Grind: The Future Of Work?

According to Grind’s website, grind is “a 22nd century platform that helps talent collaborate in a new way: outside the system.  It’s a members-only workspace and community dedicated to taking all of the frustrations of working the old way and pulverizing them to a dust so fine it actually oils the wheels of the machine.”  The first Grind location opened at 419 Park Avenue South and is available to those who are approved via the application on their website.  Once  approved, the location is $35 a day or $500 a month.

I love disruption of industries, especially when the disruption causes a more open, ethical, responsible, collaborative, and efficient result.  I think what Grind is doing is great and I’d love to hear from those who have worked there.  I am intrigued by this model and would be interested to see if it is a trend that continues.  Until today I hadn’t heard about Grind but I had heard about what Phillip Rosedale, the creator of Second Life was doing with his model called Coffee & Power in San Francisco.  Kevin Rose does a great series called Foundation and below is his interview with Rosedale which covers Rosedale’s career and future vision of Coffee & Power.

Foundation 03 // Philip Rosedale

I can think of a few hybrid models of what Grind and Coffee & Power are creating, but each admittedly have their advantages and disadvantages.

  • Model #1: A way for businesses or individuals to lease unused real estate to those who need a space to create and collaborate.  This is already happening today and if you Google “unused office space” you can see this model already “has legs”.
  • Model #2: An online solution for people to collaborate real time on their projects.  A way for people to recruit others to help with their cause and benefit from the result of the effort.  We have GoToMyPC, Skype, and other real time collaborative solutions, but one might argue that the efficiencies of collaborating in the same physical space can’t be replicated or matched with such tools.
  • Model #3: A family friendly version of what Grind & Coffee & Power is doing.  Think Grind meets Gymboree where moms and dads don’t just work and grow their careers, but their kids grow alongside them.  Families can take their kids to work with them and be as much of a parent, or as close to their kids as they choose.  Many parents already have daycare costs.  I would love to have my son close by so I could eat lunch with him, take him outside with me as I went on break (if I took breaks…which I would if I could be with him for a few minutes), and just be with him as much as possible.  I think many professionals fear that having a family will impact their career options.  Most families these days work, and I’m a big proponent of moms and dads both working if they choose to, but at the same time I think we can find a family friendly model to careers and family in modern day society.  I think moms and dads should be given a better alternative to working where work/life balance isn’t where you can work less hours at the office so you could have a better balance at home, but the home and the office are as seamless as possible.  At many companies and start-ups today there is a stark contrast between work and family.  Can you tell which of the models I’m most passionate about?
  • Model #4: A combination of 1, 2, and/or 3.
  • Model #5: ?

Do We Need To “Save” More Words?

I found which lists uncommonly used words.  If you select one of the words it defines the word and allows you to adopt it meaning you “hereby promise to use the word, in conversation and correspondence, as frequently as possible to the very best of my ability”.  I like the site and I love learning in general, but the site got me thinking that if you need to define the words to 99% of the people you communicate to, do we “need” to save them?

If I use a word like coquinate, mulomedic, or algotrophy I may seem more intelligent, but if you need to lookup the meaning are we asking that society save (and learn) a set of words we we don’t need to communicate efficiently? Language can be a beautiful thing.  Shakespeare and many others have taught us language is an art form but language constantly evolves.  If you look at how youth in the world communicate it is short, abbreviated, and to the point.  Are we better communicators for using less words, or should we save coquinate, mulomedic, and mulomedic?

I like to think we have a brilliant community who frequents this site so if you have a thought on this, let me know what you think!

Career Advice

Our internal blog recently asked employees for the best career advice they would offer to others.  Below is my response which I wanted to share. My hope is you will in turn offer your best advice.

Set a plan for what you are looking to do with your career. Many people don’t have a plan for where they are looking to go and their career path often demonstrates that. Have short, medium, and long term goals. Make sure and consider family choices/decisions as those need to be factored into career planning as well. Once you have your plan be ready for the opportunity when it comes because when someone answers the door you’ve been knocking on, be ready to articulate/show you have what it takes! Also, you have to knock on some doors many times for the opportunity to present itself. Don’t give up.

Don’t let anyone tell you can’t be successful at something. There are going to be times in your career when you may not succeed. When you don’t succeed some may stop believing in you, but never stop believing in yourself.

What is your career advice?

