The Art of Possibility

By Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander; excerpts from the book follow:

P. 6 “Out of the boat…signifies more than being off track – it means you don’t know where the track is anymore…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, a catch phrase…”

P. 9-10 “Experiments in neuroscience have demonstrated that we reach an understanding of the world in roughly this sequence: first, our senses bring us selective information about what is out there; second, the brain constructs its own simulation of the sensations; and only then, third, do we have our first conscious experience of our milieu.”

P.10 “We perceive only the sensations we are programmed to receive, and our awareness is further restricted by the fact that we recognize only those for which we have mental maps or categories.”

P.15 “Ask yourself: What assumption am I making, that I’m not aware I’m making, that gives me what I see? And when you have an answer to that question, ask yourself this one: What might I now invent, that I haven’t yet invented, that would give me other choices?”

P.18 “All the manifestations of the world of measurement – the winning and losing, the gaining of acceptance and the threatened rejection, the raised hopes and the dash into despair – all are based on a single assumption that is hidden from our awareness. The assumption that life is about staying alive and making it through – surviving in a world of scarcity and peril.”

P.20 “There are moments in everyone’s life when an experience of integration with the world transcends the business of survival…these are moments when we forget ourselves and seem to become part of all being.”

P.21 “Survival-thinking is the undiscriminating, ongoing attitude that life is dangerous and that one must put one’s energy into looking out for Number One.”

“Scarcity-thinking is an attitude as prevalent among the well-heeled as among the down-at-heel, and remains unaltered by a change in circumstances.”

P.22-23 “What is the practice that orients you to a universe of possibility? It is a practice for revealing the hidden framework from which the world of measurement springs…ask yourself, how are my thoughts and actions, in this moment, reflections of the measurement world?”

“…when you notice yourself thinking…and you recognize that thought as your first bit of evidence that your measurement mind is at work, you ask yourself again: how are my thoughts and actions, in this new moment, a reflection of the measurement world? And how now?

“You ask yourself the question until you finally appreciate how hopeless it is to escape being shaped by the assumptions that underlie all of life….and you will be smiling…for you will have stepped into a universe of possibility.”

P.26 “Giving an A…is an enlivening way of approaching people that promises to transform you as well as them. It is a shift in attitude that makes it possible for you to speak freely about your own thoughts and feelings, while, at the same time, you support others to be all they dream of being. The practice of giving an A transports your relationships from the world of measurement into the universe of possibility.”

P.39 “The practice of giving the A both invents and recognizes a universal desire in people to contribute to others, no matter how many barriers there are to its expression.”

P.42 “Once I had given my audience an A and invented them as colleagues, they were precisely the people with whom I wanted to converse, and I was exactly where I wanted to be.”

P.43-46 Mahler & Katrine: “… how seldom we pay attention to, or even look for, the passionate and the extraordinary in children – how seldom we give children an A.”

P.50 “It works that way. As soon as you have the grace to give people A’s, all sorts of things are revealed that were as though hidden behind a veil….when the relationship itself is no longer in question, we can ask ourselves, what now do we want to create?”

P.57 “Unlike success and failure, contribution has no other side. It is not arrived at by comparison.”

P.59 “…invent oneself as a contribution, and others as well. The steps to the practice are these:

1) Declare yourself to be a contribution.

2) Throw yourself into life as someone who makes a difference, accepting that you may not understand how or why.

The contribution game appears to have remarkable powers for transforming conflicts into rewarding experiences.”

P.61 “When you play the contribution game, it is never a single individual who is transformed. Transformation overrides the divisions of identity and possession that are the architecture of the measurement model, recasting the tight pattern of scarcity into a widespread array of abundance.”

P.63 “Naming oneself as a contribution produces a shift away from self-concern and engages us in a relationship with others that is an arena for making a difference.”

P.73-74 “A monumental question for leaders in any organization to consider is: How much greatness are we willing to grant people? Because it makes all the difference at every level who it is we decide we are leading. The activity of leadership is not limited to conductors, presidents, and CEOs, of course – the player who energizes the orchestra by communicating his newfound appreciation for the tasks…is exercising leadership of the most profound kind.”

P.74 “Today was exceptional in that I learned leadership is not a responsibility – nobody has to lead. It’s a gift…

P.79-80 “..kindly remember rule number 6….don’t take yourself so g-damn seriously….”

“The practice is to lighten up, which may well light up those around you.”

P.81 “The calculating self is concerned for its survival in a world of scarcity.”

