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The Art of Possibility:
Transforming Professional and Personal Life

by Rosamund Stone Zander, Benjamin Zander
Penguin, 224 pages, $10.50

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The business world often stresses results and the bottom line, but even the busiest professional knows that without creativity our professional and personal lives would be lacking. The Art of Possibility does not confine creativity to recognized artistic endeavors like painting or acting. Instead, it focuses on the creative spirit that dwells in our minds and in our outlook on life. The authors believe that where there are doubts there are possibilities, and this book is a great way to unleash your transformative powers to change everyday situations at work and at home.

The Zanders are uniquely suited to write on this subject. Ben is an orchestra conductor and his wife Roz runs a private practice in family therapy. They outline a set of disciplines designed to get readers to take a new approach to the existing world. Their premise is “Draw a different frame around the same set of circumstances and new pathways come into view.” Although The Art of Possibility may seem like a self-help book, the message here is that becoming an artist requires concentration and discipline.

The book has vivid examples to reinforce its message. One is of Roz recalling whitewater rafting and the instructor advising everyone to pull their “toes to their nose” and look for the raft if they fell out. Only when she went through a class 5 rapid and was underwater and disoriented did the instructor’s words make sense. “When you are out of the boat you cannot think your way back in; you have no point of reference. You must call on something that has been established in advance,” she writes. This applies to corporate situations like management shakeups and personal situations as well.

Another empowering aspect of the book is its relentless optimism and belief in people’s best selves. Professionals in positions of power can apply the Zanders’ assertion that “If you assume that people will do well and help them see how they can, they will.” This applies to managing people and getting the most out of them. Mr. Zander cites the example of giving every student an A in his class, and then requesting that the student write a paper to tell what they will do to deserve the grade. This frees the students up to focus on reaching their highest mark.

The author also discusses a concept he uses as orchestra leader of “leading from every chair.”  This refers to getting everyone involved and certainly equates to managing a team. As a conductor Mr. Zander asks his players to write down how practices and performances could be improved, and he pays attention to their feedback. Real life examples like these will speak volumes to anyone interested in coming at their personal and professional lives from new angles and opening up new possibilities for achievement.

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