THE BLOG

How Would Harvard Handle a Zombie Apocalypse?

12/04/2012 04:14 pm ET | Updated Jan 04, 2013

I should have known that appearances can be deceiving.

For the past few months, I've been on the road promoting Pendulum:How Past Generations Shape Our Present and Predict Our Future, which I wrote with Roy H. Williams.

Our book actually grew out of talks that Roy and I had given separately (and sometimes together) over the years to entrepreneurs, artists and business owners across the country. In expanding these talks into our book, we did a lot more research, of course, and updated and expanded the information we had been using. But the basic concepts remain the same:

Society shifts on an invisible pendulum every 40 years, moving between cycles when people's perceptions and judgments of the world around them change. These cycles are what we call ME Cycles and WE Cycles. In a ME Cycle, people are motivated by breaking free of traditional boundaries, by self-expression, by being number-one, by the individual hero, by look-at-me leadership, by flashy promises. In a WE Cycle -- the one we're in right now -- people prefer to work together for the common good, to think in terms of community, to be transparent, real, raw and relevant.

When I give my 90-minute talk that outlines the concepts in Pendulum, which I illustrate with musical and literary examples (you can tell a lot about a cycle by its hit records and bestselling books), audiences are generally enthusiastic and vocal. I try to get members of the audience to participate, asking questions, encouraging people with my pushy points of view on our current social situation.

It's usually quite a lively back-and-forth kind of event.

This didn't happen to me when I was speaking at Harvard.

I recently gave my Pendulum presentation there to a group of about 200 people, in one of the grand old science buildings on the Harvard campus in Cambridge, Mass. Sure, people participated when I prodded them enough. But rather than laughing or clapping or singing along, as most audiences do, this crowd was far more contemplative. Quiet, even. I had the sinking feeling as I gave my talk that what I was saying wasn't sinking in, or that Roy's and my findings were not hitting home with these particular brainiacs.

Once I'd finished, however, things changed dramatically.

As soon as I left the stage, people stormed me. I personally answered questions for about three hours, with attendees asking me about everything, such as how Pendulum can apply to the arts, or how I would consider its use in the field of economics, or what it said about the recent presidential election.

People wanted to discover what I thought of the use of Pendulum in a wide variety of situations, specialties and fields. I was stunned by the enthusiasm.

The Harvard crowd wasn't ready to be coaxed as a group into reacting to my message: Its individuals wanted to tackle me face-to-face with their queries.

I was relieved that the Pendulum concept had hit home. And I learned that I cannot take certain things for granted: behind a quiet façade can be a teeming intellect that waits for the right moment to become vocal.

That said, among the queries one of the more interesting, if offbeat, questions was this: How would Pendulum apply in the event of a zombie apocalypse?

Well, really. But the question actually didn't throw me. I mean, why not? I replied, "If a zombie apocalypse occurs during a ME Cycle, you'd have a bunch of individuals shooting up the rampaging zombies. In a WE Cycle, there'll be groups of surviving human beings working together to battle the hordes of undead." Why else would The Walking Dead be such a hit in our current WE Cycle? Logical, no?

In the end, it felt great that I, someone who may be intelligent but isn't as educated as a great many people, could connect with these super-intelligent Harvard grads, professors and students. And it made me recognize that I was applying the Pendulum principle myself: I had become a specialist in my field, and in that way connected to people who wanted to know how I could help them better understand their own fields. My field is explaining the Pendulum concept, of learning to interpret what history and culture have taught us over 3,000 years and applying it to real-world situations.

Or almost real-world situations. When it comes to a zombie apocalypse (however unlikely that may be), I can definitely provide a solution (though probably not the weapons).