Thank You Honda

Dear Honda,

We don’t know each other, but I love my car.  My 2006 Civic has been great to me, and I suppose I’ve been pretty good to it too.  I’ve changed the breaks, oil, transmission fluid, steering fluid, a couple of sets of tires, and that is about it.  Our car has given me 100,000 glorious miles together.  On our way down to San Diego last week, we hit the milestone.  I’ve had a few cars before my Honda Civic, but each of them was plagued with problems and were complete money pits.  I’ve gone through some rough financial times over the last few years, so having a dependable car has been awesome. Here’s to the next 100,000 miles and learning from my mistakes!

FAILURE: THE SECRET TO SUCCESS -- Honda - The Power of Dreams (series of short documentaries)

What Office Space Can Teach Us About Gamification

When was the last time you had fun at work?  For many of us it has been a while and fun at work is usually something you do during lunch or around a watercooler.  Employees may view work as dull, boring, unimaginative, and very often we see employees who are completely disengaged.  Do a search for “employee engagement facts” and see what results you find.  If you think employees are actively engaged, you may be surprised to learn that many employees are not only disengaged, but actively disengaged.

In the movie Office Space, Peter Gibbons hates his job so much he seeks a hypnotist’s help.  The hypnotist puts Peter into a state of ecstasy which transforms everything around him.  Few employees get to achieve the level of ecstasy that Peter does in the movie.  People have bills to pay, mouths to feed and bosses to listen to.  That doesn’t mean work can’t be fun, and hopefully at the end of this post you will have some ideas for making work at your company fun.

In the clip below, let’s look at what a typical day is for an employee at Initech and how Peter’s new state of ecstasy hilariously shows how many employees feel on a daily basis.

The good news is it doesn’t have to be that way, you can have fun with your coworkers and in return get more work done.  At least that is the hope with a new term called gamification, which wikipedia defines as “the use of game design techniques[1] and mechanics to enhance non-games.

Typically, gamification applies to non-game applications and processes (also known as “funware“)[2], in order to encourage people to adopt them, or to influence how they are used. Gamification works by making technology more engaging[3], by encouraging users to engage in desired behaviors[4], by showing a path to mastery and autonomy, and by taking advantage of humans’ psychological predisposition to engage in gaming.[5] The technique can encourage people to perform chores that they ordinarily consider boring, such as completing surveys, shopping, filling out tax forms, or reading web sites.[3] Available data from gamified websites, applications, and processes indicate potential improvements in areas like user engagement, ROI, data quality, timeliness, or learning.”[6]


Gamification 101

Most people who hear about gamification likely first encountered it via Foursquare or Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk (embedded below).  For me it was Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk which I loved.  If you have the time to watch the video, just know for the first few minutes you are going to think she is out of her mind, but then you start realizing she is onto something brilliant.

Gaming can make a better world | Jane McGonigal

Going back to our Office Space comparison, any time you are forcing gamification onto someone, it will rarely go well.  See the video below on the pieces of flare as an example of an organization forcing someone to take part in something they don’t believe in.  When you are looking at how to introduce gamification to your organization, it shouldn’t be forced.  The people engaging with the gamified application should want to play the game (use the app).

Non Traditional Gamification

Gamification tends to be associated with trying to solve things technically, but it has been around for years, but we didn’t have a term for it (or we didn’t call it gamification). McDonald’s has mastered gamification via the games they promote to us so that we in turn buy more products from them.  There are other companies doing similar things like club cards, memberships, travel rewards, credit card redemptions to name just a few.  I personally find what McDonald’s has done fascinating.  Starting with Happy Meals, they condition kids to love their brand at a very early age via cheap toys (Cracker Jacks even before them). They have Ronald McDonald and a cast of characters into give their restaurants a fun and inviting place for all, but especially children.  If they can get children to want to go to McDonald’s the parents obviously need to come as well.  They have Play Places and although the quality of their food is always going to be public debate, nobody can argue with the success they have had applying game mechanics to promote their food.

As we grow up we still have a soft spot for these types of brands because they are brands we’ve grown up with.  Now as adults, they can’t let you not stay engaged with the brand.  They offer promotions like Monopoly where each item has a Monopoly board piece to compete to win cash and prizes.  I challenge you to look around your day-to-day lives and document the game mechanics we have all around us that we may have failed to think about as “gamification”.  Then, as you look to apply gamification to a technical challenge, remember to think about successful non-traditional game mechanics.  Combine non-traditional and traditional game mechanics to your application if you really want to take things to a whole new level (most people only focus on one or another).

