Educate July 2018

“Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less – and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined”


Written By: Sharon B. Brown, Prospect Analyst, University of Florida Office of Advancement

Let’s say you have a problem at work. Which of the following choices seem better to you?

  1. Invest time and money gathering resources and subject matter experts to make plans and then take the first step.
  2. Bring all your staff together, no matter what department they work in, and jump right into brainstorming solutions with no planning at all.

Author Scott Sonenshein would have us choose option B. In “Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less — and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined,” he advocates for acting resourcefully and creatively, citing numerous examples and case studies to prove his point that “stretching” leads to better results.

To Sonenshein, the opposite of stretching is chasing. And the chasing mindset is, by definition, unsatisfying. There will always be more to chase, and you’ll never get there. It’s like the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality — it will never be enough. Stretching, on the other hand, can be incredibly fulfilling. Using what you have on hand to achieve goals just feels better than throwing money at the problem. It’s empowering and gratifying to know you can rely on yourself in most situations.

One of the first stories in the 2017 book is about D.G. Yuengling and Son, America’s oldest brewery. After reading the story of stretching, patience and perseverance, you can’t help but applaud what the company has accomplished. Its leader’s motto is the essence of stretching: “Work with what you have and make the most of it.”

Sonenshein writes a lot about constraints. The word “constraint” conjures up some negative images and feelings — and we all generally rebel against limitations. But, he argues that embracing and cultivating constraints leads to increased creativity and problem-solving. To my surprise and amusement, he references “MacGyver” (the original TV show) to explain this. Even though I didn’t watch the show, I’m well aware that the character was a master at using whatever he had on hand to “craft clever solutions.” It’s a good example, even if it is a fictional one. It is possible to achieve great things and get out of seemingly impossible jams through stretching and resourcefulness.

Sonenshein has a Ph.D. in organizational behavior. If this is your wheelhouse, you’ll probably love all the studies he references. Some were more interesting than others, but they all work to reinforce his positions. One example that stood out to me showed that it’s not necessarily better to call in the experts when facing a major problem. It may seem counterintuitive, but people who have little-to-no expertise in a particular area are actually more likely to come up with solutions than experts are. Leaders should remember this the next time they feel the need to hire a consultant to solve an issue. Instead, try turning to your own people, especially those outside of the department in trouble.

The chapter called “The Problem with Planning” may make you nervous…stop planning? How will you get through your day without your orchestrated schedule? Well, if you want to be more creative, you may want to follow this advice, do a little less planning and allow yourself to stretch in different directions. Sonenshein is not advocating that you never plan but rather that you stay loose and allow for inspiration and better use of resources.

Have you heard of the “multi-C” or multi-context rule? It’s interesting — the more experiences you have, the more divergent thinking you can do about how to approach problems. So, cast a wide net and indulge your curiosity on different subjects. When the time comes to stretch and be resourceful, you’ll be able to draw from different ideas and use them creatively.

Back to planning. Sonenshein also has a chapter called “Time to Act.” Action leads to learning, which adds to your experiences, whereas planning doesn’t lead to anything until you take that first step. Just like physical stretching, stretchers are flexible. Sonenshein advocates for flexible thinking, taking action and making adjustments along the way — pay attention and learn as you go. It works!

“Stretch” is a thought-provoking book loaded with stories and studies. I consider myself resourceful, so I completely embrace Sonenshein’s ideas and aim to become even more of a stretcher. It’s fun and satisfying, and it’s a habit that can be applied at work and at home. I encourage you to take a look at this book and incorporate stretching into your daily routines.

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SHARON BROWN is a Prospect Strategy Analyst with the University of Florida Office of Advancement. A graduate of UF’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, she is happy to have found a career that marries reading, writing and being curious. She and her husband, also a CLAS alum, live in Gainesville.

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