The Zombie Effect


Sometimes I wonder why good people suffer so in organizational life. For example:

  • Messengers of doom are punished or ignored rather than rewarded. Computer glitches, safety lapses, ineffective leadership; employees who show every sign of endangering the workplace. All of these are routinely reported by attentive people, and frequently just as swiftly disregarded.
  • Strategic human capital professionals are laughed at or called superfluous as versus professionals who focus on operations. The modern workplace depends on human capital, in particular on leveraging diversity and inclusion. Yet in our most profitable industries, for example in technology, homogeneity is the norm. Certain “looks,” cultural types, methods of thinking and sets of ideas are celebrated while others are treated as quizzical or odd. This, despite their potentially explosively profitable ideas and methodologies.
  • Innovators barred from doing what they do best, which is innovating. Let’s be honest; very few people are actually creative. When an organization is fortunate enough to happen upon one of them, the system beats them to death with demands they “prove” their ideas will work, with predictive analytics and fact sheets and test cases. And benchmarking of ideas that by definition are new and unparalleled.

The mystery is solved when I think of the show The Walking Dead. You know that one; it was America’s #1 hit among adults 18-49 as of its season finale last spring. TWD is back next weekend, which is why it’s all over media and magazines with promotions.

The plot in brief. A mysterious plague has taken over the world, and divided human beings into monsters and survivors (or, put another way, their potential victims). The drama surrounds how long a human being can last with the qualities of love and empathy, before killer instinct takes over purely.

One of two things happens. Either their desire to survive prompts them to abandon all feeling for other human beings, or they get stomped and eaten by monster. Which turns them immediately into bloodsucking, flesh-eating fiends.

TWD is a show about real life, with an exaggerated plot that throws you off. The “disease” for most of us is hardship and pain, whether from external circumstances, difficult personalities, or our own unique forms of dis-ability.

To make matters worse, the system within which most individuals are situated is normally dysfunctional as well. Bureaucratic red tape, savvy political players, and those who know how to work the system, all combine to discourage the simple Jane or Joe.

That is, the person who thinks the way a kindergartner does. That happiness is the natural state. That it comes from singing, and sharing, and that we get a gold star when we listen to the teacher. We even understand it when bad behavior gets us sent to the corner with rebuke.

True, nobody is that naive anymore. We’ve all been knocked down in an alley somewhere at least once, if not many times. But there are many who still resist the “turning,” who refuse to become what the worst of the system might want them to be.

Because to do that means losing anyway. And that is not worth all the “fresh, delicious flesh meat” in the world.


Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo via AMC TV.

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Catherine Andrews

Thanks for this post, Dannielle — I always admire the way you draw relevant workplace points from pop culture!