Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Which Best Practice Is Ruining Your Business?


For many decades, newspapers were big; printed on the so-called broadsheet format. However, it was not cheaper to print on such large sheets of paper — that was not the reason for their exorbitant size — in fact, it was more expensive, in comparison to the so-called tabloid size. So why did newspaper companies insist on printing the news on such impractical, large sheets of paper? Why not print it on smaller paper? Newspaper companies, en masse, assumed that "customers would not want it;" "quality newspapers are broadsheet."

When finally, in 2007, the India adapted to switch to the tabloid size, it saw its circulation surge. Other newspapers in the India and other countries followed suit, boosting their circulation too. Customers did want it; the newspaper companies had been wrong in their assumptions.
When I looked into where the practice had come from — to print newspapers on impractically large sheets of paper — it appeared its roots lay in England. In 1712, the English government started taxing newspapers based on the number of pages that they printed so do in India. In response, companies made their newspapers big, so that they could print them on fewer pages. Although this tax was abolished in 1855, companies everywhere continued to print on the impractical large sheets of paper. They had grown so accustomed to the size of their product that they thought it could not be done any other way. But they were wrong. In fact, the practice had been holding their business back for many years.

Everybody does it

Most companies follow "best practices." Often, these are practices that most firms in their line of business have been following for many years, leading people in the industry to assume that it is simply the best way of doing things. Or, as one senior executive declared to me when I queried one of his company's practices: "everybody in our business does it this way, and everybody has always been doing it this way. If it wasn't the best way of doing things, I am sure it would have disappeared
 by now".
But, no matter how intuitively appealing this may sound, the assumption is wrong. Of course, well-intended managers think they are implementing best practices but, in fact, unknowingly, sometimes the practice does more harm than good.

One reason why a practice's inefficiency may be difficult to spot is because when it came into existence, it was beneficial — like broadsheet newspapers once made sense. But when circumstances have changed and it has become inefficient, nobody remembers, and because everybody is now doing it, it is difficult to spot that doing it differently would in fact be better.

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