'Best Practice' as Worst Practice: Broken Metaphor, Nude Emperor

Falconer, James
January 2010
Proceedings of the European Conference on Intellectual Capital;2010, p754
Conference Proceeding
Well entrenched after many years, and perhaps just as well obfuscated, the flawed concept of 'best practice' remains a guiding precept of management. Best practice is flawed because it acts as a placeholder for proper management practice, displacing accountability for effectiveness and fit. Best practice is flawed, further, because it supplants strategy, adopting solutions out of convenience or copying them reactively, and supplants innovation, allowing "the best we know about", "the best we've come across", or even "the best we've done before" to be adequate. Best practice considers the world predictable, and discounts the emergence of better, novel ideas. In organizations that rely on best practice, knowledge management tactics focus on building repositories to house best practice artefacts. This fosters the ready harvesting of old ideas and reusing them in new applications. Over time, this leads to fewer and fewer new ideas, little improvement through reuse, and eventually diminishing marginal returns across the whole corpus. This, and a limited value (generation) proposition based on what is effectively 'used' knowledge, means that best practice represents a relatively poor investment from an intellectual capital perspective. Using metaphorical analysis to unpack the best practice orientation toward knowledge holistically reveals a cogent underpinning metaphor, knowledge as cheating, which is then analyzed. The metaphor knowledge as exploration is then offered as a foil, with all the foregoing in mind, and subjected to similar, and comparative, analysis. It is found superior in both an absolute and a relative sense.


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