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So what's a best practice anyway? And how can you become the smartest, too? Let's start at the top.
More than just a good idea
A best practice is a slippery thing. I've heard people joke that they can make a practice into a best practice just by adding one word. But of course, not every good idea is a best practice. And one person's optimum solution is another's optimized mess! A best practice for one environment might not work for another.
Despite this, it's clear to me that there are special ideas that can be called best practices. I've found that the following three questions can distinguish a true best practice from a mere good idea:
Is it prudent? Let's borrow the Prudent Man Rule from finance: Is this something that a prudent person of discretion and intelligence would do? This simple question eliminates all sorts of oddball solutions.
Is it widespread? It's hard to argue that something that has never been done before could be called a best practice. Cast aside untested ideas, no matter how good they
Is it low risk? Ask yourself what the chances--and consequences--of failure are. It doesn't matter if a solution works perfectly most of the time because only the failures will be highlighted.
These are the three questions that can inform many of our daily decisions. Although it wouldn't be much fun to live life this way, this philosophy can help with the big questions. And none of us are being paid to tempt fate.
This was first published in August 2004