Do best practices limit creativity? Are they just a road that leads to mediocrity?

The question led to a lively debate in a recent conversation with local marketing professionals. Generally speaking, the creative folks were disinclined to consider the benefits of best practices while the account folks saw the financial savings in considering them.

Where did I land? My creative side enjoys thinking freely, giving me the opportunity to explore all possibilities. But I’m also pragmatic and realize the practical value in having best practices, policies and procedures.

A best practice is a method or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means.

You’ll notice the definition does not mention limits or constraints, in fact it suggests the opposite by stating that best practices may lead to a superior product. So why is it that our creative minds want to rebel against this perceived constraint?

Best practices shouldn’t shackle your ideas, they should leverage proven techniques to free your mind to think about superior solutions.

Best Practices in User Experience

A very simple case can be made with the placement of a logo on a website. Consumers have come to expect that the logo will be placed in the upper left corner and clicking on it should also take them back to the home page.

When we consider the user experience, would we prefer to frustrate the consumer or delight them? A majority of websites would not benefit from confusing the consumer with a unique navigation structure.

Would you rather spend your time redesigning a best practice or a majority of your time innovating and iterating the rest of the experience that can differentiate your company or brand from the competition? In this case, best practices can free your mind to spend valuable energy elsewhere.

Best Practices in the Real World

An even better example may exist outside of the marketing world. In the 1990’s NASA challenged its teams to think “faster, better, cheaper” in an effort to launch low-cost missions.

Panorama of NASA's Mars Pathfinder

NASA’s best practices included collaboration which led the teams to consider using off-the-shelf components. If you consider best practices a constraint, this story illustrates how limitations forced engineers to reconsider space exploration.

The result? The Mars Pathfinder team went from concept to landing on the red planet in 44 months, less than half the time of the previous Viking mission to Mars. The project was also accomplished with a smaller team, only 300 members vs. the 2,000+ assigned to the preceding mission.

In this case a variety of best practices not only led to a successful mission but space exploration reimagined.

Final Thoughts on Best Practices

Perhaps innovation doesn’t come from best practices. But the ability to scale certainly does. If you want to go about reinventing the wheel, by all means do. As for me, I’ll consider rethinking the big picture when appropriate knowing that a majority of the time best practices are actually a benefit.

Best practices should be flexible and grant the return of two commodities most important to us – energy and time.

These methods and procedures are not constraints that limit your creativity, rather they should free you to concentrate on the most important task(s) that lead to better, more creative marketing solutions.

I would love to hear how you define best practices and if you believe they limit creativity. Leave a comment and share your thoughts below.