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Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less -and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined Hardcover – February 7, 2017
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From the Publisher
Scott Sonenshein Talks With Daniel H. Pink
Daniel H. Pink is the author of DRIVE and TO SELL IS HUMAN, among other books.
Daniel H. Pink (DP): In your book, you introduce a new term that you say is a key to high performance—stretch. What does that mean?
Scott Sonenshein (SS): Stretch is resourcefulness — doing more with what you have. It turns out there's a science of resourcefulness that shows it's a learnable skill that applies in good times as well as bad times to help us reach our goals. People think of resourcefulness as something done out of need when facing shortages or to resolve problems, but that's just one aspect of it. Stretching means we don’t start from feeling like what we have isn't enough. Instead, we embrace what we already have and then creatively put those resources, such as time, money, relationships, and materials, to work.
DP: Why is stretching important for individuals and organizations today?
SS: Stretching helps us accomplish our goals with maximum effectiveness and efficiency, which is of paramount importance in these uncertain times. Our gut reaction to most challenges, especially when there isn't clarity about the best solution, is that we'll increase the odds of success if we amass lots of resources. Research shows that not only is this false but it also leaves us feeling less capable and accomplished. The key to achieving goals is to be engaged, creative and active with what’s already in hand—to stretch.
DP: You contrast chasing with stretching. What is chasing and why is it so dangerous?
SS: People want to know where they stand—so they compare what they have with those around them. They then convince themselves (often falsely) that they need what others have in order to succeed. But how we act and what we do matters a lot more than what we have. Lots of people do very little with a lot, while others do a lot with a little. Chasing harms our prospects of performing because it creates a constant dependence on getting more to do more. It also makes us less satisfied.
DP: Most organizations ask, "What resources do we need in order to act?" But you say that's the wrong question. What do you mean?
SS: Resourceful organizations foster a culture that promotes asking "What can I do with what I have?" and rejects the paralysis and distraction that comes from asking "What must I have to act?," such as a bigger budget or larger team. Organizations that stretch challenge employees about how to do the most with what they have by purposefully imposing constraints, ripping up plans and learning from spontaneous action, combining unexpected resources, using expectations to boost the value of resources, and putting to work the untapped contributions of all employees.
DP: If I only have time to develop one form of stretching, what should it be?
SS: Appreciate that you already have everything you need to succeed in business and life. Stop worrying about what you don't have and start engaging what you do have in more useful ways.
We rarely have as much of anything as we want, but we can learn to do more with it. Scott Sonenshein is a gifted thinker whose insights have sharpened my work for over a decade, and his fascinating debut book reveals how resourcefulness is a skill that’s waiting to be learned. Get ready to unleash your inner MacGyver. (Adam Grant, bestselling author of Originals and Give and Take)
I always appreciate a book that challenges me, forces me to think, and creates constructive discomfort. And I especially value such a book when its key conclusions have a base of research. Dr. Sonenshein has accomplished all this with Stretch, and I am thankful for the chance to grow from reading his work. (Jim Collins, bestselling author of Good to Great and Great by Choice)
It’s easy to feel like we never have enough time, resources, or money. Scott Sonenshein’s surprising and entertaining book inspires and instructs us to make the most out of what we already have. The result is more-more creativity, more engagement, and more satisfaction. (Daniel H. Pink, bestselling author of To Sell is Human and Drive)
Stretch is a masterpiece. Whether you want to build a better life or a better business, Scott Sonenshein reveals how the power of constraints sets you free and why the lust for more is bad for your mental health and-ironically- your personal success and the success of your business. I love the stories, rigorous research, and especially, how Sonenshein’s warmth and wisdom fill every page and make Stretch a joy to read (Robert Sutton, Stanford professor and author of the The No Asshole Rule)
Well-informed and frequently enlightening…Sonenshein is an amiable guide to attaining the benefits of stretching. A convincing argument within a compelling narrative-recommended for business managers and resourceful individuals alike. (Kirkus)
In Silicon Valley successful entrepreneurs value constraints to help define both the problem and solution. In Stretch, Scott Sonenshein explains how to turn limitations into valuable assets, helping us achieve our goals both at work and at home. (Ann Doerr, Chairman, Kahn Academy)
A smart yet accessible book that will appeal to readers interested in simplifying their careers and lives. (Library Journal)
From the Back Cover
A groundbreaking approach to succeeding in business and life, using the science of resourcefulness
We often think the key to success and satisfaction is to get more: more money, time, and possessions; bigger budgets, job titles, and teams; and additional resources for our professional and personal goals. It turns out we’re wrong.
Using captivating stories to illustrate research in psychology and management, Rice University professor Scott Sonenshein examines why some people and organizations succeed with so little, while others fail with so much.
People and organizations approach resources in two different ways: “chasing” and “stretching.” When chasing, we exhaust ourselves in the pursuit of more. When stretching, we embrace the resources we already have. This frees us to find creative and productive ways to solve problems, innovate, and engage our work and lives more fully.
