February 20

I love the story about the farmer’s cousin who went to visit his family in the country. Upon arrival, the farmer took the city cousin on a tour of the property, and the city cousin was shocked to see an archery target on the side of the barn with an arrow embedded perfectly in the middle.

“Wow!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t know you were an archer. How did you manage to hit the bull’s-eye?”

“Easy,” replied his cousin. “I shot the arrow first, then I painted the target around it.”

It works, I guess. Unfortunately, many creative pros and teams apply a similar strategy. When our work fails to live up to our original intent, we invent reasons why the results were actually better than what we meant to do. We backward rationalize. We paint the target after we shoot the arrow.

When we do this, we lose trust with our team, our clients, and perhaps most importantly ourselves. It’s difficult to hold yourself accountable when there’s no standard to hold yourself accountable to.

Have specific goals and metrics for your work and hold yourself to them. There will always be “happy accidents,” but make certain that you don’t backward rationalize your results instead of learning from your shortcomings.

Avoid the temptation to backward rationalize poor results. Learn from them.

Is there any way in which you are currently backward rationalizing results?

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