Mind Readings: Best Practices Are Real

Mind Readings: Best Practices Are Real

In today’s episode, you’ll learn why the “best practice is no best practice” mindset could be hurting your performance. You’ll understand the value of proven methods and recipes for success, even as you customize them for your needs. You’ll benefit from the insights needed to tell the difference between true innovation and empty criticism. Get ready to question what you’ve heard about best practices!

Mind Readings: Best Practices Are Real

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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for watching the video.

Christopher Penn: In today’s episode, let’s talk about best practices. I saw several posts on LinkedIn kind of crapping on best practices—oh, best practices aren’t real, best practices are a lie, best practices are what losers use, do your own thing, no such thing as best practices.

That’s not true. It’d be like saying, “There’s no such thing as cookbooks. Cookbooks are a lie.” Like, what are you talking about? Cookbooks are best practices. Cookbooks are—a recipe is a best practice. Like, “Hey, here’s the thing I did, and this is a good starting point,” right? So here is the recipe, how to make chicken cordon bleu. Here’s the recipe for beef wellington. Here’s the recipe for this. Is it exactly the way that you should make it? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s a starting point. It’s better than trying to reinvent it from scratch every single time or guessing at what you should do. No, it says, “Here’s the recipe. First, sous vide a tenderloin of beef for eight hours, one hundred twenty degrees Fahrenheit, and then get a puff pastry, thaw it, unroll it, wrap the beef in it, and then bake it,” right? That’s your beef wellington.

And yeah, you’re going to have your own special sauce of seasonings and things that are going to be unique to you. Or maybe you don’t like beef and you’re going to use pork. Or maybe you—you have a gluten allergy and you’re not going to use the puff pastry, you’re going to use something else. No matter what it is, the recipe, the best practice, is the starting point. And more important, the recipe, if you can follow it, means that you have basic competence, right? If you can follow the recipe and get the result, you have competence. You are a competent practitioner of cooking.

So when I see people spouting off about how best practices are a lie, I question their competence. I question their competence. Like, do you actually even know what you’re doing? Or are you crapping on best practices because it would reveal you’re not actually all that good at what you do? If you can’t make the recipe work—if I hand my home-written recipe for a clam chowder to a master chef, if I hand it to someone like Kat Cora, she’s going to be able to cook it. She might disagree with it. She might say, “This is a pretty lame recipe,” but she can absolutely cook it, and she’ll crush it. She wouldn’t say, “Oh, this recipe is a lie,” or “Recipes don’t work.” No, she would say, “This is not the world’s best recipe I’ve ever seen for clam chowder, and I might suggest some improvement, but yeah, I can cook this,” because she is a master chef. She is a master practitioner.

Be very careful of people who spend a lot of time telling you that best practices are not a good thing, that best practices are a hindrance or handicap. Depending on where you are in your journey on whatever the thing is, that might or might not be true. If you are a master chef, you probably don’t need a recipe to cook a steak, right? If you are an amateur, a beginner, a novice, you absolutely need a recipe to cook the steak because otherwise you’re probably going to make shoe leather. And even when you are a master practitioner, sometimes you still need the recipe to remember what it was you did the last time, right? It’s about process. It’s about repeating results and getting consistent results.

When I step into the dojo and I train in the martial art I’ve been training in now for thirty-one years, do I need to have this kata written out in front of me every single time? No. Do I have it in front of me anyway? Yes. Why? Sometimes I forget things. And it’s a good idea to have those reminders around, have those best practices, so that, yes, you can then do variations and adaptations.

When a field is new, you absolutely need best practices. You absolutely need recipes—with the acknowledgment that the recipes are going to change rapidly over time as more and more people understand them—but you absolutely need recipes.

When you have a field like generative AI that has come out, what is a prompt? It’s a recipe. A prompt that you write for a language model is a recipe. And yes, you can, in many cases, for basic things, you can wing it. Say, “Summarize this document.” But if you want to develop repeatable results, you absolutely should have a prompt catalog, a prompt library, and be constantly improving your prompts. But you should be writing them down because the field changes so fast that you want to be able to adapt with it. And that means embracing best practices. That means embracing processes that are documented.

As much as I don’t like documentation sometimes, it is essential for repeatable, reliable results, and for diagnosing when something has changed that you can’t account for. If I have—I’m just kind of winging it with a language model—and suddenly I can’t seem to do my job anymore, if I have a recipe, if I have a pre-baked prompt, and I hand that to a language model one day and I get a good result, and I do it the next day, and I get a worse result, if my recipe didn’t change, the model changed. And that means—and this helps me diagnose that.

So be real careful about anyone who—who’s hawking the, “Best practices are a lie” kind of thing. It means that either they have something they want to sell you, or they’re not very good at what they do. There is absolutely a place for recipes. There’s absolutely a place for variations. And there will be times when you want to transcend those recipes, but boy, you better have them on hand just in case things go sideways.

That’s going to do it for today’s episode. Thanks for tuning in. Talk to you next time. If you enjoyed this video, please hit the like button, subscribe to my channel if you haven’t already. And if you want to know when new videos are available, hit the bell button to be notified as soon as new content is live.

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