Call for October Carnival of Trust Submissions

This blog has some pretty talented people reading and commenting in its pages. I’d like to invite all of you to consider submitting one of your own blog postings to the Carnival of Trust.

The deadline for submissions to the next Carnival of Trust is this Thursday night–midnight. The Carnival will then go live in a matter of days–after our esteemed guest host, Scot Herrick, has a chance to go through them and make his selections.

Here’s what you do to get your 15 minutes of fame and enrich the world. Pick your trust-related post, and submit it here.

Then sit back and roll in the adulation.

OK, seriously, the Carnival of Trust is a fascinating, monthly compendium of blog postings related to trust in business, trust in selling, trust in society at large. It is kept interesting by the vibrant commentary of our esteemed hosts, and their discriminating selection criteria.  If you don’t get selected, it’s no dis. But if you do get selected, it’s a tribute.

So bring out your best stuff, and share it with the world. After all, how’s the world going to get better if you hide those great insights from the rest of us?

(Read more about the Carnival of Trust here).

They’re Just Not That Into You

I remember an old, old Peanuts cartoon. Charlie Brown is watching Lucy and another girl from afar. He approaches them: “You girls were talking about me, weren’t you!” he says accusingly.

“No we weren’t,” the girls say with a smug expression. Charlie Brown reverts to his earlier distant position, and waits a bit. Only to return once again, and ask: “How come you girls never talk about me?

We All Act Like We’re the Center of the Universe

A basic human presumption seems to be that we are, each of us, the Center of the Universe (COTU).

I recall reading about a Brazilian native tribe largely insulated from the rest of the world. Some westerners took two tribesmen on a trip to Sao Paulo, and then New York.

At their first stop, a large village of several hundred, they were a little nervous, but not intimidated. Then they made it to Manaus, Sao Paulo, and so on. At each stop, they became more shut down. When they finally returned to their part of the Amazon, they were permanently shocked out of their beliefs, and were not much the better for their education.

The Chinese call their land The Middle Kingdom. World maps in the US have, guess which country at the center? Not the same country as with maps sold in, say, France.

Years ago I read a study of students and professors. The study asked students how much time they spent thinking about the professors (not much), and how much time they thought the professors spent thinking about them (a lot,the students figured).

The professors, asked the same questions, said they didn’t in fact spend much time thinking about the students, but they were sure that the students, of course, spent lots of time thinking about them. Wrong again. Center of the Universe.  COTU all over the place.

On a more cosmic scale, it was only recently in history that we could as a species countenance the idea that the universe might not revolve around planet earth. And as ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, each child grows up thinking his family, her bedroom, is probably the center of the universe.

Some of us—some a bit more than others—escape from the tyranny of self, but only just a little bit. We get angry, resentful and afraid—basically because people don’t behave the way we would like them to. After all, aren’t we the center of the universe?

We’re Not the Center of the Universe–Fortunately

Of course, we are most assuredly not. All those would-be subjects of ours aren’t paying us homage—basically they’re just not that into us.  They pay us about as much attention as we pay them (embarrassingly little, and please don’t tell anyone).

But there are two great causes for optimism in this observation. First, since most of humanity doesn’t really concern itself with us (or give a damn?), we are quite free of the bondage of others’ opinions. Our slavery is of our own creation.  We hold our own keys to freedom.

Second, once we see that others have the same uni-centric disease that we do, we can lighten up a bit and reach out over the 50-50 line for a touch of human contact.

Yul Bryner once said, “We come into this world alone, and we leave it alone; and if someone offers you kindness along the way, you don’t spit on it.” And, by and large, we don’t.

Bryner’s is the minimalist version. The maximalist version is that if you touch someone, you help to free them from their own self-obsessed bondage. By reaching outside yourself, you initially delight them; but quickly that turns to teaching by example. You show that it can be done, and you role-model the benefits of doing so.

If you live in the space that says you’re the center of the universe, people’s orbits tend to fly away from you. But if you reject that belief, then people become attracted to you; oddly, you become (directionally) the center of much more.  They trust you.

If  you think this blogpost isn’t about business, please think again. Think of what it means for sales, customer service, negotiation, contracts writing, supply chain management, marketing, advising, accounting, and customer engineering.

