07/09/2014 11:33 am ET Updated Sep 08, 2014

Best Practice in Business

The term 'best practices' can be a confusing one, but it can also be a limiting one if you don't pause to reconsider it on a regular basis.

If you engage in business at any level -- as an employee, a contractor, a freelancer, a business owner, or a client -- then you have heard the term 'best practices.' It's a simple enough concept: You should analyze every aspect of your business, determine the best way of doing things (per a laundry list of aspects, ranging from direct costs to efficiency to quality) and only follow those procedures going forward.

It's an inviting idea that appeals to the basic reductionism in human beings. We like to boil things down and make them simple -- we prefer a path through the woods to a compass and the stars any day of the week. Best practices means we can identify the best way of doing something, and from that moment on, we no longer have to ever think about the best way to handle things -- because we already have.

I hope you, like me, can see immediately how dangerous that concept can be.

Rigid Adherence

The main problem with best practices is how quickly they ossify into dogma, and then sink into obsolescence. What is a best way of doing things today can quickly become the worst way to do things when situations change.

For example: In the language translation business, there was a time when 'best practice' was to never, ever use computers in the translation business. Machine translation was considered crude and shallow, and you were guaranteed to get low-standard translation work back. If we adopted that best practice 30 years ago, we'd be out of business today because all of our competitors would have embraced things like translation memory and online dictionaries. Times change -- and best practices should change with them.

True Bests

That doesn't mean the concept doesn't have value -- it certainly does. The key is to realize that best practices evolve and shift along with everything else, and as a result you need to constantly re-examine them. With that in mind, though, there are some basic best practices in the translation industry that have stood the test of time:

  • Native pairing - a translator should only work in their native language, and only translate from their paired language. Otherwise you lose your native perspective and make errors only a native speaker would notice.
  • Capacity awareness - a good translator only takes on work they can do in the time allotted at a very high level of quality.
  • Review - no translations should be performed by just one person. Every translation needs to be reviewed by another set of eyes, whether an editor or a back-translator.

These (and perhaps a small number of others) really are best practices -- because no matter what's happened in the industry in terms of technology or changing workflows, they remain absolutes. If you follow just these best practices you're well on your way to a thriving career.