This One Idea Will Change Your Approach to Everything

If you don’t know what you don’t have, you make do. Growing up we “made do”, a lot. My wonderful single mother raised us 6 kids by working multiple jobs and instilling in us a “Get it Done” attitude. It didn’t matter what it was, if it was to be done, she did it or “helped” us do it. We learned to take the same approach. The question of how was never raised. We were expected to figure it out.

We worked a lot as a family. My mom “made” us do chores daily, not just on Saturday. And of course Saturdays were brutal. Ask my only two friends. They never came over until at least noon, just so they could be spared the experience (maybe I should have had better friends). Getting a job outside the home at age 11 cleaning horse stalls at a local boarding stable was a relief, and so much easier than working at home. The same with mowing lawns, bagging groceries, babysitting, moving irrigation pipe, flipping burgers, shoveling snow, milking cows, and whatever else I did. Even now, I look back and can’t think of any work that I have done that was more difficult than those “chores.” Besides working hard, we learned to work smart (creative?) in order to get everything done.

How do you weed the nastiest weeds in the yard and garden without a spade/shovel/gloves? With your fingers. How do you hang seemingly endless walls worth of picture frames without a screwdriver? With a butter knife. How do you make cereal? Pour some milk over a couple slices of bread. Etc…

Constraints help us succeed. Using resources productively is the ultimate sign of success. Deadlines are a great motivator for procrastinators. Competitive athletes need to win whatever the scoring method is. You never know what you will do to survive, until you have no other options. Necessity brings out ingenuity.

Even though we never have everything we want, often we have much more than we realize.

Mindset Shift

Scott Sonenshein is a professor of management at Rice University. His consults major enterprises with his innovative research and unique findings. Professor Sonenshein decided to put some of his best work into a new book called ‘Stretch’. I love this book.  Get your copy here. The 9 chapters are full of exceptional stories and scientific proof to help you succeed. (Chapter 4 is my favorite)

In the book he shows us how some people succeed with so little, while others fail when they have so much.

It all comes down to your mindset.

Chasing vs. Stretching

You don’t realize what you don’t have until one of two things happen: You REALLY need it or you see someone else with something, and then you want it.

Chasing is about social comparisons. We compare ourselves to others and then we convince ourselves that we need what they have. It leads to despair and too much energy being spent chasing things that do not bring in real value.

“Chasing makes people miserable.”

In order to perform better and be more creative we need to stretch ourselves. Even though having the right amount of money can help, when it runs out most people don’t know what to do. Even though having the right tool can make any job easier, when you don’t have the right tool, most people can’t get the job done. This is what it means to Stretch: To get the job done, no matter what resources are available. Stretching is about using what you have to make your circumstance better. Stretching is not making excuses, it is finding ways to succeed.

4 Ways to Become a Stretcher (from the book)

1.    Broaden Experiences – a variety of experiences allows us to break convention by using resources in new ways. Spontaneity sponsors creativity. Goals are achieved as action is taken.

2.    Act Without Planning – take action, plan as you go. Planning is a good way to impose artificial constraints.   Action almost always wins. Take action first, plan along the way.

3.    Erase Negative Expectations – we often assume the worst. It is a good tool to stay alive, a bad trait for increased innovation and performance. We receive what we expect. As we expect the best from others, we in turn will receive better outcomes.

4.    Create Unthinkable Combinations – the best inventions and ideas are created when two previously unrelated items get combined together. Often our ability to create is limited by artificial boundaries. We separate work and home, family and friends, health and relaxing. By combining previously uncombined areas of our lives we open the door to more combinations and greater productivity.

We have enough. More is not the answer. More time, more stuff, more resources. More can help us, but more is not the solution in and of itself.

Instead of trying to get more, we should focus on using what we already have. Stop chasing. Start stretching. Scott Sonenhshein wrote a book filled with tons of data and real life stories that will help us all succeed by learning to stretch. I recommend reading it. The basic message is:

“What you do with what you have matters more than what you have.”

In conclusion here is Professor Sonenshein’s giving us much needed motivation and inspiration:

“You already have everything you need to succeed in business and life, ready for you to unlock and activate. Stop worrying about what you don’t have, and appreciate what you do have. Think and act as if success is possible, then unleash your creativity to get there.”

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