Monkeys see, monkeys do. But not in the boardroom, please.

My apology for casting dispersion on the good folks sitting on boards of nonprofit organizations. But hey, I’m one of you.  And if I’m willing to confess my share of monkeying around in the boardroom, so can you.  So put down that banana and listen up.  Stop aping other people’s best practices and start thinking for yourself.

DCF 1.0

If I could, I’d send the idea of “best practices” back to the organizational jungle whence it came. Sure, there’s fun in peeking at what others are doing, but I’ve yet to find a strategy, technique, or rule that fits every situation, every time. Assuming that what worked over there will work here, ignores the variables.

In shaping my reply to yet another “what should we do?” email message, I returned to Nilofer Merchant’s insightful The New How: Creating Business Solutions through Collaborative Strategy where she writes:

There is no such thing as ‘the right answer.’ There is something that is best for you, given your problem and particular set of circumstances. Envision that. . . The ‘best’ option is whatever makes the most sense for this organization, at this particular time, given the market conditions, matched to internal capabilities, considering allocated resources, and so on.

In other words, just because the organization down the street or a hundred nonprofits across the country or a thousand ministries around the world have experienced success with a particular strategy, it may not work for you. It could, but there’s no guarantee.


A practice isn’t “best” until tested against the challenges, context, and calling of a particular organization. As an MIT Sloan Management Review article advises:

Instead of simply adopting other organizations’ best practices, screen the way work gets down in your organization through those best practices in order to generate new ideas.  . . Use best practices to generate even better practices. . . Best practices can be more effectively used as a discovery technique, enabling people to go beyond replication and discover new possibilities for meaningful change.

Overlaying your current practices with someone else’s best practices generates better practices — better than best because they are relevant in highly specific ways to your organization.

So let the other monkeys see. Let them do. As for you and your tribe, swing with your own vine.

Talk back: Am I too hard on best practices? What has been your experience?




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