Red Teaming: How Contrarian Thinking Is Revolutionizing The Military–And How It Can Transform Your Business, by Bryce G. Hoffman
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Jellybooks. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
This book fits nobly within a tradition of business books that seek to turn insights gained by the military to those which can be used by businesses engaged in only slightly less serious competition in hostile environments. This is by no means a new phenomenon , but it is ably done here. The author spends a great deal of time here cultivating his audience. He assumes, probably rightly, that the majority of readers will be contrarian thinkers of just the sort to convert to his idea of red teaming organizations and institutions in order to improve them. The ideal red teamer, as the author discusses over and over again, is someone who combines a sharp mind, a critical temperament, and a strong dose of skepticism and even pessimism with friendliness and warmth and an ability to work well with others. To be sure, this is a complicated picture, but a friendly and skeptical person does make for a person complicated enough to take the counsel of the author to heart that a red teamer must be a devil’s advocate, but be on the side of the good, and who must care enough about institutions to be willing to subject them to scrutiny and to criticize misguided plans with the aim of making them stronger. This is by no means a simple matter, but it is a worthwhile goal.
In a little under 200 pages the author manages to discuss red teaming in a very thorough way that manages to convey both the promise that it holds as well as the fact that it remains somewhat novel when applied to businesses. That said, the author manages to get a great deal of mileage out of commenting on the sort of logical fallacies that red teaming helps organizations overcome and in discussing the use of red teaming techniques in the Israeli and American and British militaries as well as the Roman Catholic Church, whose office of devil’s advocate is among the more notable examples of the phenomenon in contemporary institutions. The book begins with some hard lessons about the absence of contrarian thinking from the US military, and then progresses to an introduction of red teaming, its psychology, and various ways to start taking advantage of contrarian thinking within an organization. After discussing the problems of fallacious thinking and the solution to an overreliance on bad heuristics through slowing down the mind enough to look at evidence and sound data, the author spends some time providing analytical techniques to question the unquestionable, imaginative techniques to think the unthinkable, contrarian techniques to challenge everything, and advice on how to put these tools together, know the rules of being a resident contrarian, and providing encouragement to readers to go out and be a part of the revolution of contrarian thinking as if we were not already, however unknown to ourselves, self-selected for that task through the quirks of birth and experience.
So, what makes this book so awesome? There are a few threads that combine together to make this such a pleasing book. For one, the book clearly knows its audience and aims this book straight at it. If you are going to be interested in a book on contrarian thinking that combines military strategy and business strategy, you have already put yourself in the place where this book is going to appeal to a combination of a desire to serve institutions and businesses while also being seen as smarter than the average bear. There are many people who would find a book like this to be tiresome and tedious, but if the thought of a book that encourages people to be witty and clever know-it-alls that criticize unsound reasoning while remaining polite and friendly and respectful, and working outside of the hierarchies that many organizations have sound appealing, this book will be just as amazing to you as it was to me. Whether or not the world is ready to handle the sort of contrarian thinkers this book encourages is a different matter altogether, but at least this author knows it is more important to give wise counsel to those who seek wisdom than to flatter those who wish to continue to reward failure and engage in groupthink.
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