The Zombie Workplace Survival Guide: HBR Blog

My first post on the Harvard Business Review site when live today! The post was written in collaboration with H. James Wilson and is titled, The Zombie Workplace Survival Guide. The post provides a  few pointers to get your employees to innovate at their best. We would love to hear your comments on the ideas presented.

9 replies
  1. Seaton Daly
    Seaton Daly says:

    When I decided to venture off and start my own law firm three years ago the biggest question for me was - how do I compete with the other 30,000 lawyers who practice the same area of law that I do? (Obviously the 30K is a gross exaggeration). The answer: do something they don't.

    Then a friend of mine handed me a short story about a man who mused aloud, while looking out a window, whether we would ever see the "simplicity of business" that was had before the marketplace became so competitive?

    The moral to the story was this: winning tomorrow’s competition means starting to compete today as if it were already tomorrow. With each day of delay, your markets have a better chance of being niched, your most growable customers may be partnered by competitive growers, and the customer managers of the facilities that you affect, or the categories of their businesses that you sell into, may contract with other outsourcers. Your suppliers who can grow you best may become partnered with someone else. A competitor may make a series of toehold investments that effectively freezes you out of an emergent technology or she may establish an armlock on your market by setting herself up as its standard of value.

    A year from now, will the man, although looking out the window, be looking back?

  2. Kevin Desouza
    Kevin Desouza says:

    Hi Seaton -
    Good points. I could not agree more on the need to compete today based on the competition of the future. This is why it is so important for organizations to get the best ideas forward and leverage them for strategic advantages.
    Cheers,
     Kevin

  3. Miha Škerlavaj
    Miha Škerlavaj says:

    This is what I call creativity! Connecting zombies to the modern workplace. But unfortunatelly many times spot on as well.

    Let me just relate a thought to the 'Getting Too Far Ahead of the Curve' part. It might be a wise idea to examine the antecedents of such pitfall as well. and treat the cause,not just the symptom. I think it has a lot to do with product- versus market-orientation and organizational culture in general. For instance, in my work I came across a company that was developing sophisticated medical devices for dentists worth about 100 000 EUR each. As it turned out, it was waaaaay ahead of curve and what market could adopt and afford. And as often it is the case, the company was heavily engineering-based, highly professional in terms of technical innovations, but far less market-oriented to care before developing such an expensive toy.

    Then again, if they will be lucky they might experience the 3M Post-it story some time in future and realize that this innovation was good for someting else unintended (like it happened with 3M glue). But it will not happen without some additional non-technological, organizational innovations (fostering social networks, benchmarking, observing the markets etc.).

    In general my point is, when curing the contagions we should also think about preventive measures.

  4. Kevin Desouza
    Kevin Desouza says:

    Thanks, Miha. One question is that are there ideas are 'too far ahead of the curve', or should we just think in terms of 'organizations who are too far behind good ideas'!

  5. Joe Brewer
    Joe Brewer says:

    I really enjoy the metaphor of zombie's for capturing the inhibitors of learning within organizations. One way I'm familiar with for increasing learning is to encourage open dialogue to share experiences with what works and what doesn't when considering new ideas.

    A company can encourage peer-to-peer exchanges among employees to vet ideas, share best practices, share ways that ideas have failed due to implementation limitations, etc. This openness helps build trust and encourages more realistic expectations to emerge as ideas are tossed around in the context of organizational innovation.

  6. Kevin Desouza
    Kevin Desouza says:

    Joe - good points. The social networks are important to mobilize ideas. Social networks are one medium that help individuals get attention for their ideas. My concern is that most often, social networks are often limited in their ability to move ideas across the hierarchical levels. Social networks are good to move ideas laterally, but the jury is still out on their value for moving up the hierarchical layers. See some examples here - http://kevindesouza.net/2010/08/rewards-for-idea-generation-and-mobilization-goodbad-idea/

  7. Yukika Awazu
    Yukika Awazu says:

    I enjoyed reading this post. The post not only introduces an interesting angle to understand organizational practices but also provides useful survival tips! The post also reminds us that many organizations are still behind in terms of idea-based organizations - organizations that embrace ideas. Organizational practices to embrace ideas from employees are still exercised in an ad-hoc manner. In order for organizations to become truly idea-based organizations, structures, culture, communication means need to be aligned. The post tells us that there is so much we - business practitioners and researchers - can do...

  8. Nick Malone
    Nick Malone says:

    As one of the poor schlubs who's ideas don't get listened to, I must agree that this is an important topic. When I first started at my new job, I brought up a couple ideas that I thought were solid winners. I did the preliminary analysis and tried to find out where to take the idea which was a cost savings proposal (ie which manager to go to). However, our organization has no formal channels for presenting ideas and I couldn't find anybody who was willing to take the time to help flesh out the idea (ie; make a solid case for it). The lesson I learned here, is that it's not worth my time and energy to work on new ideas. I'll continue being the mindless zombie they want for now. To be fair, people are probably interested, but just don't have the time and energy to help. Organizations that don't dedicate a certain portion of their manager's time to working with employee's ideas run the risk of having those people take their creative energy elsewhere.

  9. Brian LeBlanc
    Brian LeBlanc says:

    Great article! I appreciated the emphasis on making sure that both the managers and the employees follow through on their sides of the idea-generating process. As someone who is interested in both management and a good zombie movie, you need to make sure you have a good team in place if you are going to survive the outbreak. Employees need to know that they have to develop their zombie escape plan into a fully-realized idea before they even present it. It is just as important, however, for the manager to make sure that if they accept someone's idea, they have to follow through on its implementation. The last thing you need during a zombie outbreak is to have your team turn into zombies around you.

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