Tuesday, May 24, 2022

You need a red team, not a red pill

 In the Matrix, Morpheus offers Neo the choice of a blue pill or a red pill.  Take one, and you remain as you are.  Take the other, and the scales fall from your eyes.  Those of us who watched the movie or have seen it on ubiquitous reruns, know what happens next.

As an innovator, it would be awesome to pop into a completely different meta-world to understand the hidden workings of the metaverse I just left.  However, that isn't going to happen by taking a pill or wearing a VR headset.  The metaverses we create for ourselves merely build on what we already know - they don't show us the hidden hands and string pullers behind the scenes.  You don't need a pill, you need a team.

Red Team / Blue Team

The idea of a red team (attacker or hacker) versus the blue team (defender or good guy) has become a staple of cybersecurity, but it has an older history than that.  Red teams and blue teams originate from the military, where one team takes on the role of an attacker or proposes a strategy and another team seeks to disrupt or destroy the strategy.

What often happens in an innovation setting where new ideas are presented is that everyone not fully behind or read into a new idea becomes the red team, trying to discover reasons - valid and self-serving - that the idea won't succeed.  In other words, rather than a formal assessment of ideas, most organizations line up the idea to take fair and unfair shots at the idea and the team from every vantage point, making the idea almost impossible to defend.

Why you should consider a red team

Let's imagine, instead, that your innovation team, the people with the great new idea, are the blue team.  They've developed an idea based on a set of insights, voice of the customer work, great idea generation and a lot of testing.  The believe their idea solves an important problem or addresses an emerging opportunity that could create value for the company.  If they've done their job well, they should be able to define their scope, the need, the opportunity and the facts and assumptions they are basing their ideas on.

What should happen next, and rarely does, is the creation of a disinterested red team.  The red team should be presented with all the insights, facts, and assumptions that the innovation team used to develop their solutions.  Then the red team should look for missed signals, incorrect assumptions, optimistic interpretations and other mistakes or errors in the work.  But only using the defined scope, the research and insights, the same data and the list of assumptions from the blue team.

Where innovators go wrong

What a good red team investigation could do for innovation teams is to identify assumptions that are subject to a lot of variation, research that is a bit suspect or limited, unexpected competition or future shifts in customer needs or behavior that were ignored or overlooked.  When the red team operates with the same facts, but different interpretations of the insights, assumptions or understanding of future scenarios, it can create a range of likely outcomes that the blue team did not consider.

In some instances, the red team insights and discoveries will doom the blue team ideas, but not their work.  Instead, new ideas or opportunities will emerge.  In other instances, the red team will validate or even discover new opportunities the blue team missed.  

Running the gauntlet

A fair red team assessment not just of the ideas presented but of the information and scope that led to the ideas is what most ideas - especially transformative and disruptive ideas - really need.  Too often, ideas run a gauntlet of decision makers who have other priorities, leaders who have tight budgets, jealous co-workers who believe the ideas aren't really valid and corporate cultures which prefer safety over change.  Trying to fend off all of these individuals, teams and the corporate culture at large is a daunting task.  Yet doing a good job evaluating ideas and the markets and conditions they will be launched into is vital.

Today, most ideas run an unfair gauntlet of skeptical opponents lined up to knock ideas down rather than adequately test ideas and find issues or challenges.  These "evaluation" processes are often conducted by people who don't understand the original request, lack information on the process and who lack methods and processes for adequately reviewing the idea and discovering both weaknesses and strengths in the ideas.

A small investment creates enormous opportunity

According to a Harvard Business Review article from 2011, entitled Why most product launches fail, over 75% of consumer packaged goods products launched each year fail to achieve event a few million dollars in sales and are considered failures.  Think about the investment to create a new CPG product, develop it, manufacture it and place it into the fulfillment process, let alone find room for it on a retailer's shelf.  For 75% failure rate, you'd think someone would come up with an approach to cut these failure rates by 20-30% at a minimum.

The military uses red teams and blue teams to fight battles on paper, because the cost of a wrong decision in wartime means the loss of too many lives.  Cybersecurity experts use red teams and blue teams to determine how easy it is to steal data from a computer system, in order to better anticipate future attacks and improve defense.

Why can't we innovators borrow a great idea from these examples and dramatically improve the rate of success of new ideas?  After all, good artists borrow and great artists steal...

Implementing a red team review

If you'd like to know more about how to implement a red team review, contact me at innovateonpurpose@gmail.com.  We have used red teams to review, find missing information and to improve and harden ideas.  

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 4:43 AM


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