The trust economy in action
Photography: Akifoto
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The trust economy in action

Rae Ritchie — July 2019

Philipp Kristian Diekhöner is a Kairos Society Fellow, World Economic Forum Global Shaper and sought-after writer and speaker. We caught up with him to hear his views about trust, technology and the challenges facing the industry.


Trust is the single most valuable competitive asset for companies and is crucial for the success of transformational technologies. This is the view of Philipp Kristian Diekhöner, digital innovation strategist and author of The Trust Economy: How digital technology is transforming trust and driving social and business innovation (2017).

Over the course of his career, Diekhöner has had plenty of opportunity with different businesses to see trust in action — or not. He counts the likes of Facebook, P&G, Prudential, Turner, The Economist, Deloitte, Boston Consulting Group, the German Federal Ministry for Economics and Energy, Standard Chatered and MunichRe among his clientele. Previously he was chosen as a founding member of MetLife's first global R&D hub, where he built and branded lumenlab to be a force for change in the industry. He also became a trusted advisor to CEOs of high profile start-up such as Smartly, TheLuxeNomad, Singapore Life and Circles.Life, the digital telecommunications organization that he named, branded and positioned. Dikehöner has been named a Kairos Fellow, St Gallen Symposium Leader of Tomorrow and World Economic Forum Global Shaper.


Here he shares his thoughts on the topics of trust, technology and the action required by the tech industry.

The trust conversation“Trust is the most tangible economic asset we have and it’s also the most tangible social asset,” Diekhöner begins. “The idea of my book, The Trust Economy, is to demonstrate that when you measure and manage trust, you can create more value: social, personal, relationship and economic monetary value.

“Companies will have to come to terms with the fact that the way we trust nowadays is completely different to how we used to trust. Technology has changed the entire trust conversation, and a lot of the apps and services that we use on a daily basis shows us that.”
Trusted or trustworthy?“It is important to recognize the difference between being trusted versus being trustworthy,” he points out.

“A lot of traditional companies are very trustworthy,” he continues. “Mostly they do the right thing. A lot of tech companies, on the other hand, are trusted — meaning they get our data, our money, our engagement and our time, but they are not necessarily worthy of being trusted.

“I find the way trust is usually measured in surveys is more focused on whether something is trustworthy, yet what drives our decision-making is whether or not something is trusted. And that is an extremely valuable and important distinction to make.

“It is hard to find companies that are using data responsibly and achieving excellence in digitization, let alone those with a sustainable digital business model. Digitizing by itself does not automatically give you a data or trust strategy. The challenges companies face can be complex, and many are not sure how to solve them elegantly. Our experience shows complex problems are best addressed by simple solutions. But these have to be the right ones, of course. 


“I like what Fujitsu is doing in terms of driving a trusted future, because tech companies which understand that trust is crucial to human experience and adopting new things will also understand that trust is about responsibility. It’s about balancing your decisions to be both commercially successful and socially relevant. Trust is the ultimate balance and companies who understand this and internalize this are, to me, absolutely doing the right thing.


“I also think the government of Singapore, where I live, has done a tremendous job of establishing the city as a place that we trust to do business, that we trust for innovation, that we trust for new technology and — most importantly— that we trust to change in a positive direction.

“As a European I find this inspiring and uplifting because, to be honest, I think in our part of the world many of the things that are great are past achievements and sometimes, I feel, there is a lack of direction about the future. I hope that this changes but I think countries that push a positive and optimistic vision of the future, then make that tangible, are genuinely significant assets. They embody the idea that a high trust environment attracts things like a magnet.”


The Asian example

As a European living and working in Asia, Diekhöner has interesting insights into the role that trust plays in this particular region. “One of the things I love most about doing business in Asia,” he said, “is the inherent value placed on trust. It is fundamental to how business in Asia gets done.


“Culture is a huge dimension in how trust is perceived. When we look at Asian cultures, there’s one commonality which is that trust is held in high regard. It’s held as a non-negotiable, whereas in Europe and the West, I think we have the same ultimate appreciation but we are less aware of it and less explicit about it.

“At the end of the day, a society in which trust plays a huge role is ultimately a society in which people forge great relationships — and that is very important.”
The challenges ahead“The narrative of making the world a better place is a bit ironic when in actual fact many tech companies are either at risk of, or have been guilty of, abusing personal data,” is Diekhöner’s frank assessment.

“So, for me, the biggest challenge for the tech sector is learning that the best-quality customer relationships and best-quality data come from people who are willing to give you their data, willing to watch the messages you send them, willing ultimately to engage with you because they have agreed to this particular thing and believe sharing their data with you is a win for them. This is what creates more value.

“Every tech company in the world knows this but few have a strategic view about how to build trust. Therefore there are huge opportunities for companies who are able to do so. They will be better positioned to maximize the value they create and avoid some of the negative behavior seen by other industry players.”

Furthermore, he continues: “Some incumbents in the industry are getting scared about using data because of what’s been going on. However, the real challenge is to use data to provide value to customers but in a way that is inherently responsible — and that also prevents you becoming vulnerable to data breaches and even the kinds of scandals that have dogged certain tech companies recently.”


• Philipp Kristian Diëkhoner was a keynote speaker at Fujitsu World Tour 2019 in Helsinki.  


First published July 2019
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