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  • Writer's pictureTimothy S. Colman

The Art of Possibility: 12 Lessons to Transform Your Life

This is review of a book I teach from... (not my own summary)

Love the Zanders and their approach to life. 

Look up Ben Zander on YouTube to see him teaching and playing music.

12 Lessons from The Art of Possibility

“A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business. One sends back a telegram saying,



Anyone interested in shifting his or her perspective when facing challenges or in changing the framework through which he or she sees the world should pick up The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander.

The Zander duo consists of Ben, who is conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, and Roz, a family therapist. The Zanders point out that if we draw a different frame around the same circumstances in our lives, we will see new possibilities and options.

“Find the right framework and extraordinary accomplishment becomes an everyday experience.”

The book offers 12 practices to help you shift your perspective and open new possibilities for your life. You may not be able to change the circumstances you’re facing but you can change how you deal with those situations.

Here are brief descriptions of 12 lessons from The Art of Possibility:

1. It’s all invented.

When you’re looking at a problem, all the assumptions you make about it are in your mind. The Zanders remind us that a problem is not simply a half-story you tell yourself, but rather something you make up entirely.

“The frames our minds create define – and confine – what we perceive to be possible. Every problem, every dilemma, every dead end we find ourselves facing in life, only appears unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view.

Enlarge the box, or create another frame around the data, and problems vanish, while new opportunities appear.”

2. Stepping into a universe of possibility.

Imagine no limitations exist; the universe is abundant, open and infinite.

If you have an attitude of abundance instead of a mentality of scarcity, you’re more likely to find new business, new opportunities and new possibilities.

If you participate joyfully in tasks and projects, you’re more likely to be successful.

If you are inclusive and passionate in your life, you’re likely to see greater abundance.

The Zanders encourage you to step away from the world of measurements and scarcity. “In the measurement world,” they write, “you set a goal and strive for it. In the universe of possibility, you set the context and let life unfold.”

3. Giving an A.

“You can give an A to anyone in any walk of life – to a waitress, to your employer, to your mother-in-law, to the members of the opposite team and to the drivers in traffic,” the Zanders write.

For example, Ben Zander, as a conductor, found many of his students in a state of anxiety and stress over their performances. They wouldn’t take risks and feared failure. To combat this kind of energy and thinking, Ben gave every student in his class an A at the beginning of the course.

To retain this grade, each student had only to write a letter telling Mr. Zander, in as much detail as possible, what he or she had done to earn the A, and how the student had changed and grown by the end of the year. The student also had to describe to Mr. Zander the kind of person he or she had become.

An automatic and advance-graded A breaks barriers and enlivens a person’s actions. It lets him or her speak freely about his or her thoughts and feelings, and support others in their own dreams.

“The practice of giving an A transports your relationships from the world of measurement into the universe of possibilities,” the Zanders write.

“This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.”

4. Being a contribution.

In this practice, you wake up every morning with the idea that you are a gift to others.

Contribution actually involves two practices: “1) declare yourself to be a contribution and 2) throw yourself into life as someone who makes a difference, accepting that you may not understand how or why.”

When you contribute, you forget about scarcity and dwell in the pond of abundance. You go from self-concern to making a difference for others.

Notice how the things you do help others. See and imagine how everything you do sends out ripples beyond the horizon.

5. Leading from any chair.

The conductor is not the only leader of an orchestra.

You can lead from any chair you’re sitting in. The act of leadership is not limited to people in leadership positions.

Anyone can lead – “the player who energizes the orchestra by communicating his newfound appreciation for the tasks of the conductor, or a parent who fashions in her own mind that her children desire to contribute, is exercising leadership of the most profound kind.”

How do you know if you’re fulfilling your role as a leader? You can look into the eyes of the players you’re leading in the orchestra or on the work team and ask yourself, “Who am I being that their eyes are not shining?”

As a leader, you “can invite information and expression. [You] can speak to their passion. [You] can look for an opportunity to hand them the baton.”

It doesn’t matter who you are and where you sit; you can inspire and lead others from anywhere – even without a title or position.

6. Rule Number 6.

The Zanders relate a joke in which two prime ministers converse about Rule Number 

6. When one prime minister hears the continued reference to “Rule Number 6,” he turns and asks the other, “Would you be willing to share with me the secret of Rule Number 6?” The other responds, “Rule Number 6 is ‘Don’t take yourself so goddamn seriously.’”

Rule Number 6 is a reminder to lighten up and not take yourself so seriously!

When you lighten up, you release yourself from egoistic and self-limiting beliefs.

