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Red Teaming: How Your Business Can Conquer the Competition by Challenging Everything

Red Teaming: How Your Business Can Conquer the Competition by Challenging Everything

by Bryce G. Hoffman


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Red Teaming is a revolutionary new way to make critical and contrarian thinking part of the planning process of any organization, allowing companies to stress-test their strategies, flush out hidden threats and missed opportunities and avoid being sandbagged by competitors.
Today, most — if not all — established corporations live with the gnawing fear that there is another Uber out there just waiting to disrupt their industry. Red Teaming is the cure for this anxiety. The term was coined by the U.S. Army, which has developed the most comprehensive and effective approach to Red Teaming in the world today in response to the debacles of its recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the roots of Red Teaming run very deep: to the Roman Catholic Church’s “Office of the Devil’s Advocate,” to the Kriegsspiel of the Prussian General Staff and to the secretive AMAN organization, Israel’s Directorate of Military Intelligence. In this book, author Bryce Hoffman shows business how to use the same techniques to better plan for the uncertainties of today’s rapidly changing economy.
Red Teaming is both a set of analytical tools and a mindset. It is designed to overcome the mental blind spots and cognitive biases that all of us fall victim to when we try to address complex problems. The same heuristics that allow us to successfully navigate life and business also cause us to miss or ignore important information. It is a simple and provable fact that we do not know what we do not know. The good news is that, through Red Teaming, we can find out.
In this book, Hoffman shows how the most innovative and disruptive companies, such as Google and Toyota, already employ some of these techniques organically. He also shows how many high-profile business failures, including those that sparked the Great Recession, could easily have been averted by using these approaches. Most importantly, he teaches leaders how to make Red Teaming part of their own planning process, laying the foundation for a movement that will change the way America does business.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101905975
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/16/2017
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

BRYCE G. HOFFMAN is a bestselling author, speaker and consultant who helps companies around the world plan better and leaders around the world lead better by applying innovative systems from the worlds of business and the military. Before launching his international consulting practice in 2014, Hoffman was an award-winning financial journalist who spent 22 years covering the global automotive, high-tech and biotech industries for newspapers in Michigan and California. He writes a regular column on leadership and culture for and regularly appears on television and radio shows in the United States and around the world.

Read an Excerpt


Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril. When you are ignorant of the enemy, but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.

—Sun Tzu 

On a cold, clear morning in March 2015, I eased my car past the hand-­hewn stone walls and imposing iron gates of the old military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. When they used to talk about sending someone to break rocks at Leavenworth, they meant it. This was where the American military sent the baddest of its bad apples for more than a century. In 1875, the U.S. Army marched the first inmates out to what was still the frontier and forced them to build their prison around themselves, hewing it block by block from the native stone in a scene worthy of Kafka. Officially known as the United States Disciplinary Barracks, it served as the military’s maximum security prison until it was deemed unfit even for the worst offenders. The main building had been torn down in 2002—­and its inmates transferred to a modern, concrete penitentiary built at a more remote location on the base. I now found myself looking for a parking space on the fresh black asphalt that covered the area where the old cellblocks once stood. The rest of the original prison complex, from the walls and guard towers to the infirmary and workshops, still remained. Some of those buildings had been converted into offices. Others, including a stone edifice that had once housed the gallows, had been converted into classrooms. After a lengthy security check, I headed there, pressed my newly issued security pass to the electronic reader mounted next to the door of classroom 104, and tried to slip inside as discreetly as possible.

But it is hard to be discreet when you are the only civilian in a classroom full of soldiers.

There were a dozen other students, all wearing battle dress uniforms, and all of them turned in unison when I opened the door and eyed me suspiciously. Eleven were army majors, or soon to be promoted to that rank. One was an air force intelligence officer. Almost all of them had served multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many wore the army’s Combat Action Badge on their left breast, proof that they had been in the thick of it. Several sported paratroopers’ jump wings. Some were highly decorated. One had a green beret sitting on top of his notebook. The room was occupied by an enormous U-shaped table with seats arranged around the outside edge. A name card was placed in front of each seat. Mine said mr. hoffman. All the others said major so-­and-­so. 

