Book Review | The Art of Possibility by Ben and Rosamund Zander

The Art of Possibility BookDiscovering A Book Through A TED Talk

The information within books has the potential power to completely and radically transform your life.

Over the last few years, I can count a handful of books that made a deep impression that has changed my thinking and ultimately my life in amazing, powerful ways.

The Art of Possibility by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander (note: this is a husband and wife duo) is my latest addition to this list of life-changing books.

I actually discovered Benjamin Zander through his amazing TED video (you have to watch this), visited his personal website, and then ordered his book through the Kindle store on Amazon. Money wisely spent!

Benjamin Zander’s biography reads:

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.

In 1967, Mr. Zander joined the faculty at New England Conservatory, where he taught an interpretation class, conducted the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, and conducted the conservatory orchestras. For the past 28 years, he was the Artistic Director of the joint program between New England Conservatory’s Preparatory School and The Walnut Hill School for the Performing Arts in Natick, Massachusetts.

Mr. Zander is one of the most sought after speakers in the world. He gave the opening Keynote address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where on another occasion he was awarded the Crystal award for “outstanding contributions in the Arts and international relations. In 2002 he was awarded the “Caring Citizen of the Humanities” Award by the International Council for Caring Communities at the United Nations. In honor of his 70th birthday, and 44 years of teaching, he was recently awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the New England Conservatory.

His partner Rosamund Zander and he have collaborated on a best-selling book, “The Art of Possibility” which has been translated into fifteen languages.

Yes, this book has a lot to do with music, orchestras, and conducting.

But, it goes way beyond that. I view this book more as a roadmap to be a successful leader and to live out a life of transformation. Whether you’re a musician or not, you need to read this book. It will turn your life upside down, inside out. The ideas that Ben and Rosamund present here will cause you to rethink your approach to life and relationships.

[PLEASE NOTE: this is not a “Christian,” sanitized book. There is some adult language and themes here and there (especially under Chapter 6: Rule Number 6 and Chapter 7: The Way Things Are). I don’t support or condone the language or subject matter, but I do agree with the primary principles presented here. If you choose to read this book, you will need to keep this mind. You have been warned.]

My 6 Takeaways From The Book The Art Of Possibility

After reading The Art of Possibility, I came away with six actionable concepts that I have already started applying to my life. I’m seeing amazing things happen in my life as a result.

  1. It’s all invented (p. 12). The interpretations of the world vary from person to person, depending on our culture, environment, and upbringing. We all tend to become rigidly attached to certain ways of thinking and specific ways of viewing the world. The Zanders have concluded that “It’s all invented anyway, so we might as well invent a story or a framework that enhances our quality of life and the life of those around us.”
  2. Orient your life toward abundance (p. 21). It is very easy for any of us to slip into a poverty or scarcity mindset, thinking that we don’t have enough money or resources to accomplish what we would like. The Zanders encourage us with these words, “you are more likely to extend your business and have a fulfilled life if you have the attitude that there are always new customers out there waiting to be enrolled rather than that money, customers, and ideas are in short supply … resources are more likely to come to you in greater abundance when you are generous and inclusive and engage people in your passion for life. There aren’t any guarantees, of course. When you are oriented to abundance, you care less about being in control, and take more risks.”
  3. Radiate possibility to everyone around you (p. 65). When the people you lead are not everything you envision them to be, who do you blame? Do you blame them, or do you blame yourself? Ben Zander puts forth the question for all of us who are leading others, “Who am I being that they are not shining?” (p. 74). The only person we can truly blame is ourself. We are the leader who is radiating possibility to others. So how do we effectively radiate this universe of possibility? The Zanders believe that “Purpose, commitment, and vision are distinctions that radiate possibility” (p. 179).
  4. Give people an “A” (p. 26, 39). Too many times, we judge people with very little information. If we feel like they have done us wrong one too many times, we put these people on our “naughty” list. The Zanders challenge us to give the grade of 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 … 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 … This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.”
  5. Lead from the second chair (p. 41). There is a disease that infects many music ensembles. This problem is sometimes called “second fiddle-itis.” The problem occurs when people perceive their role in a group to be of little significance (second violins for example), mostly due to the fact that many people are duplicating the same part. This is not true of other key positions within an orchestra, such as the primary brass and woodwind roles. They act more as soloists. But, this in no way diminishes the role and importance of the “second part.” Ben Zander tells us the story of Robert Koff, the founding second violinst of the Julliard String Quartet: “I came away convinced that the real leader of the string quartet is the second violin. Not because Koff dominated the rest of us, but because in his part he had all the inner rhythms and harmonies, and he gave them such clarity and authority that we were all tremendously influenced by his playing. He was leading us from the ‘seconds.’”
  6. Rule Number 6: don’t take yourself so seriously! (p. 79-80). The practice of Rule Number 6 is to lighten up, which may lighten up those around us. We can utilize the power of humor to defuse tense and awkward situations. All of us take ourselves way too seriously at certain times and under specific circumstances. When you find yourself getting way too serious and stressed out, just remember Rule Number 6 and observe what happens!

Questions: Have you ever read The Art of Possibility? If so, what were your own takeaways from this amazing book?






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  1. Pingback: How To Enjoy Life And Make A Greater Contribution In The Lives Of Others | The Blog of LARRY JONES

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