Possible : A Book Review by Bob Morris

Possible: How to Survive (and Thrive) in an Age of Conflict
William Ury
HarperBusiness/An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers (February 2024)

How and why “the path to possible is how we survive — and thrive — in this age of conflict”

William Ury wrote this book to help prepare everyone who reads it to unleash their full human potential to transform the conflicts around them. “If we can transform our conflicts, we can transform our world.” That is an admirable goal. HOW to do that? Ury: “The problem is this: We are not going to get rid of conflict — nor should we. But we can change the way we see conflict and the way we choose to live with it…Instead of thinking small, we need to THINK BIG. We need a wholly different approach. Instead of just starting from the problem, we need to start from the possibilities.”

Ury recommends a process by which to achieve three separate but interdependent “victories.” He devotes  a set of three chapters to each in which he meticulously explains WHAT each victory is, WHY it is so important (Chapters 6-5)  , and HOW to achieve it: Go to t e BALCONY, Chapters 3-5; Build a golden BRIDGE, Chapters 6-8; and Engazge the THIRD SIDE, Chapters 9-11).

According to Ury:

o “Eventually the balcony [a state of mind at which to pause and reflect, zoom in” on what is most important, and ‘zoom out’ to tomfocusa attention on ‘the big picture’] becomes not just a place to visit occasionally but a [begin italics] home base [end italics] from which we can continually see the bigger picture and keep our eyes on the prize. The balcony becomes a genuine ‘superpower’ that enables us to unlock the full potential [begin italics] within us [end italics] us to transform conflicts.” Page 47)

o “All three powers [i.e. attentive listening, attracting support, and focusing on the right problem to solve] combine to transform  inflexible opposed position into creative possibilities. Deployed together, they enabe us to build a golden bridge that unlocks the full potential [begin italics] between [end italics] the parties.” (132)

o “When we are able to unite as thirdsiders [i.e. those who have awakened a “sleeping giant” within them, a latent “superpower that exists within each and all of us”], even the most difficult problems at work, at home, or in the world can eventually yield to the power of all of us working together.” (294)

Here are a few chapter head notes that caught my eye:

o “We are continually faced with great opportunities which are brilliantly disguised as unsolvable problems.” Margaret Mead

o “The Possible’s slow fuse is lit By the Imagination.”  Emily Dickinson

o “Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear?”  Lao Tzu

Long ago, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. observed, “I do not care a fig about simplicity this side of complexity but would, give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

In this book, William Ury explains how to transform conflicts into victories on the other side of complexity. As Mary Parker Follett points out, “We should never allow ourselves to be bullied by an either-or. There is often the possibility of something better than either of these two alternatives.”

Years ago, Peter Drucker observed: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” How to make the best decisions? Enter Thomas Davenport and Brooke Manville. In Judgment Calls, they explain how and why decisions made by a Great Organization tend to be much better than those made by a Great Leader. Why? While conducting rigorous and extensive research over a period of many years, they discovered – as Laurence Prusak notes in the Foreword — “that no one was looking into the workings of what we term [begin italics] organizational judgment [end italics] – the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.”

The mistake to which Drucker refers is much less likely to occur when organizational judgment is centrally involved in a decision-making process. My own opinion is that this process resembles a crucible of intensive scrutiny by several well-qualified persons. Moreover, the eventual decision is the result of what Roger Martin characterizes, in The Opposable Mind, as “integrative thinking.” That is, each of those involved has “the predisposition and the capacity to hold two [or more] diametrically opposed ideas” in mind and then “without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other,” helps to “produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea.”

Organizational judgment must not only be discerned but also managed. And precautions should be taken to ensure, as Prusak notes, “that the courses of action taken by organizations are more grounded in reality and a shared sense of what is right.” In recent years, the rapid emergence and development of social media enable organizations to become even more grounded in what has become an expanded reality. Only through an open and inclusive collaborative process can the use of social media enable any organization to tap the collective genius of its stakeholder constituencies.

No organization ever has too many great men and great women. Indeed, few have any. However, I agree with Davenport and Manville that all organizations can establish and then constantly improve a collaborate process by which organizational judgment produces a much higher percentage of appropriate decisions. They and Ury agree with Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”

Early on, Ury expresses his hope that this book “will inspire you to unleash your full human potential to transform the conflicts around you. [bgin italics] If we can transform our conflicts, we can transform our world.” Skeptics would be well-adviased to consider this observation by Margaret Mead: ”

I congratulate Bill Ury on Possible.  It is a brilliant achievement. Bravo!

* * *

Here are two other suggestions to keep in mind while reading it. Highlight key passages, and, record your comments, questions, action steps (preferably with deadlines), page references, and lessons you have learned as well as your responses to key points posed within the narrative and, especially, to end-of-chapter comments.

These two simple tactics — highlighting and documenting — will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent reviews of key material later.





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