You are not the center of the universe. What a blessing.  Go pay attention to someone else.

The Perils of Measuring Trust


The desire to measure trust is busting out all over. Some of it is due to management myths (“you can’t manage it if you can’t measure it”), and some of it is due to natural curiosity.

Do People Trust the Government More Under Republicans?

A great example is last Friday’s op-Ed in the New York Times, Imbalance of Trust, by Charles M. Blow. 

Says Mr. Blow:

…Americans seem to trust the government substantially more after a Republican president is elected than they do after a Democratic one is elected — at least at the outset.

Since 1976, the polls have occasionally included the following question: “How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right — just about always, most of the time, or only some of the time?”

The first poll taken in which this question was asked after Ronald Reagan assumed office found that 51 percent trusted the government in Washington to do the right thing just about always or most of the time. For George H.W. Bush, it was 44 percent, and for George W. Bush it was 55 percent.

Now compare that with the Democrats. In Jimmy Carter’s first poll, it was 35 percent. In Bill Clinton’s, it was 24 percent, and for Barack Obama’s, it was only 20 percent. (It should be noted that the first poll conducted during George W. Bush’s presidency came on the heels of 9/11).

The implicit assumption Mr. Blow makes is that trust changes quickly, and that polls reflect it; that the selection of a Democrat quickly results in low trust scores, while the selection of a Republican quickly results in high trust.

Or Do Democrat Administrations Build Trust in Government?

Let’s challenge Blow’s assumption.  Let’s assume that social trust–as many academics suggest–changes much more slowly than Mr. Blow assumes.  That in fact, questions like “do you trust the government” shift over a matter of many years–not a few months.  (See, for example, Professor Eric Uslaner, whose studies suggest that many forms of social trust evolve not only over years, but over generations).

Now let’s rewrite Blow’s paragraph—same facts, different implicit assumption:

…Americans seem to trust the government substantially more after a prolonged period of Democratic leadership than they do after Republicans have held the office—and the effect even carries over into the next administration for a few months.

Since 1976, the polls have occasionally included the following question: “How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right — just about always, most of the time, or only some of the time?”

The first poll taken in which this question was asked was when Carter had taken office, after eight years of Nixon and Ford.  In that poll, only 35 percent trusted the government in Washington to do the right thing just about always or most of the time.  Carter restored trust in government; when Reagan took over, that number tested at 51%.

However, after 12 years of Reagan/Bush, when Clinton had moved into the White House, it had been driven down all the way to 24% (Reagan did, after all, preach that government itself was the problem, not the solution).  By the end of Clinton’s two terms, that number had gone back up to 44%, of which George W. Bush was the beneficiary 8 months into his first term.

But with Republican Dubya at the helm for 8 years, trust in government dropped precipitously (Iraq, Katrina, et al); so far that the score early in Obama’s term was only 20%. 

Same facts: different assumptions. Who’s right? It depends. It depends on partly on how people interpreted that question, and even moreso on how long it takes people to shift their viewpoint on that particular question.

Trust is tricky. It’s not like measuring the temperature, or even political polls. The interpretation contains a lot more art and a lot less science than most simple surveys would suggest.

Interpreter beware.

The Dance of Trust

Much has been written recently about trust.  Not so much, however, about just exactly how it gets created. Think of it as a dance—the dance of trust.

Trust is the end result of a dance between two people. Like ballroom dancing, the roles are not the same. In ballroom, one person leads, the other follows. If each plays his her role, it’s a beautiful thing. If, however, both people try to lead, you get feet stepped on and general ill will.

Trust also has two differing roles. One is the role of trustor—the one who does the trusting. The other is the role of the trustee—the one who is (more or less) trusted. And just like in ballroom, if the roles aren’t played cleanly, you get something of a mess. (And if both follow, well, you get nothing.  No risk, no gain).

The Dance of Trust Starts with the Trustor

The dance of trust is initiated by the trustor—the one who does the trusting. It is (s)he who takes the first step—and the one who takes the biggest risk.

By contrast, the trustee role (being trustworthy) is low-risk, but requires more work. It’s also more passive; being trustworthy is a strategy of attraction, not action.

