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Trusted Politicians

Sound like an oxymoron?

There’s good reason for that.  Not just in fact, but in principle, it is hard to square politics with trust. Trusting a politician may be an exercise in pre-meditated resentment.

Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara once said,  referring to interacting with the press, “never answer the question you are asked; always answer the question you wanted to be asked.”

That may or may not be a good recipe for politicians; it is certainly bad advice for anyone who would be trusted. It speaks volumes to the desire to control others’ opinions, refuse to engage, and to willingness to appear evasive.

Mark Twain’s comment, “Congress is the only distinctly criminal class” is typical of our desire to believe otherwise—and our continued disappointment when the next politician reveals his colors. “Meet the new boss—same as the old boss,” sang Roger Daltrey years ago.

There’s a reason. Politics requires a continual calculation of how to align with the majority. A minority politician is, pretty soon, a losing politician. Passing legislation requires convincing others; getting elected requires convincing others. The art (or science, increasingly) of politics is combining effective majorities across various issues, while minimizing the perception of the minorities as being on the other side.

That means there is virtually no single principle that a successful politician can afford to consistently endorse.

Yet all the while, we engage with politicians in a mutual conspiracy to deny that this is the case. We insist on believing that politicians believe in principle; and they in turn use the language of principle, in order to gain our votes.

Then we become outraged in the cases when politicians are caught violating their principles—whether it’s Republican homophobes caught with their pants down, or Democratic social liberals invested in subprime mortgages.

Logically, we should not be enraged. Humanly, we are. Because we want to trust, and trust requires some measure of consistency around principles.

The answer may lie partly in losing our innocence. Trust in politics arguably requires term limits. Only lame ducks can afford to vote from principle.

On the other hand, to surrender to cynicism and accept politics as merely an exercise in coalition-building is to move in the direction of single-issue politics—abandoning the middle, and any hope for unity.

Or, to continue to hope for the best—a politician with just enough principles and persuasive capability to actually sway opinion. To create a majority where none existed.  A real leader, in short.

Well, hope springs eternal.
 

Social Network Mapping and Trust

John Rolander, one of the good people at Katzenbach Partners , pointed me to a fine piece in Fortune Magazine about their work in OQ—Organizational Quotient. (July 23, 2007).

Katzenbach is a leader in identifying and analyzing the “constellation of collaborations, relationships and networks” that are responsible for much of an organization’s real effectiveness, and which is quite distinct from the formal organizational chart.

“Jon Katzenbach [calls the] ability to toggle between both power structures ‘organizational quotient,’ or OQ.”

Katzenbach helped Bell Canada scour 50,000 employees to identify “14 low- and mid-level managers who embodied the mentality the company sought: committed, passionate, and competitive. Here’s what they found:

The subjects shared the ability to get people to trust them and to solve problems rather than complain about them. “These people have incredible influence. It’s like the Life Cereal commercial—Will Mikey eat it?”

You could say this is yawningly obvious; but only in the rear-view mirror. Which makes it worth emphasizing.

First, these are 14 massively influential people. Influence doesn’t happen by accident. These people attract others. To be proper, others are attracted to them.

What attracts others? Their perceived trustworthiness; and their propensity to solve rather than complain.

As Phil McGee (who I’m appointing as a business guru) puts it, “All business problems boil down to two: a tendency to blame, and an inability to confront.” That’s the negative way to put it.

The positive way to put it is, business works best when driven by people who take responsibility, and who are trusted by others.

There is an awful lot of stuff written about how to be trusted. Listening. Eye contact. Networks. And so on.

We tend to forget that true trust is only earned by being trustworthy—which means, literally, worthy of trust. All else is fakery. Ask someone why they trust so-and-so, and you’ll always get two things near the top of the list—"he has my best interests at heart," and "I can trust him to speak the truth."

"Blame" reeks of falsehood—the word has connotations of evading responsibilty, lying about accountability. Valid assignment of responsibilty is devoid of “blame,” and the true measure of validity is whether one is willing to take on responsibility oneself. Clear assignment of responsibility speaks to both putting principles ahead of self-interest, and to speaking truth rather than spinning it.

So the presence of blame is a sure-fire signal of the lack of trustworthiness. How can you trust someone who will not take responsibility?

All of which is to say, mapping of social networks reveals something very fundamental—trust nodes.

Well done.

[Footnote: I must add, there is also a small irony here. As Katzenbach says in the article, “the informal organization is most helpful when you’re trying to influence behaviors that are more emotional than they are rational.”

The irony lies in the need for most organizations to have rational proof of the power of emotions over rationality.

