The Agile Manifesto emphasizes that individuals and iterations are more valuable than processes and tools. To be an effective member of an agile team, regardless of your role, it’s important to learn how to interact effectively with others. It is difficult to change others, so part of working better with others is understanding how to change your perspective on situations. The Art of Possibility, by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, offers you techniques to learn how to overcome obstacles and be a more effective contributor to your team.
I decided to read this book after seeing it mentioned in To Sell Is Human by Dan Pink. Had I stumbled on it on its own, the title might have caught my eye as being potentially relevant to agile software development, as Scrum is often referred to as being "the art of the possible." That this book was useful and interesting was not surprising. However, I was somewhat surprised that a book written by a conductor and a therapist could be such a suitable tool to help one be an effective agile team member.
Many of the practices and techniques in The Art of Possibility are reminiscent of activities you might see in Scrum workshops, such as the "yes, and" and "yes, but" exercise, which demonstrates how something as simple as the choice of words can open up possibilities. The book will help you learn how to focus on what’s possible given a difficult situation, rather than just concentrating on the current problem. This is something that is very valuable when trying to work with others, and it will help you improve your process.
The book also emphasizes the importance and value of failure. The Zanders explain how it’s often best to react to mistakes by saying “How fascinating!” and treating them as opportunities for improvement.
The Art of Possibility is deceptively easy to read. Filled with stories and examples from the worlds of both music and therapy that illustrate twelve helpful practices, you can quickly get through the text. However, the practices, much like Scrum, are simple to understand but difficult to master, so you may want to move through the book more slowly.
This is a very readable book that mixes exercises, stories, and examples of how to apply useful techniques. The Art of Possibility is a book you will read, refer back to, and share with others.
Steve Berczuk is a Principal Engineer and ScrumMaster at Fitbit in Boston, MA. He is the author of Software Configuration Management Patterns: Effective Teamwork, Practical Integration, and has an M.S. in operations research from Stanford University and an S.B. in Electrical Engineering from MIT.