September 2009 :: Gumby Never Pulled a Hamstring

large_gumbyThis past year I started practicing yoga.

During a recent session, as my left hamstring was about to snap, I remember thinking, “Man, I wish I was more flexible; I wish I was Gumby flexible”.

How flexible are you?

How flexible is your firm?

Are either you or your firm continuing to do things because “that’s the way it’s always been?”

How flexible are you?

How flexible is your firm?

Are either you or your firm continuing to do things because “that’s the way it’s always been?”

When I was a kid I used to hate when my parents gave me the lame excuse of “that’s just the way it is.” Was it always that way? Is there any possibility that at one time it was different? Then the ever nagging question, WHY is it that way?

Picture this. It’s a warm summer day and you’re in the country. You’re out for a long, leisurely walk along a set of railroad tracks that have long been forgotten.

You look down at the tracks and you think, “Why are the tracks spaced apart just so?” Every railroad I have ever been on in any part of the world, save a narrow gauge rail car traveling up the Swiss Alps, has had the same distance between the rails.

You chalk this up to “that’s just the way it is,” and by this time your mind has wandered off in another direction.

But not so fast, why are the tracks this way?

The standard rail gauge (the distance between the rails) is 4 feet 8.5 inches. Not 4 feet 8 inches…..4 feet 8.5 inches.

Why, you ask.

Well, that’s the same way the English built them, and since they had the lease on America for a while, that would answer that.

Except why did the English build them that way?

Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

Why did they use that very same gauge?

Well, it seems that the folks that built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons. The wagons had the same wheel spacing because if they had any other spacing, the wagons would break on some of the old, long distance roads because that’s the spacing of the old existing wheel ruts.

Who exactly built those old rutted roads? The first long distance roads in Europe were built by Imperial Rome for the benefit of their legions. Those roads have been used ever since.

What about the ruts? The initial ruts were first made by Roman war chariots. Since these chariots were made for or by Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the way that the wheels were spaced.

Finally we have the answer to the original question. The U.S. standard of railroad gauge of 4 feet 8.5 inches derives from the original specs used for the Imperial Roman Army war chariot.

And the reason for the spacing of the wheels on those chariots? It seems that those chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back-ends of two war horses!

Too often we are passing along inflexible policies, procedures and doctrines to our employees or clients without questioning or understanding the reasons why.

Frequently these ‘legacy ways’ can lead to strained relationships.

Gumby-like flexibility means the willingness to step back and challenge assumptions. To question the origins of some long-standing philosophies; philosophies that might be in need of updating, revising or discarding.

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