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24 hey, we all got %22a%22s

My friend Steve told me about how Ben Zander decided to give all his music students an “A” at the beginning of the year so they’d be free to produce their best work.  Anybody who does something like that deserves to be read, so I bought the book to find out more.

All the students had to do was to write to Zander within two weeks of beginning their course, imagining it to be the end of the year, and telling him how they had attained their A.

These letters from the students to Zander are moving, but the thing that catches my attention are the comments from the students about how they feel just making their way to the classroom:

“When I come to your class, Ben, I feel the glow coming as I walk down the corridor, and by the time I’ve arrived – I’ve arrived happy and excited and ready to go.”*

The thing is, we all have an A in life.  We just had to figure out what we’re going to do to show why – something beautiful, something which brings together your past, present, and future.

I went on to read this from Richard Sennett: ‘the desire to do something well for its own sake can be impaired by competitive pressure, by frustration, or by obsession.  Sennett is writing about how ‘Craftsmanship names an enduring, basic human desire to do a job well for its own sake,’**

Once pressure, frustration, and obsession are removed, Sennett says, the apprentice can learn from their experiences of resistance and ambiguity, developing skills to repair and improvise which, ultimately, make it possible ‘to conduct life with skill.’**  Such a person uses their progress to uncover more problems to overcome and, so, develop their skills.

‘Have you ever risen above the person you were and for at least a few moments become the person you only imagined yourself to be?’^

‘When you give an A, you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect that gives them room to realise themselves … a possibility to live into.’^^

(*Carina, quoted in Rosamund and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)
(**From Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman.)
(^From Erwin McManus’s The Artisan Soul.)
(^^From Rosamund and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)

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23 how can we

‘How are my thoughts and actions, in this moment, a reflection of the measurement world?  And now?’*

Roz and Ben Zander’s question enables us to see a world of measurement we’re largely oblivious to.  Seeing this is necessary for moving into a universe of possibility.  It’s not a case of “Are my thoughts and actions … ?”  They are; it’s just a case of how much they are.

A year ago, I was reflecting on vuja de, created by comedian George Carlin and developed by IDEO’s Tom Kelley as the ability to “see what always been there but gone unnoticed.”**  The world of measurement is unable to notice some of the most important possibilities right before us.  For me, this means a person see ing things in their lives.

‘If you want to achieve the unimaginable, you start by imagining it.’^

‘The action in a universe of possibility maybe characterised a generative, or giving, in all senses of that word – producing new life, new ideas ,consciously endowing with meaning, contributing, yielding to the power of contexts.’*

There are two parts to life – these are not necessarily age related.

The first half of life is about learning a field, pursuing what we think is important, even identifying ways of giving to others – this half relates, I think, to the world of measurement.  This first part of life produces more than we can measure – the vuja de effect – and to see, we must step into another realm.  Into a universe of possibility, through imagining, then designing (prototyping) and then producing.

Some never make it into their second half of life.  They’re so immersed in the world of measurement that they feel they never have enough, not realising, what they really have is more invisible than visible.

For those prepared to step out, there’s a different way of seeing, understanding an unexplored universe of life in all its fullness.

(*From Rosamund and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)
(**Tom Kelley, quoted in Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.)
(^From Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit.)

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22 living the prequel

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.’*

Be a prequel, not a sequel.

Movie sequels come from the world of measurement; they are knowable, repeatable, and, therefore, guaranteeable.

For reasons like these, we can be attracted to a sequel-kind of life, where tomorrow is a repeat of yesterday because today was.

Movie prequels normally follow a successful series of film – like the more recent 2009 Star Trek, which tells the back story to the original series and subsequent legacy of films.

The prequel-kind of life, though, is about setting the scene or context for a story never been told:

‘[A] universe of possibility stretches beyond the world of measurement to include all worlds: infinite, generative, and abundant. … In the measurement world, you set a goal and strive for it.  In the universe of possibility, you set the context and let life unfold.”**

I’ve previously written about finite and infinite games; the world of measurement equates to the finite game and the universe of possibility to the infinite.

To open the mind is possibility.  So, we come to each new day as beginners, with questions to open our minds and to open the universe.  New words and metaphors and stories we encounter opens new worlds – and some of these will produce dancing in our hearts.

We never arrive.  How can we?  Just when we think we know our world, it opens further into hugeness before us.  Sequels build up one after the other following the original.

Prequels keep on enlarging the context in which we find ourselves, including the context of our lives, which are deeper and larger and more astonishing than we thought.

(*Shunryū Suzuki, quoted in Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.)
(**From Rosamund and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)

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21 the universe doesn't need

“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”*

As a new day begins, we make a choice.

Our choice determines whether we move in a world of abundance, a “universe of possibility,” or into one of scarcity.

Roz and Ben Zander, who offer the term “universe of possibility,” see scarcity as a result of our attempts to measure and weigh:

‘We grow up in a world of measurement, and in this world, we get to know each and things by measuring them, and by comparing and contrasting them.’**

It’s hard to measure what is unique, though, and this is what each person is.

