The Art of Possibility, Rosamund Stone Zander & Benjamin Zander, finished Mar 2011. An excerpt from the story Tanya's Bow is shown.

I finished this book earlier this week 😀 It’s 2 out of 2 now! Yesh!!

Ahem. As mentioned previously, this was one of the first “self-improvement” books I bought. My journey into “self-improvement” had begun when I experienced a spark of interest in the way people communicate. From there I had taken up the idea, that you can change the way you think, to improve your life and your relationships with others. “The Art of Possibility” is full of anecdotes which may prove that it is indeed possible.

The anecdotes are music-related; Benjamin Zander (or Ben, in the book) is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, which is something like a voluntary orchestra. As such, the players’ performances and motivation is not driven by profit. Thus other motivating factors are in place, and Ben goes beyond his core function as a conductor to manage relationships, promote leadership, and ultimately, to inspire the idea of “possibility”.

Some thoughts on my favourite stories:

  • “The Allegory of the Service Station” (Lighting a Spark)
    This teaches about the practice of “enrollment” – when you act as if something is possible, and generate this “spark” within others. A memorable little story is given:

    Rosamund Stone Zander’s (Roz) approaches a service station to use an air pump for the flat tire of her bicycle. She has only a ten-dollar bill, but the air pump requires two quarters. The service attendants do not have change for ten dollars. In the end, Roz realizes “it’s all invented” – the concept of exact change, the expectation that others will follow the rules. She instead asks if the men will give her two quarters, without expecting anything in return. And so they do, and thus she “enrolls” them into this brief alliance.

    The story is difficult to relate to specific situations in life; difficult to remember if you are ever in a similar trivial and yet frustrating situation. But perhaps you have done it, had an experience when the rules built up by society fall away for a brief moment, and you have a genuine encounter with another human being.

  • Giving an A
    A friend of mine once posted on Facebook an interesting paradox about accepting other people. With my limited (read: lazy) research skills, I tracked it down:

    We have to change our minds about people and appreciate two things:

    1) They have infinite worth, value, and potential.
    2) They are also flawed, broken, and vulnerable like everyone else including ourselves.

    Read more: How does one learn acceptance? | Answerbag

    There were several nice stories in this chapter reflecting the “infinite worth, value and potential” of others, but I particularly liked “Tanya’s Bow” and “Roz and her Father”.

    The former recalled a violinist called Tanya, who Ben noticed sat in a slouched position while playing, her playing professional but indifferent. When he approached her, Tanya stated that she found the music too fast. She was only one player, but for Ben to pretend that it didn’t matter to him if she was not “engaged” in the performance, was a waste of his energy by both “watching and [trying to ignore] her”.

    He considered the piece and then broadened some of the passages to accommodate “Tanya’s bow”, and found, during the performance, an “impassioned, unabashedly demonstrative player”, fully participating in the performance.

    The lesson I learned is that the player who looks least engaged may be the most committed member of the group. A cynic, after all, is a passionate person who does not want to be disappointed again. Tanya, the Mahlerian par excellence, had decided to “sit out” that performance because it was going to disappoint her again. I learned from Tanya that the secret is not to speak to a person’s cynicism, but to speak to her passion.

I am tempted to stamp a “YMMV” (Your Mileage May Vary) stamp on this book. Some readers may like anecdotes and abstract concepts. Others may prefer more of a “to-do” approach, which  you will not find in this book. But like many such books in the genre, concepts are best learnt if you let yourself absorb the ideas over time, thinking of the possible ways you could practice them in your own life.

Image credit: Scott Schram, Flickr