Do you prize novelty or certainty?

Do you prize novelty or certainty?

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

When you follow the best practice, by definition your work is not new. New work is never done the same way twice. That’s why it’s called new.

Best practices are for old work. Usually, it’s work that was successful last time. But just as you can never step into the same stream twice, when you repeat a successful recipe it’s not the same recipe. Almost everything is different from last time. The economy is different, the competitors are different, the customers are in a different phase of their lives, the political climate is different, interest rates are different, laws are different, tariffs are different, the technology is different, and the people doing the work are different. Just because work was successful last time doesn’t mean that the old work done in a new context will be successful next time. The most important property of old work is the certainty that it will run out of gas.

When someone asks you to follow the best practice, they prioritize certainty over novelty. And because the context is different, that certainty is misplaced.

We have a funny relationship with certainty. At every turn, we try to increase certainty by doing what we did last time. But the only thing certain with that strategy is that it will run out of gas. Yet, frantically waving the flag of certainty, we continue to double down on what we did last time. When we demand certainty, we demand old work. As a company, you can have too much “certainty.”

When you flog the teams because they have too much uncertainty, you flog out all the novelty.

What if you start the design review with the question “What’s novel about this project?” And when the team says there’s nothing novel, what if you say “Well, go back to the drawing board and come back with some novelty.”? If you seek out novelty instead of squelching it, you’ll get more novelty. That’s a rule, though not limited to novelty.

A bias toward best practices is a bias toward old work. And the belief underpinning those biases is the belief that the Universe is static. And the one thing the Universe doesn’t like to be called is static. The Universe prides itself on its dynamic character and unpredictable nature. And the Universe isn’t above using karma to punish those who call it names.

Image credit: Pixabay

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One thought on “Do you prize novelty or certainty?

  1. Jim Duggan

    I would agree that best practice is based on experience, but I would disagree that just because someone seeks best practice it doesn’t mean they want to do things based on “old work”. Seeking best practice is also about seeking new ideas on what is working, and the best of the best practices evolve over time.
    It would seem the corollary of the point the article is making is that everything needs to start from a blank page. Sometimes that is the answer, but seeking solutions from experience should not be discounted.


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