Kaizen, Learning Rebels and the Zombie Apocalypse

Horde,Learning and Development Zombies

As you may know, the year 2014 was the year dedicated to the concept of Kaizen

All I can say is, YOWZA, there has been a lot of Kaizen going on in Learning Rebel “land”. To refresh your memory, Kaizen is Japanese for “improvement” or “change for the best”, referring to philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement.

Kaizen may be an understatement for all that has happened to this Learning Rebel during the past year. Let’s count the ways, shall we?

  1. Being laid-off from my daily corporate gig.
  2. Changing, updating, changing again, my LinkedIn profile and resume to better reflect I was in the market  – and wouldn’t having me on your team be a big asset?
  3. Going through the grieving process of losing one’s job, i.e. identity, and then having the realization dawn on you that you are not as in demand as one would have thought or anticipated – the need to change my career trajectory was upon me.
  4. Changing Learning Rebels from the little blog that could, to the Performance Consultancy site it needed to be.
  5. Changing it again, this time accepting that I couldn’t do it myself and hiring the best to help me get my thoughts together. Thank you Brian.
  6. Deciding on a focus then tweaking the focus, Learning Rebels is about “Fighting the Good Fight”. What better image than boxing gloves? Thank you Kevin.
  7. Changing my mindset, or rather adapting my work habits. Harder than one thinks. (Thank you to my #PLN for all the support, advice and guidance.)
  8. Changing, refining, how I view myself, my philosophy and my brand. Also harder than one thinks.

If all of this seems overwhelming, it’s because it is. Hugely overwhelming and to be honest, there were times I wanted to pack it in and see how long I could live on the insulting amount of money the government gives you via unemployment. But because 2014 was the year of “Kaizen”, I made a decision to take a look at what I was doing and make improvements. We have all been in a place where we find our days routine and without challenge; those days where we are so overwhelmed by it all that we retreat. When overly stressed, most people naturally regress to an area of their lives that provides sanctuary. Turning us all into zombies.

There it is. The zombie reference. 

How did I get from Kaizen to zombies? Well, I have to thank Urbie Delgado. He left this comment on my post “Looking Up”.  On his blog, Connect the Dots, he posted a different perspective on “Looking Up“, but to me what shouted out was the zombie reference in the comment.

Urbie Comment

My initial research of Zombies gives me this description of a “Walking Zombie”: Not a large threat alone. But in a group they can be a massive threat to survivors. z’s have a movement of a shambling limp, moving at a low speed. This may cause survivors to see them as easy to avoid, although this will cause them to rush headlong into a situation, allowing biters to move in behind them and box them into a corner or other z’s. Condemning them to death if they do not analyze what they are doing.  

Coffee Drinking Zombie

They also exhibit these characteristics: (via Wikipedia) I could not help but notice the similarities between the fictional zombie and real humans in Learning and Development.

  • Mobile (able to move) but technically dead, without a heartbeat or other vital signs: i.e. the bobble-head instructional designer. 
  • In a decaying (rotting) state, with discolored skin and eyes: The elearning developer stripped of the creative side of their brain staring forlornly at their securely locked computer screen.
  • Non-communicative (groaning and howling instead of speaking): The instructional designer after endless, non-productive meetings with Subject Matter Experts using War and Peace as resource documents.
  • Unemotional, with no mercy toward victims: The Learning Professional with the “crank it out now and fast” attitude. Everything must be measured, everything must be controlled with no regard to performance outcomes.
  • Hungry for human flesh (zombies ignore animals like dogs or cats): “Find me the person who failed to take the compliance course, how dare they decide what learning they need to participate in?”
  • Vulnerable to destruction of the brain, which kills them: Sitting at a cube and/or desk for so long without contact with real people has melted their brain, distorting their point of view.
  • Contagious: a person that is bitten by a zombie will become a zombie: Misery loves company, as does the uninformed.
  • Does not attack other zombies, leading to swarms of zombies: BEWARE! The zombie mindset is contagious.

