Red Ropers. Trust

‘They don’t trust you,’ I replied. I was chatting with a fellow game designer. He was having trouble getting support for his project and he wanted to know what to do. His problem wasn’t his ideas, it was trust. And that’s not something you can argue your way into.

And I shared this story. When we were building the Damage Control Trainer for the Navy, the top brass at Recruit Command was very supportive of our efforts. The leaders had a vision – they wanted to improve training by using games.

But the red-ropers weren’t interested. You see, each instructor is given a badge to wear on their shoulder: a knot of tiny red ropes. It’s the symbol of their authority and the reason for their title. Of course, red-ropers don’t have authority to say whether the Navy will or will not use a training game. Or so it says on paper. But in reality, everyone knows the red-ropers are the real trainers. They are the boots on the ground. They control the training.

And they didn’t support us. The red ropers heard the word ‘game’ and lost all interest. It was a huge impediment. Sure, every once in a while, a couple of them would show up for a meeting and toss us a few suggestions. We’d get all excited and gobble it up, like hungry dogs. And then we wouldn’t hear from them again for months.

But all of that changed. All of a sudden, we had red-ropers lined up to talk to us. We had direct access to the most knowledgeable experts they had, the best trainers in the Navy! They returned our calls and emails. It was awesome!

The difference was results. We completed the prototype and ran a series of studies with real recruits. It exceeded all expectations! The recruits loved the game, but more importantly, we showed a 50% improvement in their performance. Those results changed everything.

When we started, the red-ropers didn’t trust us. To be honest, why should they? We hadn’t earned trust. We hadn’t shown results! As far as they were concerned, we had no track record. All we gave them was a bunch of babble about the theoretical benefits of using games to train.

This is the problem my friend was having with his bosses. As Stephen Covey explains, in ‘The Speed Of Trust’, trust requires 4 things, the 4th being results. You can’t talk-about results. You either have them or you don’t.

So what should he do? Get some results. He needs to stop talking about how awesome games are and start building a prototype. Build something that works. Get results and everything will change. Steve Martin said it well, ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’

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