The tenth man

The 10th man

“The problem with most people is that they don’t believe something can happen until it has”. This is a quote from a film called World War Z talking about the 10th man theory.

What the film shows is that after several disasters in Israel that no one thought could happen, if, in a council, there was a unanimous vote against a possible outcome, one member would act as if it was definitely going to happen and try to prevent it. This way, if that improbable event finally happens, someone is prepared for it.

Pure fictional and yet interesting enough to think about it

Although this 10th man theory is pure fictional, we can find certain similarities in the concept with the Devil’s Advocate figure for Catholic’s canonization processes, for example. The role in both cases is the same. Somebody is selected to think against the majority and critically look for facts that contradict the other’s thinking.

The quality of the outcome improves.

In my last post, Critical thinking, I told about how we humans tend to systematically strive for arguments that justify our beliefs or actions. That’s why, sometimes, reasoning can lead to poor outcomes.

Mercier and Sperber, in the Argumentative Theory, they state that reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth but to help us win arguments.

Since we can’t find the problems in our thinking very well, we need other people criticizing our ideas, and the truth may easily come out.

When people reason on their own, they tend to confirm their first intuition. When people can discuss their ideas with other people who disagree with them, the different perspectives balance each other, and the group will be able to come with a better solution. Therefore, reasoning works much better in groups.

An example

It is known that teaching kids abstract topics, in maths for example, is difficult. One method, proved effective, to do this is the corroborative learning: to put them in groups and let them reason together about the topic, certain constrains given. This helps them out gain a much deeper understanding that they would obtain working on their own.

Bearing this in mind, what if we look systematically and consistently for the Devil’s advocate opinion? How could we train our people to find arguments for the other’s side instead of theirs and share with the group?

A group usually outperforms an individual, and this is probably one of the clearest situations.

If we pay attention to what this Argumentative theory develops, we can conclude that educating our team to consistently look for different perspectives and discuss them is a competitive advantage talking in terms of problem-solving and decision-making processes. And yet, creating the conditions for a healthy and productive discussion to happen is not an easy task.

One question comes to my mind: next time everyone in the team agrees on something, what could you do to promote someone taking the 10th man role, so the whole team can benefit from it?