Date posted: 3/08/2017 3 min read

Think like the enemy

In episode 11 of the Acuity podcast, we speak to author Bryce G. Hoffman about how every business can benefit from creating a red team.

In Brief

  • Red teaming is a tactic that is commonly practised in the military in the US, Australia and New Zealand.
  • Red teaming can be done formally or informally.
  • When done correctly, red teaming should yield constructive results, not negative ones.

In the 1990s camera and film company Polaroid were the market leaders in consumer digital cameras and photography. They were believed to be the “Apple” of their time.

However, during this time Polaroid’s executive team predicted that as digital photography became more prevalent, the appetite for more tangible print photography would grow. Blinded by their success with print photography, Polaroid decided to stop manufacturing digital products and invested wholly in their instant film business. Their prediction was wrong and in 2001 Polaroid filed for bankruptcy.

The story of Polaroid, and other examples, are in Bryce G Hoffman’s book, Red Teaming: Transform your business by thinking like the enemy. 

 

“No matter how smart we are, no matter how experienced we are, we all fall victim to an array of blind spots and biases when we make decisions or when we put together complicated strategies and plans”

 

Hoffman says that had Polaroid conducted a red team in the 1990s then they most likely wouldn’t have made the ill-fated decision that resulted in their demise.

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Red teaming is a tactic used widely in the US, Australia and New Zealand governments and military. Put simply, it consists of using an opposing team to pick apart and find weaknesses in a new strategy. 

In episode 11 of the Acuity podcast, Hoffman explains why every business, large or small, should practice red teaming before executing any new strategies.

“If you boil it down, it’s really a system that’s designed to take your strategies and plans and stress tests them, to break them down into the assumptions they’re based on, and then challenge those assumptions to make sure that they’re really true, and likely to remain true under all circumstances.”

Hoffman believes the deliberate challenge to an idea is what sets red teaming apart from other procedures because it forces a level of scrutiny and skepticism that might not normally be considered.

“No matter how smart we are, no matter how experienced we are, we all fall victim to an array of blind spots and biases when we make decisions or when we put together complicated strategies and plans,” he goes on to explain.

But a system like red teaming sounds potentially intensive and confrontational, could the exercise lead to unease and tension in the organisation? Hoffman doesn’t think so.

“Red teams have to be skeptical without being negative. The have to be critical and contrarian without being destructive. Red teaming is about asking the tough questions, and sometimes those questions can be uncomfortable for organisations to ask, but red teaming, when it’s done right, is always done in a collegial and constructive way.”

Hoffman also believes that the system is applicable and beneficial regardless of the company size or project scale. “Companies that are most successful right now are the companies that do it, either formally or informally and organically, but they do it nonetheless. So do it yourself and you can become one of the biggest disruptors in your industry rather than one of the disrupted.”

For the complete interview with Bryce G Hoffman and more on red teaming, listen to the Acuity podcast at acuitypodcast.com.