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Should we even be worried about trust?

On February 9 2020 I published an article on LinkedIn where I disclosed some of my early thoughts on the early developments of the pandemic. The core focus of my writing was to highlight a reality that is increasingly causing overwhelm and complexity for practitioners and leaders in every sense. The reality I highlighted relates to the importance of narrative.

One of the most tweeted themes in 2020, which I forecast will persist in 2021 and beyond, is about trusted narratives. There’s been not one day in 2020 where my inbox hasn’t had a bolded headline in relation to an issue around trusting what an entity has ‘said’.

Why is this important to acknowledge? Because both narratives and trust, independently and together, are crucial to business and life. Let’s consider a practical example of being able to trust the narrative your GP tells you. Similarly, by example, what is your capacity to trust what your state Government tells you. Or, better yet, your capacity to trust what your preferred chocolate manufacturer tells you.

No matter the circumstance, life relies on narratives and the life of a narrative is largely influenced by trust (whether a narrative is trusted or it is not - trust is a large influence on the lifecycle of a narrative).

Changing trust dynamics is something I’m compelled by and something I’ve written a little bit about. In this article I shared some thoughts in relation to how trust has changed in the context of smartphone ownership. And in this article I share some, notably amusing (well at least attempted), commentary in relation to trust with information sources.

If you speak with Google, you’ll be told that trust has a defining relationship with belief and confidence. Further, Google will inform you that a consequence of trust is a sense of reliability. Conversations relating to trust are compelling given trust has never been a stand alone ‘thing’. Trust is a second order effect of usually more than one thing and as we live in a world that is increasingly connected and converged, it is safe to say that increased connectedness and convergence expands the diversification and sophistication of interactions - including the interactions that influence trust. As a result, the interactions that influence our sense of trust with an entity, of any type, are increasingly complicated.

So what does this mean in really simple terms? The terrain for trust is increasingly unclear.

If I can deviate for a moment, let us appreciate the acceleration and growth of conversations relating to cyber security as a countermeasure to concerns about trust in the digital environment. There are ripples of conversations emerging relating to the concept, for example, of ‘Zero Trust Architectures’ which in effect recognise trust as a native vulnerability. Why am I surfacing this within the context of a broader conversation about trust? Well, because what impact do strategic conversations like this have on the value we place on trust? Simply, does trust even matter anymore? Will trust truly matter in 2050? Or will trust become a thing of the past, a mere sign of weakness? Cyber security developments suggest it is possible.

But let’s chat to Google again for a moment; if reliability is a consequence of trust then it can’t be possible that trust becomes obsolete because basic economics rely (no pun intended) on reliability between different inputs. Wait, what?

Reads a little bit ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Ridiculousness aside, I don’t believe this is a discussion that should be neglected of contemplation.

The democratisation of information distribution has created an intriguing challenge for us, and will continue to do so - hence the efforts of Governments to manage the power of digital platforms that fundamentally facilitate the democratisation of information distribution. The relevance of information distribution to this discussion about narratives and trust is quite important given narratives are not deployed and do not emerge and evolve like they did once upon a time. Narratives are now deployed to ‘places’ and ‘channels’ that effectively deny the entity deploying the narrative of any true control over its life cycle thereafter - by example this is why fake news and disinformation are modern crises, because once ‘they’re out there’ well ‘they’re out there’ and there’s no ‘going back’. Traditionally you could deploy a narrative by way of advertising to a TV channel but at the conclusion of the campaign, that narrative in the respective form is contained in accordance with a campaign plan. Now? There is no such truth as ‘the campaign has ended’.

If you’re feeling a little confused by the facets of this article, I appreciate your patience. To be honest, I am not certain about what I am trying to say. I am only certain about what I am contemplating.

Let’s look at the dots quickly (I’m not sure how they may connect yet):

  • Narratives are critical

  • The lifecycle of a narrative is largely influenced by its perceived trust factor

  • Trust is characterised by belief and confidence

  • Reliability is a consequence of trust

  • Reliability is a characteristic of functioning economic models

  • Zero Trust Architectures, in the digital environment, are a growing reality

  • Zero Trust Architectures recognise trust as a native vulnerability and that we can not rely on trust

  • Information distribution is in the hands of anyone with access to the internet

  • The democratised nature of information distribution challenges traditional ecosystems of trust

Now, let’s ask some relevant simple questions that arise from contemplation of these nine dot points in unison:

  • How do we determine what narratives we can and can not trust if the democratisation of information distribution has granted any entity the ability to become a socially endorsed and or perceived authority as a source of 'truth'?

  • How do we determine the right and wrong decisions to make if trust is considered unreliable?

Of course, there are many questions we could (and probably should) ponder within the context of this discussion. But for now, I’m not sure I trust my ability to provide any further commentary without absolutely overwhelming myself with the possibility that we may eventually live and operate in a world where trust is unreliable because I can’t simply fathom how we would then develop a sense of reliability on other people and things.

Mind-boggling, I believe an adequate expression is. Or maybe WTF is better.


Sally A Illingworth

This article was originally published on linkedin by sally a illingworth.