General Stanley McChrystal, a retired 4-star US General who commanded US and coalition forces in Afghanistan, creates a “red team” when planning an operation.
The idea is that when any group of people start to work on a plan, they think about certain ideas and strategies that they think will work.
As they do this, they start to focus on information that confirms what they believe and begin to discount what does not. It just seems to be the way the brain works – a confirmation bias.
In a military situation, this can result in the wrong decision – which can be fatal.
The job of the red team, which is made up of different people from those that did the planning, is to figure out how they would disrupt the plan.
Their job is to think creatively about the ways in which the plan could go wrong and what they would do to frustrate it.
This is also called ‘devil’s advocacy’, where one expert presents a plan and a second critiques it.
Importantly, the job of the job of the devil’s advocate is only to present flaws with the original plan, not to provide an alternative solution.
If they start to think about solving the problems they find, they start to introduce new biases.
In research by Richard Cozier and others from the 1970s onwards, they found that the use of a devil’s advocate significantly improved the prediction accuracy of strategic decisions.
Using a red team helps create a plan that is solid, rather than because the people who executed the plan were lucky.
We can still see how not doing this creates disastrous results now.
Theresa May’s result in the UK general election, where she managed to lose the conservative majority, is being blamed on how her chiefs of staff created an atmosphere where dissent was not tolerated.
This led to focusing on policies that lost them support and led to electing a UK parliment with a weakened government entering crucial negotiations with the European Union.
Some people may think that is actually a better result. A stronger government with an absolute mandate may have had the power to do what it wanted – resulting in a worse outcome.
The current parliment, with a stronger opposition critiquing the government’s plans, may result in a better outcome for the country in the coming years.