Change the game – Design Monday

Change the game – Design Monday

Cyber security can be thought of as a game. Offense and defense. A set of motions and movements to score points, or to prevent the other team from scoring. Red team and blue team. A series of tactics and techniques to break in, or to detect and prevent such action. This thought is a good starting point. But we shouldn’t simply work on being better at the game. We need to change it.

Take basketball. When basketball debuted at the Berlin Summer Olympics in 1936, the game looked much the same as it does today. Sure, there have been subsequent rule changes. But the ball and hoop, well, those are classic.


During the first fifteen years of basketball, no one thought beyond the basket. Peach basket, to be precise. James Naismith famously nailed a peach basket to a gymnasium wall and thus invented the game. But it was the whole basket. After points were scored, a ladder would be used to fetch the ball. Sometimes, they used a stick to push the ball out. For fifteen years.


One reason is it’s hard to see beyond things. Functional fixedness. Another reason? We’re hardwired to add rather than subtract. Given the choice between adding a fetching stick and removing the bottom of the basket, we almost always choose the stick.

This human tendency has been studied. (See: People systematically overlook changes). There’s even book on the topic, Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less. The Subtract book looks at it from practically every domain, science to business to medicine and more. Except cyber security. Perhaps we can make it into a future edition.

Imagine people using IT in the organization. Imagine that’s the game we’re seeking to win. Get a sense of the players and the ball using business impact analysis. Get a sense of the movement and plays using journey mapping. Now imagine ways to secure this.

Your instinct will be to add. Pause. Look around for the peach baskets which can be replaced with hoops. Find something to subtract that improves the security.

Then change the game.

Peach baskets: the basket in basketball.

This article is part of a series on designing cyber security capabilities. To see other articles in the series, including a full list of design principles, click here.

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