As a consultant, I earn a living in part because clients believe that I deliver best practices, but I cringe every time I hear the phrase. It strikes me as pretentious. Rarely is there just one best way to achieve an objective. Rarely does one size fit all organizations. The phrase best practice, if taken too seriously, stands in the way of questioning, experimentation, and innovation. How can we improve upon what is already best?
I’m also suspicious of Centers of Excellence. Again, the phrase sounds pretentious, like an exclusive club. Such centers can function as bully pulpits from which anointed experts seek to impose their preferences, the so-called best practices, on the laity. How can we question or improve upon what is already excellent?
Excellence, a worthy objective, demands a journey, a process of questioning, exploration, experimentation, and learning; and it is this journey for which we ought prepare.
So as an alternative to Centers of Excellence, I propose Communities of Exploration, where employees (and partners, vendors, customers, external stakeholders) congregate around questions of common interest, try out ideas, test assumptions, explore, experiment, share failures, and learn together.
Let me know your thoughts on how a Community of Exploration might differ from a Center of Excellence. And please share your suggestions for how to create vibrant Centers of Exploration.