“When we follow Rule number 6 and lighten up over our childish demands and entitlements, we are instantly transported into a remarkable universe. The new universe is cooperative in nature, and pulls for the realization of all our cooperative desires.”

7. The way things are.

This involves acceptance of what is, as well as presence and making the best of any situation.

When you’re present and not resisting the current situation, you are free to turn to the question, “What do we want to do from here?”

“…the capacity to be present to everything that is happening, without resistance, creates possibility. It creates possibility in the same way that, if you are far-sighted, finding your glasses revives your ability to read or remove a splinter from a child’s finger. At last you can see. You can leave behind the struggle to come to terms with what is in front of you, and move on.”

When you accept that things are the way they are, instead of complaining and resisting, you’re in a position to make the best of the situation. You’re allowed visions, dreams and appreciation for your current place. You’re more open to finding solutions or to making the best of the situation in your mind.

Being present with the present lets options and dreams come alive.

You’ll live in a place of freedom and possibilities when you’re comfortable with this moment.

8. Giving way to passion.

To give way to passion, “participate wholly. Allow yourself to be a channel to shape the stream of passion into a new expression for the world.”

Life has made many of us conformers, and has given us structure and limitations. Urban life highlights our rigidness and lack of vitality.

Your life will change when you “transcend the barriers of personal survival and become a unique conduit for its vital energy.”

Access the electric socket of passion, energy and possibility in your life.

Participate, engage and immerse yourself in your passions.

9. Lighting a spark.

This practice talks about inspiring others to pursue passion. It’s about spreading passion and lighting possibilities in the eyes and lives of others.

Imagine that others want to feel the same spark and electric sense of possibility that you feel. Be available and invite others who are ready to catch their spark and live their dreams.

The Zanders describe this idea as playing together in a field of light. The steps include being ready to participate, being willing to be moved and inspired and offering that which lights you up. Also, know that others are willing and eager to catch the spark.

When others say “no” to your idea or passion, they might be saying simply that they don’t see the same possibility you do.

Inspire others and share with them the very things that light you up.

Encourage and motivate others who are ready to join you.

10. Being the board.

Declare, “I am the framework for everything that happens in my life.”

As Roz mentions to Ben in a particular situation in this chapter, “You can always grace yourself with responsibility for anything that happens in your life. You can always find within yourself the source of any problem you have.”

This practice isn’t about blaming yourself or feeling at fault for your circumstances. It is about exploring the assumptions you make about what’s happening in your life and, ultimately, taking responsibility for them.

When you’re “being the board,” so to speak, you question your assumptions, determine how your perspective or outlook led to the situation at hand and take responsibility for how you got there.

You’re not looking to place blame elsewhere or on others. You are doing the constructive work of understanding how you got to where you are – and without blaming yourself, either.

“Gracing yourself with responsibility for everything that happens in your life leaves your spirit whole, and leaves you free to choose again.”

11. Creating frameworks for possibility.

The practice in this chapter involves creating frameworks that cultivate possibility.

The Zanders suggest the following: “Make a new distinction in the realm of possibility: one that is a powerful substitute for the current framework of meaning that is generating the downward spiral.”

Don’t go with the flow toward an idea or concept that’s spiraling downward to the abyss.

Come up with bold, visionary missions and ideas that stand confidently in the world.

Find the courage and boldness to stand with your ideas and to face the direction where you’d like to lead people.

Look at the magical powers you have. Become more conscious of the way you use words, and define new frameworks of possibilities. Stand out and advocate for your bold ideas. Bring out the part in your audience that is the most contributory, most free and most open to participation.

12. Telling the “we” story.

Can you move on from the story of “you and me” and “us and them,” and get to “we”?

Can you go from a place of division, conflict and hostility to a place of enthusiasm and togetherness? A place of friendship and cooperation?

The Zanders write, “The WE appears when, for the moment, we set aside the story of fear, competition, and struggle, and tell its story.”

Ask: “‘What do WE want to have happen here?’

‘What’s best for US?’ – all of each of us, and all of all of us.

What’s OUR next step?”

Permit the barriers that separate us to dissolve and act from a place where all of us benefit, together.

All of us can find solutions that work for everyone. This involves taking the individual “I’s” and meshing them into a powerful, collective “we.” This is something we can practice from any chair, on any day, in any room or any environment.

“The practice of the WE draws on all the other practices. And if you attune your ear, you will hear the voice of the We singing through each one of them in harmony.”

While I’ve tried to explain the many practices the book outlines, pick up a copy of The Art of Possibility to understand the examples and the reasoning behind each of the practices I’ve described.

If you’re ready to open your mind to new ways of thinking and to an abundance of possibilities that make all your dreams come true, this transformational book is a must read.

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