Trust Matters Primer vol. 4

Greetings, and welcome to this month’s ebook. It’s the dog days of August, and I thought a good time to revisit three ideas from earlier this year, loosely themed around new ways of thinking. In this edition of the Trust Primer volume 4 we feature:

I welcome your comments, and wish you some long lazy days over the next few weeks of summer.


Outsourcing Loyalty, and other Oxymorons

I am on vacation this week, and will be going back to the vault for some ‘oldies but goodies’ posts. I hope you enjoy them: I’ll be back in a week or so with new material.

Outsourcing loyalty. Think about the absurdity in that phrase.

Oh, we know what it means, all right. There are businesses whose specialty is executing frequent-customer programs. They handle strategy, research, program design, even fulfillment. It’s no different from any other outsourced business process.

But still. Think about the contortion of language implicit in combining those two words. Loyalty—that emotional quality that binds one person to another, to a clan, a country, or a set of ideals—can be mechanically crafted by a third party for hire. And we still call it loyalty.

Googling “outsource loyalty” turns up a few entries, like Ernex, which offers "a complete real-time points management solution for loyalty program or member-based loyalty databases." Cap Gemini, a major global IT firm, has a website that advertises its “loyalty factory.

Hey, why not? You can outsource confidants (they’re called shrinks). You can outsource sex (the oldest profession). You can outsource phone calls (“your call means a lot to us…please hang on the line”). Why not loyalty?

But in our rush to turn business functions into business processes, then modularize and outsource them, we occasionally overdo it. A major casualty is the faux language of relationships. “Loyalty” programs are but one example.

Another oxymoron is “human capital.” Note which word became the adjective, and which stayed the noun.

“Relationship capital,” its close cousin, goes it one better. It isn’t just people that are financially fungible. Ditto for the relationships between people. Long live love. If it pays, that is.

“Customer focus,” as a practical matter, is often oxymoronic. It amounts to “inspect, dissect and reject” so that you maximize customer profitability per unit of financial investment. Customer profitabilty to the seller, that is; not the customer’s own profitability. Vultures are focused in that sort of way. If you’re a customer, "customer focus" can feel like you’re in the crosshairs of somebody else’s scope.

How about you? Can you add to the list? Got any oxymorons about the human dimension in business? Share them here; enquiring minds want to know!

The Trust Reader Volume 2


This is the second in a series of ebooks I’m releasing called The Trust Reader. Each issue will feature a full-length article on trust-related issues, plus synopses and links to two other articles.

The Trust Reader will be published roughly every few months. Articles introduced here will be available thereafter on the website, but you’ll see them here first.

Get the Trust Reader volume 2 here

In this issue, the featured article addresses a key question: Does Trust Really Take Time? Here’s why it’s key.

Purportedly, one of the great economic advantages of trust is the time it saves in the conduct of business. I make that claim, as does Steven H.R. Covey, Jr. Yet, the phrase "trust takes time" is routinely asserted by most businesspeople—including those who agree that trust takes time.

Well, does it or doesn’t it? The lead article answers that question, and is contained in its entirety in this issue.

The other two articles are:

Discounting, Price, Value and Psychology — a look at how buyers really think about money in buying. Worried about price cutting? Read this one.

Client Focus vs. Client Focus Lite — are you really client-focused? Or just faking it. Take a hard look in the mirror before you answer, and read this one.

Both these articles are abstracted in this issue, with links provided. All three articles will now join the permanent collection of trust-related articles on

The Trust Reader series joins the Trust Matters Primer series—an occasional selection of the best from from the blog Trust Matters.Download the first edition of the Trust Reader here

Trusted Advisor Associates ebook Series on Trust

You can also find previous issues of the Trust Reader here, as well as copies of The Trust Matters Primer here:

Trust Reader Volume 1

Trust Matters Primer Volume 1

Trust Matters Primer Volume 2

Trust Matters Primer Volume 3

If you would like to receive email updates for the Trust Reader and Trust Matters Primer, please subscribe here.

You can find previous articles published by Charles H. Green at

As always, if you prefer not to receive our series, simply email me or click the unsubscribe link below to let us know.


Why Corporate Training May Be Less Effective Than Bird Training

Flying from Newark to Hong Kong, I indulged myself in catching up on the New Yorker.  This issue (May 12, 2008) was a double-delight, and offered inadvertent insights on corporate training.

I always welcome a new Malcolm Gladwell article—"In the Air: Who Says Big Ideas are Rare?" is on the nature of creativity,  and the frequency with which major scientific inventions are discovered simultaneously by many. (Not just Leibniz and Spinoza with calculus, five people came up with the steamboat, Gladwell says, and 9 invented the telescope at the same time).

Gladwell draws the implication that “genius” can be socially engineered by linking up smart people in a focused manner. Living proof is former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold’s company Intellectual Ventures, which has generated thousands of patentable ideas.

