The Art of Possibility

Summary Written by Karen Wright
"Our joint conviction is that much, much more is possible than people ordinarily think."

- The Art of Possibility, page 2

The Big Idea

Be a Contribution

"In the game of contribution you wake up each day and bask in the notion that you are a gift to others."- The Art of Possibility, page 58

Of all the eleven practices offered up in the book, I think that this one has the potential for the most significant impact on its own. The idea is to consider how you can serve – be a contribution – rather than succeed or fail, or compare yourself to others. If you are playing a competitive game, then by definition you cannot trust anyone who might not be oriented toward the same objectives you are. If, on the other hand, you think in terms of your own contribution, you throw yourself into whatever you’re doing on the basis of making a difference – which changes your perspective on who you are as well as who else is involved. Your worldview changes from one of scarcity to one of abundance – there’s enough success for everyone because it’s defined differently than the typical win/lose. Viewing yourself as a contribution shifts your perspective away from self-concern toward being in a relationship with others for the purpose of making a difference. If service and contribution are the goals, then the interests of the individual are by default aligned with the interests of the organization.

Insight #1

Giving an A

"The freely granted A expresses a vision of partnership, teamwork, and relationship."- The Art of Possibility, page 36

In the practice of “Giving an A,” Mr. Zander bestowed an A course grade on all of his students at the beginning of the term, thereby taking competition and fear of failure off the table. In order to qualify for the A grade, the students had to write a letter describing, in the present tense, what they would have done by the end of the term to have earned the A. They all demonstrated an ability to envision great personal growth, to overcome beliefs and behaviours that might have hampered their progress, and make major shifts in who they were as people – and none of it had to come at the expense of another student’s own success.

The practice of “Giving an A” can, for example, be incorporated into the workplace by overriding the quota in the performance review system and granting every employee an “exceeds expectations” rating – provided they draft a description of what they’d have done to deserve that rating by the end of the year. Imagine what removing the dysfunction of the rating Bell curve would do to the level of motivation and engagement in an organization that was previously system-bound? The impact is potentially staggering.

“Giving an A” is an amazing concept which can apply in any environment where any one person’s success can only occur if someone else fails or falls behind. It replaces judgment with possibility, focuses on standards and process rather than outcomes, and eliminates the anxiety over performance measurement that can’t help but get in the way of taking risks and expressing real creativity. This practice is an extraordinary concept worth implementing in any environment where genuine innovation and team behaviour are desired.

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Insight #2

Rule Number 6

"When we follow Rule Number 6 and lighten up over our childish demands and entitlements, we are instantly transported into a remarkable universe. This new universe is cooperative in nature, and pulls for the realization of all our cooperative desires. For the most part it lies a bit above our heads. Angels can fly there because, as you may have heard, they take themselves lightly. But now, with the help of a single rule, so can we."- The Art of Possibility, page 97

Rule Number 6 is “Don’t take yourself so g—damn seriously.” What are rules 1 through 5? They don’t exist. The practice here is to lead by example, lightening up, and not trying to change others but setting a tone that others can relax into. The authors distinguish between our “calculating self” – the aspect of our frameworks that judges everything we do in terms of our ability to succeed, and that takes itself VERY seriously – and our “central self” which is naturally generative, abundance-oriented, and creative. “Rule Number 6” asks that the “central self” be allowed to guide us, rather than allowing the downward spiral that accompanies the “calculating self.”

The Art of Possibility is a guidebook for mindset change. If you adjust how you see yourself, give others the tools to see themselves differently, and tread lightly through it all you will discover ease and inspiration that were previously hidden behind expectations, beliefs, and pre-conceptions. But if accessing possibility is just that easy, why do we grip so tightly to those expectations, beliefs and pre-conceptions that only create limits and barriers? Why can’t we let go?

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Benjamin Zander

Benjamin Zander is the conductor of The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and a guest conductor around the world. With London’s famed Philharmonia Orchestra, he is recording the complete cycle of Mahler symphonies for Telarc, recordings which have been received with extraordinary critical acclaim and several awards. Their latest recording of Bruckner’s 5th Symphony was nominated for a 2010 Grammy, and has received critical acclaim both for the performance and Zander’s now famous full-length disc explaining the music for the lay listener. They recorded their next release, Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, in January 2012 and it is scheduled for release later this year.

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