Stretch Summary and Review

by Scott Sonenshein

Has Stretch by Scott Sonenshein been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary.

People tend to equate success with getting more. It’s taken for granted that bigger is better. As a result, we spend our lives chasing rewards, trying to accumulate resources and desiring what others have.

There are obvious drawbacks to this outlook when it comes to happiness and peace, but the truth is it’s not even a recipe for success. In reality, you’re much better off focusing on what you can accomplish with what you’ve already got.

That’s why you should adopt a new perspective. This book summary explain why you should forget about chasing, and start thinking about stretching.

In this summary of Stretch by Scott Sonenshein, you’ll learn

  • how to stretch your resources to the limit;
  • why planning isn’t necessarily good; and
  • how your self-expectations influence your success.

Stretch Key Idea #1: It’s easy to get lost chasing what others have.


If you saw your neighbor driving home in a shiny new car, how would it make you feel? For most people, the sight might cause a pang of jealousy. After all, the entire human conception of success is based on having better stuff than others. This habit is called chasing and it pushes us to pursue things we don’t actually need.

For instance, researchers at Vanderbilt University found that people literally tend to perceive their neighbor’s lawn as greener than their own.

It may be a cliché, but, in the popular imagination, a healthy green lawn means success and prosperity. The desire for such status symbols is in fact so powerful that people work tirelessly to have the best lawn in the neighborhood. However, the results are often for naught: Meticulously manicuring your lawn necessarily means diverting resources from what makes you truly happy!

So what’s the solution?

Well, on the other end of the spectrum from chasing is what’s called the stretcher mindset. In a nutshell, it refers to focusing on what you want to accomplish with the resources at your disposal.

In order to have a stretcher mindset, the first step is to feel assured that you’re in control. For example, say you work in a clothing store. Retail can be soul crushing, but by simply imagining yourself as the owner of the store you can boost your confidence in an instant.

Just thinking that you’re in charge of the circumstances will help you seize the reins and tap into your creativity.

Beyond that, staying mindful of the situation at hand and the resources at your disposal will compel you to be creative with what you’ve got. In other words, you’ll have to recognize your limits and, once you know what you can and can’t do, you’ll be able to creatively pursue the options before you. That’s why studies have found that teams with a deadline or budget produce better results than those with more open-ended parameters.

Stretch Key Idea #2: Outsiders are often more innovative than experts.

When making an important decision, whether it’s choosing a new IT system at the office or a medical treatment for an illness in the family, people tend to place their trust in experts.

However, experts aren’t always the most reliable people. In fact, traditional experts often don’t have the best perspective. For instance, in 20 years of analyzing political issues, the psychologist Phil Tetlock found that experts aren’t any better at predicting future events than your average person, regardless of their professional experience. Whether people were liberal or conservative, optimistic or pessimistic, the results were the same. In most cases, the experts and non-experts offered comparable prognoses.

In fact, professional experience can actually be a hindrance. As people gain experience, they also become stuck in their knowledge, unable to move past conventional approaches.

As a result, outsiders tend to overshadow experts. Outsiders are newcomers to a field, people who lack deep experience. Naturally, you can’t be a newcomer at all times, but you can think like an outsider. It’s as easy as following four steps:

First, explore the world and experience new things that help you see them from a different angle. For example, if you’re a political expert, you might go to a musical, watch a cartoon or do something that’s entirely unrelated to the political world.

But you also need to stay in touch with what you already know, which is the second step. Of course, you can’t know everything about your field, so work to share your ideas with others, seeking feedback and learning as you go.

From there you can move on to the third step: looking for solutions outside of your own domain. The design company IDEO offers a good example. They have an open office in which employees hear about the problems and innovations of other departments, thereby inspiring them to find solutions to their own problems.

And finally, whatever ideas and innovations you do develop, it’s key to constantly test your assumptions, expecting that most of them will fail.

Stretch Key Idea #3: Planning may make us feel safe but it can also block out valuable information.

Whether it’s for a summer vacation or a work project, most people love having a plan. Planning offers a comfortable roadmap to follow, ensuring that we’ll achieve the best results. But there’s a downside, too. Planning can also cause us to miss out on all kinds of beneficial things.