Then again—whatever works ]

Defining Trust by Defining Moments – Larry Craig’s

If you wanted a definition of trust, you could look it up in Webster’s. Or perhaps in Wikipedia—but it’s kind of complicated.

Or, you could recognize that definitions are ultimately anthropological, and go straight for a source. Say, an editorial on Idaho’s Senator-at-this-moment Larry Craig in the North Idaho Press, which says:

We urge Sen. Craig to remove all the clouds and resign.

This is not a moral judgment, not in the sense that some want Craig ousted for alleged homosexual behavior that’s been rumored for many years. Nor is it an indictment of his tepid stance in the Iraq war or his unpopular support of President Bush’s proposed immigration reform.

It is a recommendation based upon the fact that the people of Idaho cannot trust their most powerful representative in the nation’s capital.

What can we infer about trust from this one simple example?

First, trust is pretty powerful. Calls by newspapers for the resignation of a home-state senator are very rare. Yet the reasoning for the call rests on the invocation of a single word—trust.

Lack of trust often has to do with deception—withholding truth, covering up, not being transparent. In this case, the paper says,

Worse, he tried to keep the whole thing secret. And by all appearances, he nearly got away with it… the senator had ample time not just to decide his best course of legal action, but to tell the nation what was going on [yet did not]

Deception can bleed into straight up lying—as the paper suggests,

He is extremely intelligent and fully versed in legal procedure. We cannot accept that, in a hurry, he made a bad call that has clouded his future — and the state’s.

Closely related is whether or not someone takes appropriate responsibility, as opposed to blaming others. The editorial says:

the senator did not own up to his misdemeanor crime. He did not apologize to his family, to the fabulous staff that has supported him for more than a quarter century in Congress, to his constituents here in Idaho.

If you had just dropped in from Mars and read only this one editorial, you’d get a good sense of what the human race means by trust. It means transparency; it means taking responsibility; it means telling the truth.

And—at least in some cases—earthlings appear to take it pretty seriously.

I Can’t Make You Love Me–If You Don’t

That’s the title of one of my favorite songs; a soulfully beautiful breakup song by Bonnie Raitt.

I’m not alone; one commenter on the song says, “I personally consider this the best song of the 90s.”

My favorite detail: the very first notes on the track are a brushstroke and two taps on the snare drum, followed by a big, mellow electronic piano-cum-bass drum chord. The mics on the drums reveal a warm small-room echo—this is live, real, unprocessed music by a pro—singing about reality. Like the song.

Songfacts says the song

…was written by the songwriting team of Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin. Reid got the idea from a newspaper article about a guy who got drunk and shot up his girlfriend’s car. When the judge sentenced him and asked him what he had learned, he said, "You can’t make a woman love you if she don’t."

Never mind my taste in music. Red and Shamblin had an ear for one of those micro-moments that serve as metaphor for larger truths. You can’t make a woman love you if she don’t.

Ain’t it the truth.

And ain’t it a metaphor. You can’t make a man love you if he don’t, either. You can’t make your child do what you want, if they won’t. You can’t make your ex- do what you’d like, if they won’t. You can’t make an alcoholic stop drinking, if he won’t.

You can’t make someone trust you, if they don’t. You can’t make a person change, if they won’t. You can’t make an organization change, if it won’t. You can’t make someone buy from you, if they won’t.

You can’t make someone like you, if they don’t. You can’t make someone want what you want, if they don’t (even a great song). You can’t make someone believe what you believe, if they don’t.

There are pretty much only two things you can do. One is to give up the attachment to those outcomes. The other is to change yourself.

Because you can do all those things—to yourself.

You can make yourself love someone; as Steven Covey reminded us in Seven Habits, love is a verb, not a passive state of consciousness.

You can make yourself happy—or not. You can make yourself trust someone—or not. You can live in the moment—or not. You can stop drinking, or eating, or smoking—or not.

Like the man in court found out, trying to make other people do things they won’t is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

Pain is inevitable—but suffering is optional. You don’t have to take the poison. There are other girls, other guys, other days, other organizations.

Detach from the outcome.

Then go create yourself a new one.

Trust Networks vs. Search Engines

Those who understand the technical aspects of current hot themes like social networking (think Facebook ), are all a-twitter over a post last weekend by Robert Scoble, a (deservedly) influential tech blogger.

Nominally about whether Google will be dethroned by some upstarts , his post has generated many over-heated comments of the “Yankees suck” variety. (A notable exception is “Turbo” Todd Watson’s posting on the subject).

But commenters aside, Scoble is pouring some very good old wine into some very promising new bottles. The issue is: who do you trust?

