Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less -and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined
“It seems only natural that the more you have, the more you can do and the better you’ll feel. But…it regularly fails to produce the best outcomes because it leads us to go after resources we don’t need and to overlook the full potential of the resources we already have at hand.” Scott Sonenshein
Can having less deliver more?
Organisations working with constraints often deliver much better results than those with more free flowing resources. The beer entrepreneur Dick Yeungling refused to let his family firm wither in the face of stiff competition and huge marketing budgets from the big players. Instead of selling out or trying to acquire smaller companies to grow, he emphasised the company’s heritage and created demand by only selling in a few regions, generating a sense of scarcity that drove demand. Enthusiasts became the beer’s best advertisers and started campaigns to bring the beer to them. As the business grew he bought used tanks, bottlers and labellers to keep costs down and is now America’s largest domestically owned beer producer. Despite being worth $2 billion he still drives a modest car and turns the light out in his office, commenting: “They say I’m cheap, but I’m economical.”
Author Scott Sonenshein believes that people who routinely stretch ask what more they can do with what they have, instead of asking what’s missing. The consultant and management professor has studied psychology and management research and real life business experiences to try and examine why some organisations succeed with so little, while others fail with so much.
Research into the dot com boom and bust era shows that the companies that survived ignored the ‘get big fast’ business model, avoiding the heady quest for more capital, more engineers and more advertising by building businesses that grew at a more modest and measured pace.
Sonenshein’s advice includes:
- The grass is always greener. Interviews and photos of winning athletes from previous Olympic games have been studied by researchers, with the surprising results that those who came third with a bronze medal were happier than those who came second. Silver medallists were focussed on the gold medal they had failed to win, while bronze medal winners focused on what they did accomplish. The founder of Match.com Gary Kremen in Silicon Valley once said: ‘You’re nobody here at $10 million.’ Psychologists use a metaphor of a treadmill to describe the way that even if we get more resources we feel we need to run even faster even though we get no further
- All things rich and beautiful. By establishing a real sense of ownership among employees, an American chain of boutiques has bucked the trend of making every store the same, with no instructions issued centrally about how to run things. This allowed one store manager to adapt merchandise that wasn’t selling well and make it significantly more appealing. His success was then replicated by other managers in the chain
- Be frugal. Rubies in the Rubble was set up by Jenny Dawson – a former UK hedge fund manager. Dawson’s company turns imperfect fruit and vegetables into award-winning chutneys and has achieved distribution in more than 150 stores. Employing women struggling to find work because of homelessness or drug addiction, the entrepreneur’s value statement is: Make use of what you have. Care about your resources
- Get outside – the value of knowing a little about a lot. Hubble’s telescope was fixed not by a specialist space scientist but by a team led by Story Musgrave – a high school drop out who had a wide range of jobs including mechanic, aviation technician, corporate mathematician, computer programmer, brain researcher, trauma surgeon and pilot. It was this eclectic set of skills that allowed him to successfully tackle such a complex problem, not the deeply specialist experience that tends to be encouraged in current climates but can lead to a narrow viewpoint
- Act – sometimes we perform better without a script. Robert Rodriguez made a film for just $7,000 dollars – an unheard of small amount for something that went on to make $2 million at the box office. When things went wrong while filming, the script adapted to suit the circumstances, with critical acclaim proving that Rodriguez had made the right decision to dive in instead of waiting for everything to be lined up perfectly. Sonenshein believes that we can often forget that the biggest determination of our performance is what we do, and not what we plan to do
- Mix it up – the power of unlikely combinations. The concept of gourmet trucks for foodies began in the US when Roy Choi replaced the traditional minced beef in a taco with Korean BBQ meat and then toured with his van, offering restaurant quality food with street food pricing. In its first year of operation it grossed $2 million in sales, and sparked an explosion in similar offerings
- Avoid injuries – get the right stretch. People who stretch aren’t pained to spend money – they just take pleasure in spending it wisely. Edward Wedbush, a multi-millionaire security and investment firm ran into trouble with the regulatory authorities when its founder refused to spend adequate funds on compliance and risk management – a virtue that became a vice
- Work out – like a muscle, our stretch gets stronger each time we use it. Stanford University research found that people are 81% more effective when it comes to devising novel and appropriate uses for resources while walking compared to sitting. Trying small exercises, like setting mid year resolutions as well as new year resolutions, can get you and your organisation moving towards a new goal
Stretching takes the concept of less is more and demonstrates how much we can achieve if we are constrained by either external forces or simply our own caution. Recognising that we need to flip our mindset from one of constant acquisition to one of doing more with less, is the basis of not only a more productive organisation, but a more enjoyable life too.
About the author
Scott Sonenshein is a professor of management at Rice University. His award winning research, teaching, and consulting has helped Fortune 500 executives, entrepreneurs, and professionals in industries such as technology, healthcare, retail, education, banking, manufacturing, and non-profits. He holds a PhD in management and organisations from the University of Michigan, an MPhil from the University of Cambridge, and a BA from the University of Virginia. He has also worked as a strategy consultant for companies such as AT&T and Microsoft and lived the rise and fall of the dotcom boom while working at a Silicon Valley startup.
“Rather than perpetually chasing after more (time, money and resources), the professor of management at Rice University illuminates the advantage of stretching to make more of what we already have. The result is a powerful framework of resourcefulness that allows us to capitalise on the power of constraints and perform better and more creatively in business and in life.” Forbes.com
“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
Author: Scott Sonenshein