World War Z, the Tenth Man and You

In the 2013 Brad Pitt film, World War Z, a deadly virus washes over the globe unchecked, turning millions into zombies. But one place remains a safe harbor: Jerusalem, which managed to erect high walls around its perimeter before the outbreak reached the city.

Pitt’s character asks one of the city’s top officials how they were able to respond in time. He replies that they overheard communication from a small country about “zombies.” Why would you even pay attention to something so ludicrous, Pitt wonders.  

The official then tells him about the tenth man, an idea created in the tragic wake of the Holocaust, the Munich Olympics and the Yom Kippur war — all events his nation’s leaders believed were impossible until they happened.
“If nine of us with the same information arrive at the same conclusion, it’s the duty of the tenth man to disagree,” he said. “No matter how improbable it may seem, the tenth man has to start thinking with the assumption that the other nine are wrong.”

What does all this have to with your company?

When you consider threats or opportunities, it’s often as a group. And what emerges is consensus — you act on the challenges or possibilities everyone can agree on. Outliers get voted off the island.

But a group can be wrong. A lone voice can be right. And in business, the greatest successes go to the contrarians. The early adopters. Those who question the assumptions.

So whether you’re thinking about an updated business model for this new normal, rethinking your marketing and messaging, or revisiting your product and service options, consider designating a tenth man.  

Of course, the tenth man may be a woman. They could be (and maybe should be) someone from outside daily operations. Maybe even someone from outside your industry. They need to be someone who can speak freely without repercussions. Someone you’ll listen to. And someone with experience in thinking differently.  

You’re as unlikely to have to deal with zombies as you are to hang with Brad Pitt. But every business would be better prepared for a rapidly-changing future if it embraced the idea of the tenth man. Who’s yours?