Book Review: Stretch

Alex Banks Watson Supply Chain Consultant
Read Time: 3 minutes apprx.

In Stretch Scott Sonenshein argues that a lack of resources is far less of a handicap than usually thought. Rather, it forces us to take action based on what we have available to us right now, in terms of time frame, budget, workforce, and physical equipment. This is a refreshing concept when the gut response to many challenges is to worry that we don’t have enough time/money/people to do what needs to be done. The idea is to train yourself to move from being a ‘chaser’ (“If I only had…”) to a stretcher (“With what I’ve got now I can…”).

Sonenshein provides a wealth of great examples in the book of instances where constrained resources have led to better outcomes than otherwise – highly successful companies with a frugal culture, food trucks, non-experts who come to novel (and better) solutions.

In this post I want to examine the concepts that Sonenshein puts forth in the context of supply chain modeling and advanced analytics (for somewhat different reasons). Perhaps the central concept in Stretch is the counter-intuitive idea that more constraints can be a good thing because they can lead to more creative solutions. This translates directly into the world of analytics where in the majority of cases we don’t have perfect data. There’s always more we wish we had to help answer the question. The challenge, then, is to turn that attitude around and do as much as possible with the data that is available. Doing so has the advantage of returning an initial result sooner which can prioritize (or invalidate) the hunt for additional data if necessary.

In the framework of supply chain, stretching might mean thinking about your product flow in different ways. Supply chain managers often have quite a good stretching mindset – as a result supply chains have become far more efficient over the last few decades. On one hand, this is yet another example of frugality driving success. But in today’s market place there is also an increasing demand for high service. This calls for a new approach to problem solving – it might be time to think about what changes could be made to move in that direction without causing massive cost increases or network disruption.

Stretch highlights the value that outsiders can add to a project – fresh eyes see a problem from a different angle and in the context of an alternative set of experiences. Consider casting your net wider when staffing your next project – the book points at research that indicates that decisions made by more diverse teams (more people from different areas of the business and even beyond it) are usually stronger than those made by ‘perfect’ teams of experts.

I recommend Stretch as a tool to add context to the way you think about resources and problem solving. The case for being a ‘stretcher’ rather than a ‘chaser’ is a compelling one, and Stretch gives us the tools for the undertaking (Chapter 8: Avoiding injuries and Chapter 9: Exercises to strengthen a stretch are a practitioner’s guide to the concept). Sonenstein is empowering us all to do more with what we already have, from the personal level all the way up to the corporate or governmental.