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Review and Analysis of "The Art of possibility," by Zander and Zander

Updated on June 28, 2013
Crisis or Opportunity?
Crisis or Opportunity?

Conceptual Drive

The germinating thesis of this book is one that I often see in the behavior that surrounds me and, of course, much to my chagrin in my own behavior. This is that we, humankind, continue to act as evolution has conditioned us to. We classify the world around us as one in which false dichotomies exist, we pursue materials and resources as if there were a dearth of them and our survival depended on spending every waking moment either calculating the acquisition of or actively procuring as much as we possibly can of these. We live within these socially constructed false paradigms and they foster undue anxiety.

The oldest discovered examples of art produced by Homo Sapiens Sapiens in Lascaux and Altamira date back to a little over 30,000 years ago and I see these as expressions of humanity’s first tentative rise above their mere genetic inheritance towards a sense of the Aesthetic. We witness these first acts of artistry mirroring something more than sheer survival logic and as the beginning of an active pursuit of the most precious pieces of our humanity. Though the tendency about which I speak lies buried beneath a couple million years of Hobbesian “noble savage” instinct it is the true epoch of human potential and our collective birthright. “The arts can break new ground here…energizing our personal connection, and opening new doors for invention and practice…so this is a book with suggestions for novel ways of defining ourselves, others, and the world we live in-ways that may be more apt for the challenges of our time.” (Zander & Zander, p.3) If man can attain this not immodest goal then he will rise to something like his true height.

The Limitations of Evolutionary Perception

Discoveries such as those made in the field of Quantum Mechanics, not to mention earlier discoveries involving the full range of the optical field, show us just how honed for simple survival tasks our senses are rendered. This, of course, allowed us to survive this long but the cost is that we perceive and construct the world in a microscopically narrow and exceedingly myopic way. “The ‘Real World’ is a construct and some of the peculiarities of scientific thought is recognized when this fact is recognized.” (Hebb, 1975)

In the multifaceted mediums of the Arts we succeed when we can take our perceived reality then abstract and juxtapose it with deeper universally resonating truths. The endeavor of the pursuit of the Aesthetic is to produce something that is a glimpse behind the curtain of our simple mundane perceptions. And so the practices in this book, all largely based upon the Arts and artistic abstraction, are the perfect vehicles to raise our daily horizons of perception in such a way that creates novel possibilities.

The Calculating Self and The Central Self

The act of grading and evaluating, though necessary in certain contexts, is an evident manifestation of our calculating self. This calculating self is the evolved primate struggling for survival within a world of finite resources. With the establishment of society and some of its benefits such as common law, welfare, and solidarity we can discard our calculating selves, “understanding that they are the relics of our ancestry, the necessary illusions of (humankind’s) childhood.” (Zander &Zander, 95)

And so I find the practice of, “Giving an A,” as discussed in the book to be of particular value. Once individuals have thrown off the shackles of continual comparison and cease to be concerned with what bell curve percentile they occupy they will have allowed moments of failure to become a possibility. These moments are the inevitable outcome of experimentation and unchecked enthusiasm and provide us with our most invaluable lessons and impart us with our most personal truths.

I found the idea of “Restructuring Our Past,” and giving an A grade retrospectively to be particularly germane to the field of Mental Health. “How often do we stand convinced of the truths of our early memories, forgetting that they are but assessments made by a child? We can replace the narratives that hold us back by inventing wiser stories…” (Zander & Zander, p.46)

The calculating self, the piece of us that needs it’s due recognition and pouts when it is not acknowledged with all due pomp and ceremony for its every deed, is too caught up in having not having been properly celebrated to contribute anything meaningful unless this contribution can be made from a position of recognized distinction. The central self, “does not need a podium; she can be sitting quietly on the edge of any chair, listening passionately and with commitment, fully prepared to take up the baton.” (Zander & Zander, p.76) When we are unencumbered by the patterns of our perceived identities we truly are freed to engage in pure expression and given the opportunity described as “Leading from Any Chair.” (Zander & Zander, p.67)

This central self is the part of us that can truly appreciate Rule Number 6 (Don’t take yourself so darn seriously). “Remembering Rule Number 6 can help us distinguish the part of ourselves that developed in the competitive environment…When we practice Rule Number Six we coax this calculating self to lighten up, and by doing so we break its hold on us.” (Zander & Zander, p.80) This practice like the practice of, “Giving an A,” allows for experimentation and for the growth that only comes in instances of failure.

“Such is the nature of the central self, a term we use to embrace the remarkably generative, prolific, and creative nature of ourselves and the world.” (Zander & Zander, p.90) This quest for the central self sounds remarkably similar to Maslow’s description of self-actualization.


“Being present to the way things are…simply means being present without resistance.” (Zander & Zander, p.100) This practice sounds extraordinarily like mindfulness. “Indeed the ability to be present to everything that is happening without resistance, creates possibilities.” (Zander & Zander, p.101)

Further, “Being with the way things are by clearing shoulds,” (Zander &Zander, p.104) echoes a practice that would be heartily endorsed by Horney who warned against, “the tyranny of the shoulds,” (Horney, 1950, p. 64) which later became the basis for Ellis’s REBT. “When our attention is primarily directed toward how wrong things are, we lose our power to act effectively.” (Zander & Zander, 9.104) We become pinioned by an imposed construct of personalized unfairness that blinds us from the possibilities that a new situation presents.

The practices of, “Lighting a Spark,” (Zander & Zander, p.123) and of, “Being the Board,” (Zander & Zander, p.141) likewise sound like modulations of what we reach for in the practice of mindfulness. In the former practice, the act of enrollment is about meeting people where they are, seeing the possibilities they present, and trusting in the contagious nature of inspiration and in the latter practice we are asked to gracefully accept the perils with which we tacitly align ourselves by merely participating in life. “One by one you bring everything you have been resisting into the fold…Why? Because that is what is there. It is the way things are.” (Zander & Zander, p.146) Instead of asking, “why me,” at every unfortunate happenstance it is indeed more useful and mentally healthy to say, “How interesting, how did that get on my board without my noticing?”

Leading and Visions for The Future

The entirety of page 162 I find to encapsulate the central thesis of the book. By rising above our competitive natures and embracing our artistic ability to create and enact endless possibility we can reframe the paradigm of competition in which we assume we live into one of interconnectedness and harmony. What’s more we all have the capacity to lead in this endeavor, no matter where in life we are situated, because indeed we are not looking for the conventional leaders to further pursue our conventional goals of resource accruement but rather a leader that encourages us all to see our similarity and our collective potential for envisioning and enacting entirely unique possibilities and goals. These goals are realized not by acquiring limited resources but by helping each other to proliferate the inexhaustible stores of human potential and imagination that we can create between us.

To begin doing this we must generate a vision which, “releases us from the weight and confusion of local problems and concerns, and allows us to see the long clear line,” (Zander & Zander, p.169) of possibility.

If you and me, that group and this group, us and them, can instead become WE, then “we can set aside…fear, competition, and struggle and tell...(our) story.” (Zander & Zander, p.183) And in the telling WE can see where we went wrong and decide what’s next for us…all of us.


Zander, Rosamund Stone & Zander, Benjamin. The Art of Possibility. New York: Penguin Books, 1995. Print.

D.O. Hebb, “Science and The World of Imagination,” Canadian Psychology 16 (1975), 4-11.

Karen Horney. Neurosis and Human Growth New York: W. W. Norton, 1950.


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    • jabelufiroz profile image


      5 years ago from India

      Nice review.Keep sharing.


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