Friday, May 11, 2012

Week 1 reading post: Art of Possibility chapters 1 to 4

I’m finding the Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander to be filled with tiny gems. The first, which appears both in the text and in the TED presentation given by Benjamin Stone, is the story of the two shoe marketers sent to Africa; one perceives the inhabitants’ lack of shoes as a sign of hopelessness, while the other sees a completely untapped market! I’ve always been a firm believer in the power of attitude, and I was delighted to find this little parable that illustrates the point.

The next gem was the story about Albert Einstein’s conversation with Werner Heisenberg about the nature of a scientific theory. I’ve long been fascinated by science’s transition from one paradigm to the next. One of the most famous transitions was from Newtonian mechanics to Einstein’s treatment of the speed of light as a universal “speed limit.” Then after that came the shift to quantum mechanics—a paradigm shift that Einstein himself vehemently opposed. His observation that the theory “decides what we can observe” is entirely true—in both a scientific sense and in more pedestrian circumstances. For example, before scientists considered that atoms might be made of charged particles, they could not possibly have observed those particles, because they would not have known how to look. No astronomer who truly considered the Earth to be the center of the universe would have thought to construct a telescope, because everything else in the universe was considered to be of lesser importance. In a more everyday sense, we do not see what our minds are not prepared to find. This goes back to my first gem, the story of the two shoe marketers. A marketer with a fundamentally pessimistic outlook will not see the opportunity staring him in the face…even when it comes in the form of millions of bare feet!

Zander, R. S., & Zander, B. (2000). The art of possibility [Electronic]. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.