Do You Have A Tenth Man?
There was a lot of talk last week about Amazon Prime Air — the idea of Amazon someday using drones to pilot packages right to our doorstep.
Obviously there are many kinks to be ironed out before you and I ever see these drones action. But that didn’t stop online armies of Debbie Downers from immediately picking it apart as if the very idea of disrupting the “order online and deliver by mail” law of the land was so horrifying it must be stopped dead in its tracks.
Sadly, this is how most people are condition to respond to change and innovation.
Far too many Debbie Downers sit around far too many decision-making tables in far too many companies in America.
Tell your Debbie Downer to zip it.
What I love most about the drone idea is it meant that, once upon a time, someone over at Amazon had the moxie to risk ridicule and ask the amazing question, “What if our packages could fly?”
Someone asked that question. And, even more amazing, some other people listened to it. And eventually it became the (impeccably crafted and timed) announcement you and I heard last week.
That’s how innovation works, folks: we hire people who aren’t afraid to ask big questions and we don’t laugh them out of the room when they ask them.
If you can’t get on board with that basic principal, you’re going to have trouble innovating anything at your company.
But how do you build a culture to make that happen?
The Tenth (Wo)Man
This question brought to mind a scene in the movie World War Z* when, in the middle of the zombie apocalypse, Brad Pitt lands in a heavily-fortified Jerusalem that has erected huge walls to keep the zombie swarms at bay.
Pitt’s character asks his contact, “How did you know?” How were they able to be so well-prepared for an invasion that hit everyone else out of the blue?
Pitt’s guide tells him that after The Yom Kippur war with Egypt and Syria in 1973, Israel had instituted a policy known as “the tenth man.”
When nine people agree on something, you need to have a tenth man in the room whose responsibility is to present a case for an alternative view point — no matter how ridiculous the idea sounds.
So in this fictional scenerio, when Israel got a heads-up that a zombie plague had possibly been unleashed, it was the responsibility of their tenth man, to say, “Well, maybe “zombie” isn’t a code word for something else. Maybe “zombie” means zombie and we should get ready for an epic battle and build some stinkin’ walls or something.”
That tenth man meeting probably sounded a lot like the one that went down at Amazon when drones were suggested, with people saying things like…
- “Zombies? What are you, HIGH?”
- “Listen Joe, if you don’t have anything helpful to add to this discussion and are just going to make jokes, then maybe you should just leave.”
- Even if they did mean ZOMBIE “zombies,” building a wall will cost too much. Let’s just assume they meant “viral outbreak” and close the airport. Cool?”
Introduce your Debbie to number ten.
If the natural role of the tenth man [and let’s be inclusive here and call it the tenth (wo)man] is to pose the improbable idea, then the traditional role we’ve created for the other nine people on a team is to laugh that tenth person out of the room.
That needs to change.
Because the cold reality is more companies today are giving consumers exactly what we need, when we need it, delivered as quickly as possible.
NO ONE out there is in support of you finding a more conservative way of doing business that will inconvenience us, but make you more money in the long run.
The public doesn’t care about you. They care about themselves and how you can make them happier, faster.
So, if you haven’t given some thought to how you’re going to innovate and adapt to make that happen, you’d better start soon.
Find your tenth (wo)man, today. Because sooner or later, your company may need to fly, too.
* As a book nerd, this is where I am contractually obligated to inform you that the book is entirely different than the movie, and also way better. (So different, in fact, that’s it’s probably easier to just pretend this movie didn’t have text-based source material at all.)