AMC’s hit series, The Walking Dead is about a group of people trying to survive after a zombie apocalypse. Sheriff Rick Grimes, the lead character, is characterized as basically a moron.
Brett Arends of the Wall Street Journal characterizes him as “a walking, talking mass of empty rhetoric, bogus moral posturing, flawed logic and cognitive errors.” However, as Brett watched the series, he realized that a lot could be learned from “The Walking Dead.” If you want to succeed, just ask yourself, “What would Rick Grimes do?” and then, do the complete opposite.
1. ‘Busy’ does NOT mean ‘Productive’
Rick Grimes is busy. Really, really busy. Wham! He’s leading a team bursting into an abandoned house in search of food—any food, including cat food. Crash! He’s leading his hapless followers into a darkened corridor to flush out the zombies. Zoom! They’re tearing down the highway on the way to another place of refuge.
The only problem: A lot of the activity is wasted…and some of it is downright counterproductive. For instance dark, enclosed spaces are exactly the places you want to avoid. The undead just love to lurk in the dark and then leap out and bite you, costing you a limb, or maybe your life.
All this action is great TV—and terrible management. Sheriff Grimes isn’t alone in his error. Too many people confuse mere activity with taking action. There are no prizes for being busy.
2. Understand Your Mission
“I’m keeping us safe,” boasts Rick Grimes, while people drop around him like flies. “I’m keeping us together,” he adds.
But to what end? Rick Grimes lurches between objectives and bounces between crises. He offers no discernible moral or ethical code. One minute he is fastidiously respecting property rights. The next minute he is torturing a prisoner for no obvious reason. No wonder so many around him ask why they should even bother staying alive.
As Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt, asked famously, more than 50 years ago, “Are you running a railroad company or a transportation company?” “Why are you going to work?” “What are you really trying to achieve?”
Rick Grimes doesn’t know the real mission because he never asks these questions. And in this world, oh boy, is he not alone.
3. Don’t Overlook the Obvious
If you’re going to spend days and days hunting for a lost child, shouldn’t you at least look inside that big barn across the field?
If you’re in a big government scientific center packed with dangerous bio hazardous materials, and there’s a huge red clock on the wall counting down to zero hour, shouldn’t you ask the one remaining scientist in the place—a man who seems to be ominously, serenely at peace with his maker—what is about to happen?
The devil is in the details, some people say. Really? The details have their place – but look around and it’s amazing how many people and projects and companies fail because people neglected the few really big, really simple, really obvious decisions.
Often they’re too swamped by the details to look at the overall picture. Bad choice.
4. Learn From Experience
Rick Grimes and his followers got too complacent at the farm. They didn’t take enough steps to protect themselves. They didn’t dig ditches, erect fortifications, or even pack a go-bag. Bad move. When a herd of zombies suddenly attacked, they had to flee, empty-handed.
“We won’t make the same mistakes again,” vowed Sheriff Grimes. Soon afterward they moved into an abandoned prison, where they didn’t dig ditches, erect fortifications, or pack a go-bag. You’ll be amazed at what happened next. So were they.
Money manager and financial blogger Barry Ritholtz reminds us: “It’s OK to be wrong; it is not OK to stay wrong.” The key division in life isn’t between people who make mistakes and people who don’t, it’s between people who learn from them and those who don’t.
5. Understand Risks
You’d figure you wouldn’t let your kids run around unsupervised during a zombie apocalypse. You’d figure you’d post guards and patrols at night, and tell people to keep their room or cell doors shut and locked when they’re asleep. You’d figure you’d use the really convenient watch tower at the prison for something other than a young couple’s love nest.
Not Sheriff Grimes. No wonder there’s a trail of woe and munched bodies following him across half of Georgia.
Nobody can see the future. But anyone can understand the risks in their current situation. It is precisely because we don’t know what’s going to go wrong that we need to pay attention to what can.
6. Use Your Resources
Why would you leave behind two military tanks, a functioning truck, and a long line of modern, working vehicles, to rely instead on a 40-year-old Winnebago that is being held together with rubber bands? Why would you leave key defensive tasks undone for a lack of hands while the women in the group sit around doing laundry? How can you stay on a farm for several weeks during a zombie apocalypse and never plunder the farm implements for needed weapons or other equipment?
Rick Grimes, like many a mediocre manager, probably thinks he is doing the best he can with what he has. But in reality he is fooling himself. He has many more things at his disposal than he realizes. So, for that matter, do the rest of us.
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