Just about everyone wants to succeed at what they do. As a result of this basic desire, a basic human instinct often kicks in to help out—mimicry. In business speak, this mimicry operates under the term Best Practice. In marketing this instinct is triggered through classic marketing campaigns such as “Be Like Mike.” How might we succeed? The answer: Do what winners do, or Be what winners are.
Unfortunately, the methods for and outcomes of mimicry often get conflated. The result of this conflation is something we might call Best Practice Bingo. A few people are starting to be concerned about the nature of this bingo game (Billboard, more), and these concerns are warranted. We are in danger of confusing consequences for causes, attributing success to what really are outcomes while overlooking the far more complicated How and Why that led to these outcomes.
The basic equation for this bingo game are as follows:
SO + IF + E3 = BPB
(Study Outliers) + (Ignore Failures) + (Exceptions Exceptions Exceptions)
= (Best Practice Bingo)
The first stage of best practices bingo involves studying outliers—i.e., successful firms (or individuals)—and describing either the basic process of what these winners do or the basic attributes of these winners. The appeal of this first stage is so compelling, quite frankly, we cannot help ourselves. Winners often seem to success despite the odds, and condition that should immediately suggest outlier status.
When presented within the best practice argument for success the SO stage usually takes the form of case studies—rich stories that present the behaviors/attributes of winners as truly novel and or unique. Importantly, these stories are told backwards. They describe what the winner did from the beginning with the end result of these actions being success. In truth, the winner succeeded and this success led the researcher to notice the firm and then attribute a set of behaviors/attributes to this success.
The second yet obviously related stage of this bingo game involves ignoring failures through the outlier selection process. Ignoring failures is built into the study outliers stage, yet the presence of failures should be key to any test in search of what separates the wheat from the chaff, the winners from the losers. By way of ignoring failures we turn off the capacity to tell whether what we see winners doing happens to be something truly unique to winners. And by explaining the behaviors and attributes of only the winning outliers in arrears, we lose the ability to distinguish prediction from description. Losers in Bingo games never stand up and scream “we lost!”
Exceptions Exceptions Excpetions
The final condition for the best practice bingo game is the ongoing introduction of exceptions, exceptions, exceptions. In the event of any failing firm (or individual) that seems to otherwise display the attributes of winning firms we propose exceptions, usually based on some prototypical case or argument. By prototypical I simply mean the process or attributes of winners are argued to stand as ideal examples of the process or attribute in question. Failed firms may have something that looks like these processes/attributes, but they just didn’t do/have these things just right. These firms are, therefore, excluded from the condition in arrears. When you start hearing the word “but” all the time, be very worried that someone may be making as ass of you.
Best Practice Bingo
The result of this all-too-common three stage process is a situation we might call best practice bingo. Upon learning about these behaviors and attributes of winning firms, other firms begin to mimic these features and the bingo game begins. Some of these firms succeed, others fail. The pundit excludes failures from the model for simply not doing/having it “just right .” Successful outcomes are almost always accepted as de facto and are used to support the model.
Example #1: CWF + RTB = $$$
Circulating the network of pundits (examples here, here and here) these days is Techdirt’s recent proposition that the model for future business success can be phrased: (Connect with Fans) + (Reason to Buy) = $$$. When presented in public (here and here), this proposition is pretty much always a function of case studies—Trent Reznor, Jill Sobule, etc.
Just about every presentation on the CWF+RTB premise involves studying outliers—winners who seemed to embody the ethos of this model. These artists appear to be succeeding by way of this model, so what’s the problem? IF + EEE.
First and foremost, failures are ignored. Any number of artists, both now and in the past, have employed a method through which they aspire to connect with fans and give these fans a reason to buy. In fact, just about every business on the planet is in the business of trying to connect with potential customers and give these customers are reason to open their wallets. Some of these artists have succeeded while others have failed.
Finally, the exceptions are starting to roll in. In order to workaround the bingo game, we are starting to hear about folks just not really connecting with fans, or just not given those fans are reason to buy. And so, the big buts will begin.
Example #2: CWE + RTV = Election
Let’s be honest, a translation of the CWF model for politics would be: Connect with the electorate + Give them a reason to vote for you = Election to office. CWE + RTV = Election
When translated to other markets, the model seems to offer less insight than description. The winner of any election connected with the electorate and gave that electorate a reasons to vote. However, these features were consequences not causes.
Here’s to a bingo-free lifestyle.