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Creating Solutions in a Zombie Apocalypse

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The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

Oct 14, 2015

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 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.”

Contingency planning 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,” Event organizer Raitza Pareja ’15 said. /GM/