“You must be important,” said the officer to my left as I slipped into my seat.

“I assure you, I’m not,” I promised.

“Then why are you dressed that way?” he asked, eyeing my wool sport coat and slacks.

The only other person dressed that way was our instructor, Dr. Kevin Benson. He was a tall, lanky gentleman with a drooping white mustache that made him look like a frontier sheriff. But at least Benson was a retired colonel. And not just any retired colonel. He was, quite literally, the man who had written the invasion plan for Iraq. I felt like I was crashing a party I was not dressed for and had no business attending. But I was right where I needed to be if I was going to learn about red teaming—­a revolutionary way to stress-­test strategies and navigate an uncertain future that I had first learned about from a zombie movie.


I don’t like zombie movies. I never have. But several friends whose opinions I respect had recommended the 2013 film World War Z—­and while I did not respect their opinions enough to actually go to the theater and see it, I did remember what they had said a few months later when I found myself laid up on the couch with a bad cold, scanning the list of new releases on Amazon Instant Video, looking for a way to kill the afternoon. World War Z was at the top of the list. It seemed suitably mindless, so I clicked on the “Play” button.

I couldn’t tell you much about the movie—­most of it was quickly lost in a decongestant haze—­but one scene struck me like a shotgun blast to the face of an ambulatory corpse. Early on in the film, it emerges that only one nation, Israel, has managed to avoid the virally induced zombie apocalypse that has destroyed the rest of human civilization. Our hero, Brad Pitt, is sent to Jerusalem by what is left of the United States government to find out why. A senior Mossad officer meets Pitt at the airport and explains that his country decided to seal its borders after receiving reports of a fast-­moving zombie plague in India. Other nations received the same hard-­to-­believe information but dismissed these reports as absurd. When Pitt asks why Israel decided to act upon them, the Mossad man credits the “Tenth Man Doctrine,” which he says Israel adopted in the wake of the Yom Kippur War.

“In the month before October 1973 we saw Arab troop movements, and we unanimously agreed that they didn’t pose a threat. Now, a month later, the Arab attack almost drove us into the sea. So, we decided to make a change,” the Israeli explains. “If nine of us with the same information arrive at the exact same conclusion, it’s the duty of the tenth man to disagree. No matter how improbable it may seem, the tenth man has to start thinking with the assumption that the other nine were wrong.”

In this case, he was that tenth man, and he had managed to persuade his peers to close Israel’s borders as a precaution, thereby preventing the zombie plague from infecting his country.

That didn’t matter much in the movie; the zombies were at the Wailing Wall a few minutes later. However, it mattered a great deal to me—­not because I spent a lot of time thinking about how to contain the undead, but because I spent a lot of time thinking about how companies could plan better, overcome groupthink, and avoid the curse of complacency that so often seemed to follow on the heels of success at big corporations.

Two years earlier, I had written American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company. It had been a bestseller, and a number of CEOs in the United States and other countries had adopted my book as a manual for a new model of leadership—­a forward-­looking, data-­driven approach to management that Mulally had used to save not only Ford but also Boeing. Many of those CEOs had wanted to learn more about Mulally’s method, and several had asked me to help them implement his ideas in their organizations. I quickly discovered that helping companies solve their problems was a more satisfying way to earn a living than writing about those problems. So I decided to quit my job at the Detroit News after twenty years as a business journalist and was in the process of launching a new career as a management consultant.

I knew Mulally’s system worked. I’d seen it save Ford, and I had already helped a couple of companies use it to make dramatic improvements to their own operations. Yet I was worried that this system, by itself, was not enough. And I wasn’t the only one. Bill Ford, the great-­grandson of Henry Ford and the automaker’s executive chairman, told me the fear that still kept him up at night: Ford might come to take its newfound success for granted and lose the edge Mulally had honed so carefully. Yes, Mulally had saved Ford from bankruptcy and achieved record profitability. Yes, he had neutralized Ford’s caustic corporate culture and replaced it with a collaborative, team-­based management system. But as Bill Ford knew better than most, his company had squandered its success before, and he was worried that it might do it again.

