By Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander
From “Praise for The Art of Possibility”
“I love this book. It is provocative, instructive, and uplifting. The ideas and practices in it are about creating and engaging new possibilities in life. It is a boon to readers as a guide to their personal development, as well as a resource for helping them to lead others. The Art of Possibility is a gem.” – Peter J Frost, Edgar F. Kaiser Chair of Organizational Behaviour, University of British Columbia
pg 3 The long line is the possibility of seeing deeply into what is best for all of us, seeing the next step. Each chapter of the book offers a separate practice for realizing that vision. Each practice provides an opportunity for personal evolution that promises to enhance not only the reader’s life but also the organizations and relationships in which he or she participates. These practices are as relevant to corporate management as they are to a marriage; as relevant to acts of diplomacy as to the settlement of family disputes.
The history of transformational phenomena – the Internet, for example, or paradigm shifts in science, or the spread of a new religion – suggests that transformation happens less by arguing cogently for something new than by generating active, ongoing practices that shift a culture’s experience of the basis for reality.
pg 6 In the chapters that follow, you will be introduced to a set of practices that each as its own catchphrase, such as it’s all invented, or giving an A, or Rule Number 6. By the time you have read the stories, parables, and first-person accounts that illuminate each of these practices, you will be better able to recall them with the use of the catch phrase, just as I was able to get back in the boat by remembering toes to noes. Once you are in the habit of using them, these practices will reliably land you back in the boat, reoriented in a universe of possibility.
pg 12 In full wakefulness, we produce reasons for our actions that are rational, plausible, and guided by the logic of cause and effect, whether or not these ”reasons”accurately portray any of the real motivational forces at work. Experiments with people who have suffered a lesion between the two halves of the brain have shown that when the right side is prompted, say, to close a door, the left side, unaware of the experiment’s instruction, will produce a ”reason” as to why he has just performed the action, such as, “Oh, I felt a draft.”
It is these sorts of phenomena that we are referring to when we use the catchphrase for this chapter it’s all invented. What we mean is, “It’s all invented anyway, so we might as well invent a story or framework of meaning that enhances our quality of life and the life of those around us.”
pg 15 A simple way to practice it’s all invented is to ask yourself this question:
What assumption am I making
That I’m not aware I’m making,
That gives me what I see?
And when you have an answer to that question, ask yourself this one:
What might I now invent,
That I haven’t yet invented,
That would give me other choices?
pg 22 Now we come to the heart of the matter. What is the practice that orients you to a universe of possibility? It is a practice for revealing the hidden framework from which the world of measurement springs. When you see how thoroughly that framework, like the box around the nine dots, rules your life, you will have located yourself in the realm of possibility beyond it. So, first ask yourself: How are my thoughts and actions, in this moment, reflections of the measurement world?… Notice the question is not “Are my thoughts”… which is a question of assessment, but “How are my thoughts”…which is a true inquiry.
pg 26 Michelangelo is often quoted as having said that inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue; one need only remove the excess material to reveal the work of art within. If we were to apply this visionary concept to education, it would be pointless to compare one child to another. Instead, all the energy would be focused on chipping away at the stone, getting rid of whatever is in the way of each child’s developing skills, mastery, and self-expression.
We call this practice giving an A. It is an enlivening way of approaching people that promises to transform you as well as them. It is a shift in attitude that makes it possible for you to speak freely about your own thoughts and feelings while, at the same time, you support others to be all they dream of being. The practice of giving an A transports your relationships from the world of measurement into the universe of possibility. … When you give an A, you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect that gives them room to realize themselves. Your eye is on the statue within the roughness of the uncut stone. This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.
pg 31 Yet it is only when we make mistakes in performance that we can really being to notice what needs attention. In fact, I actively train my students that when they make a mistake, they are to lift their arms in the air, smile, and say, “How fascinating!” I recommend that everyone try this.
