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The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life Hardcover – September, 2000
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The lure of this book's promise starts with the assumption in its title. Possibility--that big, all-encompassing, wide-open-door concept--is an art? Well, who doesn't want to be a skilled artist, whether in the director's chair, the boardroom, on the factory floor, or even just in dealing with life's everyday situations? Becoming an artist, however, requires discipline, and what the authors of The Art of Possibility offer is a set of practices designed to "initiate a new approach to current conditions, based on uncommon assumptions about the nature of the world."
If that sounds a little too airy-fairy for you, don't be put off; this is no mere self-improvement book, with a wimpy mandate to transform its readers into "nicer" people. Instead, it's a collection of illustrations and advice that suggests a way to change your entire outlook on life and, in the process, open up a new realm of possibility. Consider, for example, the practice of "Giving an A," whether to yourself or to others. Not intended as a way to measure someone's performance against standards, this practice instead recognizes that "the player who looks least engaged may be the most committed member of the group," and speaks to their passion rather than their cynicism. It creates possibility in an interaction and does away with power disparities to unite a team in its efforts. Or consider "Being the Board," where instead of defining yourself as a playing piece, or even as the strategist, you see yourself as the framework for the entire game. In this scenario, assigning blame or gaining control becomes futile, while seeking to become an instrument for effective partnerships becomes possible.
Packed with such examples of personal and professional interactions, the book presents complex ideas on perception and recognition in a readable, useable style. The authors' combined, eclectic experience in music and painting (as well as family therapy and executive workshops) infuses their examples with vibrant color and sound. The relevance to corporate situations and relationships is well developed, and they don't rely on dry case studies to do it. Indeed, this book assumes the emotional intelligence and desire to engage of its reader, promising access to the rewards of that door-opening notion--possibility--in return. --S. Ketchum
From Publishers Weekly
In a lively, sensible manual for turning life's obstacles into possibilities, the Zanders introduce various "tools" for transformation, drawing on their extensive experiences with musicians, students and patients in therapy (Rosamund is a psychotherapist and painter; Benjamin is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic). In a chapter entitled "Giving an A," for example, Benjamin relates a classroom technique that allows students to envision their own futures: all students in his class receive an A if they write him a postdated letter relating "the story of what will have happened to you by next May that is in line with this extraordinary grade." Other chapters emphasize practices such as thinking in terms of making a personal "contribution" rather than stark "success or failure"; "lightening up" in order to see a problem from a new perspective (e.g., a patient of Rosamund's was able to have a sensual experience with her husband even though she was angry at him); and reassessing "frameworks for possibility" (e.g., a teacher shaved her head in order to "reframe the meaning" of a hairless class member who had leukemia). The authors' emphasis on "practice," the importance of "flow" and the joy in creation and expression is apt and often truly inspiring. Although not groundbreaking, the Zanders' suggestions constitute sound, practical advice that has much in common with Zen concepts of holism, balance and grace.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
The Art of Possibility is full of examples to emphasize that life works better when you have a positive mental outlook. The authors tell a story of two shoe factory salesmen exploring new markets in Africa. After assessing the situation, both send telegrams:
SITUATION HOPELESS. STOP. NO ONE WEARS SHOES.
GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY. STOP. THEY HAVE NO SHOES.
"The one who sees no shoes, all the evidence points to hopelessness. To his colleague, the same conditions point to abundance and possibility," say the Zanders. Through easy to understand examples like this the authors drive home their point. I also liked the stories the Zanders share from their professions. Benjamin Zander is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. Rosamund Stone Zander (nickname of "Roz" in the book) has a private practice in family therapy.
The Art of Possibility is more than just pie in the sky optimism. The Zanders recommend a realistic approach to negative thoughts and feelings. Their approach "doesn’t mean you should drown out your negative feelings or pretend you like what you really can’t stand. It doesn’t mean you should work to achieve some 'higher plane of existence' so you can 'transcend negativity'," they feel. "It simply means, being present without resistance: being present to what is happening and present to your reactions, no matter how intense. The capacity to be present to everything that is happening, without resistance, creates possibility."
Reading the book led me to challenge some of my limiting beliefs. "We can replace the narratives that hold us back by inventing wiser stories, free from childish fears, and in doing so, disperse long-held psychological stumbling blocks," say the Zanders. Perhaps our interpretations of the events in our lives do not match reality. "We see a map of the world, not the world itself," the authors feel.
The book is about 200 pages, written in 12 chapters for 12 different practices. Most of the practices are perspective-practices that try to trigger you into a different way of thinking about yourself and about the world. For example, the practice of "Giving an A" is the practice that asks to always look at people from their potential perspective and avoid judging them directly. Always give an A to people... think the best of them and that will get out the best of them.
All other practices are similar. I find them useful, yet at times native. However, they aren't very concrete and they all kinda relate is seeing the world from the perspective of... possibility.
My favorites are re-framing mistakes to "How Fascinating" and also to seeing beyond downward spiral thinking as well as understanding the 2 selves many of us possess, and tapping into the central self. I love the content of this book so much that I've gifted it to about a dozen people in the last few months.
However, actually reading the book was difficult. I think it was just a personal preference, but I had a very hard time relating to either author. The husband is a music conductor (I'm not musical, and everything he wrote about related to that) and the wife seemed to have lived a very privileged life. If you are a musical person (especially classical) you will love the examples and stories that the husband has to tell.