P.83 “How do we learn to recognize the often-charming, always-scheming, sometimes-anxious, frequently conniving calculating self? One good way is to ask ourselves, what would have to change for me to be completely fulfilled?”

P.89 “When one person peels away layers of opinion, entitlement, pride and inflated self-description, others instantly feel the connection. As one person has the grace to practice the secret of Rule 6, others often follow. Now, with the calculating self revealed and humored, the central self shines through.”

P.90 “…the central self, a term we use to embrace the remarkably generative, prolific, and creative nature of ourselves and the world.”

P.95 “Unlike the calculating self, the central self is neither a pattern of action nor a set of strategies. It does not need an identity; it is its own pure expression.”

P.99 “The only way to find happiness is to accept that the way things are IS the way things are.”

P.102 “Mistakes can be like ice. If we resist them, we may keep on slipping into a posture of defeat. If we include mistakes in our definition of performance, we are likely to glide through them and appreciate the beauty of the longer run.”


P.111 “Being with the way things are calls for an expansion of ourselves. We start from what is, not from what should be; we encompass contradictions, painful feelings, fears and imaginings, and-without fleeing, blaming, or attempting correction – we learn to soar, like the far-seeing hawk, over the whole landscape. The practice of being with the way things are allows us to alight in a place of openness, where the truth readies us for the next step, and the sky opens up.”

P.113 “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

P.114 “Giving way to passion has two steps:

* 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.

*Participate wholly. Allow yourself to be a channel to shape the stream of passion into a new expression for the world.”

P.117 “Life flows when we put our attention on the larger patterns of which we are a part…”

P.123 “Certain things in life are better done in person.”

P.125 “Enrollment is the art and practice of generating a spark of possibility for others to share.”

P.126 “The steps are:

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.

“A no can seem like a door slamming instead of merely an instance of the way things are. Yet, were we to take a no less personally, and ourselves less seriously, we might hear something else. We might hear someone saying ‘I don’t see any new possibility here, so I think I’ll stick with my usual way of doing things.’ We might hear within the word ‘no’ an invitation for enrollment.”

P.139 “The life force of humankind is, perhaps, nothing more or less that the passionate energy to connect, express, and communicate. Enrollment is that life force at work…”

P.141 “…rename yourself as the board on which the whole game is being played….with this act, you can transform the world.

P.142 “…declare: I am the framework for everything that happens in my life.”

P.146-147 “…you ask yourself, in regard to the unwanted circumstances, ‘well, how did this get on the board that I am?’…this reflection may bring forth from you an apology that will knit back together the strands of raveled relationships. And then you will be standing freely and powerfully once again in a universe of possibility.”

P.148 “The practice of being the board, is about making a difference.

P.158 “Love is neither about self-determination nor sacrifice. It is a context in which two people build the life they want together.”

“Strength and independence are qualities that can enhance a relationship.”

P.159 “You do not find compassion simply by listening to people; you open the channel by removing the barriers to tenderness within you.”

P.163 Framing possibility

1) Make a new distinction in the realm of possibility: one that is a powerful substitute for the current framework of meaning that is generating the downward spiral.

2) Enter the territory. Embody the new distinction in such a way that it becomes the framework for life around you.

3) Keep distinguishing what is “on the track” and what is “off the track” of your framework for possibility.

P.168 “…mission statements are expressions of competition and scarcity.”

P.169 “A vision articulates a possibility. It fulfills a desire fundamental to humankind, a desire with which any human being can resonate. It is an idea to which no one could logically respond, ‘what about me?’ A vision makes no reference to morality or ethics, it is not about a right way of doing things. It cannot imply that anyone is wrong. A vision is stated as a picture for all time, using no numbers, measures or comparatives. It contains no specifics of time, place, audience, or product.”

P.175 “The sky is not the limit…”

P.183 “The WE appears when, for the moment, we set aside the story of fear, competition and struggle, and tell its story…the WE story defines a human being in a specific way: it says we are our central selves seeking to contribute, naturally engaged, forever in a dance with each other….by telling the WE story, an individual becomes a conduit for this new inclusive entity…”

P.183-184 the WE steps

1) Tell the WE story – the story of the unseen threads that connect us all, the story of possibility

2) Listen and look for the emerging entity.

3) Ask, what do we want to have happen here? What’s best for us? What’s our next step?

P.194 “Transformation from the I to the WE is…the intentional, ongoing dissolution of the barriers that divide us, so that we may be reshaped as a unique voice in the ever-evolving chorus of the WE.”

Abby Scott

Reviewed 10/09