Learning from the Movies: the Concept of the Tenth Man from World War Z


As a creativity researcher, I love ideas that seem out of the box. Recently, I attended the Maryland Libraries Futures Conference. This reminded me of some of the previous experience and training I have had with strategic planning using futurist techniques. One of the tools we were taught was to look at a problem through the lens of science fiction. Much of our technology today was once something envisioned in a Hollywood film or paperback novel.


One way a futurist can use sci-fi in strategic planning is to identify common themes and patterns that emerge across multiple works of science fiction. For example, many science fiction stories feature themes like artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and space travel. By analyzing these themes, a futurist can identify emerging trends in technology and society that may shape the future.

Another way a futurist can use sci-fi in strategic planning is to imagine alternative scenarios for the future. By exploring different possible futures, a futurist can identify potential risks and opportunities and develop strategies for addressing them. For example, a futurist might imagine a future in which humans have colonized other planets and consider the implications of this scenario for the global economy, geopolitical relations, and environmental sustainability.

Sci-fi can also help a futurist to communicate complex ideas and possibilities to stakeholders in a more accessible and engaging way. By using stories and narratives to illustrate potential scenarios, a futurist can help people to better understand the implications of different strategic choices and to engage with the planning process more effectively. This is where the learning from the movies part comes in. The “tenth man” rule is a concept that originated from the novel “World War Z” by Max Brooks, which was later adapted into a movie of the same name. In the story, the “tenth man” principle is used to illustrate the importance of challenging assumptions and considering alternative scenarios, even if they seem unlikely or improbable.

In the book and movie, the “tenth man” concept is introduced when a group of military leaders are presented with information that suggests an imminent zombie threat, but the majority of the group does not believe the information to be credible or accurate. The tenth man in the group assumes the information is true and takes appropriate action, even if the other nine members of the group disagree.

While the “tenth man” rule may have originated in the military context of the story, it can be applied in many situations beyond the battlefield. Here are a few ways that you can use the “tenth man” rule to challenge assumptions and make better decisions:

  1. Evaluate information critically: The “tenth man” principle suggests that if a majority of people believe one thing, it is important to consider the possibility that they may be wrong. As an individual, you can use this concept to challenge assumptions and think critically about information that is presented to you. Ask yourself, “what if everyone else is wrong?” and consider alternative explanations or scenarios.
  2. Consider a wider range of possibilities: When making decisions, the “tenth man” rule encourages you to consider a wider range of possibilities and outcomes. Instead of simply going along with the prevailing opinion, take the time to consider different perspectives and potential risks or consequences.
  3. Plan for emergencies: The “tenth man” concept can also be applied to emergency planning. If everyone assumes that a certain disaster is unlikely to occur, the “tenth man” should consider the possibility that it could happen and take appropriate precautions. This could include stocking up on emergency supplies, developing evacuation plans, or taking other steps to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

The “tenth man” rule is a useful tool for individuals to challenge assumptions, think critically, and consider a wider range of possibilities when making decisions or assessing risks. By being willing to challenge the prevailing opinion and consider alternative scenarios, you can make better decisions and be better prepared for whatever challenges come your way.

Do you have any suggestions for other movies or books that can be used to demonstrate complex concepts or ideas? What are some of your favorite “lessons” from the movies?

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