Blog: Trust in a Hyperconnected World


Trust in a Hyperconnected World

Reputation is what people say about you when you are not in the room. In a hyperconnected world, it matters more than ever before.
Trust in a Hyperconnected World

When we live in a closed community, we are observed by others living in it. Our reputation is built on what they believe about us or say to the other members of the community. And their beliefs are based on snippets of our behaviors that generate small signals which in turn make our trust quotient go up or down — for example, someone seeing us yelling at a kid plucking flowers might be seen negatively or helping in a community celebration might be seen positively. However, trust is not a simple mathematical equation — it depends on how much the two behaviors are valued by the members of a community. If the community believes that plucking flowers is an acceptable behavior, admonishing the kid will be inexcusable. 

Trust - The first emotion

Call it reputation or personal brand, trust is hard to manage if you don’t understand how it works. Our life experiences lead us to conclude whether we largely trust others or we do not, which actually starts from the first six months of being born. It is about the first opinions we make of others. A startup must be trusted by VCs to get funded. A potential employee must trust the employer to sign up. The employer must trust the candidate’s responses to decide to employ the person. When team members stop trusting each other, the relationship becomes toxic and work suffers. 

Trust leads us to believe others’ intentions when the path ahead is unclear. When we trust someone enough, we do not need to fact-check everything in real-time. When we are reassured about the competence of the other person (in a work setting), it builds a certain degree of predictability. The combination of expertise and predictability creates trust, and expertise actually becomes the defining factor. I may not trust a friend to do brain surgery (unless he or she is a brain surgeon) but may trust the person with money. Trust takes a long time to build but also takes one instance to get destroyed.

Stranger to trust strangers

In a hyperconnected world, our actions get familiarized to strangers due to our online presence through our social posts etc. One of the most amazing things that technology has done is made us comfortable in sharing our personal moments with strangers. We post our preferences in everything from food to romantic partners online. Airbnb made us trust strangers enough to open up our homes to them. These are all behaviors that have got social acceptance that would have been impossible to expect even a few years back.

The real test of ' trust' lies in learning how a stressful situation is handled. How a person handles an unanticipated stressful scenario often reveals an aspect of the personality that makes us see a person in new light

These new behaviors that are part of our everyday life are all driven by trust. We rely on the reputation of the person we seek to engage with and look at how other strangers have rated their experiences of dealing with that person and then decide to follow. When a cab driver comes with a perfect rating we sit back, relax and even indulge in small talk. Our comfort comes in numbers when we decide to buy things from a seller on an e-commerce site based on the feedback that is visible. You can buy anything on Amazon, but can you buy good reviews? Yes, some people buy the good reviews. There are algorithms that can help you discover who is trying to fool you. There are websites that will show you how to legally buy positive endorsements on Amazon. It is clearly a cat-and-mouse game with people trying to figure out who to trust and who not to. On LinkedIn, people get endorsements to reassure future job seekers about their skills.

Why celebrities have fans not friends

The real test of ‘trust’ lies in learning how a stressful situation is handled. How a person handles an unanticipated stressful scenario often reveals an aspect of the personality that makes us see a person in new light. Trust in a brand is built not when everything is working well but when the service breaks down or the customer feels aggrieved.

When a machine is able to use predictive analytics to anticipate what a customer wants, it does not delight but comes across as creepy. Machines need data to personalize but too much of personalization can be weird. When you speak to a colleague about your favorite song and then see your music app recommending it, it can startle more than delight. When we ask someone to weigh in on a dilemma and we get an instantaneous response, we feel that the response has not been thought through. The same response given after a pause can reassure the other person that their dilemma deserves deep thought. Human beings have an instinctive way of knowing how much time a thoughtful response takes. 

When people put up videos that are slickly edited to leave out flaws and pauses, they convince us that they are not being authentic. It is your flaws – not your perfect self that makes you trustworthy. Perfect human beings are admired but it is hard to be friends and trust someone you admire. Celebrities crave for genuine friends (not fans) but their success and achievements make it hard for us to trust them. You cannot be friends with a fan.

It is your flaws- not your perfect self that makes you trustworthy. Perfect human beings are admired but it is hard to be friends and trust someone you admire

The digital winners are all gathering data about us constantly. Every click, every choice, every decision tells them something that even your loved ones may not know about you. Our social media posts can often reveal our deepest biases and insecurities. Your search history could tell a stranger far more about you than you may wish to reveal. But that is not a choice we have any more. Initially we searched Google. Now Google searches us to know more and yet its business model depends on being able to retain our trust. In a hyperconnected world, trust is currency. You have to know enough about me for me to know that you can be trusted. When you know too many secrets of mine, I become vulnerable and afraid of being betrayed. The “market shaping” companies have to understand ‘trust’, else they become celebrities we admire but never trust enough to be friends with.


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