The Dangers of Doing What Works


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Why is it that in the enterprise 2.0 and social CRM (and probably many other) spaces that we always try to offer a prescription to organizations problems based on what other organizations have done? We always hear about blanket statements such as, “there has to be a center of excellence to manage these efforts,” “the customer relationship can’t just be owned by sales,” “you have to be social internal first and then external, “insert blanket statement here.” Why?

Why is it that every company has to follow these rules and do things the exact same way? I don’t think they do actually. Just because something works or makes sense at company A doesn’t mean it will work or make sense at company B, and the fact that we see so many blanket statements leads organizations to poor decision making. Who says that sales can’t own the customer or that my collaboration efforts can’t succeed without a center of excellence department? This type of thinking is in my opinion pure malarkey (my new favorite word which means nonsense!). Don’t do what works; do what works for your organization.

Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton wrote a book called “Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense,” which I just started reading talks about some of these ideas. In fact, the top three poor decision making practices that they identified were: casual benchmarking, doing what (seems to have) worked in the past, and following deeply held yet unexamined ideologies. I think we see a lot of these traps and poor decision making practices in the social CRM and enterprise collaboration space all the time, which of course is something we want to avoid. While there are some common or general practices or trends that might arise when examining how various companies do things, these trends are far from best practices or “rules” that must be followed.

Organizations have different dynamics and thus cannot all be treated with the same “pill.” Jeffrey and Robert make a fun analogy in the book: “suppose you went to the doctor who said, ‘I’m going to do an appendectomy on you.’ When you asked why, the doctor answered, ‘because I did one on my last patient and it made him better.” Chances are that person wouldn’t remain your doctor very long, yet we see the same trends happen in business all the time.

The point of all this is to caution individuals and organizations to examine themselves and the practices, companies and ideas they seek to foster and emulate before deploying or acting upon them.

A couple key questions to ask (from the book) are:


  • Is the success you observe by the benchmarking target because of the practice you seek to emulate?
  • Why is a particular practice linked to performance improvement – what is the logic?
  • What are the downsides and disadvantages to implementing the practice, even if it’s a good idea? Are there ways to mitigate these problems?

Doing what (seems to have) worked in the past

  • Are you sure that the practice that you are about to repeat is associated with past success?
  • Is the new situation – the business, the technology, the customers, the business model, the competitive environment – so similar to past situations that what worked in the past will work in the new setting?
  • Why do you think the past practice you intend to use again has been effective?

Following deeply held yet unexamined ideologies

  • Is my preference for particular management practice solely or mostly because it fits with my intuitions about the people and organizations?
  • Am I requiring the same level of proof and the same amount of data regardless of whether or not the issue is one I believe in?
  • And most important, are my colleagues and I allowing our beliefs to cloud willingness to gather and consider data that may be pertinent to our choices?

While these questions were taken directly from the book, I encourage organizations to develop their own questions around these and other areas that may lead them down a path of poor decision making.

What do you think? Are you seeing a lot of these generalizations in the “social” space?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jacob Morgan
I'm a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and futurist who explores what the future of work is going to look like and how to create great experiences so that employees actually want to show up to work. I've written three best-selling books which are: The Employee Experience Advantage (2017), The Future of Work (2014), and The Collaborative Organization (2012).


  1. Jacob – I believe what you are pointing out has wider implications to general business advisory. In other words, your commentary doesn’t just apply to social CRM and Enterpreise 2.0.

    If we are going to be trusted advisors, then we can’t offer cookie-cutter solutions. Just because the solution worked in 1922 doesn’t mean it will work in 2011. We have to be better at understanding both the complexity and context of our client environment, synthesize the available data quickly and recommend a solution that will fit their need.

    In short, knowing how to ask the right and insightful question will help us get better as advisors to our clients.


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