Are You a Red Teamer?

Amar Pandit , CFA , CFP

Amar Pandit

A respected entrepreneur with 25+ years of Experience, Amar Pandit is the Founder of several companies that are making a Happy difference in the lives of people. He is currently the Founder of Happyness Factory, a world-class online investment & goal-based financial planning platform through which he aims to help every Indian family save and invest wisely. He is very passionate about spreading financial literacy and is the author of 4 bestselling books (+ 2 more to release in 2020), 8 Sketch Books, Board Game and 700 + columns.

Have you heard the words “Red Teaming”?

Before you mind starts running in one direction, this has nothing to do with Royal Challengers Bangalore or Punjab Kings (The Indian Premier League Cricket Teams).

Let me give you a hint through a Sun Tzu quote – “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.”

By now you would have figured out that the term “Red Teaming” has got something to do with strategy.

In his book, “Red Teaming – Transform Your Business by Thinking Like the Enemy”, Bryce G Hoffman wrote, “On August 11, 2015, Larry Page, the cofounder of Google, sent a letter to his staff announcing one of the most stunning developments in the recent history of the high-tech industry: Google was creating a new company, Alphabet Inc. It would be a new type of conglomerate, and Google itself would become one of its many subsidiaries. It was a radical restructuring that nobody saw coming, least of all Google’s employees. In his memo to them, Page explained the rationale behind the move:

‘We have long believed that over time companies tend to get comfortable doing the same thing, just making incremental changes. But in an ever-changing world, where revolutionary ideas drive the next big growth areas, you need to be a bit uncomfortable to stay relevant.’

This is what Red Teaming does.

Red Teaming challenges your plans and the assumptions upon which they are based.”

Isn’t this mind blowing?

Google was not some slow growth or broken company that needed a restructuring or a transformation. This was/is a super profitable cash generating global business. But as the saying goes – The best time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining …and not when the roof is leaking or when it is raining. And that’s what Larry Page and his team did.

What about you?

Think about the assumptions you are making about your business/practice. What are they?

All plans are based on assumptions, all assumptions are based on understanding, and that understanding is frequently limited and often flawed. If you are being honest with yourself, you will recognize the truth behind this statement. By challenging your assumptions, you (and Red Teaming) will make your plan stronger. But there is a lot more to Red Teaming than simply challenging your assumptions.

Bryce added further, “Red Teaming forces you to think differently about your business and consider alternate points of view. Red Teaming makes critical, and contrarian thinking part of your company’s planning process and gives you a set of tools and techniques that can be used to stress-test your strategy. Red Teaming helps you better understand your customers and your competitors. Red Teaming helps you scan the business environment for both threats and opportunities. Red Teaming shows you the dangers that lie ahead- and how to turn them to your advantage. Red Teaming may make your organization a bit uncomfortable, but it will also make you stay relevant, keep ahead of your competition, and cope with an increasingly uncertain world.

A comprehensive Red Teaming analysis is typically divided into three phases. It starts by using analytical tools to question the arguments and assumptions that too often go unquestioned during the regular planning process. The next step is to use imaginative techniques to figure out what could go wrong – and what could go right- with the plan, in order to expose hidden threats and opportunities. Finally, it uses contrarian thinking to challenge the plan and force the organization to consider alternative perspectives.”

There are simply too many points of failure for us (in the context of our industry/profession)- such as regulation, predatory competition, changing needs and expectations of the customer, untruths and bullshit floating around, poor leadership, reluctance to change and not making enough investments in the firm besides many others. Something or the other is always happening. And needless to say, this will continue.

Red Teaming then is the antidote to these points of failure. However, the art of Red Teaming also lies in knowing when to stop red teaming and act. You can overthink any decision. And we are so good at overthinking or not thinking at all. But a good red team leader knows how to red team just enough, and no more.

But Red Teaming is not for everyone. It’s only for those who want to make a real difference in the -organizations they serve/lives of people they serve. As a red teamer, you will need to have courage to move forward (in the presence of fear).

Peter M. Senge in his book “The Fifth Discipline” wrote: “A corporation cannot be excellent in the sense of having arrived at permanent excellence; it is always in the state of practicing the disciplines of learning, of getting better or worse.”

And Jim Collins, in his book “How the Mighty Fall”, wrote, “When institutions fail to distinguish between current practices and the enduring principles of their success, and mistakenly fossilize around their practices, they have set themselves up for decline.”

The questions that you need to answer then are:

a. Are you able to distinguish between your current practices and the enduring principles of your success?

b. What are the practices you might have fossilized?

c. Have you mistakenly set your firm up for decline? What do you think are your mistakes or your blind spots? Are there any that you cannot see by yourself?

d. Are you getting better or worse (not in terms of AUM and your income but in terms of your business overall)?

Whatever your answer may be, it’s time for Red Teaming for all of us.

Are you that person who has the courage to move forward with Red Teaming?



P.S. To know more about how you can implement Red Teaming in your business, click here.