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Almost 2 years ago by Steph Fruin

Red Teaming: How Your Business Can Conquer the Competition by Challenging Everything, with Bryce Hoffman

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In an increasingly uncertain world, businesses need to be proactive to stay competitive, relevant and profitable. Understanding threats and potential flaws upfront will help mitigate large problems in the future. This is the opinion of the President of 'Red Team Thinking', Bryce Hoffman, and he joined us for one of our strategy breakfast events to discuss just that and 'how to conquer the competition by challenging everything'.

Bryce is an author, speaker, and consultant. His 2012 book American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company became manual for CEOs looking to transform their corporate cultures. Before he launched his consulting practice in 2014, he was an award-winning financial journalist. Bryce now teaches companies around the world how to use the 'Red Teaming' approach to strengthen their plans, stress-test their strategies, identify missed opportunities and expose hidden threats in order to help them succeed in today’s rapidly changing global economy.

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. This method is a revolutionary way to stress-test strategies, flush out unseen threats and missed opportunities, and execute more successfully in an increasingly uncertain world.

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.

In 2015, Hoffman became the first civilian to graduate from the U.S. Army’s Red Team Leader Program at the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies. He approached the Pentagon to get sent through the course as he believed that businesses could also benefit from the same methodology.

In his company, 'Red Team Thinking', Hoffman teaches companies around the world how to use the same approach to make better decisions. By making critical and contrarian thinking part of the planning process, this process helps companies and other organisations challenge their assumptions, strengthen their plans, overcome groupthink and outthink the competition.

When is it used?

When it comes to business planning, often people cannot look past their current biases and heuristics. Some examples of companies who have fallen victim to these biases include Blockbuster’s response to Netflix. 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.

Other examples of different effects influencing businesses include:

  • 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 unreasoned or wrong, or to come up with a new plan. Instead, it is to make a plan and strategy more successful, and it's 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 - these include:

  • Analytical 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?

  • Imaginative Techniques: 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.

  • Contrast techniques: 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.

In Use

The Red Team doesn’t take away from leaders, but allows them to make plans better; they don’t directly decide anything, but rather help them to think differently. It should also never stand in the way of a decision when a decision is necessary or needs to be made quickly. In use, you need to balance the speed of the decision but learn to apply the tools.

The best way of making this process happen for the long run and embedding it within an organisation is to equip internal people with the tools so that they can come up with the results themselves and change their thinking, rather than making the Red Team as an external part of the business.

In close, Bryce states that it is time for us to“confront the hard truths instead of living with our comfortable lies”.

If you have any questions or would like to find out more about our breakfast seminars or any other events. Then please get in touch.

Bryce joined us for another webinar event covering 'Red Teaming for Resilience' and planning in a crisis situation. You can download the full talk here.

Bryce Hoffman was a speaker at one of our strategy breakfast series events. You find out more and connect with him here.

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