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Red Team

How to Succeed by Thinking Like the Enemy

By Micah Zenko
  • Read in 12 minutes
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  • Contains 7 key ideas
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Red Team by Micah Zenko

Red Team (2015) gives insight into the military and security strategies that try to anticipate the adversary’s next move. Covering events from the capture of Osama bin Laden to mysterious break-ins operated through warehouse skylights, this book is a reminder of everyday vulnerability and what to do about it.

Key idea 1 of 7

Organizations can use red teams to uncover hidden problems, but only if they’re willing.

As humans, we’ve got a rather peculiar blind spot for our own mistakes. This is why, for example, we get friends to proofread our essays in university. And it’s also why organizations hire red teams, groups of experts whose job it is to work out the weaknesses in a company’s strategies, structures and security measures.

Though red teams can be incredibly effective, many leaders are reluctant to accept their help. Authoritarian figures or personalities don’t enjoy being contradicted and often refuse to enlist red teams in the first place. This was the case with the head of Federal Aviation Administration. It took a terrorist attack on a Pan-American Airway plane in 1988 with 270 fatalities before he decided to bring a red team into his regular operations to uncover security weaknesses.

Red teams also require the right members in order to be effective. Red teamers are those who can think outside the box, and there are fewer of those people around than you might think. Psychologist Scott Eidelman demonstrated how we often fall victim to existence bias by assuming things are fine just the way they are.

An excellent red teamer does not have this bias. Instead, they have an incredible eye for detail when it comes to working out what could be done better. Red teamers must, of course, be able to think like the enemy.

CIA analyst Rodney Faraon even likens sharp red teamers to method actors capable of immersing themselves in the minds and identities of someone else. In the case of a red teamer, they’re becoming one with the enemy.

Finally, organizations must ensure that red teams play an appropriate role in day-to-day life. Being assessed is stressful for both leaders and employees, so don’t let your red team run rife! Restrict them to where their expertise is needed to keep staff from feeling like they’re under constant surveillance.

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