Often, people learn more by acting than by planning.

For instance, the Stanford professor Kathy Eisenhardt found that executive teams who make more rapid-fire decisions tend to collect more information and generate more alternatives than those with long and detailed plans. That’s because quick-acting teams focus on the present, working with real-time information about their work and competition. Planners, on the other hand, tend to spend most of their time and energy trying to figure out what the future might look like.

Beyond that, planning can cause us to miss valuable information that’s right in front of our eyes. After all, burying your head in project planning can make it difficult to notice your surroundings.

Just take an experiment by the psychologist Malcolm Brenner. Brenner asked participants to speak and listen simultaneously. He found that, as it came time for a subject to speak, it was common for her to block out outside information. She directed her energy to what she was planning to say. The same thing happened as participants finished speaking. They would reflect on what they had said, missing how others were reacting to their words. Simply put, whether it’s for a project or for what to say next, planning causes us to miss out on the world unfolding around us.

That’s why, instead of planning, stretchers embrace improvisation as the key to progress. After all, when we improvise, we free ourselves up to move and use resources in the most efficient way. We can bend, stretch and position ourselves relative to challenges in the world, making the actions we take all the more effective.

Stretch Key Idea #4: Low expectations can hamper your relationship to others and yourself.

People often act as we expect they will – a fact that can have a major effect on our interpersonal interactions. Expectations influence experience, and they can define relationships, too.

Our expectations are essentially images of people or things that we haven’t yet encountered. Just imagine a new employee joins your company. You haven’t so much as spoken to him but your coworker assures you that he’s a jerk. When you do meet this new colleague, you’ll likely treat him differently than if you hadn’t heard anything about him.

However, expectations shape more than just first impressions. They also direct feelings in ongoing relationships. Consider the example above. Now that you have a bad impression of your new officemate, you might send him signals that express these negative feelings. As you ask him rude questions or adopt a cold tone when speaking with him, you’ll eventually lead him to view you as a jerk as well.

So expectations can damage your relationships with others, but the expectations you hold about yourself can also affect the way you handle challenging situations. That’s because having lower expectations about your abilities will lead you to see challenges as threats, making it harder for you to rise to the occasion.

Such a mindset can have a pretty bad effect. Being scared or mistrusting your ability will lead to hesitation and passivity. As a result, when faced with a challenge – say, the chance to give a speech at a conference – you’ll shrink away from the opportunity. Instead of welcoming a new experience, you’ll block yourself and choose to remain passive instead.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Stretchers know that you can overcome such obstacles by developing positive self-expectations, leading to a transformation that allows you to see challenges as opportunities. If you regard that speech as an opportunity to demonstrate your skills at the podium, you’ll not only take on the task, you’ll also gain new skills and open up greater resources for future growth.

Stretch Key Idea #5: A dose of creativity and a willingness to collaborate can boost your success.

Whether it’s a morning coffee ritual or an evening stroll, everyday routines give you a structure that helps you accomplish more things in a shorter time. That being said, people also tend to see routines as boring and inflexible.

So how can you get the most out of your routine without letting it bog you down?

It’s simple, actually: add a touch of creativity. This will help you transform the way you understand your routine and the way it functions. Stretchers do this on a regular basis by mixing up combinations in their routine work. In other words, you can do the same exact things every day and, as long as your individuality shines through, always feel that your work is new and exciting.

For instance, you could probably get your kid’s lunch ready for school on autopilot. But if you adopt a stretcher mindset, you might think to add a little note to your son’s lunch, wishing him a great day. This little touch of creativity will make him happier and get you out of your routine without disrupting your day.

Injecting a dose of creativity can do wonders for a stretcher and a similar approach can be used to challenge your assumptions about competitors. For most people, competitors are there to be beaten. But this outlook isn’t necessarily conducive to coexisting with competitors. A better strategy is to treat them like friends.

Working to beat the competition may be a great motivation, but it’s not as good as working together. Just take the professors Paul Ingram and Peter Roberts, both of whom studied hotel managers. They found that managers who were friends with their competitors brought in 15 percent more revenue than those without other manager friends.

