Red teaming’s roots run deep: to the Catholic Church’s “Office of the Devil’s Advocate,” to the kriegsspiel exercises of the Prussian General Staff, and to Israel’s secretive directorate of military intelligence. But the modern decision support system of red teaming was born out of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the disastrous wars that followed them.
These two events humbled the American military and intelligence agencies, and forced them to seek out new ways of thinking. It was a sobering time for America’s generals and spymasters. Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union and their stunning victory in a one-sided war with Iraq in 1991, they had believed America’s technological superiority and mastery of information would guarantee her future security at home and victory abroad. In the ruins of the twin towers and the short-lived victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, they discovered just how wrong they were.
“There were failures of imagination, policy, capabilities, and management. The most important failure was one of imagination”
— 9/11 Commission Report
A NEW WAY OF THINKING
Drawing on the latest research in cognitive psychology and human decision making, the CIA and the U.S. Army began pulling together an array of critical thinking and groupthink mitigation techniques, and developing a systematic approach for applying them to complex problems. They also began assembling teams tasked with using this system to evaluate strategies, improve plans, and support decision-makers.
These red teams were soon offering alternative interpretations of intelligence in Washington and challenging existing strategies for combatting insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq. Their penetrating insights and sobering analyses began raising eyebrows — not just in the United States, but around the world.
As reports generated by American red teams were shared with allied forces, other countries saw the value in this contrarian approach and were eager to emulate it. Soon, the British, Canadians, and Australians had established their own red teams.
When red teaming was allowed to work, the results were often stunning. The 2007 troop surge in Iraq that led to a dramatic reduction in violence in that war-torn country was one of the first products of red team thinking. Iraq’s subsequent descent into anarchy and the rise of the so-called “Islamic State” were the consequences of abandoning this new way of thinking and a return to a more traditional calculus.
PORTING RED TEAMING TO BUSINESS
We believe businesses can also benefit this revolutionary new approach to strategy and decision making.
The most innovative and disruptive companies already employ some of these same techniques — albeit in a less formal, less systematic way. Critical thinking is part of the DNA of Amazon, Google, and Toyota. The best venture capital firms, such as Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, use a similar approach to vet potential investment targets. These are companies that many businesses strive to emulate, but their methods often obscure and hard to transplant.
Our founder saw that red teaming could help established companies think and act like innovative disruptors while also inoculating even successful companies against complacency and groupthink. So he convinced the Pentagon to allow him to become the first civilian from outside government to take the Army’s Red Team Leader course at Fort Leavenworth, which is regarded as the gold standard for red team training worldwide.
After graduating in 2015, he founded Red Team Thinking and began working with companies in the United States and abroad to port the methods he learned from the military to business. Since then, we have helped clients around the world — from Fortune 15 multinationals to technology startups — become disruptors in their industries, rather than one of the disrupted.
Let us do the same for your business.