But you can’t over-engineer creativity. Randomness must be given its due. A starting problem and some pre-work seems to be important. Beyond that, the problems that end up being solved may vary radically from the original agenda. People must do their thing for group genius to take hold. Beyond agenda, it’s the confluence of smart people, not the proscribed process, that gets results.

But Gladwell’s piece is not all. The same issue has the amazing story of Alex the parrot, trained for 30 years by the equally impressive scientist, Irene Pepperberg.  Margaret Talbot’s article, "Birdbrain: The Woman Behind the World’s Chattiest Parrots," begins by reprising our historical view of animal intelligence.

Descartes, Talbot writes, posited a hard line between human intelligence and the “sub-human” view of animals. Darwin threw us back toward anthropomorphism. With B. F. Skinner, we returned to the Cartesian view of animals—but included people as essentially animalistic.

When Alex the parrot came on the scene, he confounded the animal behaviorists. He would initiate conversations, make appropriate comments, ask for things. “Sit on your knee?” You let him. “Scratch my head.” You do. Alex would ask, “You want food?” No. “You want drink?” No. “Then what do you want?”

Call that what you want, Alex was no birdbrain. Alex took conversations past where we’ve gone with chimps and dolphins. But here’s what drove the Skinnerians batty. Alex was not trained through stimulus and reward; he was trained through social interaction. Given classic “push the button get the pellet” training, he learned nothing. But placed in a social setting, competing and interacting with another (bird or human) for a trainer’s social attention, Alex learned rapidly. The author says:

As it happens, the model/rival method may have some utility for another species—humans. Diane Sherman, who works with autistic children in Monterey, California, has had some preliminary success in encourage speech in her clients using Pepperberg’s protocol. In an article published in The International Journal of Comparative Psychology, Sherman and Pepperberg say that, in two studies of children in Shermans private practice, [Pepperberg’s] model/rival method led to “significant gains” in the children’s “communication and social interaction with peers and adults.”

What does this have to do with corporate training, you ask?  At the risk of offending a few valued readers, let me make an overly broad generalization.  Corporate training is one example of a corporate trend toward breaking things down into parts and parceling them out.  That’s the pattern of outsourcing, of decentralization, of measuring outcomes, of securitization and disintermediation in the mortgage industry

These corporate trends are not all bad.  "Breaking it down and parceling it out" sounds like time-honored specialization and division of labor.  Division of labor is a recipe for efficiency. But we often lose sight of a holistic perspective and objectives. In training, this often means choosing training over education, sacrificing learning in the pursuit of behavior. Judging by outcomes, curriculum designers long ago ditched John Dewey in favor of B.F. Skinner.

In the corporate training world, every program has cascading objectives—overall, daily, and module-specific. Each “objective” is typically phrased in terms of behaviors: “participants will learn the skills and behaviors associated with….”

Can you imagine going to church or synagogue and being given a "spiritual inventory" from which to develop a "gap assessment" and a "needs analysis" followed by a customized program?

"In this class, sinners will learn the behaviors associated with the sixth through tenth commandments; participants will learn not to kill, and will no longer covet… Pre-requisite course: commandments 1 through 5."


Myhrvold’s lesson—underscored by Gladwell—is that objectives work at the level of agenda, participants, and pre-reading. Programming creativity below that level of specificity just kills it. Yet a modern trainer would be shot for proposing a program as open-ended as Myhrvold’s. In module design, an exercise yielding such varied outcomes would be tightened, trimmed, focused so that it produces replicable, predictable results—eerily called “learnings.”

The story of Alex the parrot tells us the same thing. Put me in a cage, appeal to my lowest level—peanuts and M&Ms—but you’ll get nothing from me unless you keep me starving. Give me the richness of social stimulation, give me some control over what I learn and how, and I will astound you with what “even” a bird can learn.

Talbot’s article has this poignant section about a famous research chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky who had learned sign language:

After Nim had been retired to a Texas ranch where most of the employees didn’t know sign language, he continued to sign. When Bob Ingersoll, an old teacher of Nim’s, came to visit him the chimp, who was in a cage at the time, eagerly signed “Bob,” “out,” and “key.”

Even a chimp doesn’t like being processed.

December Carnival of Trust Accepting Admissions

Every month the Carnival of Trust highlights ten of the best posts on trust, whether business related or not. The next carnival will be Monday December third. If you’ve written a post you think would be a good fit, or if you have read a post by someone else that you think would be great for the carnival I’d like to encourage you to submit it for the carnival.  This month’s host is John Crickett of Business Opportunities and Ideas.

Carnival Submission Guidelines:

  1. The Deadline for submissions is midnight, Thursday November 29th.
  2. Posts do not have to be business related. Trust in personal relationships, politics, or any other sphere of life are more than welcome, and, indeed, encouraged.

Posts can be submitted here.

If you’d like to read a sample Carnival of Trust, both Whisper and David Maister have hosted editions. I look forward to another excellent edition with your help.