An example: Let’s say BioPharm wants to hire an accounting firm to do some systems work. BioPharm interviews several candidate firms, and ends up deciding to choose Jones&Jones. BioPharm can justify the decision, but also says that “it was basically because we trusted these people to know us and to be straight with us.”

BioPharm is the trustor, initiating the dance and taking the larger risk–the risk of time, money and commitment spent on a new relationship.  Jones&Jones is the trustee, having been (successfully, in this case) trustworthy enough that it got asked to dance.

At this point, we have to lose the pure ballroom dance metaphor, because in trust, the roles have to change.  In ballroom, one person generally leads.  Not so in trust: you have to swap roles constantly.   So if not during the sales process, then shortly thereafter, Jones&Jones is going to have to take some risks and trust BioPharm.

If Jones&Jones doesn’t go out on a limb with some ideas, share its technology, offer a point of view, prepare to collaborate and be transparent, then BioPharm will pretty quickly be unsatisfied. Because once the initial trustor action is taken, it is up to the trustee to reciprocate, and offer to take some risks as well.

The Dance of Trust Requires Shifting Roles Between Trustor and Trustee

This frequent change of roles—back and forth—is what distinguishes the dance of trust. If Jones&Jones never takes a risk or trusts BioPharm, it will wear out its welcome quickly. And if Jones&Jones does take risks but BioPharm never reciprocates, it may be a mildly successful engagement, but it’s not likely to generate repeat business.

Here another metaphor applies: personal relationships. No good relationship lasts long (or stays healthy) if one side always gives and takes the risks; any good relationship needs the healthy back and forth provided by reciprocity.

Trust is, after all, a mutual relationship. But it is one generated by constantly shifting roles. The dance of trusting and being trusted is what generates the state of trust we hear so much about.


Why Walter Cronkite Was the Most Trusted Man in America

I can’t add much to the list of eloquent obituaries for Walter Cronkite, other than to say I agree with them. 

Cronkite taught all of us the way things were.  But the passing of the man known universally as The Most Trusted Man in America also offers us one last chance to learn from him.

Like obscenity, trust is awfully hard to define; but as Justice Potter said, you can recognize it when you see it.

The definition of trust is even more contextual; there are dozens of meanings of trust, yet we nearly always recognize them when we see them.

And so: when so many people from so many eras and walks of life agree that Walter Cronkite was TMTMA—he must have touched more than a few trust bases.  What were they?

Reading the encomiums in his honor—and watching the raw man-in-the-street interviews Friday night—there is a clear hierarchy of what people meant when they said they trusted Walter Cronkite.  And it wasn’t fluffy—it was very clear.

Cronkite’s Big Three Trust Factors

#1 – Honesty.  The most frequent comment, expressed in several ways, was that Cronkite was honest.  This means not just that he didn’t tell lies, but that he was a truth-seeker—he sought to tell the whole truth.  A reporter of the old school, he believed that there was such a thing as the truth, and his job was to find it. He had no truck with deconstructionists who believe it’s all subjective, he was a midwest pragmatist of the William James school.  "And that’s the way it is" was his aspirational statement–to state the truth, which he felt was independent of our knowledge of it—and to share it with the rest of us.

#2 Selflessness.  The Most Trusted Man in America didn’t get there by calling himself the Most Trusted Man in America.  Not a hint of self-promotion, no self-serving cause, no work in service to his own ego or career.  His only agenda was his professionalism, about which he was quite clear.

#3 Integrity.  He kept his opinions, like his emotions, largely to himself.  This he saw as a natural outgrowth of professional principles; it also fit his personality like a glove.  He was television’s version of Gary Cooper—stoic, his own man, capable under stress of expressing deep feelings—but in a highly controlled manner.  He kept his own counsel; until and unless he felt there was no alternative but to share it.

It was this Cooper-like reserve that gave him such power on the few occasions he did weigh in with a Big Opinion.  LBJ, a great judge of politics, said, "If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America."  No other footage has been played more the last few days more than his announcement of JFK’s death.  In a world saturated with reality TV and tell-all blogs, you have to look harder to see it—that sense of self-reserve, tough but with a soft center—that used to be middle America’s ideal self-image.  But you can still see it.

