I am exploring what it means to “give everyone an A.” This concept comes from Rosamund and Benjamin Zander’s book, The Art of Possibility.
To give someone an “A” means that you do not hold a person to your or anyone else’s expectations, rather you invite the person to live into the vision they have for themselves.
This idea is similar to Michelangelo’s approach to art. He “is often quoted as having said that inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue; one need only remove the excess material to reveal the work of art within.” (p.26)
I often wonder how our lives would be different if our parents, teachers, coaches and mentors adopted this approach. What if everyone starting giving folks “A’s”? What if we looked at our children, spouses, neighbors, co-workers and friends as unfinished pieces of art just waiting to be revealed? The impact would be startling.
Schools would stop using comparative grading systems and instead focus on what children wanted to master or were curious about. Folks would feel more content and happier because they would be engaged in work they found meaningful and interesting. Communities would thrive because people would not only be engaged but be innovative and creative: gifting their communities with their talents and ideas.
Benjamin Zander, a musician, a conductor and an educator, shares how he implemented the “give everyone an A” strategy. In one of his college courses, he told his students they all would receive an “A” for the class as long as they wrote a letter dated for the end of the semester. In their letter, the students were to explain, in great detail, why they got an A for the course. The letters were to be written in the past tense and to focus not only on what they accomplished over the course of the semester but also to speak about the type of person they became as a result of their accomplishments.
Benjamin Zander reported amazing results. He noticed that his students were more likely to take risks because they did not fear being compared to or judged by another’s standards. Zander also noticed that some students changed the way they self-identified. He tells the story of an Asian student who was number 68 out of 70 students at his home school. When Zander told him he would receive an A, the Asian student reported feeling very confused because he had never viewed himself as an “A” student. Three weeks into the semester, the Asian student realized that he was much happier as an “A” student than number 68, and therefore, decided to identify as an “A.” (p.32)
As Zander points out, “Giving an A” does not mean that we don’t have standards or goals. Giving the A does mean, however, that we align with the person to produce a particular outcome, rather than to compare a person to another. It is not about being better than someone else. Giving the “A” is about opening the door to possibility, to working collaboratively and to fostering innovation.
I am interested to see what happens as I make this paradigm shift. How will my life, my family, my clients and my community shift because I chose to look for the possibilities? What will I need to let go of in order to see the beauty within?
I invite you to join me in this paradigm shift. Let’s start handing out A’s. As always, please share what you notice when you give everyone an “A.” What changed for you? I long to hear.
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