Often our attempts to explain or analyze a failure to reach a goal devolve into rationalizations. And often those rationalizations are nothing but rational lies we tell ourselves to salve our wounded pride, or deflect responsibility, or dodge accountability.

Responsibility and accountability are two hallmarks of maturity, and transparency is their bodyguard.

If a goal is not reached, the why really does not matter except as potentially valuable input into framing the plan for the next effort.

For every task that is truly impossible, there are hundreds that are claimed to be.

The phrase “it can’t be done” shuts down the mind and dulls the creative process. Frequently I’ve been told something can’t be done. I reply, “If you had a million dollars could you do it?” A high percentage of the time the answer comes back positive. I then reply that since it is possible after all, then the real challenge is to find a way to do it for an acceptable dollar amount.

The fun thing about the “if you had a million dollars” question is that it frees up creativity, removes the constraints, blows away the box, allows people to think like millionaires. Once we come up with the million dollar solution, we are frequently able to work backwards to a more acceptable solution. Yes, it is still usually over the original budget, but it does deliver the desired solution and often that works, particularly for one-off road blocks, which is where you often run into the “it can’t be done” statement.

Circling back, rationalize = rational lies is a good phrase to use as a process check to insure that all your post-situation reviews and all your look-back analyses remain vibrant learning opportunities, not exercises in self pity or bureaucratic CYA.

This is a classic from the NSC Blog archive, originally posted April 21, 2008.