Tag Archives: Freakonomics

The Sad Truth About Best Practices

… is that most of the time, they won’t work for you or me. They worked for somebody, some time, in some situation, in the past. Sure, the idea of best practices is attractive. Supposedly you or I can follow along, obediently, and succeed using so-called best practices. Too bad it doesn’t work.

For example, Jim Collins’ blockbuster business book Good to Great, published in 2001, featured 11 supposedly great companies. All of them did extraordinarily well on the stock market for 10-20 years. But by 2008, when Steven Levitt posted Good to Great to Below Average on Freakonomics, two of them had died. He wrote:

Nine of the eleven companies remain more or less intact. Of these, Nucor is the only one that has dramatically outperformed the stock market since the book came out. Abbott Labs and Wells Fargo have done okay. Overall, a portfolio of the “good to great” companies looks like it would have underperformed the S&P 500.

I don’t mean to criticize Jim Collins, his book, or his methodology. I do mean to question the whole idea of so-called best practices. There are so many built-in problems. What works in one case is hard to translate to the next case. It’s different times, places, people, resources, problems, and so forth.

The best use of the so-called best practices is as generator of new practices, new ideas, new possibilities for you, in your business, that you might be able to take in, digest, and adopt to your situation. It’s a lot like business cases and business stories, not intended as recipes to be followed, but rather as examples of what other people did.

However, you have to be careful. Don’t ever just blindly follow. You always think about it, consider the options, how it might be different in your case, and then, if it still sounds good, try it. Carefully.

If I ever give you any advice, I want you to please never take it without thinking first, analyzing, and deciding for yourself whether or not, and how, and to what extent what I say fits your situation.

What’s In a Name? Lots.

Blog names and titles: do you agree that some are better than others? Lots of blogs have succeeded with titles that are merely descriptive, not remarkable: Seth’s blog, Small Business Technology, Escape from Cubicle Nation, and many others.

Browsing around the other day, I discovered a Jay White who calls his blog “Dumb Little Man.” That’s a great example of a creative title that’s very easy to remember, recognize, and not misspell. It’s at dumblittleman.com of course. I liked him even before I started reading the blog.

I posted last January about Gardening Nude, a good blog with undeniable search engine power. And Jeff Atwood’s Coding Horror, obviously for programmers. Freakonomics, Women 2.0, Duct Tape Marketing, and Lifehack, to mention some more. These aren’t just good blogs, they’re remarkably good names for blogs.

What amazes me is how these blogs with great names beat the chicken and egg problem: a blog isn’t really taken seriously until it has a few hundred posts, but it can’t have the posts first and then figure out the name. With some rare exceptions (Freakonomics, for example, was moved to a different Web address when it moved to the New York Times) the name, including the domain name, has to come first. In some cases (as with Escape from Cubicle Nation, Duct Tape Marketing) it either starts with a book or becomes a book. In any case, my congratulations for doing it right.

This is a good reminder about a lot of names in business: business names, product names, for example: they’re tough to change, once you’ve started; but hard to get a really good one to start.

(Image: tkemot/shutterstock)