I am reading a biography of Seaman Knapp, sometimes called the father of the extension service.

One of the big problems in agriculture around 1900 was dissemination.  Researchers at the experiment stations and people in the field had identified ways to grow more and better plants and animals, but they couldn't convince farmers to change their habits and adopt new methods.

The description was reminiscent of the "best practices" fad in the 1990's: the idea that business consultants could identify what the best organizations were doing and then inject them into other organizations.

Lots of reasons why the idea doesn't work nearly as well as it ought to.  For one thing, a "best practice" identified by an outsider is likely to oversimplify, to miss some features of the organization's culture which are critical to success.  And importing a "best practice" under the auspices of some high-paid outsider is likely to raise the hackles (does anyone these days know what a "hackle" is) of the people who've been doing the work, in their minds pretty successfully.

[Updated: see this Technology Review post on why Silicon Valley can't be duplicated.]

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