Tapping The Trust Revolution
Culture of Innovation Part 3

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The future is not simply about accruing more knowledge, but adding value to that knowledge.

In the first industrial revolution, we swapped farms for factories. In the second, during the latter half of the twentieth century, we exchanged brawn for brains. Today, we are increasingly replacing information with innovation as our core priority, in industry, civic leadership and life in general.

The enterprises that not only survive but thrive in the emerging economy will be those that are able to add value to change; to create innovation from raw information.

How do we create a culture of innovation in our teams and enterprises?

Building a trust culture is central to the process. Trust is at the core of all innovative team cultures. In the digital age, with the advent of Web 3.0, the Cloud and so on, a trust revolution is underway.

It all started in the retail sector, with the person-to-person (P2P) direct selling of web services like eBay. This megalith of online trading is built on an economy in which trust is the number one currency of exchange.

The P2P trust economy has now found its way into everything from third-world micro-enterprise funding (e.g. Kiva.org), to new forms of venture capitalism. Crowd funding allows small players, on limited budgets, to act as venture capitalists by putting up relatively small investments.

Companies like Zopa are using the P2P trust-based model to offer personal loans of around £2000 on average, at competitive rates. In the process, they’re stealing a chunk of business from traditional high street banks and the default rates with these online loans are quite low.

Trust is also the key element in the growing number of very short-term car leasing services in major urban centres like London. While you’re sitting at your desk or on a train reading this article, you could have leased your car for an hour or so via an online service like Whipcar.

The Millennial generation has perhaps more invested than any other social group in underwriting this trust revolution – and keeping it growing.

As a generational cohort, Millennials (under 30s) want to believe that people are basically trying to do the right thing and, if they’re willing to demonstrate some transparency and accountability, they should therefore be trusted.

Perhaps even more than their Boomer or GenX forebears, Millennials also recognise that if we’re to solve the pressing social, ecological and economic problems before us we must leverage mass communication into mass collaboration.

For the first time in history, digital technologies have made this collective action possible on a global scale.

For many Millennials, collaboration is a default setting. They just can’t understand why some companies – including those they work for – are unwilling to share know-how in order to achieve positive civic benefits.

Trust is also the fuel driving a whole new brand of activism.  

In many cities, despite the impact of the Great Recession, rates of volunteerism are on the increase. In the age of global awareness, people want to know they’re making a difference beyond their own corporate front door.

Leaders who want to create a culture of innovation, must tap into the trust revolution. This means building a trust structure into whatever enterprise they lead.

Flexible work practices are a part of this. They reflect trust in team members to perform their functions without constant monitoring. They represent a step back from the privacy-invading use of technology people see all around them.

The technologies that have made flexibility possible in the workplace also pose real threats to personal privacy - and therefore motivation.

The UK has more CCTV cameras per capita than any European country. In urban centres like London, there are as many as one camera for every 14 people.

The rationale for this creeping growth in public spyware is that it helps to reduce the incidence of crime – and particularly violent crime. Yet EU figures for 2009 show that Britain has the highest rate of violent crime in Europe. One study I saw suggested that as little as three percent of crimes in the UK are solved using CCTV.

The Big Brother syndrome is also playing a growing role in marketing. Companies online and offline are using data-mining and lifestyle logging to accrue personal information which they use in designing sales pitches.

In May of this year, Apple was forced to deny that it is storing data collected from iPhone users. Google also denied similar charges a few months earlier.

Meanwhile, there is a growing debate about how much the internet is moving toward ultra-personalization, where search engines predict what types of information we’re each most likely to want based on logs of our internet usage.

This effectively means that two people who type the same phrase into a search engine will each be shown a different page of links. Whilst some see this as a tool of convenience, making the process of searching simpler, others see it as a hindrance to innovation.

Creativity, after all, revolves around finding unexpected links between disparate ideas – and being exposed to things we weren’t looking for, but which prove inspirational.

In business, trust is eroded by such practices as the tracking of emails sent from corporate accounts. Obviously, there needs to be a measure of security. Individuals should not be able to send materials from company accounts which may cut across company values or interests.

However, a growing percentage of companies in the US are taking this to extremes, using tracking technologies to trace individual keystrokes. What message does that send to an employee?

On a social level, governments can in the end use technology in a way that suggests they don’t trust their citizens. When that happens, it is often not very long before the citizenry returns the favour and their willingness to trust in public institutions begins to break down. 

The potential for organised social unrest increases as a result.

The same is true within an organisation; a business, or non-profit for example. To gain the trust of those who work for or with us, we must demonstrate trust. 

How free are members of your team to structure their work programmes and shape their workspaces to suit their natural creative rhythms? Are team members expected to behave as identical automatons, or do you allow some room for self-expression? Do you allow a degree of flexibility in working hours? Do you encourage remote working?

Are you willing to adjust your communication so that you speak where team members are actually listening? Perhaps you’ve assumed that everyone in your team works best on the telephone, yet many will feel more comfortable speaking by email or text, or via social networking. They will be more productive when you speak through the channels they’re best equipped to handle. Do you make allowance for these nuances in individual performance?

An important part of building a trust culture is the development of firm accountability structures.

Millennials in particular need and appreciate this. Often less libertarian than Boomers and sometimes less naturally anarchic than GenXers, Millennials are less likely to want to break rules for the sake of it.

As children, Millennials had their time very tightly structured by parents and teachers. As a result, some studies suggest that as adults they find it hard to deal with free time and want help to develop time management skills.

In offering accountability structures, leaders must be sure to get their facts straight. Younger workers in particular have a very low tolerance for ignorance.

Leaders must talk in specifics, not generalities, hunches or emotions. People often need help to see the distinction between performance-metrics and personal value-judgements.

Trust culture requires clearly communicated lines of accountability. These need to be flexible enough to accommodate changing situations, but not so fluid that they’re unpredictable or unreliable.

For accountability structures to inspire trust, leaders must be on the lookout for credibility gaps. Sometimes, line managers may appear to know less than younger, better educated members of their teams.

This can lead to friction and a loss of trust, if the manager doesn’t know how, or doesn’t possess the confidence, to establish respect in other ways.

Accountability also relies on the provision of constant feedback. Most people don’t like to be micro-managed, but they thrive on feedback – especially if it is both well-informed and well-intentioned.

Millennials in particular often work better if given the chance to work in close physical proximity to one another: as a generation, they thrive on feedback and buzz.

Finally, a trust culture will thrive on round-table planning sessions. Younger people have been raised to speak up, to share their views, to stand up for their beliefs. They’re unlikely to bring their innate curiosity and creativity to bear in situations where they’re expected to sit down and clam up.

Without a culture of trust, innovative ideas will be smothered under a blanket of emotional insecurity. Team members may fear that their ideas will be rejected out of hand, or that a good idea will be ‘stolen’ and accredited to someone else – most likely the team leader.

Build trust and you will hugely increase the potential for breakthrough ideas within your team.



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