Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Art of Possibility: Ch. 9-12

Benjamin Zander


Reading Response:  The Art of Possibility, Chapters 9-12

"Enrollment is the art and practice of generating a spark of possibility for others to share."   from The Art of Possibility

This quote sums up the entirety of the concept of enrollment.  Ben Zander tells the story of his father taking the train to Glasgow to have breakfast in the train station to discuss an important meeting and he wonders why he didn't just use the phone.  He comes to see that passion must be engaged over fear.  Later, he is able to persuade a famous musician with a tight schedule to play a piece that was written expressly for him at the Evian Festival in Lake Geneva by following his father's example and meeting the gentleman in person.  He was able to ignite the musician's passion for the composers work.  This story is illustrative of the main idea of this practice - engage peoples' passions rather than their fears.  

The story of the students at the Dockland's school in London - I was especially taken with the 10 yr old boy who was asked to come up and conduct the orchestra for the finale of Beethoven's Fifth.  Zander was motivated by the boy's passionate movements in his seat to invite the boy to conduct.  The young boy's passion in turn motivated all the musicians.  Passion is contagious. 

I'm listing the steps exactly as Zander lists them in the book (directly quoted) because I think they are so useful:

1.  Imagine that people are an invitation for enrollment.
2.  Stand ready to participate willing to be moved and inspired.
3.  Offer that which lights you up.
4.  Have no doubt that others are eager to catch the spark.

The next practice that is delineated is the idea of "being the board."  "I am the framework for everything that happens in my life."  The authors state that this is the most radical and hardest to grasp of the practices.  I would agree because it seems entirely too simple that I feel like I must be missing something.    I feel like the crux is the story about the musician coming late on the Mendelssohn piece where another musician is going to rat out the culprit but before they have a chance Zander, the conductor, says "I did it."   I feel like this chapter was about not letting blame get in the way.  Once mistakes are made, they are done, playing the blame game simply takes more time and loses site of the ultimate goal.  When one assumes the role of the board rather than the player, they don't see themselves in relation to the the other players, and so there is no need to divide up fault and assign blame.

In the practice of framing possibility or being a leader of possibility, the authors outline clearly specify what it takes for a leader to create an environment where people feel comfortable to make mistakes without falling into the downward spiral.  This quote is rather meaningful to me because it acknowledges our innate nature and how we might transcend it:  "As a species we are exquisitely suited to thrive in an environment of threat where resources are scarce, but not always ready to reap the benefits of harmony, peace, and plenty.  Our perceptual apparatus is structured to alert us to real and imagined dangers everywhere."   The part about not reaping the benefits of harmony, peace, and plenty are particularly striking.  Its like we have to be constantly aware and open to the POSSIBILITY of the universe.  

Again (directly quoted) useful steps for framing possibility:

1.  Make a new distinction in the realm of possibility:  one that is a powerful substitute fo the current framework of meaning that is generating the downward spiral.
2.  Enter the territory.  embody the new distinction in such a  way that becomes the framework for life around you. 
3.  Keep distinguishing what is "on the track" and what is "off the track" of you framework of possibility.

Zander relates a moving story about an elementary school girl who has lost her hair due to chemotherapy.  The other students make fun of her and she doesn't want to return to school.  When she does, the next day, the teacher has shaved off all of her hair and now all the students think its cool and want to do it.  The teacher stopped the downward spiral by changing the board. She didn't negatively engage the students who were making fun of the little girl (at least that isn't shared in the story).   But she simply created a powerful substitute for the current framework and thus created a realm of possibility. I think that this is the biggest take away from the book so far - that we cannot control the actions of others but we can change the framework surrounding the players.  


  1. Kevin,
    I was also very moved by the two stories you mentioned. The first of the little boy who conducted with an infectious passion, and the second of the teacher who shaved her head to give the class a paradigm shift in the notion of fashion and kindness.

    That's something I really liked about the way the authors presented their concepts in this book. They backed up each message with a practical story. They evoked such a powerfully visual-word-picture examples! Not only did those examples help me gain a deeper understanding of the concept, but I'm pretty sure they left an indellible picture in my memory that I'm sure to recall when the need arises.

    Share your spark of possibility to engage other people's passion! ~ It's contageous!

  2. Love the image you've selected. Excellent break-down of the reading. Being the board is one of the most difficult chapters to sus out. Many get tripped on the assumption that Zander is advocating forgetting about justice, but you get it, that he's removing the blame game from the process because blame doesn't move one from injury to recovery, only gives away the power to move forward and makes someone else "responsible." Great job.