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Book Review: “The Art of Possiblity” by Ben and Rosamund Zander

Paradigms.

They stick to us like that glue that comes with packaged toys that you pull off one finger just to find it stuck to another. The more you try to discard it, the more it seems to hang on for its life. That’s how paradigms work, they just don’t want to die or be replaced. Paradigms are necessary storage spaces for our beliefs and attitudes, but they can also blind us and take away promise and hope for something better. When I accept my paradigms as the only way of life, not only I suffer, but also those around me.

Paradigm Shifts.

They are uncomfortable, even painful at times. I hang on to my paradigms because they work for me. They are the canvas upon which I paint my life and I like their colors. I may have a clue that they are unhealthy and damaging, but I do not want to move from my comfort zone to the place of the unknown, so I just live in my paradigms. They are not necessarily world-views and they are not even Biblical. I have simply found a way to make them work for me. I get anxious when someone challenges them, but paradigm shifts can be tremendously liberating if I move from unhealthy to life-giving actions and attitudes.

Jesus.

He was the ultimate paradigm shift. He came to change minds!

The Zanders are certainly not Jesus, by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not even sure if they follow Him. However, they succeeded in shifting my personal paradigms as I read the book they authored called “The Art of Possibility”.

As I read, I was forced to think. Some of their philosophies I sifted out because they were beyond my beliefs about God and people. But most of them began the deep work of shifting the way I live out and experience my world-view and faith, especially regarding other people.

The book is built upon 12 practices. I will briefly review them here and then encourage you to dig deeper by reading the book.

1.) It’s All Invented

How we view life and opportunity is determined by our attitude toward circumstances. Therefore, every opportunity is either stifled or embraced. Therefore, we have the responsibility to “invent” our opportunities.

How to Practice “it’s all invented” (page 15)

Ask
What assumption am I making,
That I’m not aware I’m making,
That gives me what I see?

After you have an answer, Ask
What might I now invent,
That I haven’t yet invented,
That would give me other choices?

2.) Stepping Into a Universe of Possibility

Possibility is a universe we step into when we step out of the universe of the world of measurement.

“Let us suppose, now, that a universe of possibility stretches beyond the world of measurement to include all worlds: infinite, generative, and abundant. Unimpeded on a daily basis by the concern for survival, free from the generalized assumption of scarcity, a person stands in the great space of possibility in a posture of openness, with an unfettered imagination for what can be.” (page 19)

3.) Giving an A

How would people react, respond and perform if we gave them an A up front and allowed them to either live up to the A or reject our early assumption? In a world of measurement, we try to make people earn their grade, but in a world of possibility, we allow them to live into an A+.

4.) Being a Contribution

In a world of possibility… “absent are the familiar measurements of progress. Instead, life is revealed as a place to contribute and we as contributors. Not because we have done a measurable amount of good, but because that is the story we tell.” (page 56)

5.) Leading from Any Chair

Not only are we responsible to lead wherever we find ourselves, but as leaders we are responsible to give others the opportunity to contribute as “silent conductors”. A team is not simply as good as it’s leader, although that is important. A team is as good as it’s silent leaders… those who lead from wherever they find themselves in an organization.

Every leaders should ask himself when most frustrated with the performance of his team, “Who am I being that they are not shining?”

6.) Rule Number 6

Lighten up! We are only here for a short time and why should we spend it refusing to laugh at ourselves? In the midst of tight tension, one of the most powerful things you can do is laugh and make others laugh.

7.) The Way Things Are

“…be present to the way things are. Being present to the way things are is not the same as accepting things as they are in (a) resigned way. It doesn’t mean you should drown out your negative feelings or pretend you like what you really can’t stand. It doesn’t mean you should work to achieve some ‘higher plane of existence’ so you can ‘transcend negativity.’ It simply means, being present without resistance: being present to what is happening and present to your reactions, no matter how intense.” (Page 100)

Why fight with ourselves with what is? It’s OK to hurt and be confused. Rest in it. Do what you have to do to change things, but it is not helpful to live in resigned defeat.

8.) Giving Way to Passion

“If I were to wish for anything I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of what can be, for the eye, which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating as possibility?” Soren Kierkegaard quote (page 113)

2 Steps to Giving Way to Passion:

a. Notice where you are holding back, and let go. Release those barriers of self that keep you separate and in control, and let the vital energy of passion surge through you connecting you to all beyond.

b. Participate wholly. Allow yourself to be a channel to shape the stream of passion into a new expression for the world. (page 114)

Zander encourages us to live long lines. Do not be distracted by the cares of the world that lure us from the overall purpose and passion of our lives. As a musician misses the beauty of the long lines of music by trying to perfect every note and harmony, so we miss the purpose of our lives by begin distracted by the little things that nag at us day to day.

9.) Lighting a Spark

Communicating creatively and going out of our way to get our message across is the key to the full involvement of others in our vision.

“Enrollment is the practice of this chapter. Enrolling is not about cajoling, tricking, bargaining, pressuring, or guilt-tripping someone into doing something your way. Enrollment is the art and practice of generating a spark of possibility for others to share.” (page 125)

10.) Being the Board

Emotional involvement blinds. Objectivity illuminates.

Zander encourages us to “rename yourself as the board on which the whole game is being played.” (page 141)

In other words, you are where you are and experiencing what you experience because of what you’ve done. When we use the tactic of blame we close the door to possibility. When I proclaim that situations are the way they are because someone else reacted, responded, or acted the way they did, I lose my power to “steer the situation in another direction, to learn from it, or to put us in good relationship with each other.” Do not close the door by proclaiming blame, but live in the world of possibility by taking responsibility to find a way in which things change for the good.

Develop the habit of emotionally stepping back and evaluating the game that is being played on the game board of your life… be the board.

11.) Frameworks for Possibility

Paint pictures of hope when you are casting vision. Reflect on Martin Luther King, Jr’s speech on the Mall in Washington. King had a dream and he created the framework for the possibility of a better nation. Within the boundaries of that frame he and others gave their life to create the broad strokes of a vision. Later the details were added and a beautiful painting of a nation offering dignity and hope to all men and women emerged from the canvas.

Build the frame and paint the broad strokes and allow others to be enrolled in the vision, so that together a beautiful work of art is created.

12.) Telling the WE Story

“More often than not history is a record of conflict between an US and a THEM. We see this pattern expressed across a broad spectrum: nation to nation, among political parties, between labor and management, and in the most intimate realms of our lives… We have distinguished a new entity that personifies the “togetherness” of you and me and others. This entity, the WE, can be found among any two people, in any community or organization, and it can be thought of, in poetic terms, as a melody running through the people of the earth. The WE appears when, for the moment, we set aside the story of fear, competition, and struggle, and tell its story.”

In what areas of your life… in what social or organizational context… in which relationships are you telling the WE story?

art of possiblity
art of possibility

I hope I’ve given you enough to chew on, but not to much to satisfy your appetite. Read the book! Maybe your paradigm, like mine, will be challenged and tweaked to produce a better you and a better them (or should I say a better us) for those people with which you do life together!

May we live in the realm of possibility and not in the walls of measurement! May God grant us the grace of not judging one another, but of giving each other the early A. When things are tense may we follow Rule #6. May each of us give way to our personal passion and light a spark in the lives of other men. May we choose to be a contribution and not a consumer only.

I invite you to step with me into the universe  of possibility!

ORDER THE BOOK HERE!

Husband. Father. Disciple of Jesus. Entrepreneur. My passion is to call people to embrace a vision, count the cost, overcome the obstacles, and chase their dreams.

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