The Art of Possibility

How to deal with teenagers after a night on the tiles. An inspirational story from Ben Zander that captures the spirit of his and Roz Zander's book, The Art of Possibility.
Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

On a strong tip from Evelyn Rodriguez I’ve just read The Art of Possibility by Roz and Ben Zander. A delightful book which I strongly recommend. What marks it out for me is that it is genuinely inspiring, in a way so few “how-to” business books ever manage. Some of the stories moved me close to tears.

I just read this one. Ben Zander is on a concert tour with a youth orchestra. After a successful peformance, a few of the teenage players get a bit carried away and go for a night on the tiles, in some cases literally, ending up partying on the hotel roof. Curfews broken, guests and hosts upset. Everyone is nudging Ben Zander to admonish them next morning, and that’s what everyone expects. They have, after all, broken a clear agreement about how they behave.

Summoned to the auditorium, the diffident young players sat as far back as possible, their teenage bodies in various positions of exhaustion and protest. Every face, innocent or malfeasant, reflected that they were to receive a well-deserved dressing down.

“Last night after the concert,” I began, “a woman came to me and told me with absolute honesty that the two hours she spent listening to Mahler’s Fifth Symphony had been the most beautiful two hours of her entire life. You gave a great performance last night, and she was not the only one moved and changed by it.” Their faces looked blank for a moment, as though they could not hear these words that were so unexpected. After a pause, I went on, “What else did you come here to offer the Brazilian people?”

One by one, from various parts of the hall, came answers to the question: We came to show them the best of America! That great music is a way of communicating friendship and love. We came to show respect for Brazil! That teenagers can make great music! That music can be fun! That we are happy to be here!”

Zander goes on to suggest

“It was precisely our exhilaration at having participated with with so many people in great music-making that resulted in four kids being on the roof. It’s just surprising that they didn’t float any higher on sheer energy! But does waking hotel guests at night represent the gift we want to bring the Brazilian people? Obviously not. We got off track. You have to know where the track is to get back on, and you’ve all expressed that beautifully.”


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