Pieces of Flare: Badges

Gamification is often criticized because many view it as nothing but leaderboards and badges, which are supposed to represent how engaged someone is with an application.  I personally like badges and leaderboards because I’m ultra-competitive, but some employees aren’t going to respond to that type of game metric.  I like the idea of using badges because if done properly they will represent expertise within your application, or if done really correctly, your entire organization.

In Office Space, Brian is a waiter at Chotchkie’s who takes the “points of flare” to a whole new level.

One Of These Days... (Office Space)

Joanna, played by Jennifer Aniston, on the other hand, hates wearing her pins, or “pieces of flare”. Everyone is motivated by different things is the point here.


A Few Gamification Best Practices

Most companies are great at sprinting, but they are terrible at running a marathon. What I mean by that is many companies will dedicate a lot of resources and effort to an initiative, but over the course of weeks, months, or years they can’t sustain the pace.  Many companies get tired after a very short time because they didn’t train themselves for a sustained effort.  Gamification can help with this if implemented properly.  Gamification in most instances makes an effort or an application fun to do, so people will be more likely to do it.  Community is also something to consider because without a community, your users won’t have anyone to interact with.  Most companies want to focus on what tools to use for handling gamification, but if you don’t also focus on internal processes to handle change management, you could risk success.

Set up your application with quick rewards to get your users off to a quick start.  If your gamified application needs training, consider if you’ve designed it correctly, and if training is necessary, whenever possible add it as part of the game, so users hit the ground running.  Obviously, people playing your game will need to start at “square one” so find a way for them to level up quickly, so they don’t get frustrated with how difficult it is to progress in the game.  At the same time, don’t make it too easy to level up, or they will also lose interest.

Make it clear how to start, and as you complete something it should be clear to those playing the game what the next step is.  I find many examples of companies trying to apply game mechanics to sites and as soon as I complete my first task it is not clear what I need to do next. However, you apply game mechanics to what you are looking for your players/viewers/customers to do, make it fun.  Make sure it is something you would want to do, and do often, for sustained periods of time.

The Future of Gamification

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I would imagine gamification is a term we will continue to hear for some time to come.  Currently, gamification tends to stay with leaderboards, badges, points, and I think all of that is great.  Most industries are starting with basic game mechanics, and I think we’ll see those methods will help keep our users/employees engaged for a while.  Those types of game mechanics tend to be “Gamification 1.0″…sorry, yeah, I went there.  I think gamification 2.0 (yeah, still going there) is going to be more about making all aspects of work fun, not just some parts of work.  Having people work without knowing they are working.  That might be a tall order, especially in some workplaces.  I think it will also be about playing actual games, not trying to implement a game inside of an existing process.  Some of the best companies are already starting to do that today.

Employee engagement and culture is immensely important, and those who are focusing on it are likely seeing the fruits of those efforts.  Gamification will aid in retaining top talent, recruiting away talent, and your customers will appreciate it because your employees will become brand/company advocates.  Go to a competitor of your company, and compare your company’s employees to those of your competitor.  If you see passionate, knowledgeable, engaged employees, you will likely spend your money with that business.  Engaged employees are working, but you wouldn’t know it, and I don’t know if they know it either.  That is what all companies should want.  Most companies do some things well, but we should demand better.  Demand change when necessary, even if it means employees need to interact or “play games” to get the job done right.

Let’s Wrap Things Up

If your customers/employees/viewers aren’t engaged and don’t already trust you or your company, the chances of them wanting to play a game or interact with you is going to be an uphill battle.  It isn’t as easy as throwing leaderboards and badges into your solution.  Look back at our McDonald’s example from earlier on.  They have commercials, signage / advertising, and find ways to make buying their food fun.  In the end there aren’t crystal balls, there isn’t a perfect solution to solve your problem, solving these challenges are incredibly difficult.

More Reading

I love reading and following anything Mario Herger is working on.  He’s doing some great things in the gamification space with lots of enthusiasm.  I’ve met him for lunch here in the Bay Area and recently attended one of his workshops.  I don’t pretend to know even a fraction of what Mario knows.  Mario has been a great mentor for me and many others.  I recommend signing up for his gamification community to continue the conversation and learn from others who are trying to figure out this new trend.

