NANCY’S BLOG: Trust As Currency.

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Trust. Transparency. Reputation. Privacy.

Nine years ago eBay gave us a taste of what was possible.

Since then, advancing technology and growing social footprints are enabling us to connect with others in ways that would have seemed reckless back then: giving rides to strangers (Lyft), letting them stay in our beds (Airbnb), entering their homes to eat a meal (Feastly). All of which are generating new social standards, both for living and transacting, and shifting expectations for who we want to do business with and how.

Contrast that with the list I just read of the least trusted professions in which Business ranks ninth, with only 23% believing we can be trusted.

Why the disconnect?

It’s in the way business is conducted. We have learned a great deal from and with our friend, Jerry Michalski who believes the Consumer Economy is in its death throes. It’s making way for the Relationship Economy, which has different ‘physics.’

Jerry, founder of the “think and do tank” I’ve been a part of called REXpedition (The Relationship Economy Expedition), has created a community where cultural acupuncturists from Shell, Kaiser Permanente, Coca-Cola, Deloitte and many more are able to safely explore the impacts of the shift he describes this way:

People are…making and sharing more, driven not only because of recent dips in the economy, but also by a desire to reconnect, to find again that sense of community. The surge in openness and connectivity has created a world of abundance. Smart companies are building authentic relationships with their customers, no longer treating them as consumers. Smart governments are figuring out how to trust their citizens by opening their data and their budgeting processes, among other ways.”

How can large enterprises cross this chasm?

With a shift in emphasis from transaction to relationship. Fast Company reports: “Increasingly, the emphasis is shifting from the voice of the company to the voice of the crowd. Established brands are opening up their once vertically integrated value chains and are actively turning products into platforms, often through partnerships. Platforms that facilitate peer-to-peer transactions act as a trust proxy, often by literally revealing who stands behind each marketplace promise.” 

One of our favorite examples of this kind of partnership is GE, who has opened thousands of patents to inventors using Quirky, a crowdsourced product development platform. The purpose of Quirky’s online community (65,000 members, and growing by 20 percent every month) is to democratize invention. Each week hundreds of inventor hopefuls, or “ideators,” submit their concepts online. The two most popular ideas are voted on each week, then sent to an in-house design team to research, render and prototype. Every member of the community gets to give feedback during the design process and the best suggestions are incorporated, earning secondary “influencers” a portion of future sales revenue, and the inventor, a manufactured product.

On a more personal level, Rachel Botsman, author of What’s Mine is Y(ours) believes that Reputation – the measurement of how much a community trusts you – will continue to be a key driver of the economy ahead. She appreciates, however, that Trust is contextual. As do several PYNKrs we know, who are actively building the technology platforms that will make this currency increasingly visible and valuable in the years ahead. [Heads up: start preparing now].

Whether on a corporate level or as an individual, Rachel closes her compelling 2012 TED Talk with this prediction: “In the 20st Century the invention of traditional credit transformed our consumer system and in many ways controlled who had access to what. In the 21st Century, new trust networks and the reputation capital they generate, will reinvent the way we think about wealth, markets, power, and personal identity in ways that we can’t yet even imagine.”

So, we could leave the discussion here…but a key topic would be left hanging: Privacy. How does that factor into a world that is moving toward an avalanche of data and radical transparency?

It’s becoming more difficult to keep anything a secret. Open source platforms and collaborative working models are building alliances that require trust, amplifying the ability to impact—across government, enterprise and our own everyday decision making. The need to be effective at solving what are increasingly complex problems is forcing a new, preemptive transparency among government and corporations, and a backlash against the very secretive, murky world of patents.

Sounds great. But shaken by huge data breaches and the not-so-far-off-the-mark novel The Circle by Dave Eggers (a really sobering look at the other side of this discussion), it’s not surprising to see the growth of DuckDuckGo. Hailed as Google’s ‘fiercest and tiniest’ competitor, they’re rapidly gaining in popularity due to their staunch stance on privacy. Jumping from 50 million searches p/month to 150 million in one year, they keep no record of users’ searches (which prevents them from being leaked to other sites), they don’t mine your data and they don’t log IP addresses, giving you complete anonymity, all while helping you avoid being trapped in your own filter bubble. Fast growing apps like Snapchat and networks like Ello are promising to fill similar needs.

Digging deeper, Glenn Greenwald (journalist and constitutional lawyer, famous for breaking the Edward Snowden/NSA story), just last month gave a riveting TED Talk on the importance of Privacy in which he shed light on why this really matters and the dangers of constant surveillance.

The relationships between Trust, Transparency, Reputation and Privacy are complex. While there is no easy soundbite answer, we offer these summary thoughts:

  • new technologies will increasingly make our behaviors on both an individual and enterprise level more transparent
  • this makes Trust is an increasingly valuabl­e—and measurabl­e—currency
  • while that will continue to open up entirely new business platforms and offerings…
  • it also forces us to consider that Trust is contextual, it is based on what we do (not what we say), requires more than a simple algorithm or one dimensional rating system to calculate and grows overtime
  • and, fundamentally, that Privacy remains our most basic right and one that we’ll all come to appreciate more as we continue the dance between supporting strong community-centric enterprises…and protecting ourselves from those who we don’t believe have our well-being in mind. Or who try to manipulate us into a predictable way of behaving.

Wishing you a courageous new week. And invite you to consider the REXy question Jerry Michalski raises: how dramatically could things change if we simply decided (as eBay did) to Design From Trust? 

Nancy (and Emma)

ps — I’ll be in LA this week to give a keynote talk to (the other) NATO: The National Association of Theater Owners. If you’re around, and we haven’t connected yet, let me know!

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