Trust isn’t Hollywood

I saw an interesting tweet the other day (@therealjeffmac):

When it comes to Trust, is there any margin for error?

That statement packs a lot of punch. The assumptions behind it are overwhelmingly complex, but at its core there is the idea that trust is a single “thing”. Trust is a bit like a Hollywood blockbuster portrays the concept – the good guys have the nuclear launch codes and they can only be trusted to use them wisely.

The real world is very different. In fact, as we get more sophisticated in our concept of trust, the margin for error should actually increase.

Hang on a minute, surely as we get better at deciding what is trustworthy the margin for error should decrease?

Well no, this is the real world. I trust Facebook with photos of my lunch. I don’t trust Facebook with my bank account details. The important distinction here is that I don’t expect photos of my lunch to be treated in the same way as my bank treats my account details. I “trust” both Facebook and my bank, but each in a necessarily different way.

What that means is that the margin for error in trusting Facebook, or anyone without my equivalent of nuclear launch codes, becomes larger. If they accidentally send my lunch photo to someone who isn’t a friend, I’m not going to worry too much.

As businesses become more sophisticated, they also need to allow relationships where trust can “fail fast and fail often”. To deliver your products you might use a well-known logistics supplier with global reach. This gives you peace of mind that your customers will receive your products on time. You trust the logistics company can deliver on their promises, and the consequence of a breakdown in trust is significant.

How many businesses then blindly extend this mindset to every relationship they have? Getting your lunch delivered could be outsourced to a startup. The allowable margin for error for a trustworthy bicycle courier I’d hope is large. Let’s imagine the worst case scenario and one day they mixed up your sandwiches. There is a complete breakdown of trust, but what’s the consequence? Not much.

The key here is understanding which aspects of your business can incorporate trust with a wide margin for error. In those contexts, trust can be imperfect. In fact, seeking perfect trust is dangerous because it often prevents people thinking about how things might not go to plan. Not everything needs to be treated like nuclear launch codes.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons