The Superior Red Teamer


We’re frequently asked to summarize our thoughts regarding the superior red teamer. We captured some of them in this 2003 RTJ post titled “10 Principles of Good Red Teaming.” While the points in that piece talk about the red team, they apply them equally to the red teamer. In hindsight, we’d change item 8 in the post to emphasize perspectives rather than order—in other words, we need to understand the relevant perspectives before we jump into the specifics. We’d also add something specific about systems thinking (more on that below). These edits aside, though, we think the original list has aged well.
      Some additional relevant thoughts show up in the Red Teaming Law cards, especially numbers 15, 17, 19, 26, 28, 32, 35, 43, and 47.
      With that as background, here are our current (2016) summary thoughts:

  • The superior red teamer is self aware. In practice, this means that he or she constantly runs a self-check routine. This routine is especially sensitive to bias and ego. In practice, this should yield a red teamer who listens to both the spoken and the unspoken.
  • The superior red teamer doesn’t bend to inappropriate pressure. The superior red teamer is to some degree indifferent to power. He or she certainly acknowledges power but seeks to see through, behind, and around it. Most of the superior red teamers I know are to some degree suspicious of power.
  • The superior red teamer is a systems thinker. He or seeks to see the whole system and well as its parts, knowing, of course, that the system will look different to different people and different groups.
  • The superior red teamer knows how to ask effective questions. In particular, this involves the ability to ask chains of questions that unearth what lies beneath the first answer. This applies both to asking questions of others and to asking questions of one’s self.
  • Superior teamers are curious. They want to know how things really work and how things are perceived differently by others. They are willing to set aside their egos and ask even simple or otherwise naïve questions when necessary. They are always listening, both to the spoken and the unspoken. They understand that they will learn less when they fail to recognize and acknowledge what they don’t know.
  • Finally, the superior red teamer is the first to acknowledge that he or she is not the superior red teamer.


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