The Heretics Guide to Best Practices

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The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices is the title of a sensemaking book that I co-authored with Paul Culmsee.   The book starts with the oft made observation that organisational initiatives (strategies, projects or whatever) tend to fail more often than they should. We believe this happens because such initiatives attempt to implement solutions in a top-down manner, without developing a shared understanding of the underlying  problem. This leads to chaos, confusion and unhappy stakeholders.

Yet even when these symptoms are recognised, the solutions that are applied generally hinder rather than help. Whilst there is substantial published research that offers insights as to why this happens only academics (or those who want to be academics) ever bother to read it.  Hence there is a gap between professional practice and research. Our book attempts to bridge this chasm.

The first part of the book elaborates on our claim that the lack of shared understanding is the root cause of many organisational dysfunctions. We do so using examples drawn from experience, supported by existing research in a range of disciplines including management, cognitive science, project management, psychology and evolutionary science. We also draw inspiration from luminary authors and managers such as Russell Ackoff and Willy Wonka.

In the second part of the book we describe a range of techniques that can help organisations get to a shared understanding of a problem before attempting to solve it. Such an understanding is a prerequisite to achieving a collective commitment to action. Best of all, the tools we discuss are easy to learn: they do not require you to speak a new tongue, sing a new tune or dance a new dance. Whilst most professionals are well versed with conventional management tools, the ones we discuss are not so well-known.

In the third part of the book, we use case studies to illustrate how the tools introduced in part two can be utilised to solve complex organisational problems. The case studies we describe range from town planning to system design.