Do you trust:

a. A compilation of information (encyclopedia, Blue Book, Google, classified ads, Yellow Pages), or

b. Your friends?

The best known net-based version of the former, of course, is search engines.

The net-based terminology du jour for the latter is trust networks—think Old Boys’ network, bowling leagues (going way back), and more recently Friendster, MySpace, LinkedIn and Plaxo, and—todays’ hot item—Facebook.

The right answer is—as it always is in these cases—it depends. In this case, it depends on what problem you are trying to solve.

If you’re trying to buy a used car, you probably value masses of information over your friends’ recommendations, no matter how smart your friends are—because you’re trying to assess a market. The bigger and more liquid the market you seek to tap, the more you’ll value objective, massive information. Score one for the compilation model of the world.

If you’re trying to decide whether or not you should talk to your daughter about how she’s making the mistake of her life by going out with that no-good idiot, you don’t care about markets—you care about wisdom from people who know you and your life. Score one for a network of friends; the trust network.

In the real world (I mean outside the blogosphere), there is no shortage of either kind of problem, and it will always be so. These are merely chapters in the ongoing book about how we come to trust, and to make use of new technologies to do so.

Blogging vs. Podcasting

Some time ago, Suzanne Lowe published a posting called The Myth of Intellectual Capital.  In it, she commented on a talk by Paul Dunay  , Bearingpoint’s Director of Global Field Marketing.

According to Lowe, Dunay sang the praises of podcasting over blogging, on the grounds that it required less time.

According to Dunay, who then commented, he was merely pointing out the higher return on investment of publicizing content.

Alan Weiss also chimed in, saying “First, it’s blogging, then podcasting, then video, then something else, with each one expected to take over the world.”

But it’s not a he-said she-said thing.  And contrary to Weiss, much more is at stake here than the latest fad and flavor of the day.

There are distinct parts of the human decision making process; and different media drop into different slots in that process. That’s true for old media, and for new as well.

Podcasts are aptly named. Like their cousins “broad-“ and “narrow-“, they are one-to-many media—non-interactive even in audiences of one.
Podcasts are also consumed in very constrained time limits—a 120-second podcast is going to take—approximately—120-seconds for someone to listen to.

Blogs are more interactive—you can hit “comment” right now in response to this blog, and get the instant gratification associated with seeing “you moron Charlie!” pop up and knowing it can be read in Thailand—right now!

We can also read at varying speeds, including—frequently—a whole lot faster than listening.  And the reader controls the speed.

Over to buyers.  Buyers want many many things, and at different times in their decision-making process. Sometimes they want to interact; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they want information; sometimes they want visual and aural assurance.

If you’re selling to someone with a buying process more complex than getting a #4 at Burger King, you’ll want to match distinct parts of the buyer’s decision-making process with access to distinct media that help the buyer decide.

It’s not a trivial exercise, anymore than is a decision to buy billboards or broadcast TV or newspaper is for an ad agency serving any client.

Politicians are still sorting this out too. Watching on television as sound-bite based politicians “respond” to blown-up computer screens showing YouTube clips is a crazy mash-up.  Enough to make you agree with Alan Weiss that it’s all a popularity contest.

Except it’s not.  Smart politicians—and other sellers—will integrate media, using each for what it’s best at.

Kennedy didn’t beat Nixon just because Nixon looked bad on TV; TV was part of the package.  And people distrust the absence of a coherent package more than any particular package per se.  

It’s a Dog Eat Dog World: Isn’t It?

My last posting—The Deeper Message of Financial Volatiilty—generated responses at The HuffingtonPost.com I also got a call from a TV interviewer, who posed the question:

How can you say competition is increasingly less relevant—it is, after all, a dog eat dog world out there—isn’t it?

This metaphor of cannibalistic canines needs a little deconstructing.

First, I think it’s pretty much only a metaphor. Outside Jack London, I doubt there are too many Donner Pass incidents in the history of dogs.

More seriously, I learned early on that if I rode my bike past a snarling, menacing dog and pedalled like crazy to stay away from it—the dog would chase me.

But—if I actually approached the dog and said, “good boy, come here,” the same dog would wag its tail and befriend me.

In my experience, this pretty much describes people too.

People often live up—or down—to others’ expectations of them. And if we can learn that about ourselves, then we have gained the keys to our freedom. We can see that we own our own oppression; that we empower what we fear. And escape it.

The parallel extends to business. If I expect the worst of my suppliers and customers, then I’ll throw lawyers at them, endlessly calculate their financial value to me, use need-to-know communications, and generally make sure I’m always in control.

At its best, this response gives us dynamics like union vs. management. At its worst, we get endemic inefficiency and cynicism.

