As a former tech CEO turned business coach, I’m obsessed with what drives excellence.
So I constantly study top performers, looking for the secrets behind their success. But I’ve learned that while best practices provide helpful guidelines, they can also constrain innovation.
Early in my career, I consulted for a software firm trying to reignite stagnant sales. They analyzed competitors, dissected metrics, and implemented all the standard best practices. But revenue stayed flat.
What went wrong?
The issue was they focused on benchmarking average performance rather than fueling innovation.
Best practices reflect what has worked in the past for most companies.
By definition, that means adopting them will only produce average results.
This “paradox of excellence” is that breakthroughs happen when people reject conventional thinking and try something radically different.
Let me explain with an example. Every record label passed on the Beatles, saying guitar bands were out. Yet the Fab Four didn’t just achieve success — they redefined popular music for generations.
Innovators understand that rules exist to be challenged.
Pixar president Ed Catmull cultivated a culture where people were encouraged to “fail early and fail fast.”
Meta, Airbnb, Netflix — the most disruptive companies were often told their ideas would never work.
Yet they trusted their vision over established norms.
That’s not to say best practices are useless. Experts have vital skills and industry knowledge. But relying only on what’s worked before constrains creativity. Being different is risky, but taking risks is the only way to change the game.
My advice? Know the rules inside out.
Let best practices inform but not limit your thinking.
Be wary of conventional wisdom that assumes past performance dictates future results. And don’t be afraid to ask, “What if we tried something radically different?” The answer might surprise you.