This where the practice of “Kaizen”comes to the rescue. 

zombie horde When focusing on Kaizen, continuous improvement becomes a priority, and then it is impossible to turn into a zombie.  We are keeping our brains sharp, mobile and agile. We are not letting uninspired ideas grab hold and take shape. We are thinking about what is better for the workplace environment and its people rather than allowing ourselves to be beaten down and have our brains eaten. It is easy to find ourselves in the walking hordes of the dead or the dead-like. I see them at conferences all the time, hordes of zombies go in and hordes of zombies come out. What is even more troublesome is that sometimes it’s not the same people – somewhere along the line good people have turned into zombies. They got infected within our own sacred walls. The HORROR. Here’s a small Kaizen idea for conferences, specifically those on the selection committee – stop accepting presentations about work we all know has been debunked or whose theory is in question. Just stop it. We are turning our young ones into zombies.

The question becomes how do we change from “zombie-like” to “Kaizen-aware”? This is a question I continue to ask even of myself. 

When you are head down in tasks; over-whelmed by the expectations of leadership and the business, have unrealistic deadlines and budgets then trying

Credit Kevin Thorn, Nuggethead Studioz to keep up with the L&D brain trust – it’s easy to let your brain turn to mush. I could feel it happening to me too (and I work from home, I blame the zombie dogs). No one is exempt. One day your brain is fired up, colorful and imaginative – the next it’s being eaten by subject matter experts and others who have long given up ownership of their own gray matter.

Therefore, I call for a continuation of the “Year of Kaizen”. There is still a lot of work to be done. A lot of changes that need to be made – and first we need to recognize that zombies are trying to trample all over us – they are trying to eat our brains.  We must also be just as aware of zombies in disguise who are trying to force feed ideas and thoughts, they know we are weak, susceptible and busy. It’s the perfect environment for a zombie feeding frenzy. These zombies know we are looking for new ways to work and for $19.95 they will install the Google machine on your computer.  Wake up and be alert! Want to start the year off right? Read ” John Medina’s book, Brain Rules,” about how the brain sciences might influence the way we teach and the way we work. There’s your Kaizen, 12 step list, for improving the way you design your learning.

Bring the “Year of Kaizen” to your office, to your research, to your next project, to your mindset. Little changes add up to big solutions and better awareness. 

Learning Rebels goal for 2015? 

Continue to make small adjustments. For this I ask your patience. I am not a zombie, because of this you may notice changes in this website or other areas of Learning Rebels. The goal is to build a Learning “Rebel Alliance” (special shout out to Mark Sheppard, @marklearns, for coining the term). We are all in this together and it’s together, through Kaizen, that we beat back the zombie hordes and reclaim our brains.

To continue to move down the Learning Rebels Kaizen path, (and not have the “Rebel Alliance” turn into a zombie horde), I ask for your help and to share your thoughts with me.

What would you like to see more of in 2015? Thought pieces? Tips? Tackling specific categories such as: Elearning, Adult Learning, Social Media, Branding/Marketing? Together let’s share thoughts which are not only important, but are also critically relevant to you – the Rebel Alliance.


You know how this works, here is what you need to do

First: Share your comments below so we all can benefit. Remember: #ShowYourWork #WorkOutloud

Then: Share this post, let’s build our Rebellion together. Let’s gather, let’s share, let’s be vocal. Share with other L&D people, subject matter experts, your boss, share with zombies who still have a spark of life left in their eyes. Let’s be the change we want to see.

Lastly: Sign up for the newsletter. The newsletter is a new addition to building our Rebellion. The newsletter will contain links and other “thinking out loud” pieces for you to share with others which, due to space, did not make to the blog. The newsletter is the easiest way for all of us to share the Learning Rebel message – you get an email, you forward an email to interested parties. Sharing done.


To quote Home Depot – “Let’s Do This!” Rebel against the status quo, get your learning curiosity groove on, and let’s not allow the zombies to eat any more brain cells. Here’s to 2015 and the Rebel Alliance!


Zombie Sketch credit – Kevin Thorn, Nuggethead Studioz

Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

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