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The symbiotic relationship between trust and innovation

Maxine-Laurie Marshall — October 2018
Rachel Botsman, best-selling author and lecturer at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, on the fundamental need for trust when innovating

• Fujitsu Forum Munich 2018 speaker •

When defining trust many believe it goes hand in hand with transparency: ‘I trust you because I know what’s going to happen’. But University of Oxford lecturer and trust expert Rachel Botsman says asking for transparency signifies that you’re in a really low-trust state. Innovation by definition is about doing something new and different. And when you begin the process, no-one is sure of the outcome, there can be no transparency. One of the key facets of innovation is that it involves exploring unknown territory.

However, while transparency isn’t linked to trust, it is invariably tied to risk. Botsman explains: “Trust and risk are two sides of the same coin. If you want people to take risks, if you want people to be okay with not knowing the outcome, you need high-trust environments and high-trust teams. For example, the team leader doesn’t need to know how long an initiative is going to take, what the outcome is. To innovate you have to have a high tolerance of uncertainty and potential loss, and trust is what carries people through.”

The bottom line, she says, is “you need trust to innovate and to be innovative.” The trust required for innovation to flourish is very much dependent on human feelings. Looking at how technology is changing behavior and impacting how people trust, it’s easy to forget that we are talking about a very innately human thing. And trust in innovation takes more than technology making it easy for you. Botsman explains: “With digital transformation what people often overlook is that first of all within the company itself when you’re asking people to go through a transformation, to change how they interact with one another and customers, they have to trust.”

The same applies externally to customers. She continues: “When you’re asking a customer to do something different, for example, to use an online banking app, that’s a ‘trust leap.’ Many companies underestimate how hard it is to get customers to leap. The technology can be made seamless, but it hasn’t been done in conjunction with human behavior. How do we get people to place faith in something that is really familiar to [the company’s team] but really unknown to them?”

The answer comes back to human emotion. Botsman points out there are four common traits often found when people decide to give their trust because they believe the person or company is trustworthy.

The first trait is competence: does the person or company have the right skills, knowledge and experience to do what they say they’re going to do? The second is reliability: how much can they be counted on to perform consistently across time? The third trait is benevolence: how much you care; how much empathy do you have for the other person’s needs or situation?

And the last trait, Botsman explains: “is really the one that is the hardest to achieve over time and is where trust breaks down. It’s about integrity. “Integrity is about intentions and whether your intentions align with mine. You feel it, for example, with companies when you know that their intentions for the customer are not completely aligned with the shareholder. This integrity piece is really hard for companies to get right. It’s also the trait that technology fundamentally changes. In the past it was hard to assess a company’s intentions. But now with all the real-time information available it’s a lot easier to find out where that company is coming from.”
First published
October 2018
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About: Rachel Botsman
Rachel Botsman writes, researches and speaks on how technology is transforming trust — and what this means for business and society. She is a lecturer at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, where she designed and teaches the world’s first MBA course on the ‘Collaborative Economy’ and a new course on ‘Trust in the Digital Age.’

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