Stretch shows why everyone—from executives to entrepreneurs, professionals to parents, athletes to artists—performs better with constraints; why seeking too many resources undermines our work and well-being; and why even those with a lot
benefit from making the most out of a little.
Drawing from examples in business, education, sports, medicine, and history, Scott Sonenshein advocates a powerful framework of resourcefulness that allows anybody to work and live better.
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There are definitely some good insights, ideas and recommendations; for example, the key distinction between a stretch (make the most of the resources you have) vs. chase (acquire resources systematically) mindset, a variation on the classical dilemma of exploration vs. exploitation.
However, the whole thing feels a little bit unfocused, with different strands of psychological research put together in what is not always a coherent narrative. Moreover, the examples used are sometimes weak or cherry-picked; for example, yes, we can attribute the demise of many companies to a chasing mindset, but we can also find examples of success (for example, Amazon strategy itself of acquiring more and more to become the leader in online retailing).
My overall impression is that a good idea got stretched to the point of becoming too thin.
What kind of stretching are we talking about? I hope you’re not going to tell me I just need to unlock my inner potential through Downward Facing Dog.
Well, I do love yoga, but this is a different kind of stretching altogether. Scott Sonenshein wrote this book to answer the question, “How is it possible to achieve more prosperous organizations, rewarding careers, and fulfilling lives with what’s already in hand?” In other words, how can we stretch the resources we already have to get more use out of them rather than continuously chasing after more resources?
What’s the main takeaway?
Resourcefulness, resourcefulness, resourcefulness. In the author’s words, “The problem is: We routinely overestimate the importance of acquiring resources but even more significantly underestimate our ability to make more out of those we have.”
Can you unpack that a little?
A lot of us tend toward a mindset the author calls chasing, in which we believe that the more resources we have, the more we’ll be able to accomplish and the better results we’ll get. As the author puts it, “Most of our time and energy get spent looking for tools and not actually putting nails into walls.” However, this mindset can lead us into perpetual dissatisfaction as we keep comparing our apparent lack of resources to those around us who always seem to have better stuff, and then we just keep amassing more and more resources, many of which go to waste as we lose track of our growing tool box. Worse still, too many resources can actually limit our efficiency and effectiveness because with very few constraints we no longer feel the need to—you knew I was going to say this—think outside the box. Cliché, but true!
Stretching embraces the opposite mindset, in which we view constraints as opportunities rather than roadblocks. Instead of bemoaning the lack of a hammer, we find something else at hand to put nails into walls, like a rock or a can of beans. Not only do we waste less time and money going after resources we don’t necessarily need, but also we become more creative and effective problem solvers. We figure out multiple uses for resources that others may see as serving only one function, and we notice potential resources that others may overlook as trash.
Nice, but how can this help me in my daily work?
Wouldn’t you feel more empowered if you were told that you already have all the resources you need to get the job done? That’s what Sonenshein effectively is arguing here—no glib intended. “By adopting a stretching mind-set,” he says, “we can reach extraordinary potential with what we already have. It’s a matter of recognizing the untapped value in our resources and directing our energy to nurturing and developing what’s in hand.” The key word here is “mind-set”: stretching is not a gimmick for making resources out of thin air, it’s a mind-set that can help us make the most of what we have.
Sonenshein cites organizational theorist Martha Feldman as proposing that “almost anything—tangible and intangible—has potential as a resource, but that to become anything valuable requires action. This helps us realize that resources don’t come from outside us—they’re not things we go out and get but rather things we create and shape.” If this sounds a little too woo-woo for you, then put another way, all the author is really saying is that “Constraints can motivate us to be resourceful, act in more creative ways, and solve problems better.” Certainly we could all benefit from the ability to solve problems better with more resourcefulness and creativity.
What else makes this book worth the read?
In addition to citing research studies that support the stretch mindset, the author shares lots of fascinating stories about people using resources in extraordinary and often unexpected ways. There’s the Van Man, who lives in an old Volkswagen behind a Walmart—even though he’s a multimillionaire. There’s the aspiring filmmaker who made his first movie on a shoestring budget of $3,000, using desk lamps in place of professional lighting and a wheelchair in place of a camera dolly (OK, spoiler alert y’all: it’s Robert Rodriguez ). You can find out how a single mother working as a secretary used her artistic bent to create a best-selling product that revolutionized office work in the twentieth century. And you can read about how America’s first black female millionaire turned her own social, economic, and health limitations into a business that not only made her very successful but also provided many other black women with a path to financial independence. Plus, the author offers some “stretching exercises” (hey, it’s his pun, not mine!), practical tips for using the stretch mindset in action.
Yet, the book doesn’t stop there. The beauty of it is how it asks, gently prompts and even inspires us to put Stretch to use in our daily lives. For example, chapters 4-7 on building our skillsets are chock full of practical ways to stretch. And chapter 9 is filled with exercises we can do to strengthen our stretching. There is also an excellent resource section on Professor Sonenshein’s website that provides further exercises and articles. As a faculty member in a business school, I welcome this book and am already putting Stretch to use in my teaching and research (I especially love the shop your closet exercise!). I can imagine the audience as everyone!