Since he was first introduced in the 1950’s television classic Howdy Doody, pop culture icon Gumby has certainly got his groove on.
The limber green Claymation character, accompanied by trusty talking red pony sidekick Pokey, scored two television shows and a full-length feature movie. Eddie Murphy parodied him as a high-maintenance Groucho Marx-type celebrity on Saturday Night Live in the 1980’s. New generations have discovered him via reruns on Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and YouTube. No matter what he encountered during his time traveling adventures, Gumby rolled with the punches and moved on.
In many ways, Gumby is a role model for flexibility — literally. And with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing people to become more agile than ever before, we can learn a lot about resilience from his example. It all starts by realizing that when things change, you get to choose your reaction.
“When circumstances change, you really have two choices,” explained Consultant, Coach and Keynote Speaker Dorie Clark, who was recognized as the #1 Communication Coach in the world by the Marshall Goldsmith Leading Global Coaches Awards. “One is to change and hopefully use it as an opportunity to get to an even better place to learn things and become more successful, or you stand still and shake your fist at the sky, which usually doesn’t go very well.”
Sure, scientists have talked about the potential for pandemics for years. But they seemed to be the fodder of scary movies or documentaries, incidents that happened elsewhere which were ultimately resolved by brilliant, highly telegenic heroes. Then 2020 rolled around and all bets were off.
“The pandemic was such a dramatically unexpected and wide-ranging problem. We’re more accustomed to localized disasters that affect one region or a general recession, but aside from some layoffs, most things proceed as normal,” continued Clark. “This has been the most wholesale disruption of multiple aspects any of us have seen in our lifetime, of interpersonal relationships, travel, work habits, our economic security and how our economy and supply chain function.”
Despite an unknown future though, people can learn how to pivot for whatever comes next. Building your resiliency muscles, becoming more open to change and adapting quickly is essential. Clark advises using those experiences as a springboard to learn new things, potentially putting yourself in even better position than before.
The Resiliency Whisper
Clark puts her money where her mouth is. She learned how to pivot quickly after being laid off from a political reporting job at a newspaper on September 10, 2001. Needless to say, her plans to start looking for a job the next day didn’t go as planned.
Six months later she moved from journalism to political communications and then following several campaign defeats, reinvented herself as a nonprofit executive director. Then in 2006, she decided to become an entrepreneur and didn’t look back.
She wrote best-selling books about branding and reinvention and delivered speeches around the world. Teaching executive education at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Columbia Business School, Clark also consulted for major corporations, did executive coaching at the individual level, and ran online courses, in-person workshops and year-long mastermind groups.
When the pandemic struck, it wasn’t business as usual. Travel came to a stand-still. Clark was used to being on the road 50% of the time delivering presentations and keynote speeches. In April 2020, she was scheduled to speak in Russia, Egypt, Texas, Virginia and British Columbia, all of which was cancelled.
“Something that had been a very prominent part of my income mix, the very significant six figure income mix, basically ground to a halt,” she explained. “Concerned about what would happen to the economy and my business, what I did instead was focus on other parts of my portfolio that might be resilient or counter-cyclical during the pandemic.”
It was all part of a deliberate strategy. Clark didn’t see the pandemic coming, but for multiple years she had been preparing for a scenario that involved less travel. Her goal was to create income streams that were not solely dependent on physically delivering services or traveling to events. That advance thinking paid off. When she saw COVID-19 starting to spread throughout Asia and Europe, Clark pivoted to online course offerings.
Speed and agility made a difference. Already in discussions with LinkedIn Learning, she expedited the creation of courses before widespread lockdowns were enforced. One of the topics was about becoming more adaptable as an employee, which Clark thought would be especially relevant during a pandemic.
She became one of the first instructors to film a LinkedIn Learning course at home and partnered with another company to create a course called Managing Uncertainty Virtually. Clark was able to complete production on both before New York, where she is based, shut down in March 2020.
People worldwide were hungry for her content. Clark relaunched her Recognized Expert course in May 2020, six months earlier than planned, figuring that interest in entrepreneurship would increase. Registration rates doubled within a matter of days. Pivoting quickly has allowed Clark’s business to thrive. 2020 has been one of her best years financially overall.
Want to build your pivoting muscles? Here are three ways to become more resilient:
Cultivate a diverse network.
Being able to turn to a far-ranging network allows you to hear about opportunities and alternative sources of information, no matter what your field your field or areas of expertise may be. “You want to know a person who works in China to hear what the pandemic is actually like there or a trial attorney if you have been the victim of a crime, in order to get someone to shoot straight with you,” said Clark. “That can help make you more flexible and resilient.”
Develop your cross-training skills.
Being agile often involves accessing a broader range of skills and knowledge. You can take online courses in a myriad of areas to learn new capabilities. I know a former massage therapist who learned how to code medical data when the pandemic sidelined her business, allowing her to build a more lucrative career not dependent on physically interacting with others. This is also a great time to develop foundational skills that support you professionally and personally.
Clark advocates sharpening your ability to be an effective oral communicator, write well, learn how to persuade others and the capability to create and follow logical arguments. “Those are the types of things that will enable you to be successful whether you’re an engineer, a financial advisor or an artist,” she noted. “It undergirds almost everything. Those cross-functional skills are worth investing in.”
Follow your interests.
Making small bets in random areas that pique your interest is a great way to diversify your options. Passionate about Broadway, Clark decided to learn how to write musical theater over the past few years. “I don’t know where it will lead, but at a minimum, it’s fun. It’s interesting and it can’t hurt,” she explained. “I am developing new skills and relationships through that process that could turn out to be surprisingly valuable. We just don’t know how things will play out, but I think it is a worthy bet.”
How have you become more resilient?