My teacher, the great cellist Gaspar Cassado, used to say to us as students, “I’m so sorry for you; your lives have been so easy. You can’t play great music unless your heart’s been broken.”
pg 32 I was Number 68 out of 70 student. I come to Boston and Mr.Zander says I am an A. Very confusing. I walk about, three weeks, very confused. I am Number 68, but Mr. Zander says I am an A student… I am Number 68, but Mr. Zander says I am an A. One day I discover I am much happier A than Number 68. So I decide I am an A. This student, in a brilliant flash, had hit upon the “secret of life”. He had realized that the labels he had been taking so seriously are human inventions – it’s all a game. The Number 68 is invented and the A is invented, so we might as well choose to invent something that brightens our life and the lives of the people around us.
pg 33 The practice of giving the A allows the teacher to line up with her students in their efforts to produce the outcome, rather than lining up with the standards against these students. In the first instance, the instructor and the student, or the manager and the employee, become a team for accomplishing the extraordinary; in the second, the disparity in power between them can become a distraction and an inhibitor, drawing energy away from productivity and development.
pg 39 The lesson I learned is that the player who looks least engaged may be the most committed member of the group. A cynic, after all, is a passionate person who does not want to be disappointed again. Tanya, the Mahlerian par excellence, had decided to “sit out” that performance because it was going to disappoint her again. I learned from Tanya that the secret is not to speak to a person’s cynicism, but to speak to her passion.
When I initially approached Tanya – not to reprimand a recalcitrant member of the team for not pulling her weight, but rather with the attitude, the certain knowledge, that she loved the music, that she wanted the concert to be a success, that she wanted to “get into the string” with her bow – I gave her an A. My question to her, “Is there anything amiss?” was a question to someone I imagined to be completely committed to the project we were engaged in together, someone who, for whatever reason, was having a hard time.
pg 43 When we give an A we can be open to a perspective different from our own. For after all, it is only to a person to whom you have granted an A that you will really listen, and it is in that rare instance when you have ears for another person that you can truly appreciate a fresh point of view.
pg 44 The following day, little Katrine asked to hear the music about the beautiful princess again. So once again Anne put on the tape and let it run its course, only occasionally reminding Katrine of her invented story line. When the piece was playing for the third time at Katrine’s request, about halfway through she asked, “Auntie Anne, what is this music really about?” Anne regarded her five year old niece with astonishment, and then began to tell her the true story of Mahler….. the following October, the entire family made the four –hour drive from upstate New York to Boston to hear our performance in Jordan Hall. Katrine sat wide-eyed through the whole piece. Later, she wrote me a thank-you note. I carry this note with me everywhere I go. It reminds me how seldom we pay attention to, or even look for, the passionate and the extraordinary in children – how seldom we give children an A.
pg 50 Many of us suffer from the conviction that our parents withheld from us an A. Often the advice we receive, delivered with an earnest, pitying look is, “You can’t change people,” though most of us will go to our graves trying. That adage is true, of course, in the world of measurement, where people and things are fixed in character. However, in the universe of possibility, you certainly can change people. They change as you speak. You may ask, “Who, actually, is doing the changing?” And the answer is the relationship. Because in the arena of possibility, everything occurs in that context.
pg 51 “We keep looking so hard in life for the “specific message” and yet we are blinded to the fact that the message is all around us, and within us all the time. We just have to stop demanding that it be on OUR terms or conditions, and instead open ourselves to the possibility that what we may seek may be in front of us all the time. “
pg 57 I settled on a game called I am a contribution. Unlike success and failure, contribution has no other side. It is not arrived at by comparison. All at once I found that the fearful question, “Is it enough?” and the even more fearful question, “Am I loved for who I am, or for what I have accomplished?” could both be replaced by the joyful question, “How will I be a contribution today?”
pg 59 The practice of this chapter is inventing oneself as a contribution, and others as well. The steps to the practice are these:
Declare yourself to be a contribution.
Throw yourself into life as someone who makes a difference, accepting that you may not understand how or why.
The contribution game appears to have remarkable powers for transforming conflicts into rewarding experiences.
pg 68 I had been conducting for nearly twenty years when it suddenly dawned on me that the conductor of an orchestra does not make a sound. His picture may appear on the cover of the CD in various dramatic poses, but his true power derives from his ability to make other people powerful. I began to ask myself questions like “What makes a group lively and engaged?” instead of “How good am I?” So palpable was the difference I my approach to conducting as a result of this “silent conductor” insight, that players in the orchestra started asking me, “What happened to you?” Before that, my main concerns had been whether my interpretation was being appreciated by the audience and, if the truth be known, whether the critics liked it because if they did it might lead to other opportunities and greater success. …. Now, in light of my “discovery”, I began to shift my attention to how effectively I was at enabling the musicians to play each phrase as beautifully as they were capable.
