Improvisation and contingency planning are fundamental to business survival because challenges can appear at any turn — like in a zombie apocalypse, Smith School professor Oliver Schlake says.
The Smith Student Association field-tested the concept in spring 2015. With Schlake advising, the walking dead invaded the group’s second annual outdoor adventure team building and networking event at Little Bennett Campground near Washington, D.C.
Teams of undergraduate students competed in a GPS scavenger hunt through the woods, and results determined the allocation of scarce resources for a subsequent series of outdoor survival competitions — invaded by zombies played by student peers.
Then-association president Ramin Ziaee ’15 said many participants had little or no outdoor adventure experience. “Students in brand new shoes or with freshly painted nails got down and dirty to help their teams survive,” he said.
By design, teammates barely knew one another. “Personalities clashed and ideas got rejected,” said Ziaee. “But each group came together with creative solutions.”
Peer-evaluated missions included using available materials to build a bow and arrow capable of piercing a watermelon, a stretcher to carry an injured team member and a long-burning torch to fend off the zombies.
“The students demonstrated that creativity flourishes outdoors,” Schlake said. “They overcame functional fixedness, like by turning a tin can from food holder to a means to boil water.”
Ziaee said participants also discovered that rope and elastic bands are far more useful than machetes and hammers when fighting the walking dead. “A bow or sling made a much better weapon by preventing you from getting up close and personal with a zombie.”
The students further exercised contingency planning through multiple scavenger hunt strategies. This also applied to the organizers’ flexible itinerary to account for such unknowns as the length of time that students would need for building stretchers. “Planning ahead for the unexpected allowed the day to run smoothly,” said event organizer Raitza Pareja ’15.
Schlake said the challenges helped students recognize how a sudden market shift “leads to a company losing ground because it’s creating a plan B while its competitor is seamlessly switching to its alternative plan.”
Pareja said managing the event gave her a taste of “leading in a fast-paced and constantly changing work environment.”