Yes, we live in the same world doing the same everyday things everyone else engages in.  Yes, we play finite games – which are full of measuring – when we have to do this thing by this time in this way for these reasons and for this cost.

More than this, though, we know how each person is able to infinitely mix what they are curious about and skilled.

We don’t have to measure each other.  As Richard Rohr points out, if this is our choice,  we shall ‘not have strong and final opinions about everything, every event, or most people, as much as we allow things and people to delight us, sadden us, and truly influence us.’^

We imprison one another when we say, “Why can’t you be more like me/more like us!”  We liberate when we say, “Why can’t you be more like you!” – releasing the future Self.

(*Saint Francis, quoted in Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward.)
(**See Rosamund and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)
(^From Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward.)

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‘[M]yths tell us that not only are we the good guys, but we are the smartest, boldest, best guys that ever were.’*

‘A hero sets off in search of something elusive that has the power to change both their life and the world.’**

There are those who stand out because they want to and those because they have to.  One steps into a world of scarcity in which only a few stand out, the other steps into a world of abundance in which everyone finds their “something elusive.”  One moves towards the place of stability, the other moves towards the journey of instability.  One wants to be seen to have arrived, the other is happy to be a constant learner.  One prefers answers, the other questions.

As IDEO’s Paul Bennett the questions arrives out of not knowing: “being comfortable with not knowing – that’s the first part of being able to question.’^

‘Wisdom happily lives with mystery, doubt, and “unknowing,” and in such living, ironically resolves that very mystery to some degree.  I have never figured out why unknowing becomes another kind of knowing, but it surely seems to be.’^^

(*From Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal.)
(**From Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit.)
(^Paul Bennett, quoted in Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.)
(^^From Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward.)

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19 I have been told

“Your remembered self is a translation of your life.”

‘When we are grateful, we are most fully alive.’**

Ian Duncan Smith has just resigned as the UK’s Work and Pensions Secretary.^

Behind the scenes of any news story, there’s something else happening.  Roz and Ben Zander remind us that by the time we’re conscious of something, it’s already been processed and shaped by our brains:

‘[F]irst 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.’**

There’ll be opposing political opinions about what is right and wrong, but the point the Zanders are making, as Noah Yuval Harari is also at pains to make in Sapiens, is that all opinions are constructs.  And if they are constructs, why don’t we create something better?

This will mean opening our minds to more, something that is both possible and difficult.

Dan Ariely offers some interesting thoughts.  When it comes to the things we are selling or give away, there are three quirks to the experience: ‘we fall in love with what we already have;’ ‘we focus on what we may lose;’ and, ‘we assume other people will see the transaction from the same perspective as we do.’^^

Daniel Pink would want to add to this that “to sell is human” – it is what we’re doing all the time – like when we share an idea or tell someone about a great restaurant experience we’ve had.   But, what if instead of trying to “sell” our stories to each other, we add them together to create a better story.*^

Mind you, what I’m suggesting is yet another construct, another story, but I like it because it’s about offering the possibility to thrive to everyone.

(*From Erwin McManus’s Uprising.)
(**From Rosamund and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)
(^I pick out this story because it was one the news programme I’ve just been listening to.  Apparently, after more than five years of overseeing disability benefit cuts, supposedly to encourage people back into work, the latest round of cuts announced in the budget is “a compromise too far,” for IDS because the budget also includes tax cuts for the higher earning.  Different views of this story and what it’s about have been offered by friends, colleagues, and opponents.)
(^^From Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational.)
(*^Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human.)


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18 when we embrace discipline

“Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For another union, a deeper communion”*

This is true for more than old men, or old women.  It’s about the future and about possibility.

Going to the future makes it possible to alter, or rearrange, our present and change our past.

‘A significant part of the artistic challenge is to go beyond interpreting human experience to be an interpreter of human possibility.’**

The past is the past, but when we develop the skills to be formed by the future, we use the the past as resources for our art in the present – the contribution of beauty and goodness we must bring into the world.

Roz and Ben Zander identify practices to make this happen which I’ll be exploring through the weeks that follow:

‘[The practices of possibility] are geared instead toward causing a total shift of posture, perceptions, beliefs, and thought processes.  They are about transforming your entire world.’^

We can only travel to the future, and change the past, to the extent that we’re willing to embrace discipline and practice.

Here are three I refer to throughout Thin|Silence.

These are future-opening practices because they open or rearrange our mind, most significantly from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.  They begin to open the possibility of more.

Humility makes it possible for us to see the true self in the kind of detail that we’re able to imagine a future Self.

Gratitude enables us to both recognise and value, and to hold within our lives, all we contain and touch, making it more possible to be creative and loving.

Faithfulness allows us to figure out the personal ways we can explore the explosive combination of humility and gratitude.

(*T S Eliot, quoted in Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward.)
(**From Erwin McManus’s The Artisan Soul.)
Rosamund and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)
(Today’s cartoon derives from a conversation about freedom with my friend Alex McManus.  Alex brought to mind these words from Frank Herbert: 
“Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.”)