Posted by: kevinliebl | October 18, 2009

Have We Become Corporate Zombies?

Shawn of the Dead

Shawn of the Dead

In the spirit of Halloween, I watched the zombie parody “Shawn of the Dead” this weekend.  I’ve never seen it before and it is one of those cult movies that were on my bucket list (i.e., I need to watch it before I “kick the bucket”).  I have to admit that I really enjoyed it.   It is a tongue-in-cheek comedy based on the horror movie “Dawn of the Dead”.

At the beginning of the movie, the main character – Shawn – doesn’t immediately realize that zombies surround him because all of the people in his life generally act like zombies.  His friends move through life without any real emotion as they sit in traffic, play video games and drink at the local pub.  His colleagues at work essentially check in, move through their day, and then checkout.

As I watched the movie, I realized that like most comedies, what made it funny is how true it really is.  We move through our days doing the same things we always do, without any real strategy or plan.  We tend to develop patterns of behavior based on comfort-zones.  How many of us get to work and immediately dive into email without prioritizing our day?  Halfway through the day, we realize that all we have done is email.  How many of us intend to set quarterly and annual goals, but then forget to create them?  How many of us know that we are using antiquated processes and/or technologies, but avoid adopting the more efficient options because we are adverse to change?  We have become corporate zombies, moving through our day without creative thinking.

I recently attended a large industry conference where the keynote speaker was a very well known, leading-edge marketing expert.  I was excited to attend because I am a fan, and his topic “How to use Twitter in Business” was something that I am always interested in learning more about.  Ten minutes into the presentation, I realized that he was losing the audience.  Twenty minutes into the session, I realized that he had lost the room completely.  There were probably only 25 people in a room of 500 that were still paying attention.  During the networking break, everyone was commenting on what a waste of time Twitter was and how they had blown a great conference by inviting this “so-called expert” to present on the topic.

What went wrong?  Simple – the topic didn’t align with the audience.  The average age of the audience was 50 years old.  The room was filled with CEOs, CFOs, COOs, investors, board members and retired executives.  The presenter was setup to fail.  This group was set in their ways and was not willing to open their minds to social media.  Their pre-conceived notion that Twitter and social media were a waste of time was simply reinforced by this presentation.  The group of 25 or so marketing people who had already adopted social media were the only ones who appreciated the content of the presentation.  The room was dominated with corporate zombies who were not open to new ideas.  Don’t get me wrong.  I know a great many of the attendees personally and have tremendous respect for their accomplishments.  My point is that they are losing touch with the market direction and the latest business tools.  This is a predictable cycle that continues to repeat itself.

There is a very real generation gap between the group of people who understand social media and those that don’t.  I remember when desktop computers made their way into the offices.  The older executives argued that they were a waste of time.  The younger executives argued that they wouldn’t accept a position with the company unless they were given a PC.  I remember when companies were having discussions about whether they needed websites.  The older executives argued it was a waste of time.  The younger executives argued the company would be out of business in a few years without one.  I see parallels today with social media.  Older executives can’t understand why a company would need a blog or have a Twitter presence.  The younger executives argue that every company will have one in a few years.

Comfort zones are just that – comfortable.  However, they keep you from staying competitive.  They turn you into a corporate zombie.  As the newsman said in “Shawn of the Dead”, the only way to kill a zombie is to remove its head.  This is true of corporate zombies as well.  Companies kill corporate zombies by replacing them with “non-zombie” executives who are creative and understand newer processes and technologies.

Have a great Halloween, but don’t go as a corporate zombie, it could be detrimental to your career…


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  1. How do you remove the corporate head if the head of the company is doing a decent job slashing costs and improving profits? However, the corporate approach is very old school. There are lots of process gaps/systems issues that the company is slow to correct. The morale is at an all time low across the entire organization due fears of being laid off. The reason that most employees show up for work is to get a paycheck. What do you think is the best way to turn this company around (short of removing the “head”?)

    • Cindy,

      A great question. If the head of the company is taking the organization down a cost-reduction path that is perceived by the employees as a death spiral, that is a whole different blog discussion. In this topic, I am trying to challenge people (myself included) to break away from the zombie-like activities that we fall into and try new ideas. This is challenging when we all have more on our plate then we can accomplish in a reasonable day.