“It’s something that I think about all the time,” Ford told me. “How do we not go back to where we were? How do we stay lean and hungry? And how do we continue to foster innovation?”1 

Mulally’s management system required senior executives to continually examine their plans and assumptions. However, I knew that the longer those plans and assumptions remained valid, the harder it would be for the men and women at the top of the house to question them. Complacency is part of human nature. When things are going well, most of us prefer to assume they will continue to go well. Groupthink is also part of human nature. We are social creatures, and we put a bigger premium on conformity and cohesion than most of us would like to believe—­particularly in large organizations, where staying on the right side of internal politics is often the key to job security and promotion. And while many people see big multinationals like Ford as fundamentally dehumanizing, I had spent enough time covering them as a reporter to know such organizations actually magnified human nature—­sometimes to a troubling degree. 

It was complacency and groupthink that had gotten Ford into trouble in the first place. Like its crosstown rivals, General Motors and Chrysler, Ford had taken the success it enjoyed in the decades after World War II for granted. Management and labor alike came to view that success as a birthright, rather than as something they had to go out and fight for every day. Even after foreign rivals figured out how to beat the American automakers at their own game, Detroit’s Big Three continued to believe the lackluster cars they were producing remained competitive. That self-­delusion extended from the boardroom all the way down to the factory floor, where the men and women who built those cars labored under the erroneous belief that their gold-­plated wages and benefits were exempt from the business cycle and impervious to the pressures of globalization. It took a Great Recession to rouse Detroit from its reverie and shatter its belief that America’s automakers were too big to fail.

Fortunately for Ford, Mulally had arrived just ahead of that tidal wave of reality. He forced the company to take a hard look at its products and practices, and he borrowed enough money to fix them before the gates of the global credit markets slammed shut. GM and Chrysler were not so lucky. They went bankrupt and were only revived by the American taxpayers. Thanks to Mulally’s leadership, Ford saved itself. But the question was, for how long?

As the person who wrote the book on Ford, it was a question I was being asked a lot as Mulally’s retirement date approached and speculation began to swirl about his successor. I knew the system he put in place was capable of keeping Ford on the right trajectory, but only if the company continued to use it with the same unflinching honesty Mulally insisted upon. I suspected Mulally had driven the company’s chronic complacency and groupthink into remission, but not eradicated those diseases entirely. So as Brad Pitt continued his quest to find a cure for the zombie plague, I found myself wondering whether this Tenth Man Doctrine might not be the cure for these all-­too-­actual maladies of business.

First, I had to find out if it was real.




I tracked down a former Israeli Defense Forces spokesman, Eytan Buchman, who helped separate fact from fiction.

“The Israeli military does indeed have a similar doctrine, but it is not called the Tenth Man Doctrine,” he explained. “After the Yom Kippur War, the IDF’s Intelligence Directorate created a red team, a devil’s advocate team that can challenge prevalent assumptions within intelligence bodies.”

Buchman described a small, elite organization that went by the code name Ipcha Mistabra, an Aramaic term used frequently in the Talmud that means something along the lines of, “on the contrary, the reality appears otherwise.” Its motto was, “He who thinks, wins.”

So, it was real, but how did it work?

I knew what a devil’s advocate was. What I didn’t know, but soon learned, was that the devil’s advocate was an actual office in the Roman Catholic Church. Advocatus diaboli is the popular title given to the promotor fidei, or “promoter of the faith,” an important officer of the Sacred Congregation of Rites whose job is to challenge all nominations for sainthood through a skeptical analysis of the candidate’s character and supposed miracles. While this function has changed over time, the Catholic Church still employs hostile witnesses as part of the process of vetting potential saints. In 2002, for example, the Church called atheists Christopher Hitchens and Aroup Chatterjee to testify against Mother Teresa during her beatification proceedings. Hitchens later complained that he had not been paid for this service and had, therefore, represented the Devil pro bono.2

While that might seem a bit comical to laypeople, I could see how a similar approach could be used to stress-­test military planning assumptions.

