Summer Book Review #3: The Art of Possibility

I have a friend who uses “barriers” as her most common accoutrement.  Maybe you know someone life this?  She can’t because… her allergy shots don’t allow her to or she has to finish something important.   The litany of reasons grows increasingly serious and worrisome by the year.  I couldn’t help but think of her as I read The Art of Possibility Transforming Professional and Personal Life  by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander.       The authors challenge readers to re-frame  our view of “life” so that both real and imagined barriers no longer impede us but give way to energy and focus.  The decade old best seller is nothing short of inspirational — a great beach read!

The book uses a series of provocative vignettes to introduce the reader to a special “practice” of living in the world of possibility.  Most notably, Ben Zander, who has served as the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra for almost thirty years, relies upon a series of approachable and interesting examples from his life long work as a conductor.   This alone makes it a worthwhile read; by-the-way I’m not a classical music aficionado.

The great thing about the book is that the frameworks can be adopted en masse or cafeteria-style.  Here are a few worth noting:

  • The practice of giving an A (Art of Possibility, chapter 3, pg 25):  In this framework the authors offer examples that allow the reader to understand that we live in a measurement society.  Be it grades or any of the myriad ways in which we “measure ourselves” daily.   By using a reference to Michelangelo, we learn, “inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue; one need only to remove the excess material to reveal the work of art within.” (Art of Possibility, pg 26)  This framework really challenges the reader to step beyond the limits imposed by measurement and allow for what may happen next.
  • Being a contribution: (Art of Possibility, chapter 4, pg 55)  This framework asks that we pivot attention away from our needs to those of others.  In this act we, “shift away from self-concern and engage in a relationship with others that is an arena for making a difference.” (Art of Possibility, pg 63)

Not included above are the examples of positive outcomes that serve as a reason for readers to “try on” these frameworks.  Each one seems incredible in its simplicity and effectiveness.

I remember hearing Gloria Steinem speak within the last few years at a Commonwealth Institute event in Boston, Ma.  One audience member asked her how she found her voice.   In hindsight her answer convinces me that she inhabits the realm of the possible.   She said something to the effect of, “in my early 40’s I realized I was very concerned about what this one or that one might think.  Then I realized that they weren’t really listening to me.  At that point I figured that I might as well say what was on my mind.”  And so it went.  When she got rid the concern for measurement, she became a global platform that spoke to an entire generation.

Zander and Zander include a quote from the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard: “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”  (Art of Possibility, pg 113)

Have you ever taken a field trip to the possible?  Or perhaps had an extended stay?  What surprised you?   If you haven’t been introduced to the “Art” my guess is that you’ll enjoy it.

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5 responses to “Summer Book Review #3: The Art of Possibility

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