Decision Making in a Zombie Apocalypse

24 Oct

Having recently returned from New York and been lucky enough to get a close view of the comic and TV show The Walking Dead and its team, I began thinking about the cognitive challenges of surviving and thriving in a zombie apocalypse. This line of thought actually gave me some insight back into business and management too, the two fields clearly overlap.

Firstly a zombie infection is a public health disaster. The R0 is used by epidemiologists to calculate the number of cases one infected person (infected with SARS for example) generates within the general population. SARS has an R0 of 2-5, meaning 2 infected people, infect 5 healthy people, a zombie R0 could well be 10-10,000, so it’ll certainly bring society down before society brings down the infection. So, were dealing with the aftermath and this is what the Walking Dead focuses on.

Slow moving zombies tend to be predictable, they don’t seem to have intelligence in the sense that they can’t use their memory to predict and develop innovative adaptations. They tend to flock and herd in patterns that are hard to anticipate but due to the lack of intelligence should be relatively easy to prepare for, so you can structurally prepare with a fair amount of reliability. So, once you’ve established a habitable enclosure in this environment it should be relatively “simple” to develop a series of survival tactics you can make routine and intuitive; you can begin building a supply line for food and water with the aim of becoming self sufficient.

All this has been covered in the Walking Dead as groups of survivors develop well enclosed communities with supply lines and a clear plan for self sufficiently. The real threat however comes from other survivors. With resources so scarce and dangerous to obtain the opportunity to just take what is attractive and useful makes a lot of sense. And with no law or regulator to step in it’s all down to guerrilla tactics. These resource grabs can be sudden, brutal and unpredictable.

This is the irony, due to the relatively stable behaviour of zombies you can get used to them and adapt, with an understanding that there will be steady losses within the community. But, the other survivors, the remaining people, you can’t predict, some are brutal, others benevolent and others playing a game far too long to be able to draw any conclusions. And so it is in business, there are elements of the environment which you build a stable base on but when it comes to the behaviour of people, whether customers, markets or patients you need to be prepared for anything.

This is the decision making take away- be realistic about what is stable and predictable in your environment, and prepare agile strategies for dealing with the vagaries of people. It’s easy to think you can model behaviour and markets but when you take a look at life stripped to the bare bones you can see that the biggest threat or missed opportunity is rapid changes in people’s behaviour that nobody saw coming.

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