Or a new product strategy.

Or a merger proposal.

Or a business plan.

But what was the “red team” that Buchman referred to?

Before covering the automobile industry in Detroit, I had spent much of the 1990s covering the high-­tech industry in Silicon Valley. There, I had heard the term red team used in reference to the “white hat” hackers companies paid to break in to their computer networks in order to expose vulnerabilities so that those holes could be patched before the more nefarious “black hat” hackers discovered them. These red teams were widely employed to help protect sensitive computer networks and the data stored on them. But they did not seem to be what Buchman was referring to when he used the term red team.

It turns out there are many different types of red teams. In addition to the cybersecurity red teams I encountered in Silicon Valley, there are penetration testing red teams that probe the physical security of everything from secret government installations to corporate research-­and-­development laboratories. For example, U.S. Department of Homeland Security red teams send agents armed with fake bombs through airport screening lines to see if the Transportation Safety Administration’s inspectors can catch them (too often, they cannot).3 Both military and business war-­gamers use threat emulation red teams as stand-­ins for the enemy. That enemy can be a rogue state or a rival company. Finally, there are decision support red teams, which use critical and contrarian thinking to stress-­test strategies, plans, and theories. These were the sort of red teams Buchman was talking about, and as I learned more about it, I became convinced that this sort of red teaming was exactly the sort of thing companies needed to dispel groupthink and complacency and cope with a rapidly changing—­and increasingly uncertain—­ world.




The Israelis may have been the first to see the potential of red teaming, but they were not the last. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the disastrous wars that followed humbled the American military and intelligence agencies, prompting them to seek out new ways of thinking and alternative methods of analysis.

It was a sobering time for America’s generals and spymasters. The fall of the Soviet Union and the U.S.-­led coalition’s stunning victory in a one-­sided war with Iraq in 1991 had convinced them that America’s technological superiority and mastery of information would guarantee her security at home and victory abroad for the foreseeable future. In the ruins of the twin towers and the short-­lived victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, they discovered just how wrong they had been. U.S. intelligence agencies and military planners were determined to avoid making similar mistakes in the future by thinking more deeply and more skeptically about the challenges and opportunities that faced America around the world.

To that end, they began pulling together an array of critical thinking and groupthink mitigation techniques, and they began assembling red teams tasked with using these tools to evaluate their strategies and plans. These red teams were soon offering alternative interpretations of intelligence in Washington and challenging existing strategies for combating insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The penetrating insights and sobering analyses offered by these red teams were raising eyebrows—­not just in the United States, but also around the world. As reports generated by U.S. red teams were shared with allied forces, other countries saw the value of this contrarian approach and were eager to emulate it. Soon, the British, Canadians, and Australians had established their own red teams.

When they did, they turned to the cutting-­edge red team training program that the U.S. Army had created at Fort Leavenworth for inspiration and guidance. It had emerged as the gold standard for red team training. Even the rival U.S. Marine Corps sent its officers there for training. So did other government agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. If I wanted to learn everything there was to learn about red teaming, this was the place to do it. No one from outside the ­government or military had ever been allowed to take the army’s full red team leader course, but I was determined to be the first.

I called the Pentagon, and asked if I could enroll.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 Hard Lessons: The Origins of Red Teaming 21

Chapter 2 What Is Red Teaming? 49

Chapter 3 The Psychology of Red Teaming 67

Chapter 4 How to Start Red Teaming 93

Chapter 5 The Problem and the Solution 115

Chapter 6 Questioning the Unquestionable: Analytical Techniques 141

Chapter 7 Thinking the Unthinkable: Imaginative Techniques 175

Chapter 8 Challenging Everything: Contrarian Techniques 201

Chapter 9 Putting It All Together 215

Chapter 10 The Rules of Reel Teaming 229

Chapter 11 Go Forth and Red Team 245

Acknowledgments 251

Appendix 255

Selected Bibliography 257

Notes 259

Index 269

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