The Future of Trust

Trust

An interesting conversation is taking place about The Future of Money.  A global community is engaged in discovering  alternative ways of viewing the way commerce is conducted. They want to move economics beyond the transactional level to the social. What these bright innovators recognize is that trust must be at the center of all interactions in society. This is why I'm paying attention to this conversation.

This video captures the scope of this discussion.

The Future of Money from KS12 on Vimeo.

The video was produced as a part of a presentation that Venessa Miemis gave at the Sibos conference of the financial services industry in Europe. In her presentation she said,

There is a class of young, intelligent, creative, passionate people who have become disillusioned with the debt-based monetary system, and are busy creating new infrastructures, right now, that are allowing a commons-based peer-to-peer infrastructure to emerge - in parallel to what currently exists. And the foundation of this economy is based on trust, and on transparency, and on the ability of distributed networks to self-organize.

For the community concerned with the Future of Money to realize a financial system based on trust they will have to address the place of culture.

Social scientist Francis Fukuyama's book Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity places trust at the center of cultures that prosper.

Trust is the expectation that arises within a community of regular, honest, and cooperative behavior, based on commmonly shared norms, on the part of other members of that community.

Fukuyama describes culture as an inherited ethical habit. 

Trust as an inherited ethical habit produces a culture that is predictable, open, honest and where mutuality is important.  The reciprocity aspect of trust is how it becomes a culture. It is shared and exchanged between people. It creates a value within the culture because trust elevates the possibilities that come from the relationship.

Trust, therefore, has a strategic, developmental, entreprenurial value upon which organizations and communities can create the future.

Over the past few months, I have been writing about the shift that I see taking place. You can download a compilation here.  I see this shift as moving us from a lower-level reality of self-focused individualism to a higher one of a shared community of responsibility and contribution.

This shift is necessary because the time of the imperial self is fading in the wake of its own exhaustion as an ideology and the growing complexity and interconnectedness of our global society. It isn't simply the idea of the influence and impact of one person upon the whole world. Rather, it is the need for higher-levels human interaction to fulfill the opportunities that are being presented each day.  We need each other precisely to fulfill our individual sense of calling to make a difference that matters. It is the matters part that drives us into social arrangements that require us to be better people. It is ironic that as the world shifts from the individual to the social, it is providing a better context for the development of human potential as a result.

At the heart of this shift in human history is the importance of trust as a core condition for human community 

What is the source of trust? 

Trust is an outcome of attitudes and behaviors that we share. When I trust you, it is based on my respect of you and an appreciation of who you are, in other words, of your dignity and value as a person. 

When a person lacks dignity and self-respect, I know that it will be hard from them to treat me with dignity and respect. As a result, it will be difficult for us to trust one another.

If trust is the outcome of mutual respect and dignity, then it is also a recognition of our interdependence upon one another. Our mutual respect means that we can see in the other person strengths and potential that is worth affirming and elevating. As a result at the heart of the experience of trust is the practice of honor.

Honor and Trust

When my Say Thanks Every Day: The Five Actions of Gratitude project first began my perception of honor was that it was about recognizing the accomplishments of people. While I still see that, I've come to realize that there is more to it.

At first, I began to ask some questions

What is it that we are recognizing when we honor people at banquets, awards shows, etc?

We are recognizing their accomplishments, their contributions, their acheivements in life and to specific organizational and social contexts.

Why do we recognize these achievements of these people, and not others?

Because those we recognize represent the values that unite us a group.  They signal to others what it takes to be a fully functioning, contributing member of our society. In essence, our recognition is symbolic of our values and beliefs as a people.

What if we reverse the sequence? Instead of recognizing people after their accomplishments, what if we recognized them, or rather affirmed them, for their potential accomplishments. Why can't we honor the talents and abilities of people in order for them to recognize the opportunity they have to make a difference.

Consider this.

You walk into a room of strangers. You don't know them. They don't know you. You feel a bit intimidated by the experience. Who are these people? Are they important or invisible? Are they interesting or boring? You don't know. Do you wait for someone to start a conversation, or do you take the initiative? If you take the initiative, what are you going to talk about? You're nervous, so you talk about yourself. You try to impress them with your own importance so they think you are important. Yet we know this doesn't really work. We come across as self-important egotists.

If instead we approached this scenario from the perspective of honor, then we walk into the room with the expectation of honoring each person. This means that we must discover what it is that is worth honoring in them. We must, therefore, ask questions about them. And once we find out some noteworthy things, we honor them by affirming and envisioning how they can make a difference.

Since I shifted my perspective to honoring the potential in people, I find it is much easier to trust them. There is a bond that forms.This is so because as soon as I recognize their potential, I become a partner with them in realizing it. Here's an example.

A few weeks ago I was at a conference in the mountains of Virginia, at a beautiful place called Primland. One evening after dinner, we were sitting outside of the Lodge where there was a firepit. A young man named Josh came out to start the fire. We began to talk with Josh about the property, where he was from and what his aims in life were. He was a student at a local community college, and wanted to be a professional writer of poetry and short stories.

