The art of possibility

ben and rosamund zander
The art of possibility is a thought provoking book. If you are really able to engage with the content and explore the concepts provided, it has the potential to change the way you think and act for years to come. Benjamin & Rosamund Zander’s enthusiasm and encouragement leaps off of the pages and has the reader quickly engaging with the text at both an intellectual and emotional level.

The book is comprised of 12 practices. Often the idea behind them is relatively simple but that doesn’t mean they are easy. In fact, some will require the reader to suspend the tendency to think “yes but, in my situation that would never work”. The book is filled with examples of challenging times when the concepts have been applied to great effect. The arguments are compelling. Perhaps the key point of the book is that as human beings we have to believe that there are possibilities and that to find them you’ll need to suspend skepticism or worse still cynicism.

So what are the 12 practices?

1)      Its all invented – encouraging us to realise that everything is invented and how much our way of thinking restricts what we end up doing. This equally applies to thoughts as well as things. What assumptions are you currently making that are never really tested and then just box you in?

2)      Stepping into a universe of possibility – this is a challenge to the way of the modern world where measurement drives so much of what we do. Like Covey in the 7 Habits, the Zanders talk about the scarcity mentality which restricts optimism and ideas.

3)      Give yourself an A – this draws on Benjamin Zander’s work with students in Boston who are learning to play musical instruments. He decided to experiment by taking the pressure off the students by ‘giving them an A’ at the start of the academic year. He set one condition and that was that they had to write him a letter dated at the end of the year explaining why they got their A. This practice suggests that if you really believe in people they will take their performance to a totally new level. This practice will be hard for many to accept. It’s worth thinking about how much you invest in teeing up yourself or your teams for success?

4)      Being a contribution – this practice encourages the mind-set that you approach life by what you’re able to contribute. This is a shift away from the greed and selfishness that occupies so many aspects of our modern society.

5)      Leading from any chair – this is about the importance of leading from wherever you are. Too often individuals wait for instruction from on high or worse still bemoan the fact that there is no one taking the lead. Of course not everyone has the same organisational authority however it is a strong belief of mine that everyone has the same potential for moral authority. Taking responsibility for your circumstances is so important. It’s worth thinking about the word and breaking it down slightly differently – it’s your ability to respond. More about this in practice 10.

6)      Rule number six – lighten up. Enough said.

7)      The way things are – my interpretation of this, is that you need to establish the start point and where you want to get to and then the range of possibilities of how you get between the two will increase dramatically. Alternatively this is about acknowledging reality and not simply thinking positive thoughts will get you to where you want to be.

8)      Giving way to passion – seeking out and going with what really excites you.

9)      Lighting the spark – seeing yourself as the enabler to light the spark in others. This feels like it’s in the territory of the message that a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.

10)   Being the Board – my interpretation of this is about taking responsibility for the where you are. Avoiding blame and criticism – “I am the framework for everything that happens in my life.”

11)   Frameworks of possibility – this feels like the creation of a framework on which to build upon and ignite others by creating an environment of potential and possibility. Martin Luther King is cited in the book as a great example.

12)   Telling the we story – this is all about the need for inclusion and recognition in the power of the team.

All in all I’d recommend the Art of Possibility. There’s plenty to learn and explore in the pages. My personal recommendation is to explore this as an audio book. The Zanders read the book and give it a whole new dimension.

To give you a flavor of Benjamin Zander I’ve included a clip of him talking at the World Economic Forum in 2009. The significance in the year is that it was just after the financial crash. I love this short film and have used it on a number of occasions to get people thinking differently before heading into some difficult challenge or discussion. Zander talks with passion and inspiration. Maybe he needs to come back and talk again to give our economy another kick.  Enjoy.

Youtube logoBenjamin Zander at the World Economic Forum 2009