Stop Chasing and Start Stretching
John F. Dowling
In 1985, Dick Yuengling took over the family beer business due to the failing health of his father. During that time, three major brewers controlled 70% of the US Domestic beer market. Yuengling’s share was 0.065%. Some independent brewers gave up and sold off to larger competitors. Other smaller brewers followed the M&A strategy to get bigger and chase the big 3 (Anheuser- Busch, Miller & Stroh’s).
However, Dick decided to stretch instead of chase. He created a brilliant marketing strategy based on the economic laws of scarcity. Instead of trying to penetrate every market in the US, he picked just a few. Hence, the legend of having friends and re.latives purchase and ship Yuengling to those who did not have access was born. The scarcity strategy worked. And when demand outstripped the capacity of his brewery, Dick did not waste resources building brand new plants, instead he utilized the now vacant breweries of his former competitors. Today, Forbes estimates Dick’s wealth at $2 billion.
Stretching is a concept created by and the subject of Dr. Scott Sonenshein’s latest book, STRETCH. Dr. Sonenshein is the Henry Gardiner Symonds Professor of Management at Rice University. The problem statement that Scott addresses and solves with practical information in an easy to read format is, “We routinely overestimate the importance of acquiring resources but even more significantly underestimate our ability to make more out of those we have.”
Another example of one of the tenets of Stretching comes to us in the inspirational story of Phil Hansen. Phil was a talented artist, even as an adolescent. As a teenager, he became obsessed with the art of pointillism. Pointillism is the style of art that uses small dots to create a larger image when viewed from a distance. However, as time went on Phil’s right hand began to shake uncontrollably. His neurologist told him that he had permanent nerve damage. Instead of chasing some unknown medical cure or giving up on his dream of becoming an artist, Phil decided to stretch his imagination.
Phil Hansen first embraced the shake. He started making art from a series of squiggly lines instead of dots. He made art by dipping his feet in paint. He made art by coating his shaky hand with paint and karate chopping a canvas. Phil Hansen stretched his limitations to become more creative and more productive instead of chasing a cure or quitting art and succumbing to his former limited resources and capability to make art. Phil Hansen was the official artist of the 2009 Grammy Awards.
Far from the Grammy Awards in literal outer space was the problem that had to be solved by NASA of fixing the failed Hubbell telescope as it traveled through space and sending back fuzzy pictures after almost two decades and billions of dollars spent in development. NASA utilized a stretching technique of recognizing the value of knowing a little about a lot. One of their own employees was a self- made MacGyver on steroids, figuratively speaking. Story Musgrave was a high school dropout who worked in highway equipment maintenance. When that job dried up, he joined the marines and started fixing aviation equipment and then airplanes. Story dreamed of becoming a pilot but he could not without a college degree.
Story Musgrave convinced the Dean at Syracuse University to give him a break on his application. He graduated with a degree in mathematics and statistics, but that was just the beginning. Story also earned an MBA from UCLA, a degree in Chemistry from Marietta College, an MS in Physiology and Biophysics from Kentucky, an MA in Literature from the University of Houston and MD from Columbia University. He became a mathematician, computer programmer, pilot, and trauma surgeon before joining NASA. Story Musgrave was not an Astronaut or Rocket Scientist, but all his talents made him the perfect fixer of the Hubble telescope, which he did.
My top 3 takeaways from STRETCH are:
- When faced with a new challenge, first try Stretching resources instead of chasing new ones.
- Stretching leads to more creative solutions, chasing leads to dependency on more resources.
- “The value of knowing a little about a lot” was reinforced by an insurance industry study showing that employees with a more diverse out of work lifestyle were more resourceful at work.
Now, go Stretch!