So, here is this nice young man, who expresses himself well, talking about his writing. I ask him if he has shown his writing to anyone. He tells us that his father knows a best selling novelist, and wants to connect them up with each other. Good idea. Life is made from connections. He hasn't done this because he doesn't think he can show his work to the novelist yet. He doesn't say it, but he doesn't want to be embarassed if it isn't any good.

Here's an opportunity to honor someone who has not become accoplished in life, but who has potential, and needs both encouragement and some guidance. To honor him, I offer my help to read and critique his writing so he can go see this novelist with the confidence that he has something to offer than can make a difference. A simple offer that requires him to accept and act for trust to be realized.

When we honor someone in this way, we show respect and we establish the basis for trust to be shared between one another. Of course there will be people who reject our honoring of them. But those who do accept it complete the connection required for trust to live in a relationship. Imagine a group or society where this is the practice of the community.

Honoring others is a pathway to trust. Now pair this with my post of a few weeks ago, Honor and the Lost Art of Diplomacy. Here's part of what I wrote.

To live with honor and to practice diplomacy in our daily lives is not easy. It is countercultural, even prophetic in its application to our world today. It means that while we may disagree with another person, we can also honor them with respect, even if their behavior is a demonstration of a lack of their own self-respect.

I understand, therefore, that as we enter this new Presidential election campaign season, that your candidate is dishonored when you treat his or her opponents and supporters with dishonor.

I understand that your reasons for not voting for your candidate's opponent are not the same as having positive reasons for voting for them.

I understand that while pollsters say that negative campaigning wins votes, that it also poisons the well of respect that is required for the diplomacy that civic leadership demands.

I understand that dishonor in any context easily finds it way into others. Consider carefully what kind of atmosphere you want in your social and organizational life. The line between politics and the rest of life and work is razor thin.

I understand that to be honorable and diplomatic does not mean you give up your values and principles. It means that you do not win by destroying the other person. You lose by dishonoring your own values.

To practice honor and trust in this way is transformational. It sets up conditions in organizations and communities where people can discover their true contribution to society, and form the relationships that are needed to realize that calling.

To look objectively upon our world is to see a world where trust, respect, honor and mutuality are in great demand. When we treat others with disrespect and dishonor, we act without dignity.  The effect is destructive and toxic. It divides, isolates and creates inequities, poverty and war. I'm no optimistic Pollyanna who believes that we should all just get along. I'm a realist in understanding the competitive ground upon which we walk each day. There is more to trust that just respect and honor.

The Trust Connection Structural Hole

Over a decade ago I first read Ron Burt's Structural Holes: The Social Structure of Competition. Then, I had a beginning confirmation of what I knew intuitively. That the person who is able to establish relationships of trust is the one who will have a greater competitive advantage in a disruptive, rapidly changing world. In the diagram here, Mr Blue has a competitive advantage over Mr. Green and Mr. Red. His advantage is in brokering a relationship between them.  His ability to connect them together advances each of their opportunities to make a difference.

From the Burt's introduction ...

My argument is that much of competitive behavior and its results can be understood in terms of player access of “holes” in the social structure of the competitive arena.  Players are connected to certain others, trusting of certain others, obligated to support certain others, dependent on exchange with certain others….the holes in social structure, or, more simply, structural holes, are disconnections or nonequivalencies between players in the arena.  Structural holes are entrepreneurial opportunities for information access, timing, referrals, and control.  ...

But their individuality is the key to understanding competition.  The substantive richness of competition lies in its imperfections, the jostling of specific players against one another, each looking for a way to make a difference.  In the substantive details of imperfect competition lie the defining parameters of competition.  They are the parameters of player individuality.  Competition is imperfect to the extent to which multiple players together dominate a market, is an insufficient answer.  The central question for imperfect competition is how players escape domination, whether it is domination by the market or domination by another player.

This is the focus of the structural hole argument – a theory of freedom instead of power, of negotiated instead of absolute control.  It is a description of the extent to which the social structure of a competitive arena creates entrepreneurial opportunities for certain players to affect the terms of their relationships.

Competition is one way of understanding the social relations of people.We see it most destructively in predatory business practices and divisive, dishonorable politicing.

Its complement is collaboration.  If at the heart of competition is the competitive advantage that one brings because the other person, then at the heart of collaboration is the recognition of the advantage that another person brings to an endeavor. The most enlightened industries are ones where members become collaborative competitors.

I venture here because trust is essential to both competition and collaboration.  Structural Hole 2 Let's look at this expanded version of the diagram above.

Originally, Mr. Blue brokered a relationship between Mr. Green and Mr. Red. Now we see a network of relationships that is much different. Mr. Green now is the principal broker of relationships by simply bringing two rather than one new relationship into the network. As this network grows in complexity, the key to its healthy functioning is the quality of the relationship that exists.

Healthy competition strengthened by respect, trust and honor elevates the network beyond a transactional relationship, centered upon how to secure one's own benefits from the network. Instead, the network is transformed from a collection of individuals to a collaborative community that shares common values, goals and benefits.

The Future of Trust

Trust is developing as a strategic, emergent reality that transforms relationships of acquaintance into a communities of respect, honor and mutuality. It is the basis for the kind of economic system that is being explored by The Future of Money community. It is the kind of attitude and behavior that we should expect from elected leaders. It is what we should expect from ourselves.  This is the future of trust.