      In your case, we may be able to apply this concept to get employees to think differently and become more efficient when their human resources are a fraction of what they were in the past.

      No easy answers, but in this case everyone must adapt or be replaced. The old world is gone. Your fellow employees may have been laid off. It is a new company and they have no choice but to think and act differently to get the job accomplished.



  2. Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for the post. It makes for an interesting read, particularly because Shawn of the Dead is indeed a great movie. 😉

    Within your article you mention the generation gap between the people who adopt social media and those who don’t. This is reinforced with your comparison of the PC in the office.

    Do you think the people who don’t use social media would use it if they could see the true benifit. At the end of the day it all comes down to return on investment.

    Do you think the ROI of social media can be demonstrated in the same way as the positive benefits of personal computers in the workplace?

    – James

    • James,

      Yes, absolutely. The best way to change people’s minds is to show benefit. Make their job easier. Make them more efficient. Improve their profitability. Create a more stable job environment. It depends on what their goals are, and how you can apply the new technology.

      The only caveat in my mind would be the barriers to adoption. In the case of PCs, many older executives simply didn’t want to learn how to use them (remember this was the days of DOS and the early days of Windows). They simply refused and stayed with their yellow pad. Ultimately, they were bypassed, replaced or they simply retired. Over time, PCs became pervasive. We are facing the same issues with social media. Many people just don’t want to take the time to learn these new tools.

      In the case of social media, the younger generation is being raised on it. They manage their personal lives on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, texting, etc… They have their own blogs. They are bringing social media into the workplace because it is part of how they manage their lives. It is part of their language and their business psyche. Honestly, I don’t believe it is going to be the responsibility of the users of social media to prove anything. I think it will become the responsibility of the non-users to learn and adopt it.

      Did any of the early PC users worry about teaching/convincing the non-PC users to adopt the usage of a PC? No. They simply began using the PC and bypassed their counterparts that didn’t want to use the new tool. I believe it will be the same case with social media.

      Just my opinion…

      – Kevin

  3. So if we keep the thread going, and incorporate Gordon Bell’s My Digital Life, we can envision improved versions of Twitter where we have continuous text, audio and visual communication – even the possibility of capturing interior thoughts and digitally transmitting them. Sort of an everyman’s “Truman Show.” And will this really be a tighter community and more relatedness? Does our multiple 24 hour news shows produce better informed citizens? Maybe. Does it result in more thoughtful and informed decisions? Maybe. Does the robustness of financial products produce better investments? And better financial outcomes? Maybe. Both use and abuse are possible. I will, however, accept the challenge and experiment how the new team I’m organizing might be more related and in better communication through Twitter. I stay in the inquiry, but I must confess I remain a bit skeptical as Twitter still feels like the Citizen’s Band radio of yore.

    • Robert,

      Nice to hear from you. I hear your concerns and don’t disagree. More data doesn’t automatically imply an improvement over the past. The tools need to be applied with common sense with with a strategy. I tell people to think about goals and define a strategy rather than simply testing out tools to see if they work. The tools will come and go. Today, Twitter is popular, but there will be a new tool tomorrow and Twitter will fade. The key is to define a set of goals and then apply the technologies that meet your goals.

      Look at what we are doing right now. We are having a virtual brainstorming session. If we had tried to do this on email, it wouldn’t have been nearly as beneficial. A few of us are participating in the dialog, but hundreds of others are “listening”. We are all “learning”. I don’t have all of the answers. No one does. However, the collaboration on a topic is where the value comes into play. Social media at it’s core is collaboration. It is listening to your customers in a virtual community. It is having a dialog with peers to brainstorm a challenge. It is crowdsourcing a business challenge and learning from each other. It is tapping into the crowd to gain access to resources that were not previously available.

      My blog was not to promote Twitter as the only solution. It was to use it as a example of how preconceived notions keep us from opening our minds to new ideas.

      Thanks for the comment.

      – Kevin

  4. Hi Kevin,

    Once again, one more great posting. As you have said before: ” the old world has gone” . Do you know Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We have the great opportunity to do things differently, why not to try?
    Since, I have decided to do things differently, my life has changed dramatically… far away better!
    Social media was one of that changes… All I can say is, think different…



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