Skip to main content

Book Review- Stretch by Scott Sonenshein

Have you ever watched, or been involved in, a business failure, where, despite the best efforts of hardworking people, the business doesn’t survive? Scott Sonenshein lived through it, as he describes in the Introduction to his engrossing book Stretch.  (In some books, the reader can skip the intro- not this one; the introduction is a must-read part of the book.) He was hired by start-up Vividence in Silicon Valley at the very apex of the tech boom.  Despite prestige VC backers, top-tier hires and $50 million, Vividence didn’t make it. As his career continued, that experience led to an interest in why some well-funded operations don’t succeed, while other, more resource constrained, do.
Peter Senge wrote about reinforcing cycles as part of his book The Fifth Discipline, which I consider one of the finest business books ever penned. In it, Senge describes the downward cycle that some companies fall into, and why it is so difficult to reverse. Sonenshein explores those cycles from different point of view-  an organization and resource perspective- and develops concepts for the reader to consider on how organizations – and individuals- can take a fresh look at resource availability and achieve much more success with fewer resources.
In full disclosure, I had the pleasure of working with Randi Sonenshein, Scott’s wife, who is a highly-accomplished executive in her on right (and a delightful person) and assisted Scott in writing Stretch. And I met Scott on a few occasions. (He is now a Professor of Management at Rice University). Further, while I wasn’t part of Silicon Valley, my employer at that time he was at Vividence was a product and service provider to numerous established tech firms as well as start-ups, and thereby I had a first-row seat as some of our customers flourished and some vanished. Those experiences clearly shape not just one’s thinking but entire career.
The core concept that the author develops is that of opposing approaches and mindsets: one that we might label as the conventional U.S. approach of more and better results are obtained by having or acquiring more or better resources. He labels that approach chasing, and the practitioners chasers. The alternative approach is stretching (and stretchers) which requires looking at the available resources in unique and thoughtful ways to get better results from better utilization.
Mr. Sonenshein explores those two viewpoints and the effect each has on society, enterprise and the individual. The book title likely gives away that he concludes that stretching is almost always better. The book is liberally peppered with examples of business leaders who’ve employed stretching to optimize resources. While some stretched from lack of an alternative – the beautiful example of young black woman Sarah Breedlove Walker, born in the post-Civil War-South, lifting herself, and then other black women, out of abject poverty by starting a business from almost nothing; other examples feature enterprises like D. G. Yuengling and Son, which could have afforded to devote additional resources to launch a growth strategy, but chose instead to stretch existing resources, acquire used equipment and the like. As opposed to some of its competition at the time – Sonenshein calls out Stroh brewery’s aggressive growth via acquisition strategy only to crash- Yuengling remains as America’s oldest continually operating brewery.
In closing chapters, he provides various techniques to examine existing resources to ferret out alternative uses, warns of traps to avoid, and how stretching as individuals can lead to personal growth.
Stretch is not only useful, it is an entertaining read.

I totally enjoyed it, and it goes in my personal library of business books worth keeping as a reference. Probably next to The Fifth Discipline.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Book Review: What Matters Now by Gary Hamel

Interview of Eric Schmidt by Gary Hamel at the MLab dinner tonight. Google's Marissa Mayer and Hal Varian also joined the open dialog about Google's culture and management style, from chaos to arrogance. The video just went up on YouTube. It's quite entertaining. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Cover of The Future of ManagementMy list of must-read business writers continues to expand.Gary Hamel, however, author of What Matters Now, with the very long subtitle of How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation, has been on the list for quite some time.Continuing his thesis on the need for a new approach to management introduced in his prior book The Future of Management, Hamel calls for a complete rethinking of how enterprises are run.

Fundamental to his recommendation is that the practice of management is ossified in a command and control system that is now generations old and needs to be replaced with something that reflects an educat…

7 Ways to Fix Your Gut and Help Your Brain

Author Peter Andrey Smith titled his article on the relationship of the brain to the intestines, and, in particular, the tiny creatures that live in our intestine beautifully: “The tantalizing links between gut microbes and the brain”. If the human brain is the frontier of medical science, the microbiome, those tiny creatures that live in our intestinal tract, is Jupiter. The linkage between what goes on in the gut and the brain is indeed tantalizing, and the subject of research worldwide. There are over 1,000 different kinds of those things living inside us. There are hints that having the wrong mix of gut microbes, or the absence of any particular type, is linked to asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and more. Further, antibiotics, illnesses and other factors can deplete the population. Here are seven things we can do to help keep our little creatures happy and healthy.
Eat the right stuff. There is evidence that the right diet helps keep …

Get REM Sleep; Manage Fear

A good night’s sleep may help you manage fear and risks better.

A study just posted in Journal of Neuroscience describes the importance of a good night’s sleep to controlling strong emotions, especially fear. Previous studies in this area attempted to discover what happens in the brain after a frightful experience.  These prior studies, for example, show how Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects sleep. A team at the Rutgers University Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, led by Itamar Lerner, has taken a different approach. They wanted to see if there is a relationship between adequate sleep and prevention or management of the brain’s reaction to subsequent stressful events. Research Team Lerner is a Postdoctoral Fellow in sleep research. Along with fellow researchers Neha Sinha-also doing Postdoctoral research-in her case in brain imaging, Shira Lupkin and Alan Tsai, they used new technology that allows mobile tracking of sleep habits over a period of time, not j…