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The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life Hardcover – September, 2000

4.5 out of 5 stars 407 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 206 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business School Press; 1st edition (September 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0875847706
  • ISBN-13: 978-0875847702
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (407 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #107,970 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAME on September 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
'. . . The objective of this book is to provide . . . the means to lift off from . . . struggle and sail into a vast universe of possibility.'
Benjamin Zander is the conductor of The Boston Philharmonic and is well known for his orchestra's passionate performances. Rosamund Stone Zander is an executive coach, family therapist, and private practitioner who brings enormous psychological perspective to enhancing human behavior. They have written a fascinating book in which they alternate as voices in sharing principles and examples in the form of compelling stories.
They have striven to make what they share ' . . . simple, not easy.' The idea is to help you create in yourself and in others 'transformational' improvements.
They share a series of perspectives designed to improve your understanding of what and where the potential is.
First, humans tend to focus on very few things, missing most of what is going on around them. By shifting focus, you will see many opportunities for the first time. Much of this book is designed to do that for you. You will visit our old friend the nine dot square and be reminded that connecting all of the dots in four lines without lifting your writing instrument from the paper requires you to go outside the box that we mentally draw at the circumference of the dots. Be careful about your assumptions! They can fence you in!
Second, measurements can cause us to focus too narrowly on where we are today and encourage scarcity thinking -- the glass is half empty. The Zanders encourage thinking about the glass as half full, citing the well-known perspective of optimism as being empowering. This can help you 'step into a university of possibility.' I like to call this pursuing the ideal practice.
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Format: Hardcover
My first impression upon picking up The Art of Possibility was that it would be "fluff." Wrong impression. Instead, this turned out to be a very powerful book that I'm glad to have read. The Zanders present a philosophy and strategy for seeing and living in our world from a standpoint of possibility rather than scarcity and restriction. They describe a set of practices that may sound trite from their chapter headings ("Giving an A") but which are backed up by lucid explanations and very moving anecdotes. (I don't usually go for books that rely so heavily on personal stories, but in this case they are quite inspiring and contribute significantly to the power of the book.)
The two authors come at the issues of leadership and personal growth from different perspectives: He from the point of view of an orchestra conductor, and She from that of a psychotherapist. Benjamin Zander fortunately does not try to make the threadbare comparison that being a conductor is like being a CEO; rather, he simply uses his personal experiences as a leader to help make his points with interesting examples related to his career as conductor.
It's a worthwhile read (and easy, too, at 200 pages) that at the very least is inspiring and enjoyable, but also likely to make positive changes in your life if you apply the practices the authors describe.
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Format: Hardcover
I bought this book on someone's recommendation, but it just sat on my shelf for a few months until Tom Peters mentioned the Zanders in one of his newsletters. I read his interview with them on his web site, went home, and read their book through in one sitting. It starts off unpromisingly: the first couple of chapters are brief and, I felt, rather platitudinous. But then the authors started illustrating their points with anecdotes, and it all became clear to me. Recognizing your assumptions and how they limit you, and being willing to expand your thinking beyond them to new possibilities, makes a major difference in how you deal with the challenges in your life. I also liked their positive approach -- too many of us get entrapped in "something's broken about me and I need to fix it." The Zanders are certainly not the first to articulate this point of view, but I felt that their illustrative examples made it much easier to understand. But you do have to THINK about what their stories imply; they don't give you "step 1, step 2" instructions on how to apply this philosophy to your own life. The book has already given me a different perspective on several aspects of my behavior that had been troubling me, and on that basis alone I'd recommend it to anyone.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Although there were moments I was absolutely sucked into the book and inspired by the message, by the end I was ready for it to end. The opening chapter focuses on how reality is all made up and everything is subjective. I think anyone who has been to college will have heard these same arguments in about ten different classes - literature, psychology, sociology, and anthropology - and frankly, the book made it all sound very simplistic. They use a couple of scientific examples - and poof! They have a theory that serves as a basis for the rest of the book. It isn't very original or especially compelling.

Another problem was that almost all the real life examples Zander uses are about orchestra. I appreciate music, but I wished there could be more variety. I got sick of the repetition. Worst of all, almost all of Zander's personal stories are about times he did something amazing. At first I was impressed, but after a while, it sounded egotistical. He should have incorporated more examples from everyday people and avoided focusing on his own life so much. When the authors started suggesting solutions for ending terrorism, I was done. It was too over-the-top, too simplistic.
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