From Politics to Artistry - The Evolution of the Art of the Possible
by Ted Tschopp
The Dangers of Compromise
The phrase “Art of the Possible” evokes a sense of visionary capability, of realizing potentials that may not yet be fully recognized. Tracing its etymology, the term finds its roots not in the realm of vision or innovation, but in the world of politics and bureaucracy. Otto von Bismarck, the Prussian statesman of the 19th century, said, “Politics is the art of the possible.” In this context, Bismarck emphasized the importance of pragmatism in politics; understanding the limitations and potentials of a situation and acting accordingly, even if it means compromising one’s ideals, achieving very little, and maintaining the status quo.
Over time, this phrase transcended its origin in the bureaucracy, morphing into a broader ideology employed across fields from business strategy to technological to scientific innovation. It underscores a seemingly wise principle: while one might envision an ideal or perfect solution, it’s crucial to navigate the complexities and limitations of our reality, seeking solutions that, while perhaps not perfect, are feasible and effective. This notion of optimizing within constraints, at first glance, appears grounded in realism and foresight.
But it is not always the approach one needs to take. Approaches to change vary based on context, objective, and desired outcomes. Operational changes focus on improving existing processes and systems, optimizing them for better efficiency. Meanwhile, evolutionary changes are gradual shifts that occur over time, naturally adapting and progressing as situations demand. This form of change is more organic, responding to the ebbs and flows of societal, technological, or organizational needs. These types of change are typically incremental shifts, enhancing what is already in place, and this is the perfect place for the “Art of the Possible.” In contrast, transformational changes are more radical, aiming to overhaul existing paradigms entirely, ushering in a new era of practices, systems, or beliefs. Such changes are often disruptive but can lead to revolutionary outcomes. There’s also the realm of revolutionary change, which, unlike its evolutionary counterpart, seeks rapid and profound shifts, pushing boundaries and often risking failure to achieve groundbreaking results.
The Tyranny of the “Possible” and the Downfall of True Idealism
The modern age, with its breakthroughs and boundless horizons, seems like a fertile ground for expansive thinking and audacious ventures. Yet, there’s a creeping sentiment that threatens to clip our wings because this ideology implies that we must resign ourselves to what is immediately feasible, sacrificing the extraordinary at the altar of the ordinary. Underneath this veneer of practical wisdom lies a pernicious acceptance of mediocrity.
The Mirage of Pragmatism
At a glance, pragmatism might appear to be the rational choice. After all, isn’t it wiser to navigate the world as it is, rather than how we wish it to be? But this viewpoint, championed by the “art of the possible,” is a siren’s song. It lures us with promises of immediate results and straightforward paths, only to trap us in a quagmire of compromise. Rather than sparking innovation and fostering true progress, this brand of pragmatism quashes it, demanding that we abandon our loftiest dreams for the sake of short-term gains.
The danger here is twofold. Firstly, by prioritizing the possible over the ideal, we limit our potential. Great achievements in history—be it in science, art, or social change—were rarely born from a mindset of moderation. Secondly, this perspective cultivates an environment where settling becomes the norm. Instead of challenging barriers and pushing boundaries, we’re told to work within them.
This virus, one caught, doesn’t merely delay progress; it actively hampers it. When we constantly aim for what’s immediately achievable, we lose sight of what’s on the horizon. It’s on that horizon where you find groundbreaking innovations. The longer this approach lasts the smaller and smaller the horizon becomes. Eventually those groundbreaking innovations have receded beyond the horizon.
Engineering and Design: The Corporation That Makes and Markets a Product
Consider the realm of large companies, global enterprises, and multi-national value chains where visionaries dream to reshaping their futures, leveraging cutting-edge technologies, and crafting systems that stand as testaments to human ingenuity. But the chains of the “possible” shackle them to the ground. They find themselves proud of their bureaucracy, complaining about their conditions without changing them, admiring the problems, living with institutional inertia, kicking the can on outdated systems, using continuously changing band-aided solutions that never seem to address systemic issues, all because of an acceptance of existing paradigms. The final step is to succumb to the thought that the difficult is impossible.
Art and Science: The Duel of Creation and Inquiry
Both art and science, in their purest forms, are driven by boundless imagination. Art becomes a realm where the soul takes flight, leading to the creation of tales, paintings, and sculptures that resonate deeply with human emotion. Science, on the other hand, propels the mind on voyages of discovery, free from the constraints of present knowledge, giving birth to revolutionary theories and groundbreaking experiments. Yet, in both fields, there exists a restrictive sentiment: the “art of the possible” in creativity and the “science of the possible” in inquiry. These sentiments urge artists and scientists to conform to prevailing trends, tastes, methodologies, or funding avenues.
This confinement has repercussions. When artists and scientists yield to these external pressures, the authenticity of their work diminishes. Art may still be technically accomplished, but it risks losing its genuine passion and soul. Similarly, research might uphold established methodologies, but it could lack the profound vision and depth that come with unrestricted curiosity. By tethering artistic and scientific endeavors to what’s trendy, immediately sellable, or fundable, we risk reducing these profound human pursuits to mere commodities and routines.
From Novice to Mastery: The Journey Beyond the “Art of the Possible”
Beginning the journey in any field often starts with the “art of the possible.” But don’t get fooled; at a glance, it appears as a promising doctrine, offering a consistent, albeit gradual, trajectory towards competence without the dread of setbacks. This approach can indeed transition someone from being aware of a subject to having a grasp of it to the extent they can do something with that subject. However, this doctrine isn’t an avenue to true mastery, but rather a path to moderate proficiency. Cloaked in the guise of sagacity, the “art of the possible” only takes you as far as competence, stopping far short of excellence.
Achieving unparalleled expertise demands more. It calls for challenging the established norms, pushing boundaries, and at times, braving colossal failures. If your ambition is to transcend from merely doing something to pioneering advancements and reaching the pinnacle of a craft, then you must venture beyond the confines of the “art of the possible” and seek out bolder approaches.