And one last thing.  His voice.  A baritone drenched in overtones conveyed each of those character traits. 

Of those attributes—honesty, selflessness, integrity, and vocal cords—perhaps it’s only his voice that we cannot aspire to.   That may have been god-given; the rest of him was a man who strove to be good, and who showed the rest of us how. 

We can all still learn from him.

July Carnival of Trust is Up!

The July Carnival of Trust is now up for your reading (and viewing, and listening) pleasure.

The Carnival is hosted this month by Adrian Dayton, who somehow lives the schizophrenic life of a lawyer who is social-media savvy.

And his Carnival shows it.  He comes up with some doozy negative examples of trust.  I love negative examples, as I think we learn better this way. 

–Read about a classic Twitter tweet that is bound to destroy trust.

–Or–have you ever been badgered?  No, I mean Badgered–as in, by a Badger.  Great YouTube find.

–Or, 20 rules for trust in blogging. 

Want to know more about trust?  Or to get Adrian’s unique social media take on it?  Or merely read a few highly entertaining, insightful selected blogs and comments about trust in the world?  Then click here to view Adrian Dayton’s edition of the Carnival of Trust for July, 2009.

Many many thanks to Adrian for a fine job of hosting; please pop over and give him a look.


July Carnival of Trust: Call for Submissions

A reminder: midnight tonight, Thursday July 9, is the due date for submissions to the July Carnival of Trust.

Not heard of the Carnival of Trust?  It’s a compilation of the Best Blogposts of the past month having to do in some way with the subject of trust: trust in relationships, business, politics, society–it’s a broad range.

The host-ship of the Carnival is rotated each month. The host plays a critical role not only in selecting the blogposts for inclusion, but in adding some value of their own by commenting or adding context. Kind of like a really concise, insightful movie review.

This month we’re delighted to welcome Adrian Dayton, lawyer-blogger extraordinaire, from Amherst, NY.  In his blog Marketing Strategy and the Law he touches on issues broader than the average law blog, particularly touching on new social media. 

Coming off his recent stint as host of Blawgreview, I  welcome the chance to bring Adrian’s perspective to Carnival of Trust readers.

You can submit your post for inclusion here. Good luck!

Trust as Risk Mitigation Strategy

Forget how you usually think of the word ‘trust.’ Think instead of ‘risk mitigation.’

“Risk mitigation” means reducing risk to an acceptable level. You’re familiar with it if you work in insurance, investment banking, natural resources, infrastructure, contracting, outsourcing, or deal internationally.

It usually comes packaged as high doses of things hard and practical: legal, financial, statistical. Here’s a typical example, this one from IASTA, a supply and spend management firm, lists seven strategies for risk mitigation. Seven ways, that is, to reduce the riskiness of your supply chain.

No surprise, it includes things like dual-sourcing, price hedging, performance-based contracts, and capacity assurance. Basically, ways to make sure your supplier does what you want them to do.

Risk Mitigation is Usually Based on Control

They are all based on the assumption that unless you control your supplier or the conditions surrounding the deal, you are at risk. And the solutions all involve controlling that risk: mainly controlling that supplier.

What’s surprising about that list—shocking, if you think about it–is the absence of trust. (I’m not picking on IASTA; it’s a good list for what it is—a list of controlling strategies). It generally beats the heck out of all the other seven.

What if you could trust your supplier? What if your supplier behaved toward you in a trustworthy manner? In general, your risk mitigation efforts will then cost a lot less, and will be more successful.

Agreement by legal negotiation, and enforcement by legal, process and accounting argumentation is costly. It causes bad blood. It reduces the felt moral obligation of each party to live up to an agreement. It causes delay. And it sure is expensive.

Risk Mitigation by Trust is Cheaper, and Creates Value

By contrast, trust creation costs less than lawyers and accountants. It can often be created more quickly. And it can be far more dependable.

More importantly: if a trustor-trustee relationship is developed, it doesn’t just cut risk mitigation costs, it positively creates whole new levels of value possibilities. Things you’d never do with an arms-length supplier suddenly become possible.

