I have to admit that I had never heard of the concept of “The Tenth Man” until I watched World War Z. I thought it was an intriguing enough idea that I immediately went back to the Max Brooks’ novel to see if it was referenced there. It was, of course. My bad for not picking up on it the first time around.
The cool thing is that it is based on a philosophy used in, among other organizations, the Israel Military (as depicted in the movie).
Here’s the idea in a nutshell:
On decisions of utmost importance, where even as many as 10 men agree on a certain action, one man is elected to take on the opposing view. This is the tenth man, and often one who is trusted to actually carry out his duty. He becomes the “devil’s advocate,” as described by Yosef Kupperwasser, past head of the Research Division of the Israel Defense Forces:
The devil’s advocate office ensures that the… military intelligence body of the Israel Defense Forces are creative and do not fall prey to group think… The staff in the devil’s advocate office is made up of extremely experienced and talented officers who are known to have a creative, “outside the box” way of thinking. Perhaps as important, they are highly regarded by the analysts. As such, strong consideration is given to their conclusions and their memos go directly to the office of the Director of Military Intelligence, as well as to all major decision makers. The devil’s advocate office also proactively combats group think and conventional wisdom by writing papers that examine the possibility of a radical and negative change occurring within the security environment. This is done even when the defense establishment does not think that such a development is likely, precisely to explore alternative assumptions and worst-case scenarios.
It’s a fascinating concept, one with roots that go back hundreds and maybe even thousands of years. I often think that our world has a bit too much group think going on these days. More often than not we are a bit too happy to follow the group ahead of ourselves. Is it a distrust of our leaders? Who knows.