I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of the zombie apocalypse scenario. Horror and I just don’t get along. And yet, for some reason, The Walking Dead has become appointment TV for me. If you don’t know, the AMC show is based off the comic book series by the same name, and it follows a group of people living through, you guessed it, a zombie apocalypse. Watching them figure out how to survive in a world full of scary dead people (called “walkers” on the show) has been both entertaining and extremely frustrating. The good guys make some smart decisions, but mostly they make a lot of really stupid ones.
The way these characters navigate this post-apocalyptic world can be applied to the business world, too. So, since you won’t be living through a zombie apocalypse anytime soon (I hope), here are a few tips for surviving business instead.
**Warning: Walking Dead spoilers ahead!**
1. Use your resources wisely.
The smart approach: Daryl carries a crossbow instead of a gun. Besides wielding a much quieter weapon than anyone else, Daryl also recycles his ammo: he retrieves his arrows after using them. Additionally, Rick suggests that the group start using knives and blunt instruments more often.
The stupid approach: Everyone else shoots everything. All the time. Guns are loud, so they attract walkers — and there’s no reusing bullets or buying more at the local gun shop.
The lesson: Don’t waste your resources, no matter what they are, and understand the best way to take advantage of each of them. Can you use a renewable resource instead of a nonrenewable one? Are there any byproducts of one resource that can be repurposed somewhere else?
2. Learn from your mistakes.
The smart approach: Hershel, who owns the farm where everyone has been living in season two, originally believes that the walkers (including his infected wife) are just sick people who can someday be cured. But eventually he realizes that these people are in fact not people anymore, but undead monsters. He accepts he was wrong and can now better protect his family.
The stupid approach: One of the kids in the group recently died because she wandered off into the woods by herself. And yet, the only remaining child still roams around on his own. Maybe someone should supervise him at all times. In fact, no one should ever go anywhere alone, especially when so many have been injured or killed after doing so. This is a zombie apocalypse, after all.
The lesson: Every business makes mistakes, but the important thing is to learn from them. If that marketing campaign wasn’t effective, what can you do to improve it? Should you continue pouring money into that underperforming product line, or should you accept your losses and move on? How are you addressing negative feedback from your customers?
The smart approach: Instead of keeping it a secret like he promised, Glenn tells the others about the horde of walkers in Hershel’s barn because Glenn knows it’s a threat to everyone. And up to this point, Rick has done his best to include everybody in the decision-making process and let every opinion be heard.
The stupid approach: Lori keeps her affair with Shane a secret from her husband Rick for a long time, even though she knows Shane still has feelings for her and is increasingly dangerous because of it. She also pressures Glenn into staying tight-lipped about her pregnancy instead of telling Rick right away.
The lesson: Miscommunication can be disastrous in a business setting. If not everyone is on the same page, it’s much more likely that people will make mistakes or become resentful. Do your employees know what is expected of them? When an issue arises, do you talk about it openly with those involved? How do you communicate company goals to all your employees?
4. Train your team effectively.
The smart approach: After her sister dies, Andrea learns from Shane how to load and use a firearm. Dale also spends time teaching Andrea and Glenn how to repair the RV so that others can fix it when it breaks down.
The stupid approach: Though Andrea insists she be taught how to use guns, there has otherwise been little effort to train anyone to defend themselves, leaving much of the group (mostly the women) helpless.
The lesson: Your team is only as good as the weakest link. If there are standouts in your team, recognize their accomplishments and ask them to help train others. Do you allow enough time to teach your new employees the ropes? Are you providing education to your current employees so that their industry knowledge is up-to-date?
5. Be aware of your environment and competitors.
The smart approach: Dale and others keep a constant lookout for walkers from the roof of the RV. Rick comments that cold weather is on its way and that the group should begin preparing for it.
The stupid approach: Hershel’s farm is more secure than most places where the group has taken shelter, but it still needs fortifying. As everyone learned in the season two finale, a picket fence and an empty field will not stop a zombie attack.
The lesson: No business operates in a vacuum; competitors, consumers, and a host of other factors should all play a role in decision-making. A situational analysis is a useful tool for evaluating a company’s external (and internal) environment. Who are your competitors? What demographics are you targeting? How will you position yourself in the industry?
The survivors of The Walking Dead may be really dumb sometimes, but at least we can learn from them. Which of these tips is most important to you? What else can The Walking Dead teach us? Do you think you could survive an actual zombie apocalypse?