These friendships positively impacted the work of the managers by giving them greater access to knowledge about their field and prospective clients. It’s just one more reason to break down mental barriers, get creative and focus on building relationships.

Stretch Key Idea #6: Becoming a stretcher also means holding back.

Now that you’ve got a sense of what it takes to be a successful stretcher, it’s time for another important lesson: how to avoid overstretching. Without this knowledge about how to keep yourself in check, you’ll risk injuring yourself or others. To stay safe, just avoid these common mistakes:

The first way that people tend to overstretch is by becoming a cheapskate. For instance, while carefully managing your resources is key to being a stretcher, there’s a limit to how far you can go. Remember, the difference between being economical and being a cheapskate is that the former saves to invest in something meaningful while the latter is scared of spending any money at all.

The second risk is that of spreading yourself too thin or looking in too many directions at once. To avoid going down paths that have nothing to offer, you should make your career your number-one priority. Become a specialist in your field and learn everything you can about it. Once you’ve established that base, you can begin exploring new ideas.

Third, keep in mind that changes can often be helpful, but only after you’ve properly analyzed the past. Without this reflection, you risk leaping without learning. In other words, failure is a great way to learn, but only if you properly consider what went wrong. For instance, if your business goes bankrupt, you should certainly prepare to found a new one, but only after you understand why your first attempt went belly up.

Fourth, while you know now that having high expectations can foster confidence and courage, having unrealistically high expectations is a recipe for disaster. Nobody expects to run a marathon after their first jog, so be realistic about your goals. Otherwise, you’ll risk disappointment at every turn, no matter how much you succeed.

And, finally, when mixing up your routine, make sure that you strike a balance between novelty and usefulness. Without a good mix of the two, you’ll be in danger of producing a toxic mixture that will kill innovation.

Stretch Key Idea #7: A mental workout is part of maintaining a strong and focused mind.

As people age, they start to learn that working out is necessary to avoid injuries, and the same goes for stretchers. But instead of hitting the gym, the ticket here is to work on balance, specifically between your existing resources and your exploration of new things.

Look around and identify the resources you have at your disposal but haven’t used. This can turn up all kinds of gems. For instance, a recent Indiana University study found that the most important scientific papers were “sleeping beauties,” papers that were published but forgotten.

Identifying your own sleeping beauties is crucial. You’ve got to ask the right question, namely, what personal resources, skills, connections or ideas have you left unused? Make a list of all these resources along with their potential to help you advance an objective and you’ll have a good sense of where to focus.

Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to explore new things. Just set aside a few hours each week to read something new, go to a workshop or spend time working with new colleagues. You never know what kind of ideas you’ll stumble upon.

But flexing those balancing muscles won’t be effective if you don’t also take breaks to be grateful for all the hard work you’ve done. After all, too much concentration can be a disaster for creativity.

If you feel overwhelmed by your work, you should take a breather. Get out of the office. Spend some casual time with a client. Take an afternoon stroll. This last one is great because it’s simple and effective. A group of Stanford University psychologists even found that people who take a walk during their breaks are 81 percent more efficient compared to those who sit.

Another great way to decompress is by spending time reflecting on what you’re grateful for. This can be as simple as setting aside time once a week to write down five things in your life that make you feel gratitude. This will help you see the overall picture, and remind you what it is you’re stretching toward.

In Review: Stretch Book Summary

The key message in this book:

You have all the resources you need to be successful right in front of you, it’s just a matter of identifying and prioritizing them. So, rather than chasing after what other people have, focus on what you’ve got and expand from there. Look at things like a newcomer, beware the pitfalls of planning, get creative with your routine, be sure not to overstretch and engage in some mental workouts. And when you need a breather, remember what you’re grateful for.

Actionable advice:

Take a moment to reflect.

The next time you find yourself rushing into a new project, take a few days off for a trip. Get out of your environment and break free from your routine. By taking this space, you’ll be able to reflect on what you learned from your last project, how your plan went and whether having a plan for this project even makes sense.