Gabe Zichermann and Christopher Cunningham recently wrote a book called Gamification by Design.  To be honest, it is sitting on my Kindle waiting to be read, but I’ve heard some great things about Gabe and the book.

If you have other thoughts, please continue the conversation in the comments of this post or connect with me, so we can connect offline too.  Happy gamifying your life…now if I can just find that stapler.  And can you put a coversheet on the TPS Report for me?

What can Office Space teach us about Gamification is the work, and many times, the applications we have employees use isn’t engaging or fun.  Make work matter, make work fun, and better results will most likely follow.

2012 Resolutions

About this time each year like everyone else I start getting goal oriented and love to reflect on where I am in life.  I like to think about where I’ve been, and where I hope to go.

Past resolutions:

I’ve even written a few letters to some of my more challenging years (very therapeutic, by the way):

We should also revisit my 2011 resolutions to see how I did.

2011 Resolutions:

  • Resolution #1: Be happy.  How do I measure being happy to know if I achieved it?  I won’t, I’ll just be happy.
    • Yeah, I killed this one, knocked it out of the park, owned it.
  • Resolution #2: Have a healthier balance of giving and sharing of information.  Read more, get information if it isn’t given.  OK I won’t, I love sharing, but it is worth a try.
    • Shared more than ever and didn’t take too much time to really improve myself, so I think I failed on this one.
  • Continue my 2010 and 2009 resolutions but let’s get specific and more reasonable
    • Resolution #3: 50 consecutive push-ups
      • Result: Fail, when Jeremy + happy = weak Jeremy.  Jeremy + sad or upset = farmer strength Jeremy.
    • Resolution#4: Run at least a mile once a week
      • Result: Run?  What is that?  FAIL, epic, epic fail.
    • Resolution #5: Create one new website
      • Result: Yeah, I did well on this one, actually created several, but nothing I’m too proud of or anything that is getting much traction yet.
    • Resolution #6: Add more self created videos on, I’m really enjoying doing that
      • Result: Fail, don’t think I did any this year.
    • Resolution #7: Make my bed at least twice a week
      • Result: Fail, hate making the bed.  Never do, sue me.
    • Resolution #8: Do the dishes 4 times a week
      • Result: Yeah, I think so.
    • Resolution #9: Work on one book
      • Result: No, didn’t really get to this one.
    • Resolution #10: Christina and Jeremy date nights (like actually taking my Christina out) at least every other week
      • Result: No but this did come up in conversation last night.  I recognize we need to “hit the town” more often.
    • Resolution #11: Mr. Tyler man, don’t think I forgot about you.  This year we are going to work on some computer skills, language, and continue your (OK my) love of baseball.  Oh, and we are going to play, play, play.
      • Result: Lots and lots of playing with T-Bone, T-Dog, Tyler…

And drum roll please…

My 2012 resolutions are…

Let’s start with the “fuzzy resolution” stuff…the stuff you really can’t measure very well:

  • Resolution #1: Share less, do more.
    • I find I spend so much time-sharing things with others that I’m actually not as productive as I could be.  Same problem as years past but I’m slowly learning to cut back on giving and in 2012 I’m going to get all knowledge greedy on you all.  OK, I’m always a big talker, but we’ll see how I do.
  • Resolution #2: Music
    • I’ve been using Spotify for about 6 months now, and I absolutely love it.  Ironically I’m listening to Pandora because I need some new recommendations for my Spotify playlists.  Listen to more music, I absolutely love music.
  • Resolution #3: Open source
    • Keep my thoughts and actions open.
  • Resolution #4: PHP
    • Keep up on learning all I can, and doing all I can with PHP.

Alright, and now for the stuff that we can measure:

  • Resolution #5: Read a book a month
    • Books.  I have a large queue, but I’m not taking the team to read them.
  • Resolution #6: Drink more water
    • Drink more of that H20 stuff.  You know the stuff were 60% made of.  It is probably a good sign I’m drinking water as I write this.
  • Resolution #7: Write a book
    • I’ve had a few book ideas, and I’ve even started on them, but I’d love to get one completely drafted.
  • Resolution #8: Push-ups
    • I’m happy, really happy.  As previously mentioned, being happy isn’t the best for my physical health.
      • Quarter 1 of 2012: 15 consecutive push-ups
      • Quarter 2 of 2012: 30 consecutive push-ups
      • Quarter 3 of 2012: 45 consecutive push-ups
      • Quarter 4 of 2012: 60 consecutive push-ups
  • Resolution #9: Schedule a quarterly update on how I’m doing with the above resolutions.

