The 10th Man Strategy: Staying Ahead in the Game by Considering Unconventional Perspectives

The Devil’s Advocate, or ‘Promoter of Faith’ position, was appointed by the Roman Catholic Church to argue against the canonization of candidates for sainthood. Devil’s Advocate was designated not to argue about their personal feelings, but to argue the opposing viewpoint and provide the fairest judgment in the canonization of candidates.

The rule was later applied by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) by developing a Red Team. After the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the team was established as a fail-safe. The role of the team was to review all major military and intelligence decisions and come up with an alternative interpretation of ‘facts’, identify worst-case scenarios, and ultimately prepare for them.

In every case, it was the duty of the Devil’s Advocate or the ‘10th Man’ to examine the existing facts and beliefs from a different perspective and draw conclusions based on them. This was done to challenge/validate decision-making and build a more robust approach to implementation, contingency planning, and risk management.

There is no better venue for this discipline than the business strategy planning process.

In some companies, we see a ‘walking dead’ behavior in the boardroom. What the CEO or president says is conceived as gospel. Once their opinion is stated, the group tends to agree with little real debate. The 10th man as a business strategy would provide a ‘safe’ way to disagree and allow a deeper dive into the issue or initiative.

The 10th Man Rule assures a broader and more effective assessment of the fact-sets that form a context for the strategy. However, we believe the real value is found in strategy execution. By considering the alternative interpretation of facts, the 10th Man allows ‘contingency planning’ as part of the process. There are ‘on-the-shelf’ alternatives also, should the core strategy not deliver the desired results.

The simplicity of the 10th Man Rule ensures that it can be molded to any company’s capabilities/constraints, and more fully utilize the organization’s experience and knowledge. The critical thinking involved is designed to:

  • Keep management’s view open to an alternative interpretation of the same set of market facts,
  • Make the organization’s reaction to market change quicker, more focused, and ultimately more effective than the competition.

The organization is more attuned to key metrics and milestones, both in terms of market dynamics and company performance. And mostly these milestones are unique. By applying the 10th Man principle during strategy development, the company is often looking at important factors that the competition is not even aware of.

Ultimately, the company is quicker to react to change. Even a lead time of a few weeks in reacting to market change can be worth several points of market share.

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