Now add change to the equation. Decades ago, we had monolithic corporations with fixed boundaries, competing against each other. Now, as BusinessWeek describes in its August 20 & 27 cover story The Future of Work , we have something quite different:

The very idea of a company is shifting away from a single outfit with full-time employees and a recognizable hierarchy. It is something much more fluid, with a classic corporation at the center of an ever-shifting network of suppliers and outsourcers, some of whom only join the team for the duration of a single project…

The hard part for multionatinals is getting people to work well together…such pressures put a premium on recruiting staff who are globally minded from the outset…Nokia is careful to select people who have a “collaborative mindset…”

Exactly.

The playbook that business schools still teach from is the one labeled Big Monolithic Corporation—and the chapter heads are all about Competition.

The playbook that hasn’t been written yet is about the Fluid, Shifting, Morphing Entity that BusinessWeek describes—and the chapters are not about Competition, but about Collaboration—with customers, with employees, with partners.

Dog eat dog? Why? When dogs eat dog food instead of each other, and figure out how to work together, life gets better.

And in an emerging business world that throws everyone together in constantly permutating ways, that old competitive nature we prized decades ago is becoming a bit of a millstone.

Business doesn’t need, or want, competitors and competitive talents as much as it used to. The emphasis will shift from competition to customers. Business needs more collaborators. Not in order to become more “competitive” or to “win”—but to become more successful.

The Deeper Message of Financial Markets’ Volatility

The Dow swung 600 points (high to low) in two days this week—and the week’s not over.

Key stock market indices in Indonesia and South Korea lost over 6% of their total value yesterday alone. Seoul’s Kospi Index had its biggest point drop ever

Katie Couric leads the CBS evening news with tales of homeowners who can’t find lenders to refinance massively increasing adjustable rate mortgages they (stupidly) assumed.

What’s it all mean?

The short story is the same as the long story—but the long story is much more interesting.

The short story starts with a classic housing bubble. People start borrowing to buy real estate. It becomes musical chairs, flip the property, sell to the greater fool. And use leverage.  Better yet, OPM (other people’s money).  Best—use both.

Lenders, like good drug pushers anywhere, develop new products and pitches.  Finance the first mortgage with the second; “liar’s” loans, no proof of income required. Wall Street packages loans, slices and repackages them and resells them. No one is left holding the bag—-everyone is left holding the bag.

National Public Radio reports that you can purchase complete lies about your income and employment history at sites like verifyemployment.net  to help fuel the game.

The short story is that the world has become so connected financially that a housing bubble in the US can decimate the stock market in Djakarta.  Everything is linked to everything.  This isn’t like 1929, where wealthy people lost money in the crash and soon couldn’t pay their employees.  This is far more integrated, international, intertwined, interdependent—and fast.  Butterflies flapping wings and all that.

True enough. But the financial markets are just a piece of a bigger puzzle. 

In the long story, the growth in connectedness of all things  exceeds the wildest dreams of rabid conspiracy theorists from just a few decades ago.

Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat is, at root, about how the world has become interconnected.  Time and space are being obliterated by always-on, high-bandwidth,  voice, data and video connections.  Capital flows easily around the world. The internet’s inherent freedom runs roughshod over the desires of industries and nations alike to maintain boundaries.  Even labor becomes mobile—if not through immigration, then through outsourcing.

Six degrees of separation has for some time now begun to look like an overstatement.

The first level of business implications is clear.  Pick one thing and do it the best in the world; outsource everything else to whomever is doing those things the best in the world.

But even that is old paradigm stuff—competing in a global world and all that. Increasingly, that’s so five minutes ago.

The really, really big lesson is this.

The game of competition is over. It’s not about vertical corporations competing against each other anymore.  It’s about collaboration and connectivity—with everyone. He who can get along with everyone better than everyone else will succeed.

Not “win”—succeed.

In a massively connected world, corporate strategy is less relevant than customer strategy.  It’s your ability to cut agreements with customers and suppliers that helps you—not your ability to squeeze pennies out of them.

This is a huge shift for people raised in business in the last 50 years, weaned on concepts like sustainable competitive advantage and shareholder wealth creation.

The business-strategic value of trust was always high.  It’s about to get far, far higher.  Those stuck with mental models built on inter-corporate competition are going to get left behind those who "get" the simple idea of service to customers, employees, and partners.

The Dark Side of Trust? Not!

This blog regularly sings the praises of trust. It greases the wheels of commerce, ennobles human interactions, and generally makes the world go round.

Could it possibly be that trust has a downside? Omigosh.