Keep on keeping on…and…remember this is going to happen to us throughout 2012…


Happy 2012 everyone!  Let’s rock this year…

Energy Factor Bracelet

Energy Factor Bracelet Demo

I noticed my brother-in-law Mike was wearing an “Energy Factor” bracelet at dinner tonight. I was very skeptical but after trying out some tests I think there may be something to it (plausible). Uncle Mike brought some Cheez-It crackers as you can see in the background so we have our first sponsor! Check out “Ionized Bracelets” here on Wikipedia.


Good, Fast, Or Cheap Communications

I’m a CMMA member and was recently asked to provide a written response to the question below. Because I share practically everything, below is my response.  Hope you enjoy it.

Remember this old adage? Good/Fast/Cheap: Pick Any Two

Does it still hold, or have technology changes and production efficiencies made it possible for communications media projects to be all three?  We’d like to hear your opinion. We’ll publish your contribution in an article in the next issue of e-visions. If you think the adage still holds, tell us why. If you think some projects can be good, fast and inexpensive, give us examples.

My Answer:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I out to go from here?  That depends a good deal on where you want to get to, said the Cat.  I don’t much care where…said Alice.  Then it doesn’t matter which way you go, said the Cat.”  – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.

As long as I can remember I haven’t liked playing by other people’s rules so if I may, I would answer this question by only choosing one which is doing communication projects well (good).  I always strive for good, but I’m constantly striving for change and I don’t want myself, my department, or my company to ever be thought of anything less than good.  If you want to go fast and be cheap, you can be successful for a while, but ultimately the things you overlook in the process will catch up with you.

I have a young son at home, so a lot of my time is spent watching children’s movies.  I’m older now, and I am noticing that I’ve forgotten a lot of the lessons the movies of my youth taught me, but the good news is I don’t think I’m alone.  Having a child has taught me how to think like a kid again so when I saw whether we as communications media professionals can have good, fast, and cheap media projects I had to chime in.  Going back to kid’s movies, Alice in Wonderland can teach us a lot about making difficult choices.

In the first few minutes of the movie Alice sees a White Rabbit running past her.  The White Rabbit proclaims, “I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say goodbye, hello! I’m late! I’m late! I’m late!” and disappears into a rabbit hole.  Alice decides to follow him down the rabbit hole which in turn makes her fall to a hall of locked doors of various sizes.  Alice can see through the lock of the small door a beautiful garden, but she is much too large to fit through it.  She therefore decides to drink a bottled with “DRINK ME” on it which makes her become so small she can no longer reach the key on the table.  She then eats a cake labeled “EAT ME” which causes her to grow so large she can barely fit inside the hall.

If you are like me, you have a lot on your plate, and you’re late, you’re late, you’re late!  We have different paths (doors) to try and get our work done, but we still seem to fit it all in.  We are constantly juggling doing good, fast, and cheap work, and it isn’t easy.  On top of that we are in a recession and budgets are being reduced so doing things cheaply is likely at the forefront of many of our minds.  However, with that being said, I believe it’s still possible to have good, fast, and cheap communications projects.

Times of recession and depression have traditionally been when society learns to do more with less.  If you like change you’ll love recessions because traditionally they have brought periods of increased innovation.  Because people are trying to do more with fewer communications professionals will start to reevaluate their service offerings within the companies they serve, as well as their processes.  Companies who don’t have strong offerings will be absorbed, replaced, or dissolved by more compelling and/or cost-effective solutions.  The other thing recessions bring is accountability.  People will need to start focusing on being productive rather than being busy.

Below are some tips I’ve found over the years for balancing good, fast, and cheap communications.

Whenever possible, choose good over fast and cheap.  There is the old saying that “haste is waste” but old habits must die hard because only until recently have many communications professionals started to analyze the ROI of doing things quickly vs. effectively.  Always try to think about the long term implications before making a major decision.  Think about the last project you worked on hastily, how did that work for you?

