In a world full of fake news and global leaders playing games with our lives, trust seems a scare commodity. Yet this is a time when trust is needed even more as we face major changes in the way we work, in particular through innovation in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence.
One of the ideas that I think is at the heart of successful innovation is trust. It’s an interesting concept today because in our information age, trust is no longer necessary for access to capital. Instead, it has evolved into the key driver of efficiency in the social transactions or inter-actions that are so critical to innovation.
A useful historical reference is 16th century England. It was a volatile century, with a shortage of currency, no central bank, and few financial instruments. Yet it was an innovative period of dynamic and rapid change. The population was growing, a consumer society was developing and there was a near-desperate need for capital to fuel trade and commerce. As a result, a culture and economy developed that enabled transactions based largely on trust between individuals and communities, rather than on capital or security. Trust was valued at that time because it enabled liquidity: without an individual being deemed trustworthy and being able to trust others, commercial transactions would have stopped due to a lack of working capital. In essence, the need for liquidity created a culture of trust and reputation.
Fast-forward to today and we have banks, currency and many financial instruments to provide liquidity. The parallel is, I think, that as trust was to liquidity in 16th century England, so trust is to efficiency in 21st century innovation partnerships. To get a sense of how trust plays this critical role in innovation today, let’s look at four factors that impact on the outcome of innovation and collaborative partnerships:
RISK: Building a culture of partnership that values risk and failure requires deep trust; its absence leads to win:lose relationships:
ITERATION: Successful innovation comes from rapid trial and error, with ideas being quickly evaluated, modified and changed. Innovators tend to pivot quickly and frequently, but depend on trust. Without trust, idea pivots are slower, iteration is sluggish, and change is hesitant.
LEADERSHIP: Innovative cultures require powerful, authentic leaders. Where there is a high level of trust, leadership interactions are efficient, and things happen faster. Without trust, there is second-guessing, foot-dragging and fear.
NETWORKS: In a culture that promotes innovation, information moves rapidly and easily between individuals, functions and companies. People talk to one another, share and exchange ideas and support disruptive thinking. Without trust, people hoard information and progress slows.
It all sounds so obvious. But ask yourself, do you actually show your trust in the people you work with by sharing information without being forced to?
I’m reminded of a line by Ernest Hemingway – “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
Try it. Today.