Giving an “A”

Ben Zander has some useful advice for us in dealing with other people. His own example is from the student orchestra of his music world, but it is intended to apply to all of us. It’s about expectation. He tells the students that they will receive a grade of A on one condition – that they write an essay to tell him, why at the end of the year they deserve one. It’s an interesting example of encouraging intention.

When I taught secondary school many years ago, I was about to meet a new class. A colleague and I compared notes. “This one’s lazy, I said. That one can be depended upon to be disruptive. I’m really glad that I don’t have to put up with this particular one again this year”. She rolled her eyes. “You’re not looking at my new class”, she said, “You’re looking at yours”. Severely chastened, I went to the classroom and told the group what I had done. Using myself as the bad example I was, I told them that I had thrown away all previous expectations and we were going to start with a clean slate. The class, of course, had matured over the summer. But so had I.

If we expect little of others, we shouldn’t be surprised if that is what we get. If we expect too much, that can do us in too. Zander relates a story later in the book when he expected one of his star players to meet his expectations – forgetting that she might have some of her own. By giving himself an A in admitting that this was unfair, he actually got her to return to the orchestra. We are not always that lucky when we admit we are wrong. Recognizing that we both have something to contribute nevertheless can increase the art of possibility.