Speed can sometimes win out over doing it well, but you usually can’t be successful if you don’t have lots of money to help you along the way.  If you had a lot of resources to access when you needed to go quickly, have you noticed how speed has affected your motivation?  In the famous tale The Tortoise and the Hare the tortoise boasts how fast he is but becomes so unmotivated to win he doesn’t take the race seriously.  The Hare who slowly and methodically trudges along ends up winning the race.  The turtle never lost the “eye of the tiger” and you shouldn’t either.  Don’t rest on your laurels because speed can only get you so far.

Don’t be fooled by the old saying that “you get what you pay for.”  Today’s communication tools rival what cost then times as much just five years ago.  If your company isn’t looking at what the industry is doing outside the company please let me know your stock symbol because I’ll make sure not to invest in it.  Constantly look at trends and never think expensive always wins because in the end it isn’t how big your budget or communications tool is but rather what you are able to do with it and I truly believe that.

I know this is going to sound “cheesy” but have you ever listened to the lyrics of the song “Sunscreen”?  That song forever changed the way I look at the pace of life.

“Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind…the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.”

Some departments are ahead of others, some are behind…the race is long, and in the end, it is all about showing value to your organization.  Remember Alice hastily following the rabbit who only focused on time down the rabbit hole.  Rabbits are stressed about time, be the turtle and focus on finishing the race with purpose instead of simply crossing the finish line.

Which way should you go?  Good?  Fast? Cheap?  If you don’t know where you want to get to, it doesn’t matter.

My 2011 Resolutions

My 2011 resolutions this year aren’t going to be my typical resolutions.  Here are my 2009 and 2010 resolutions.  Not that I haven’t done this in years past but in 2011 I’m going to focus on continuing to just being happy.  If something doesn’t make someone happy chances are they won’t do it.  At work I create themes for each year and I think I said this year I want to focus on standardization but personally I want 2011 to be all about creating things to help the world where I can.

My Official 2011 List

  • Be happy.  How do I measure being happy to know if I achieve it?  I won’t, I’ll just be happy.
  • Have a healthier balance of giving and sharing of information.  Read more, get information if it isn’t given.  OK I won’t, I love sharing, but it is worth a try.
  • Continue my 2010 and 2009 resolutions but let’s get specific and more reasonable
    • 50 consecutive push-ups
    • Run at least a mile once a week
    • Create one new website
    • Add more self created videos on, I’m really enjoying doing that
    • Make my bed at least twice a week
    • Do the dishes 4 times a week
    • Work on one book
    • Christina and Jeremy date nights (like actually taking my Christina out) at least every other week
    • Mr. Tyler man don’t think I forgot about you.  This year we are going to work on some computer skills, language, and continue your (OK my) love of baseball.  Oh and we are going to play, play, play.

2010 Resolutions: How I Fared

  • By the end of the year be able to do 100 consecutive push-ups.
    • FAIL – Back in 2009 I was really angry and really had lots of motivation and lots of things to get out.  Back then I could get into the thirties.  Now I’m happy and can do about 15 and I’m actually OK with that.
  • Run a mile in under six minutes, thirty seconds.
    • FAIL – But Christina and I did finish our half marathon about 30 minutes faster this year than the last.
  • Create three new websites.
    • FAIL – But I did create and have several domains reserved
  • Make the bed every day.
    • FAIL – Epic fail, oh I hate making the bed every day and I haven’t.
  • Do the dishes every day.
    • FAIL – Epic fail, oh I hate doing dishes even more than making my bed so I really haven’t done the dishes every day.
  • Write three books (in draft form).
    • FAIL – I don’t think I worked on any.

Happy 2011 everyone!  Let’s make 2011 awesome…

You’re A Great Friend But If The Zombies Chase Us, I’m Tripping You!

Zombies ahead!

I attended a coaching workshop on Friday and I especially liked a portion of the workshop that talked about outcomes of various management styles. When we started white boarding we brainstormed the outcome of what happens when a manager tells, advises, and directs.

