Ten Games People Play to Control Truth (4 of 10)

  1. Camouflage Game (Wild Goose Chase)


The new forms of this game have the potential to twist truth in ways that kill ideas that matter far more than just killing the research project described in the quote below:

“Hal was there only as a sophisticated untracker in groups.  Untrackers get you going down the primrose path…you feel comfortable going…the whole way through.  In order to avoid implementation of my [research] idea, Hal said it sounded great but ‘we need…to get the…clinical investigation committee to approve the scientific merit.’ And so on and so forth….What he knew [was] that if you have a bunch of fairly bright people…you can make it sound plausible…. what he said was absolutely right on target, but the intent…was not scientific merit. [It was to block the research.]

The term “untracker” is an excellent way to define a camouflage game player.  This game is a common slapstick comedy routine. The Three Stooges played it all the time. One of them would point and yell, “Look over there!” and when the target looked in that direction the “untracker” could steal whatever he wanted while they weren’t looking. You may have played it yourself without malicious intent.  It’s what siblings do to get the last cookie.  But when the stakes are high, involving difficult truths, it’s not funny.

“It’s the wild goose chase. If they send you off on enough of them, you won’t think the thing to be hunted is in their territory. It appears so credible…’If I can get you away from my territory then I win.’”

From the original research in 1997, it was clear that most untrackers hid their misdirection in the camouflage of support: just one more additional step, an opportunity we should wait for, adding one more expert.  Sometimes the tactic is to get a group to bite off way more than they can chew so they choke on their own good intentions before their program has a chance to invade protected territory.  Frequently it works so well people really believe the game player’s insistent claims of positive intent.

Capitalizing on someone’s insecurity doubles the game player’s ability to create confusion. The goal is for emotions to hijack the rational mind. Calling attention to someone’s embarrassing past, a mistake, or asking in the middle of their presentation “what’s that brown thing hanging out of your nose?” is enough to steal momentum or stop a speaker dead in her tracks.  The game player almost always pretends they are trying to help. In particular, to help us avoid some perceived disaster they intend to illustrate in vivid detail. Because the fastest way to misdirect attention is to find a threat and supersize it.

“So it ranged from discounting to actually creating perceptions of threats.  A new program was positioned to be potentially dangerous to the welfare of the company in order to keep it from effecting the way a group of managers liked to do business.”

When game players point out multiple threats and escalate perceptions of dire consequences they can make a group so dizzy with confusion the group is much more likely to defer to an authority (usually the game player) to save them.  This game incorporates the art of illusion – make the threat seem big enough and scary enough and no one has time to think or to do the hard thing.

Like all of the games, the Camouflage Game works because people participate.  When we look “over there” and stop paying attention to what we know is true, we are the ones who make the game work. And the most susceptible groups are always those of us with tough dilemmas we can avoid indefinately every time we agree to “Look over there!” Rather than making hard decisions and making the painful sacrifices the situation demands we opt for rubber necking someone else’s disaster. I suspect this hasn’t changed.


8 thoughts on “Ten Games People Play to Control Truth (4 of 10)”

    1. Peter, thank you for your encouragement. You may have noticed I don’t really have the temperament for self promotion. I loathe the thought of having to elbow my way in and compete in some popularity contest for recognition. My hope is that this material will attract a core group who want to help me get it out there. Yesterday, I got an offer to nominate me for a TED talk. So that’s good. I have tons of great material. Once this “journaling” series is done, I think I should post it somewhere that can attract more readers. But I don’t know where. I was thinking LinkedIn – what do you think?

      1. Syndicating the content on Medium might generate greater exposure. At the same time, I think a different medium than written text can work better. My hunch is audio.

  1. I sense a recurring theme in many of these topics – avoidance. There seems to be two types. One is fear driven and is a self defense mechanism. Helping people feel safe in their situation seems to be a requirement before progress can be made. The other is malicious intent. To me that is a harder nut to crack. Other than removing the offender from the process ( a power move, not an influence move) the only solution that comes to mind is getting the group to recognize that intent and shun it. Tough sledding either way.

    I share your loathing of self-promotion, but it we are going to have a positive impact for others, we have to find a way around that and I applaud you wholeheartedly for trying. I think you would be extremely effective in a TED talk. The problem would be to pick only one or two (or more) subjects that you are so good at explaining. I think LinkedIn has some potential, but I don’t find it as informative to me as TED talks are. I wish I had a better answer for you, but it seems like our 30 second sound bite universe doesn’t want to hear a 5, 10, or 60 minute talk that inspires deeper conversations that follow. But I refuse to despair. We have a will, so there MUST be a way.

    1. Steven, can you please explain avoidance as malicious intent? I’m not sure I understand what you mean. The question popped from you writing – “avoidance. There seems to be two types.” I’m not sure what you are referring to as the second one type of avoidance.

      1. Limor, my intent was that some people practice deflection and avoidance because they fear the potential consequences. That is the first type I mentioned as a self defense strategy. However, I have experienced people who intentionally deflect or avoid engagement because they wish to control the outcome and keep other ideas out of the conversation. To me, that is malicious intent and deliberate manipulation. Usually this comes from a person in a power position who can intimidate others from engaging so they don’t have to face the consequences of their choices. But they do so in a passive aggressive way to avoid be perceived as a bully.

        1. Questioning the assumption of malicious intent is a central issue required to decrease the games. Any success I had depended on the theory that this is instinctive and there is no blame so no one has to be shamed, no one should be shamed (it just makes them go underground) I make the point that all humans are territorial. Some humans enjoy the games like a sport – but to them, everyone is obliged to protect their territory or lose it. And exceedingly competitive person but not malicious exactly. Everyone who plays a game thinks someone else started it and they have no choice. Regardless, the only solution that worked was for the majority who see the harm and want it to stop to create enough group pressure that the outliers suddenly see themselves as others see them. This is a process of appealing to the better angels of the group in a way that marginalizes the game players. The lone exception is the sociopath – but there are far fewer than we think. Remember my original work was in transformational leadership training. Going backwards is just a blame game. The only path out of territorial games is finding a new way forward. It steals the satisfaction of seeing a game player punished for his transgressions but when I facilitate dialogue after sharing these games and letting people get silly with it – it becomes a self awareness process for the whole group. Just like we have to embrace our shadow to mature – the group has to embrace their shadow (games) to mature. The caveat is that it doesn’t work 100% of the time. Nothing transformation does – but 70% of the time is pretty damn good. One time when a sociopath blocked open and honest dialogue, the rest of the group went stealth and worked around her. Another time a class action lawyer sociopath grabbed control, shut everyone down and made me and the guy who hired me pay for it with humiliation. that’s the difficulty with this work. It truly is dangerous.

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