Giving Yourself An ‘A’

Benjamin Zander is the principal conductor at the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. I first came across him a couple of years ago when I saw his TED Talk entitled ‘The Transformative Power of Classical Music’.

Whether you are interested in classical music or not I think it is fair to say that it is hard not to be moved, inspired and even uplifted by his lessons in his TED Talk on human potential, leadership and learning as well as experiencing the power of the music from this enthusiastic and brilliant man.

It is worth a watch: Benjamin Zander TED Talk

I was reminded of him again last week when a friend, Michael, introduced me to his book ‘The Art of Possibility’ which was written together with his partner, Ros, a psychologist and coach. So I had to look it up and download an audio version.

The main principle in the book is how he looks for the highest potential in his students, his players in the orchestra and the audience and suggests that we might also do the same in relation to our own lives, our children and the people around us.

He does it with his students by, at the beginning of each term, offering each person an ‘A’ grade on the condition that they must write him a letter dated into the future, to the end of the term, and in it they must describe to him how they deserved their ‘A” for his class. They must describe how they have changed, what they have become and how they now see the world and their music differently.

He says that this approach eliminates the normal competitive comparisons that we make when looking at grading in school and exams and instead fosters cooperation and sharing between students. It changes the dynamic in the class as well as the mind-set of each individual as they ‘live’ into the idea of being an ‘A’ student and how they act so very differently throughout the term from that place. This becomes transformative for each person in their own individual way and also transformative of their music and their playing.

He then sets us our own challenge. In dealing with our own lives and businesses, and in particular, a difficulty that we might be grappling with at the moment, he suggests that we write a letter to him, dated 6 or 9 months into the future when, having dealt with the matter successfully (by getting an ‘A’) we describe to him how we did it, how we overcame any challenges, how we have changed and what the process has meant to us.

The premise is that if we see ourselves as ‘A’ students from the beginning rather than having to prove it then we are opened up to so many creative possibilities around problem-solving, idea generation and taking decisive action. Possibility replaces fear and apprehension.

Zander goes on to suggest that things become even more powerful when, in our dealings with others, we give them an ‘A’ too. It could be a child, a colleague, an employee or a client – he suggests that the conversation is very different when you operate from a place where you already believe that the other person can do what you want, because you have already given them an ‘A’. It links into the idea that the great leaders are those who can inspire people to achieve great things by first believing in them even before they might believe in themselves.

So, at a time of year when plans and resolutions are all the rage, perhaps a different approach might be to write your letter to Mr Zander dated 6 months from now and explain to him why you deserved to get your ‘A’ for whatever achievement you will have made or adversity that you will have overcome and also how the experience has transformed you. Then see what happens over the course of the next 6 months!