As part of our insight breakfast series, we were joined by Bryce Hoffman, as he discussed Red Teaming: How Your Business Can Conquer the Competition by Challenging Everything.
“No plan extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the enemy.”
What is Red Teaming?
Red Teaming is based on a methodology developed by the U.S. military and intelligence agencies to make critical and contrarian thinking part of an organisation’s strategic planning process. It was first established after 911 when the CIA had intelligent information on the attack, but they were bound by conventional thinking and couldn’t look past their biases.
The CIA, therefore, created “Red Cell” a team to interpret strategies differently and to see weaknesses in them. From this, they expose flaws in the plans, reduce errors and find missed opportunities. These alternatives in policy allow plans to remain agile and the Red Team have been credited with preventing at least half a dozen attacks. As the President of Red Team Thinking LLC, Hoffman teaches companies around the world how to use the same approach to strengthen their plans, stress-test their strategies, identify missed opportunities and expose hidden threats to help them succeed in today’s rapidly changing global economy.
He approached the Pentagon to get him sent through the course as he believed that businesses needed the methodology, they are currently ill-equipped to deal with the complexities of businesses and often people cannot look passed their current biases and heuristics. Bryce went on to explain examples of companies who have fallen victim to these biases. Blockbuster’s response to Netflix, for instance, emphasised these biases. They believed that Netflix wasn’t even on the radar of their competition in 2008, yet Netflix went on and decimated them. Blockbuster didn’t have a strategy to defeat them as they didn’t think that Netflix could claim their market share. Red Teaming helps by looking at all alternative options and strategies.
He also provided examples on different effects influencing businesses:
The Bandwagon effect: Where all companies follow a particular trend even if it’s not right for their business, but purely because everyone else is doing it.
The Framing effect: Where companies are restricted by their current framing. For example, Xerox only is interested in computers because they're related to a copier company whereas Apple was able not to be constrained by its framing and be a phone company its branches out into, watches, computers and tablets.
So what are the red team there for? The red team is not to make the planners look silly or to come up with a new plan. Instead, it is to make a plan and strategy more successful, and it is often easier to challenge when you’re not directly involved. When you’ve created the strategy it is difficult to come up with a list of things that could never occur to us. The red team is, therefore there as a new perspective, and it works by using different techniques.
Key Assumptions Deck – Where you take a strategy and map out the stated and unstated assumptions. You then challenge and stress test them – are they likely to come true?
Pre-mortem analysis – This is where people look at a strategy and think about what the worst thing that can happen is. This is not so that the plan fails but so that when the plan is launched, it can be agile enough to adapt to challenges.
Devils Advocacy – Where you take a strategy and come up with an alternative that is the direct opposite to see if there are elements that you can incorporate into the current strategy.
Following on from the end of Bryce’s session, the audience asked several Q & A questions promoting discussion. This included the impact of the red team on leaders and Bryce responded that the Red team doesn’t take away from leaders it allows them to make it better; they don’t directly decide anything they help them to think differently. Another interesting question was about quick decisions of which Bryce answered that Red teaming should never stand in the way of a decision when a decision is necessary. For example quick PE decisions, you, therefore, need to balance the speed of the decision but learn to apply the tools. It is also not ideal to bring outsiders in or make the red team outsides. Instead, you need to equip internal people with the tools so that they can come up with the results themselves and change their thinking.
Finally, in business, Bryce states that it is time for us to “confront the hard truths instead of living with our comfortable lies”.
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