Fan or air coinditiong (Daniel Apodaca on Unsplash)

FAN OR AIR CONDITIONING_Are “best practices” useful to innovate?


Best practices do not lead to innovation. Air conditioning was not invented by improving a hand fan. Not even improving the best one.


When we are in a party and a lot of people start laughing, we will probably end up laughing too. But if some people are yawning, it is also very probable that it will spread.

There is a biological base that explains it all: the so-called mirror neurons lead us to imitate what we see in others.

That is probably why we enjoy detecting the company that is the best in a field, and then copy its best practices in our company.

It is not casual that field trips for visiting stores to far away countries arouse so much interest.

Carlos Losada and his thesis

Carlos Losada, Director of Esade Business School for the last nine years, wrote in his Doctoral Thesis (1) about the validity of the best practices.

He discovered that there are no absolute best practices. They may be the best in a specific context. Thus they not always work well when other companies use them in different circumstances.

From my point of view, I would also add that the best practices about topics that the customers can’t see (back-end ones) have a higher probability of success when adopted, than the ones affecting visible aspects for the customers (front-end ones).

For instance, it is more probable that introducing the best software to detect the opinions about the company in social networks is more successful, than applying an efficient range of sausages for supermarkets.

The reason is simple: in the back-end, technology and rationality are key factors. But the front-end is influenced by specifically human factors, like the cultural ones.

Next practices

One of the purposes of the managers is to devise a piece of future, and that entails innovation.

The best practices do not lead to innovation. Air conditioning was not invented by improving a hand fan. Not even improving the best one.

Managers should be interested in the practices to come (“next practices”).

To approach it there is a way that has shown to be effective: the innovation that comes from and is inspired by the life of the customers as a whole. This goes beyond the shopper marketing approach, because it includes the pre and the post shop.

Here comes the pack

Visualize a cycling pack sprinting to the finish line. How do you imagine the cyclist that wins?


Exactly like the one in this photo: risen arms, expressing the well-earned victory.

And how – on the same picture – do the ones that haven’t won appear? As you can see, pedalling with the best technique.

Human mind, for example the customer’s one, detects the emotional expressions of the leader. It doesn’t matter if his posture in that moment doesn’t have the best aerodynamics to pedal.

On the other hand, the ones that loose, even though they are showing the best practices for pedalling, are perceived as “one more” in the pack. Let’s not forget that 80% of the human brain activity is driven by the emotional, the unconscious, or the implicit.

That is why semiotics is more important than a bunch of good reasons when we want to achieve the sustained customers preference.

(1) Losada, Carlos. A Contribution to the Study of the Differences in Managerial Function: Political Managers’ Function and Civil Service Managers’ Function. ESADE FUNDACION, 09/2003


Lluis Martinez-Ribes

Source: Distribución Actualidad, the spanish retail magazine

(nº 421, december 2010)