From the always-provocative Harvard Business School Working Knowledge series  comes another  case of good data, flawed interpretation. This time it’s about plumbers in Philadelphia.

The Dark Side of Trust  summarizes research by Harvard Business School professor Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Victor Calanog, a doctoral student at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, in "The Speed of New Ideas: Trust, Institutions and the Diffusion of New Products."

They researched the introduction of an innovative new product (a plumber’s product called TrapGuard) to 596 plumbers and plumbing firms in Philly.

Now, some of those plumbers had strong relationships of trust with their suppliers—who presumably hadn’t told their customers about TrapGuard.  As HBSWK puts it:

The basic question at hand: Would TrapGuard encounter significant barriers to entry from plumbers who enjoyed trusting relationships with their suppliers? In other words, would plumbers be less likely to consider new products, even though innovative, because they were content with their current suppliers?

It should surprise no one that, indeed, plumbers who strongly trusted their suppliers were less inclined to pursue a promotional brochure for TrapGuard when sent one in the mail.

Here’s Oberholzer-Gee:

I wanted to see whether there was a downside to building trusting relationships between buyers and suppliers. In some sense, the study reveals a dark side of trust.

Trust is a double-edged sword. In the short run, working with trusted suppliers reduces transaction costs and furthers the buyer’s competitive standing.

But trust can also make you blind because it can make it harder to see opportunities that arise outside established relationships. The managerial challenge is to build trusting relationships without losing sight of outside opportunities.

Oberholzer-Gee clearly sees the double-edged sword nature of trust.

But presenting this as some kind of  “fair and balanced” offset to the positives of trust is at least a blinding flash of the obvious, and more likely disingenuous.

For example:

• The dark side of trusting your spouse to be faithful is you might not notice him consorting with that hottie;

• The dark side of a child trusting his parents is they might be homicidal maniacs;

• The dark side of loving (as any oldies station will tell you) is a broken heart.

Trust without risk is not trust at all. But of course. Trust is human risk management, a response to uncertainty—but one wholly unlike the rational, risk-parsing quantitative techniques typically taught and used in academia.

And here’s where it gets insidious.  HBSWK summarizes:

trusting relationships can also have a negative side that managers must take into account

HBSWK, and HBS, and Every Business School preach the Gospel According to Analytics. According to this gospel, managers “must take into account” some analytic cognitive insight at pretty much every turn, every transaction.

Never mind that “must” reeks of arrogance.  Note simply that if you subject every micro instance of trust to a micro-consideration of its worth, you destroy trust at the macro level.

Want a philandering spouse? Let her know every day how much you fear her infidelity. Want a suspicious, self-serving supplier? Constantly check them for suspicious, self-serving behavior.  Want thieving employees?   Give them all monthly lie detector tests. 

You empower what you fear.

Trust is a macro-response to life’s micro-issues.  You’d better evaluate it from time to time, like you would a marriage.  But if you constantly subject trust to the cognitive microscope, you destroy its essence.

“Must” you see the dark side of trust?  Don’t look too hard, you’ll miss all the glory, and ruin it in the looking.

Does Your Customer Trust You? The Acid Test

Most salespeople will agree—there is no stronger sales driver than a customer’s trust in the salesperson. And, I suggest, the best way to be trusted is to be trustworthy—worthy of trust. You can’t fake it.

Is it possible to know if your customer trusts you? Is there one predictor of customer trust? Is there a single factor that amounts to an acid test of trust in selling?

I think there is. It’s contained in one single question. A “yes” answer will strongly suggest your customers trust you. A “no” answer will virtually guarantee they don’t.

The question is this:

Have you ever recommended a competitor to one of your better customers?

If the answer is “yes”—subject to the caveats below—then you have demonstrably put your customer’s short-term interests ahead of your own. This indicates low self-orientation and a long-term perspective on your part (I’m assuming sincerity), and is a good indicator of trustworthiness.

If you have never, ever, recommended a competitor to a good customer, then either your product is always better than the competition for every customer in every situation (puh-leeze), or—far more likely—you always shade your answers to suit your own advantage. Which says you always put your interests ahead of your customers’. Which says, frankly, you can’t be trusted.

Here are the caveats: don’t count “yes” answers if:

a. The customer was trivially important to you
b. You were going to lose the customer anyway
c. You didn’t even offer a product in the category
d. You figured the competitive product was terrible and you’d deep-six them by recommending them.

The only fair “yes” answer is one in which you honestly felt that an important customer would be better served in an important case by going with a competitor’s offering.

If that describes what you did, and it is a fair reflection of how you think about customer relationships in general, then I suspect your customers trust you.

If not—well, then why should they? Would you?