Over the holidays, I got distracted while making caramel sauce. The melted sugar overflowed all over my stove and burned to the bottom of the pot. As I was cleaning up the mess, I tried several ways to remove the char. At one stage, my regular scrubber made no difference, but when I tried a scrubber with a slightly different texture, made of a coarser plastic, it worked like a charm.

It’s no surprise to hear that we need to use the right tool for the job. But sometimes we need precisely the right tool, not just a tool from the right category.

Yet in the spirit of embracing contradiction this January (2021 got crazier since I last wrote, in case you haven’t noticed…), I am also challenged by Scott Sonenshein in his book Stretch when he writes about the difference between an engineering approach and “stretching.” In the former, you search for a specific tool that has been precisely designed for the task you need. Stretchers use “bricolage” which “makes good use of the tools around, experimenting and testing the conventional limitations of what’s at hand.” (p.11) Sonenshein warns against the engineering approach, as too much time can be spent looking for the right tools rather than actually getting the work done.

He goes further, to suggest that bricolage should be our conscious choice and not just a last resort when our backs are against a wall. It leads us to being more adaptable.

In my time exploring nimble leadership, I’ve found it useful first to identify your default setting or starting point — do you tend to prefer a script or spontaneity? The answer tells you what direction in which to travel if you’re looking for greater balance. But the magic happens when we pair that self-insight with the discernment to know which approach is required in a given situation.

Sure, I could have rigged something homemade together to get that pot clean, but finding the perfect scrubber already sitting under my sink sure was handy!

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