Semper Gumby

Several years ago I worked with a team that adopted the slogan “Semper Gumby.” Borrowing the Latin word “Semper” from the U.S. Marine’s motto meaning “Always,” we added “Gumby” to fill out the meaning “Always Flexible.” The idea first came up as a joke after a client had asked for yet another change in the program of services this team was offering. We later came to realize that the nimble flexibility the team provided this client was precisely why they did business with them. They saw flexibility as a differentiating strength.

Making it Personal

The first year we lived in China, one of the veterans of overseas living said to me, “to be successful living in Asia, you have to be willing to live with ambiguity.” He was right. I learned that the more of my western expectations I was able to let go, the more I enjoyed the experience of living there and the more I learned. Put another way, the more flexible I was, the more I was able to grow. We saw some people who came to live and serve who lacked flexibility. Their brittleness quickly became brokenness.

Ambiguity and Flexibility are similar in meaning. Ambiguity means, “the quality of being open to more than one interpretation, inexactness. Flexibility means, “capable of bending easily without breaking; ready and able to change so as to adapt to different circumstances.”

Microsoft developed a list of education competencies, one of them is “Dealing with Ambiguity.” They define that as: “Can effectively cope with change; can shift gears comfortably; can decide and act without having the total picture; can comfortably handle risk and uncertainty.”

If you’re familiar with the “True Colors” personality types, the above definition sounds like an Orange through and through. Our youngest son is an Orange. Ambiguity is his friend. He just returned from a three week trip to Europe with two of his high school buddies. They planned the trip almost as they went. He loved it.

Only 27% of the global population are Orange. Well over half of us have a personality type that prefers a more steady, measured approach to life. We don’t necessarily welcome change as a friend. On the other hand, most of us would acknowledge there are things we would like to get better at. We would like to grow. There is a well-known saying, “if you’re not growing, you’re dying” that has a lot of truth to it. Jack Welch put it this way, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”

What Can We Do?

When you get up in the morning, or when you’re about to do something strenuous, what do you do? You stretch. Stretching loosens your muscles so you can use them without damaging them because they become more flexible.

The same thing is true with our minds. We can stretch them to become more flexible which will allow for growth. One simple stretch exercise I’ve done with people involves a mug. I pick up a white mug that has a logo on one side. I show it to the person or group across from me and ask them to describe it. From their point of view it’s a white mug with a handle on the left. When they’re done describing it, I disagree with them and describe the mug from my perspective. I describe the logo and the fact that the handle is on the right. You get the idea. We’re both right, it’s a matter of point of view. To expand on this idea, try using your imagination to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” Imagine what it must be like to be (fill in the blank).

Stretching means getting out of our comfort zones. If you’re an analytical type, read some poetry. If you’re poetic, do some math!

In his book, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, John C. Maxwell writes about “The Law of the Rubber Band – Growth stops when you lose the tension between where you are and where you could be.”

Let’s stretch!

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