Feeling uninspired? Pull out The Art of Possibility
Recently, we asked our colleagues at SYPartners and our Teamworks community what books are on your short list for any manager. We got so many great responses — from tried-and-true classics to new discoveries. So, we decided to create a new feature on the blog: Books We Love. Every few weeks or so, we’ll post a piece that highlights a recommended book and its nuggets of wisdom. For this first post, we chose The Art of Possibility, by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. (Thanks, Jason Baer!)
Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander are not your typical business gurus. Benjamin is conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. Rosamund is a therapist and coach. Drawing from an unusual combination of personal and professional experiences, The Art of Possibility is a 12-point practice guide to seeing and acting differently. Its lessons are relevant within any context, from running a classroom to managing a company.
You can read this book start to finish, dip in and out, or jump around between chapters. Each chapter introduces a new perspective-shifting practice — and you’ll find yourself thinking creatively both about the content and all the different ways you might apply it. More than a checklist of actions, however, The Art of Possibility offers nourishment for your sense of purpose and imagination. At its best, it returns you to a space of infinite possibility: to the great hopes and ambitions that inspired you to do what you do in the first place.
Here are a few of the lessons we’ve taken from the book:
Make greatness a self-fulfilling prophecy — declare it and it will become reality
“How much greatness are we willing to grant others?”
This is one of most powerful questions posed in the book. When you grant people greatness as a manager, you give them self-belief. You take away their fear of failure and all the little doubts that sap their energy and prevent them from using their greatest strengths. When you take failure or mediocrity off the table, you make space for possibility.
One way to make greatness a self-fulfilling prophecy is for everyone to write a narrative from the future (i.e., a letter to themselves) in order to crystallize their hopes and ambitions. In writing this narrative, the Zanders suggest, you imagine that future and set it into motion.
Release your ego — allow yourself to be of the team not above it
As a manager, it’s especially important to feel a sense of connectedness and integration with the team. The Zanders call this Rule 6 (there are no Rules 1-5 however), and it’s about setting a tone that allows the whole team to relax. The focus is on what the team can achieve, not on individual results. This helps avoid finger pointing, or the tension that can emerge when some people feel that they’re doing all the work while others are getting the credit.
Be a contribution — it makes every interaction better
In every interaction, ask yourself if there is an opportunity for you to make a contribution. For example, ask: How can I make a difference? What can I add that’s missing? How can seeing things from the other perspective make the larger goal possible?
This maximizes trust and neutralizes negativity. And, when you’re generative and giving, that mindset ripples across the whole team.
Acknowledge the truth of the moment — it empowers the team
When there’s a moment of intensity — say, friction between team members — that intensity might make things feel out of control. However, if you can make the leap to staying in the present and acknowledging feelings about the way things are, that honesty and vulnerability can be powerful. This is particularly important to remember if you’re a manager who is uncomfortable with displays of emotion.
Tell stories — they are how we understand the world and each other
We understand what happens to us through stories. Throughout the book, the Zanders use narrative examples from their own experiences and the everyday world to make unfamiliar concepts relatable and illustrate new ideas. Stories matter because they help us imagine (and keep reimagining) the outcomes that we want to create.
The Art of Possibility will feel fresh every time you read it. If you need a quick tune-up, even a short dip into the first 15 pages is enough for an inspiration fix — perfect for a moment when you find yourself mired in the day-to-day and unable to think creatively and expansively.