The Tenth Man — wanted dead or alive?

Catriona Campbell
3 min readApr 27, 2023

The tenth man…only he (or she) is digital. Do we want that? Or should the tenth man spot be reserved for a living, breathing person?

Some senior leadership challenges are so hard to solve they might as well be the sky-scraping anti-zombie wall in World War Z. One such challenge is disputing the dominant viewpoint on big decisions to inspire change and drive growth. Another is how an ailing C-suite leader can leave behind a powerful legacy for their executive team.

But as the living dead in Marc Foster’s post-apocalyptic horror proved when they formed a human pyramid to munch on the residents of Jerusalem, even the tallest walls can be scaled by thinking outside the box.

The Tenth Man Rule

One of the most creative ways to beat groupthink in decision-making is the Tenth Man Rule. First developed and used by the Israeli intelligence in 1973 during the Yom Kippur war, the critical-thinking strategy posits this:

If nine individuals in a group of ten receive the same info and agree on a resolution, it’s the responsibility of the tenth to protest, highlight all potential issues with that resolution, and argue the case for unlikelier scenarios — even if they’re on the same page as the other nine.

Essentially, the tenth man plays devil’s advocate to inspire deeper discussion of all eventualities and steer the group arrive towards a clearer, more considered answer.

Doing so after intercepting an Indian communication about a zombie apocalypse — and accordingly building a safe zone to prepare for the improbable — is exactly what helped Israel gird its loins for the worst in World War Z.

Sure, the undead ultimately managed to breach the wall with their own ingenuity, but if it weren’t for UN investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) rocking up to Jerusalem to learn about the Israeli approach, the events that led to a vaccine would never have unfolded.

So, the Tenth Man Rule saved the day — just indirectly, is all. Although it may seem deranged to source management tips from a zombie film, I’d say every senior leader should add this strategy to their toolkit. It works.

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Catriona Campbell

Behavioural psychologist; AI-quisitive; EY UK&I Client Technology & Innovation Officer. Views my own & don't represent EY’s position. catrionacampbell.com