Do Best Practices Limit Creativity?

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.

VP Digital & Social, GMR Marketing
  1. This discussion has popped up in several of my careers. When I was in radio, everyone complained about how formats, pre-scheduled music playlists, and bit-clocks (all best practices) killed creativity. Those of us who enforced those best practices constantly reminded renegade and pretesting air talent that any hack could follow format, and any creative talent could express themselves in a truly talented way, but it was only the truly talented professionals that could find a way to use the best practice, be creative within the best practice to reinforce the brand they were representing.

    The case in point is late night TV. There’s a reason why…regardless of the host or the network… Late Night TV starts with a monologue, continues with a predictable signature feature, has a guest or two, then ends with a musical or comic performance. The formula works. It produces ratings and revenue. It gives the buyer (the audience) what they expect. In the context of the brand proposition (not your logo, but the promise of an experience) , it makes reinforcement of the brand trump the desire of the creative ego to express themselves. The hosts come and go, but the franchise continues. Thus the conflict. But the hosts that last the longest are the ones who understand the need to have both the best practice and the creativity within that practice.

    Best practice and creativity are not mutually exclusive. They are actually dependent on each other. The world is full of boring, underperforming brands and starving artists. It’s when both work hand in hand that real success happens.

  2. If everyone followed best practices, we wouldn’t have innovation. We wouldn’t have modern music or modern art. We wouldn’t have jazz. I could go on. At the beginning of each of those, someone broke the rules. But here’s the kicker that I tell the young whipper-snappers, you have to know the rules inside-out and backwards and forwards, before you’re allowed to break them.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More Stories
In ESPN’s Battle of the Ballparks, Miller Park is Crowned Champion