pg 70 You see, I had shouted out after one passage, “Cowbells, you didn’t come in!” A few minutes later I realized the cowbells weren’t supposed to play at that moment, so I called out to the percussion section, “I’m so sorry, I was wrong about that entrance. I realize you don’t play there.” After the rehearsal, I was amazed that no less than three musicians came to me separately and in private to say that they couldn’t remember the last time they heard a conductor admit his own mistake. One player commented how dispiriting it is for players when a conductor, as often happens, gets angry and blames the orchestra when he himself made the mistake, in the vain hope that nobody will have noticed. Many corporate heads and managers I have spoken to have since let me know that the orchestra is not the only hierarchical setting where this dynamic occurs.
White Sheets – With the intention of providing a conduit for orchestra members to be heard, I initiated a practice of putting a blank sheet of paper on every stand in each rehearsal. The players are invited to write down any observation or coaching for me that might enable me to empower them to play the music more beautifully. … Whenever I take on an idea from a member of the orchestra, I try to make eye contact with them at the moment the passage is played, sometimes several times during the rehearsals and even at the concert. Magically that moment becomes their moment. “You did my crescendo!” said a cellist with a mixture of disbelief, pride, and delight after the concert; she had written on her white sheet only that morning at the dress rehearsal that we weren’t doing justice to one of Bruckner’s majestic climaxes.
pg 73 Then, in the middle of the rehearsal, I suddenly turned to one of the violinists sitting in the fourth stand of the second violins, whose passion had been evident to me from the very first rehearsal, and said, “John, you come up here and conduct. I want to go to the back to hear how it sounds.” That day on his white sheet he wrote that I had enabled him to realized a lifelong dream. Suddenly, the full extent of the resources of the orchestra presented itself to my view, and I leapt to offer some of the other musicians the same gift.
pg 74 Listening for passion and commitment is the practice of the silent conductor whether the players are sitting in the orchestra, on the management team, or on the nursery floor. How can this leader know how well he is fulfilling his intention? He can look in the eyes of the players and prepare to ask himself, “Who am I being that they are not shining?” He can invite information and expression. He can speak to their passion. He can look for opportunity to hand them the baton. Today was exceptional in that I learned leadership is not a responsibility – nobody has to lead. It’s a gift, shining silver, that reminds people huddled nearby why each shimmering moment matters. It’s in the eyes, the voice, this swelling song that warms up from the toes and tingles with endless possibilities. Things change when you care enough to grab whatever you love, and give it everything. – Amanda Burr, student at the Walnut Hill School
pg 76 Mr. Zander, This is my first white sheet. Sitting at the back of the cello section, when I have always sat at the front, was the hardest thing I’ve done in a long while. But over the nine days of our work together I began to discover what playing in an orchestra was really about. Your shine has inspired me to believe that I have the force of personality to power the section from wherever I sit and I believe that I lead that concert from the 11th chair. Thank you for helping me know that. From this day I will be leading every section in which I sit – whichever seat. – Georgina, cellist in the New Zealand National Youth Orchestra
pg 83 We portray the calculating self as a ladder with a downward spiral. The ladder refers to the worldwide view that life is about making progress, striving for success, and positioning oneself in the hierarchy. The downward spiral represents, among other things, the slippage that occurs when we try to control people and circumstances to give ourselves a boost. When this lads to conflict, we are likely to think that we have run up against difficult people and have learned an important lesson. We become more hard-headed and practical. Inevitable our relationships spiral downward. As the calculating self tumbles out of control, it intensifies its efforts to climb back up and get in charge, and the cycle goes round and round.
How do we learn to recognize the often-charming, always-scheming, sometimes-anxious, frequently conniving calculating self? One good way is to ask ourselves, What would have to change for me to be completely fulfilled?
