The elderly Mr. Withers leaned over me and whispered, “What? You’ve been practicing it for three minutes, and you still can’t play it?” (Ben Zander’s early cello teacher to the young Benjamin.)
I just finished a couple of good books last week. This quote was from Benjamin Zander in the book he wrote with his wife Rosamund Stone Zander, The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. This is not a new book, but it was recently recommended to me. She is a family therapist and coach. He is conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and an amazing teacher. (Search YouTube for Ben Zander and you see examples of marvelous teaching of young musicians.) He also speaks to company executives about leadership.
People, that would be all of us, often try something for a short time, a few minutes, find it difficult, and quit. Meditation, study, eating well, exercising, calming a temper…
The Zanders’ book offers 12 practices for transforming your professional and personal life. “Our practices will take a good deal more than three minutes to master. Additionally, everything you think and feel and see around you will argue against them. So it takes dedication, a leap of faith, and, yes, practicing to get them into your repertoire.
It’s like the old joke about the young man carrying a violin case stopping someone on the street in New York City and asking, “How can I get to Carnegie Hall?” The quick reply, “Practice, my boy, practice.”
This book offers practices that are transformational. Digital transformation spews forth from the lips and computers of many of my colleagues and marketers. However, without personal and professional transformation, we may not be able to take advantage of this digital “revolution.”
These practices are geared toward causing a total shift of posture, perceptions, beliefs, and thought processes. They are about transforming your entire world.
I will not discuss all 12 practices. Rather I’ll pull out a few that I found especially impactful.
Possibility. We can look at obstacles, or we can see possibilities. The action in a universe of possibility may be characterized as generative, or giving, in all senses of that word—producing new life, creating new ideas, consciously endowing with meaning, contributing, yielding to the power of contexts. The relationship between people and environments is highlighted, not the people and things themselves. Emotions that are often relegated to the special category of spirituality are abundant here: joy, grace, awe, wholeness, passion, and compassion.
Contribution. 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.
When I began playing the game of contribution, on the other hand, I found there was no better orchestra than the one I was conducting, no better person to be with than the one I was with; in fact, there was no “better.” In the game of contribution you wake up each day and bask in the notion that you are a gift to others.
The practice of this chapter is inventing 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.
I leave you with this little story about creating a certain culture of humility.
Two prime ministers are sitting in a room discussing affairs of state. Suddenly a man bursts in, apoplectic with fury, shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk. The resident prime minister admonishes him: “Peter,” he says, “kindly remember Rule Number 6,” whereupon Peter is instantly restored to complete calm, apologizes, and withdraws. The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again twenty minutes later by an hysterical woman gesticulating wildly, her hair flying. Again the intruder is greeted with the words: “Marie, please remember Rule Number 6.” Complete calm descends once more, and she too withdraws with a bow and an apology.
When the scene is repeated for a third time, the visiting prime minister addresses his colleague: “My dear friend, I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you be willing to share with me the secret of Rule Number 6?”
“Very simple,” replies the resident prime minister. “Rule Number 6 is ‘Don’t take yourself so g—damn seriously.’” “Ah,” says his visitor, “that is a fine rule.” After a moment of pondering, he inquires, “And what, may I ask, are the other rules?” “There aren’t any.”
Pick up a copy and read it a couple of times. Then practice.