This is not crazy stuff. The truth is, it happens every day: we just don’t think of it as trust. Trust as risk mitigation happens whenever a customer and a supplier keep an informal rolling ‘tab’ of who owes whom. It happens when a client and a professional honor the spirit, rather than the letter, of an agreement. Warren Buffet did it on a grand scale when he bought McLane Distribution.

Simply put, trust is as hard-nosed a business strategy as any involving the usual suspects. There is no trust without risk: trust truly is at the heart of risk mitigation.

And it’s not that hard to do.

Trust-based Risk Mitigation Requires a Change in Belief

The main thing it requires is a belief in the massively predictable human phenomenon that people do as they are done unto. If one party behaves in a trustworthy manner, the other comes to trust. And if one party behaves in a trusting manner, the other party becomes trustworthy.

The predictability of that behavior is way better than any stock market algorithm. Yet it is astonishing how many businesses have been seduced into inherently untrusting relationships. At great cost to themselves, their supply chain, their customers, and even their shareholders.

It is far more profitable to depend on the rules of trust in human behavior, than to always rely on the rule of ‘do unto others before they do unto you.’ (Which, after all, produces an equally predictable negative counter-reaction). 

The amazing thing is that so many businesses, which claim they are focused on financial returns, continually miss this huge opportunity.  I think it’s because they are also bad at personal risk mitigation: the people who run those ‘hard-nosed’ businesses are personally fearful of constructively confronting other human beings, and of speaking the truth about themselves and others. 

People vastly overrate the risk of doing the wrong thing, while they underrate the risk of not doing the right thing.  In business, as in life.  Fear, to many, seems like the sensible attitude.  In reality, trust pays far higher returns.  In life, as in business.

Trust Lessons from Independence Day in Small Town USA, 2009

In Ludington, Michigan, on July 3 at 9:30PM, it was still light outdoors (Ludington is at the far western end of the Eastern Standard Time Zone).  So it was easy to see the ten blocks of Ludington Avenue, ending at Lake Michigan, where the next day’s parade would be held. 

Two things stood out.  One was that the street had been planted with edgings of red, white and blue petunias, especially for the fourth.

The other was that virtually the length of the parade route, at 9:30PM, was already blanketed (literally, with blankets) and personal lawn chairs (some of them rather expensive) by way of reserving those particular spots for the 1PM parade beginning on the 4th.  

No one had any doubt that every one of those chairs would be there the next day.  No locks, police patrols or citizen brigades needed, thank you very much.

Nor would that be surprising to Ludington’s citizens.  By a (very) unscientific poll, well over 50% of Ludington households don’t lock their house doors at night.  Of course, Ludington is only 20% the size of the Big City of Muskegon, 50 miles away.  But I suspect it’s not all that different in Muskegon. 

The July 4th parade in small towns in America’s Midwest is a distinctive event.  Having been to parades in my youth in towns like Seward, Nebraska and Pompey, New York, I can personally relate, despite having been citified for a few decades since.

The Fourth happens at a glorious time in the calendar, when summer is just hitting full stride.  It is unabashedly patriotic, small-d-democratic, self-congratulatory, and wildly upbeat.  Half the town marches in the parade (fire trucks, beauty queens, conservation groups, HVAC companies, mayors, school bands, veterans and—in Ludington’s case—the Scotville Clown Band, since 1903), and the other half applauds enthusiastically.  All generations are represented, all consuming copious quantities of ice cream and pop (‘soda’ to you ‘coasters). OK maybe a few beers too.  And it’s curious that the celebration of independence is such a community, collaborative affair.

You can get all fancy with trust—and I do, the rest of the year—but it bears noting that there is one simple, in your face, no-BS version of trust in towns like this. 

You can leave your car and house doors unlocked.  ‘Nuff said.

You just don’t do that in South Orange, New Jersey; which is a small town, by the way.  Nor do you do it in most cities I know of.  Fuggedaboutit. 

For those (including me) who live in lock-the-door areas, it has a faint whiff of the naïve about it.  But not to those who live in no-lock towns.  It’s real.  I know, because I remember what it was like, and I got reminded of it again this 4th.