We came up with the following list for when managers direct/tells/advises:

  • Compliance
  • Little ownership
  • Zombies
  • Submissiveness
  • Employees who want to be told what to do

We next discussed the outcome of what happens when management listens and came up with another list:

  • Employees that are self motivated
  • Employee that come up with creative solutions
  • Employees who have increased performance
  • Employees who show ownership

Now after reviewing the outcomes above, can you guess which response Jeremy came up with?  If you guessed zombies you’re a winner.  I really said it and I really mean it and the purpose of this post is to discuss what I mean about the “zombie effect” in the workplace.  Wikipedia defines a zombie as “a creature that appears in books and popular culture typically as a reanimated dead or a mindless human being”.  The scary thing is you are likely working with zombies and you may not even know it.  Zombies that become infected with the zombie virus don’t bite a victim who then suddenly becomes infected.  Instead, I’d argue that employees become zombies over the course of weeks, months, and even years.  When it comes to the zombie effect, ignore everything you’ve seen in comics or movies.

I’m an animal lover so know that no frogs were harmed in the making of the video (wait until the very end).  Even though no frogs are harmed it is still a bit disturbing but if you know anything about me you know I like to help illustrate my point via multimedia examples.  I’m a more of a visual learner and if you are too I think you will be equally fascinated by the video below of a frog in a pan of water.  If you don’t have the heart to watch the video, you’re a better person than I am (I watched it).  At the start of the video the frog sits calmly in a pan of room temperature water but the person performing the demonstration slowly turns up the gas burner beneath the pan.  Because the temperature is slowly increased, the frog doesn’t notice the temperature increasing.  Eventually the water starts to boil and the frog dies as a result.  Organizations who do not listen of course aren’t going to say they don’t listen their employees but if they continually ignore the danger around them, eventually bad things happen.

Now that we’ve seen what can happen to zombie employees you of course want to avoid them which begs the question: “how can you tell if you work with zombies, or worse, decide if you’re a zombie employee yourself?”

If you want to spot zombies in your organization, look for these common signs:

  • An employee who walks like someone three times their age into work and half their age walking out of work
  • An employee who answers every question you ask of them with “I don’t know”, “I’m not sure”
  • An employee who responds to an answer of why something is done a certain way with “I just work here”
  • An employee with eyes which are constantly glazed over
  • An employee who struggles with being punctual

When I said not listening to employees and always directing them produces zombie employees the response in the class was laughter.  Why do you think they laughed?  I’d argue they laughed because in today’s workplace we have become accustomed to calling things by their politically correct names.  When that doesn’t occur it catches people off guard.  Therefore, you likely haven’t heard of zombies in an organization, you may have heard terms like employees being unmotivated, disengaged, or even being under-performing. Corporations are big ships so change happens slowly.  Very few employees/managers/leaders in an organization stop to ask themselves: “hey, is it getting hot in here, or is it just me?”.   If organizations aren’t doing pulse checks an organization can start losing its focus and ultimately lose its employees and customers.


The zombie function is simple, the more you micromanage the employee, the less the employee will think for themselves.  The theory says “the more you use your reins, the less they’ll use their brains.”  If you’ve ever been micromanaged you know how it can feel to have someone constantly looking over your shoulder.  Leaders who don’t trust their employees tend to constantly focus on where their employees are as opposed to the output they are producing.

Inc. Magazine has an article by John Case titled “The Open-Book Revolution” where he defines open book management as “a way of running a company which gets everyone to focus on helping the business make money.”  Leaders often feel threatened when associates they manage think of better ideas than their own so they instead choose to make decisions in isolation.  In doing so, leaders who choose to not get input and feedback are creating zombies.  Additionally many leaders feel they know best so they don’t trust their employees to make decisions.  Furthermore they micromanage them to make sure everything is done exactly as they would want it done.  Don’t get me wrong, employees do need to be overseen and guided.  I merely argue that few employees are given proper responsibility and training for that responsibility.  They are also not set free and held accountable for what they were hired to do which is producing results (within an agreed upon timeframe).  When the idea or decision is eventually communicated without involvement of others in the organization, what typically tends to happen is associates learn to stop questioning, stop thinking, stop caring.  When they stop those behaviors they simply start doing as instructed.  They become a zombie.

You can cure a zombie in the workplace by doing the following things:

  • Training
  • Coaching
  • Mentoring
  • Listening
  • Changing things or responding when needed.

Whenever possible of course be honest, be a good communicator, keep information you receive confidential, and conduct team building exercises.  We know zombies can spread their disease to others and when it does we also know it can spread to customers so cure the problem within your organization before it is too late!

So now you know the warning signs, if you see one, or if you are one, get help or help yourself!  Do you have any thoughts on zombies in the workplace?