Summary Written by Sharon McGann
"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."

- Stretch, page 4

The Big Idea

Engineering or Bricolage?

"he engineering approach … involves searching for a specific tool. The bricolage approach …makes effective use of the tools around, experimenting and testing the conventional limitations of what’s at hand."- Stretch, page 11

Sonenshein quotes French anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss, in making the comparison between engineers who spend time and effort looking for the ‘perfect’ tool, and bricoleurs, who make the most of what they have. Engineers (and many facilitators) love to have toolboxes full of the latest tools and techniques, while bricoleurs love to fix problems with whatever they have at hand.

One of the main benefits of the bricolage approach, according to Sonenshein, is “a more enjoyable life because it calms us with what we already have and teaches us to use what we have in better ways.”

The message is to choose to bricolage, if not always, at least for a greater proportion of your time.

Insight #1

The Perils of Planning

"Planning serves us well when the future is predictable, but it also leads us astray at times. By shifting to acting and becoming better observers of our surroundings, we develop skills to improvise with what we have at hand."- Stretch, page 122

Sonenshein discusses the benefits of planning, and some of the pitfalls—especially our tendency to make questionable assumptions and then rely on them as if they were fact. He encourages us to focus more on the present and to act, and then gather real-time information about our performance, rather than spending more time imagining the future.

Sonenshein also describes the differences in our mental regulatory modes. This psychological theory compares those of us who use a planning (or assessment) mode to achieve goals, versus those of us who use an acting (locomotion) mode. In acting mode, we are most concerned about getting a result, whereas in planning mode, we are concerned about getting the ‘right’ result. Over-reliance on the planning mode can stifle action if we become focused creating the ‘perfect plan’, instead of creating an adequate one.

Research indicates that we can use some deceptively simple questions to change our regulatory mode:

Name something you need to do, and note how likely you are to act on it tomorrow. Then write down examples of a time when:

  • You compared yourself with other people
  • You thought about your positive and negative characteristics
  • You critiqued work done by others or yourself

When you are finished writing out your answers, summarize how you feel—positive, neutral or negative? More or less likely to act?

Then ask yourself to write examples of a time when:

  • You acted like a ‘doer’
  • You finished one project and didn’t wait long before you started a new one
  • You decided to do something and you couldn’t wait to get started

Summarize how you feel—positive, neutral or negative? More or less likely to take action?

Ideally, your feelings and the likelihood of action went up a bit when you asked the second set of questions.

If you are a bit of a procrastinator or perfectionist, ask yourself the second set of questions repeatedly for a few weeks and keep the answers visible—and then take some small action towards a desired goal, whether you feel ready or not.

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Insight #2

Are You Frugal, or Just Cheap?

"Frugal people take pleasure in saving and cheap people feel pained by spending."- Stretch, page 176

I was intrigued to read about the very different emotional responses of those who are frugal compared to those who are cheap. As someone who once realized that I call everything over $100 “expensive,” I have tended to err on the ‘cheap’ side—and then regretted it, especially when cheap products fall apart. Instead of asking “what’s the cheapest way to do this?”, a better question might be, “how can I spend my money wisely and get the best [value] from my purchase?”

Another reframing question, which I already use is: “Yes, I know I want this but do I really need this? What do I already have that I could get some more use out of first?”

A harder and even more valuable question is to ask: “What am I not spending money on now, that if I did, would save me money in the future?” A personal example is going to the chiropractor monthly. I’ve learned from bitter experience that if I leave it until I have an injury, it usually requires 3-4 visits, but if I visit my Chiro monthly, then I don’t seem to have these acute injuries and thus it costs less over a year.

The main messages of this book—whether you want a better life or a better business—rest on one critical condition: you must act. To assist in acting, Sonenshein provides a dozen exercises at the back of the book to strengthen our ‘stretch’ muscles.

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Scott Sonenshein

Scott Sonenshein is the Henry Gardiner Symonds 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 organizations 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.

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