The answer to this question will clue us in to the conditions our calculating self finds threatening or even intolerable , and we may see that our zeal to bring about change may benefit from a lighter touch. The intolerable condition may be a place or a situation, but very often it is another person.
pg The practice of Rule Number 6 gives the facilitator in a negotiation a unique perspective. For the facilitator a unique perspective. For the facilitator versed in this practice, conflict resolution is the art of paving the way for the parties’ central selves to take charge of the discussion. In other words , the role of the facilitator is to promote human development and transformation rather than to find a solution that satisfies the demands of the ever-present calculating selves. …. The assumption was made that the two men`s calculating selves would each be plotting to win out over the other, pulling the conversation into the downward spiral, while their central selves would know a more direct route to a productive and collaborative solution.
pg 111 Being with the way things are calls for an expansion of ourselves. We start from what is, not from what should be; we encompass contradictions, painful feelings, fears, and imaginings, and – without fleeing, or attempting correction – we learn to soar, like the far-seeing hawk, over the whole landscape. The practice of being with the way things are allows us to alight in a place of openness, where “the truth“ readies us for the next step, and the sky opens up.
pg 113 If I were to wish for anything I should not wish for wealth, and power, but for the passionate sense of what can be, for the eye, which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints ,possibility never ends. And what is wine so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating as possibility? – Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or
pg A ”no” can so often dampen our fire in the world of the downward spiral. It can seem like a permanent, implacable barrier that presents us with limited choices: to attack, to manipulate our way around it, or to bow to it in defeat. In other words, a “no” can seem like a door slamming instead of merely an instance of the way things are. Yet, were we to take a “no” less personally, and ourselves less seriously, we might hear something else. We might hear someone saying, “I don’t see any new possibility here, so I think I’ll stick with my usual way of doing things.” We might hear within the word “no” an invitation for enrollment.
pg So the first part of the practice is to declare: “I am the framework for everything that happens in my life.” This is perhaps the most radical and elusive of all the practices in this book, and it is also one of the most powerful. Here is another way of saying it: “If I cannot be present without resistance to the way things are and act effectively, if I feel myself to be wronged, a loser, or a victim, I will tell myself that some assumption I have made is the source of my difficultly.”
It is not that this practice offers the right choice or the only choice. We may want to make sure the intoxicated driver gets his due. We may want sympathy, and we may want revenge. Being derailed from our larger purpose, for a length of time, may be an acceptable option. However, choosing the being the board approach opens the possibility of a graceful journey, one that quickly reinstates us on the path we chose before the fateful collisions intervened. It allows us to keep on track.
pg 158 In the practice of being the board, you are not concerned that the other person examine her own assumptions. You see that the “stumbling blocks” that stand in your way are part of you, not her, and only you can remove them. Moreover, once you embark on the practice, you may find yourself relinquishing your claim for “fairness” or “justice” in favour of the riches that an intimate relationship can offer.
When you are being the board, you present no obstacles to others. You name yourself as the instrument to make all your relationships into effective partnerships. Imagine how profoundly trustworthy you would be to the people who work for you if they felt no problem could arise between you that you were not prepared to own. Imagine how much incentive they would have to cooperate if they knew they could count on you to clear the pathways for accomplishment.
This practice launches you on a soaring journey of transformation and development with others, a complete different route than one of managing relationships to avoid conflict. It calls for courage and compassion. You do not find compassion simply by listening to people; you open the channel by removing the barriers to tenderness within you. Among the rewards are self-respect, connection of the deepest and most vital kind, and a straight road to making a difference.
pg 162 Leadership is a relationship that brings this possibility to others and to the world, from any chair, in any role. This kind of leader is not necessarily the strongest member of the pack – the one best suited to fend off the enemy and gather in resources – as our old definitions of leadership sometimes had it. The “leader of possibility” invigorates the lines of affiliation and compassion from person to person in the face of the tyranny of fear. Any one of us can excersize this kind of leadership, whether we stand in the position of CEO or employee, citizen or elected official, teacher or student, friend or lover.
pg 173 … I spoke at length about the practice of “being a contribution”…. He rapid countered, “But what about the stockholders?” At this point his diminutive wife standing at his side have him a firm jab to the ribs and said, “No, not the stockholders, the children!” – because it turned out the company produced the motor for a tiny children’s car. In his concern for the stockholders, this CEO had forgotten that the company was formed around the idea of making a toy that children would love to play with.
pg 177 Thank you for reminding me of what I am here for. I will have to remember, “I am here to cross the swamp, not to fight all the alligators.” Thanks