An eon or two ago, whilst working toward my Bachelor’s Degree, I had a way interesting professor.  Perfectly deadpan and recognized people’s faces and names – but never the two together.  Crazy smart though.

He had multiple PhDs.  Before deciding he would enter academia (PhD #2), he worked as a geologist searching out potential oil deposits (PhD #1) for a large multinational oil company.  It was when he got tired of “making a sinful amount of money” (his words) he decided he should try something else.

He had an interesting lecture series on words and terms and what they mean.  One subset came back to me recently.  I was cleaning out my home office – going through stuff that at one point I thought I might need.  In one corner, in a box, was a collection of stuff that included the text book and lecture notes from that class.  I started flipping through them with a smile at my long ago youthful optimism I had recorded there.

One thing jumped out at me as I perused the notes of a young man less than half my current age – a 2 lecture discourse on the word “best” when used in advertising. 

Some of this I remembered after all these years.  Some came roaring back to me.  Some made me think “What?” 

X is the Best money can buy.

Now, I’ve noticed a decline in TV advertising that makes claims like this,  “Our product is the best product on the market.  Why pay more when you can have the best?”  Granted, I don’t watch a whole lot of TV anymore.  Not that I did then either – no time for it.  (Now, I have no patience for most it.)

Those ads could be running on shows I don’t watch.  This is entirely possible.  Perhaps some of you have seen these types of ads. 

Anyway, part of one lecture was a discussion on how so many competing products in the same market segment could possibly all claim to be the best: toothpaste, fabric softener, laundry detergent, dish detergent, soft drink, coffee, tea… whatever.  All of them were “the best.”

The way this professor worked his lectures was kind of fun.  He’d get people talking, debating ideas, throwing things out and ripping the ideas apart as to why that logic was flawed or something.  He’d start with a general statement on the topic, then put up a couple of straw-men to get things going.  (I try and use the same general approach, when I can, when presenting.  It informs everyone, including the presenter.) 

The debate would rage on until he reeled everyone in and gave a summary of what was expressed.  He’d comment on what he thought was good and not so good.  Then he’d present his view and let the debate rage again.

I smiled as I read through the notes I made – and the comments he gave on the points raised.

Here, in short, is what I learned about the word “Best” in advertising: Best is a statement of equivalence.  If a product performs the function it was intended to do, and all other products do the same, one and all can claim to be “the best.”

However, if a product had claims that it was “better” than the competition, they needed to be able to provide the proof they were better or withdraw the ad.

So Best Practices?

Does the same apply to that blessed, sanctified and revered phrase “Best Practice?”   

Ah, there be dragons! 

The proponents of said practices will defend them with things like, “These practices, as collected, are the best available.  So, they are Best Practices.”  Others might say things like, “There are a variety of best practices.  You must use the best practice that fits the context.”

What?  What are you saying?  What does that mean?

I’ve thought about this off and on for some time.  Then, I came across the notes from that class.

Ah-HA!  Eureka!  Zounds!  

Zounds?  Really? Yes, Zounds!  Aside from being the second archaic word I’ve used in the post, it does rather fit.  (I’ll wait while you look up the definition if you like.)

OK, so now that we’re back, consider this:  The only way for this to make any sense is to forget that these words that look and sound like perfectly ordinary words in the English language.  They do not mean what one might think they mean.

Just like X toothpaste and Y toothpaste both can not both be the best, because how can you have TWO best items?  Unless, they mean “best” as a statement of equivalence, not superiority. 

Then it makes sense.  Then I can understand what the meaning is.

The meaning is simple: Best Practices are Practices that may, or may not work in a given situation.

Therefore, they are merely practices.  Stuff that is done.


Now find something better