Summary of Red Team

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National-security expert Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, explains that many executives can’t evaluate their own strategies and often remain blind to their competitors’ perspectives. To solve this problem, he advocates using – in military parlance – a “red team.” This panel of “devil’s advocates” tries to “think like the enemy” as it probes for weaknesses in strategy, performance and defenses. Zenko shows red teams in action during the hunt for Osama bin Laden, provides a tour of the US Army’s University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies – nicknamed “Red Team University” – and offers advice on adapting the red-team approach to evaluating your business strategies. Even though the writing is sometimes dry, Zenko’s tales of computer hacking, counterterrorism operations and “war games” are compelling. getAbstract recommends his clear descriptions and wise suggestions to senior executives, strategists, marketing managers, information-technology specialists and security professionals.

About the Author

Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Micah Zenko worked previously at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the Brookings Institution, Congressional Research Service and the State Department's Office of Policy Planning. His national security column appears on; he writes for Foreign Affairs, the Washington Post and The New York Times.



A Change of Perspective

When US military or intelligence officers plan a crucial operation, they often convene a team of “devil’s advocates” to attack their strategy ruthlessly. This so-called “red team” probes the plan for weaknesses, runs a range of simulations and brainstorms about why the plan might fail. It looks at the strategy from an adversary’s perspective and predicts how an enemy would respond. When a red team finally signs off on a plan, leaders can be confident that the plan is sound.

The private sector is increasingly embracing red-team evaluation tactics, however executive resistance is a barrier more widespread use of this tool. Businesses that adapt such red-team techniques as simulations, “alternative analysis” and “vulnerability probes,” can challenge assumptions, spark creativity, mitigate “cognitive biases,” and minimize the homogenizing, conforming power of groupthink.

“You Can’t Grade Your Own Homework”

Members of institutions generally fail at evaluating their own strategies and processes. As an insider, you observe your own operations through a filter of biases. These unconscious thought patterns or heuristics include:


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