The Genie and Three Trust Wishes

I have a friend. My friend is a middle manager for a large, diversified multinational corporation, running a group of about 80. He swears to me the following happened.

I was on a flight to Singapore from New York. During the dark part of the flight, after meals, most people were sleeping. I was in a quiet meditative state. 

Suddenly, from out of the coffee pot on the flight attendant cart in front of me, came a bright puff of smoke. Then from the smoke, a genie emerged. He came over and sat next to me in the empty seat (I was in business class).

I said, ‘What’s this, a three-wishes kind of deal? What are my choices?’

The genie said to me, ‘Yes, that’s the general practice in my business. Now, you’re a manager. You know how important trust is—within your team, with your customers (both internal and external), with other units. Right?’

‘Of course,’ I said.

‘And you know that you can’t manage what you can’t measure, right?’


‘And, I believe your company is extremely results-driven, am I right?’

‘You don’t know the half of it, genie. Yes, it most certainly is.’

‘Good,’ said the genie. ‘So here’s the deal.

‘Behind the first door—metaphorically speaking, of course—you can choose to have double the trust levels of any other business unit in your company. More trusted by customers, higher levels of intra-team trust, and so forth.’

‘Wow,’ I said, ‘that’d be great. Why wouldn’t I want that?’

‘Hear me out,’ said the genie. ‘The kicker is—you won’t be able to measure it. You won’t be able to build processes, or metrics; you won’t be able to prove to anyone that you are trust-rich, nor will you be able to identify specific actions or ‘tools’ to manage it. You’ll know it’s high, and others will anecdotally acknowledge it, but that’s it.’

‘Hmm,’ I said, ‘that’s not so great after all. Is there a door number two?’

‘Of course,’ said the genie. ‘Door number two is the opposite; you’ll only have half the level of trust that your firm has on average. But you’ll be able to measure it precisely; prove the dynamics to anyone; track it, analyze it, manage it, tweak it. You’ll just never get very good results over the long haul.’

‘Great,’ I said. ‘Is door number three going to give any relief?’

‘Maybe so,’ said the genie. And he showed me the following table:






Trust level





Management level





‘You can mix and match,’ he said. Options A and D I already told you about. Options B and C are in between. You can get a little more management of trust at the price of less trust. You can get a little more trust at the price of less ability to measure it.

‘So really,’ the genie smiled at me, ‘you got four choices today. Must be that Arabica coffee that makes me feel so generous.’

Then my friend told me which option he chose.

But what I want to know is: which option do you choose? Tell us below in comments what your choice is, and briefly why. Let’s get our own market research going here.

12 replies
  1. andrea
    andrea says:

    Door A. If trust is sustained, it manages itself. There’s no need to put numbers on it. Putting numbers on it might even damage trust.

    Leave the metrics for other things, like number of widgets produced this quarter or percentage of employees who have completed their yearly training.

  2. Barbara Garabedian
    Barbara Garabedian says:

    Charlie, I vote for Door A. If the business has any kind of viable business model then long-term Customer & EE satisfaction [derived from the double levels of trust] should produce decent results (albeit unmeasured & un-validated as to cause & effect). Not to mention that it would drive the beancounters nuts trying to find the "hard" data for validation!  Then again, if the answer appears to be so obvious to me, then this must be a trick question and I’m falling right into an obvious trap – yes?

  3. John Gies
    John Gies says:

    I too would say Door A. When we look at businesses that are in the same industries Lowes v. Home Depot,  why do some thrive and some struggle? As I look at it, it is often the things we can’t measure that make a big difference. I am speaking of things llike Trust, Attitude, Authenticity, Generosity. Very hard to measure, but when we encounter businesses and people that exhibit these characters they tend to get more of our business.

    That said, Trust, Authenticity, Generosity etc, without a real business model is… well just nice.

    Take Good Care,





  4. James A. Boyd
    James A. Boyd says:

    Hi Charlie,

    I was tempted to say that "it depends" (you have used that a lot lately), but upon reflection I will join the consensus for Door A.

    My basic philosophy is that everyting can be measure, just that some things are more difficult to measure than others.  Door A produces by far the best result.  Everyone wins – the clients, the team and the organization.

    Measurement here comes not from some quantification of trust, but from the outcomes.  Measurement often comes from secondary sources.  In this story measurement is bigger smiles, better feelings, greater satisfaction, even loyalty.  All hard to measure (maybe), but meaurement is not always about metrics. 

    And, I don’t agree that you can’t manage what you can’t measure.  But, you do have to measure what you want to manage because everything can be measured (you just have to be creative).

    Make it a great day,



  5. Philip J. McGee
    Philip J. McGee says:


    Door "A" is the only way to go for me and I mean that not because of the better results but because of the comfort.  Further, and this is in direct conflict with my engineering education, measurement is a great tool but the best managers I know work primarily from their guts.



  6. Shaula
    Shaula says:

    Door A, of course. (You’d be shocked if I said anything different.)

    But I’m really leaving a comment to say I’m impressed with your table! I hate adding tables to blog posts: the html can be such a pain–but yours has come out looking great! Nice job on it. 🙂

  7. Carl Isenburg
    Carl Isenburg says:

    Charles, this was a great post – a combination of anecdote and hook to get involvement from the audience.  This would make a great seminar or keynote opener.

    Perhaps it’s selection bias from the forum, but Option A is the obvious answer.  Measurement and metrics can be very valuable, especially when you’re trying to defend your team or budget, or trying to prove your value in the organization.  We’ve all seen organizations that invent metrics to attempt to prove their value, and we all roll our eyes when we see those presentations.

    A set of trusted relationships (assuming the trust is earned and warranted) is a better indicator of value. 


  8. Doug Cornelius
    Doug Cornelius says:

    Charlie –

    You’re trust cronies seem ready to readily jump on the trust bandwagon and pick Door A. I’m a bit more skeptical. The dilemna here is that by picking door A, the Trust is at its greatest. The other side is that the manager gets no direct credit for it.

    The big question (and the big question for the Trust community) is whether this higher level of trust will translate to higher sales, better employee retention, and other measurables that you would expect with having a higher level of trust.

    That turns it into a question of whether you trust that "trust" will translate into those other measuarables. If you are a true believer, then Door A is the obvious choice.

  9. Rob Nelson
    Rob Nelson says:

    Door A is the only choice.  Inherently, trust is a feeling or belief in something or someone.  I’d rather know that trust exists and is thriving and not be able to measure it objectively than be able to put it on a dashboard and see how poor it is.  Some things don’t need to be measured on a report. 

  10. deborah nixon
    deborah nixon says:

    Charlie: Cute way to present the concept.  But of course it is designed for us to choose A. But I don’t agree that it can’t be measured. Of course, as you know.  I do measure trust and it’s levels.  And because leaders want to measure it, doesn’t discredit the meaning, the intent, the measure or trust itself.  There is nothing wrong with seeking measurement.  It’s important especially if we are asking organizations to spend lots of money building trust- and hiring us to do that. They, and we, need to have some means of knowing whether we have achieved our goals.

    So I don’t see the choices as that stark or that ‘either/or’. I believe you can measure trust AND build a high trust relationship with strong customer loyalty, engaged employees- and PROVE it with the numbers.

    I also believe that in some situations, clients don’t want high trust-deep relationships.  Sometimes they just want transactions.  Now that might occur because you have done a good job of building trust and relationship- so that the sales process is faster and more efficient (a trust outcome). But also, some situations don’t warrant that level of interaction and commitment.  Just a thought.


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