To be fair, there are some social reasons for this.  No-lock towns usually rank very low in diversity, which means everyone feels like they understand everyone else, and they pretty much do — people most easily trust those whom they most resemble.  In small towns, the degrees of separation are very small.  And I suspect (though without data) that the population is fairly stable.  This all makes it pretty easy to trust, to preach trustworthiness, and to enforce both.

I personally resent Governor Palin and others attempting to politically hijack small town values for their own divisive purposes.  I equally resent big city people who look down on small town folk as unsophisticated; they are sadly misinformed. 

But all that’s talk for another time.  On the Fourth of July, in a small midwestern town in the US of A, the glory of what it is like to live in a trusting, interconnected community is on full display.

And along with the sunburn and too many hot dogs, it makes you feel real good.   

Trust and Pornography: The Supreme Court’s Lesson for Business

In 1964, US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously opined in an obscenity case that it was exceeding difficult to define obscenity, “but I know it when I see it.”

It wasn’t a casual comment, but a carefully reasoned statement, which did and still does make a lot of sense.  Certain things—like obscenity—vary considerably across time, locale, and situation.  And another such thing is trust.

Trust Doesn’t Mean Much Without Context

I can’t think of another concept which carries with it such a wide range of meanings.  In context, we nearly always understand the concept being referred to—but the reference varies situationally.  Just consider:

– I trust my dog with my life—but not with my ham sandwich.
– I trust a stranger to sell me a book on Amazon—but that doesn’t mean I’ll introduce my daughter to him.

But business these days doesn’t like subjectivity.  The business community has come to insist on things like best practices, diagnostics, rankings and ratings, and—above all—behavioral indicators that can be metricized.  Because we all want to know how we’re doing, where we’re going, who’s doing best at it, and just how you know if you’re doing it right.  You can’t manage it, after all, if you can’t measure it. 

The business community has gotten hooked on the corporate equivalent of self-help manuals.  You know what’s next.  Ten Easy Steps to being a Highly Trustworthy Company.  Sign up for your Corporate Trust Ratings.  Become a Certified High Trust Company.  You get the picture.

Who Are the Most Trusted Companies?  It Depends

Beneath this rush is almost always the notion that One Size Fits All when it comes to trustworthiness at the corporate level.  Trustworthiness is a "thing."  Someone has the key to it, and others don’t.  For the philosophers out there, the operant belief is that there are Platonic Forms for things like Trustworthiness, Engagement, and Leadership. 

But in these matters, Potter Stewart was more right than Plato.  The bigger truth is–it depends.  It’s not that the emperor has no clothes–it’s that he has more than one wardrobe.

Who is more trustworthy: Apple Computer or Amazon?  Fidelity Investments or American Express?  Singapore Air or Dell Computer?  These are not sensible questions, I suggest, taken out of context.

It depends–on whether you’re talking to customers or to employees.  On whether you’re talking about reliability or other-orientation.  About transparency or collaboration.  About last year or about this year.  About a major transaction or about a corner-store impulse purchase.  About your car or about your oncologist. 

One attribute commonly associated with trust is transparency—but that’s not Trust Virtue One if you’re the CIA.  Teamwork may be a trust virtue for the US Army—but not for a law firm of litigators. 

At a personal level, you can make some generalizations about trustworthiness: I’ve done so myself in my Trust Quotient self-assessment survey.  But even there, I caution against reading the raw results without the context.

At a corporate level, trying to define the most ‘trusted company’ with a one-size-fits-all set of metrics is a fool’s errand.   That doesn’t mean it isn’t a useful, valid, and meaningful exercise. It just has to be done situationally, in context.

Like obscenity, we regular plain old human beings have no trouble recognizing trust when we see it.  We don’t need a scalable model to understand it.  Attempts to force-fit trust into behavioral indicators that can be rank-ordered, weighted and incentivized are akin to the US movie ratings system.  The ratings tells you more about the rater than the thing being rated.

The Supreme Court already figured this one out and wisely gave up the force-fit approach.  At higher levels, such as trust, life overflows the petty boundaries we try to impose on it in the vain belief we can “manage” it.  Like a giant wave, we’re far better off surfing it than trying to control it.