The quantum theory of trust

It is amazing how such an intangible element such as trust can be nurtured by a thoroughly tangible means – all for the greater good of your business.

How does information circulate through your organisation? If you are like most, the actual flow has very little in common with the hierarchy mapped on your org chart – and much more to do with who is talking about what to who. And the currency of those conversations is trust. The problem with something intangible, like trust, is that it’s almost impossible to see.

Or is it?

Enter maverick social network theorist and anthropologist Karen Stephenson and the Quantum Theory of Trust. Stephenson has spent over 15 years working to understand how human networks in our organisations really work.

So what is the “quantum theory of trust”? Basically, it’s a way to make visible the connections that exist between the level of trust people in an organisation have for each other, and their ability to build and act on tacit knowledge together.

It is no secret that networks of people and knowledge are the true power-base of today’s formal and informal organisations. The growing popularity of consulting disciplines focused on capturing their value is testament to this. But what about the loosely connected and largely intangible webs of trust that underpin them? And, if the trust network is intangible, how can you understand it, let alone tap the wellspring of potential it provides?

Stephenson theorises that in every network there are people who act as “hubs, gatekeepers and pulsetakers”, an idea that is also presented by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point.

Hubs are well-connected people who keep information flowing – others trust them and feel they can count on them. They are in effect a major line of communication in the organisation.

Gatekeepers are often bottlenecks, making themselves invaluable by keeping a tight control on the flow of information between themselves and the rest of the organisation.

Pulsetakers build careful relationships to help them monitor the direction and state of the organisation.

By understanding who these people are, getting them into the right place, and giving them the opportunity to talk to each other, you can make the intangible work for you and dramatically improve the performance of your organisation. In effect, social network analysis is putting science behind what we have intuitively known for centuries – the ties that bind and unwind our human networks are driven by trust.

If you’re interested in the idea of social network analysis and how you could use its concepts to help your organisation, you can find more information on Karen Stephenson’s website



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Shawn Callahan writes: I like the idea of inconvenience as an indicator of whether a value is core. But what’s the difference between a core value and a value? Surely you either value something or you don’t? Perhaps it is a feeling of guilt that indicates we have transgressed a value.

I think the biggest challenge we face with stating our values is the forgetable language we use to describe them. While working on a project in a bank that had a similar set of values there was one that stood out because the language was different. Instead of integrity, professionalism, respect, the value read, ‘telling it like it is, no spin.’ I was flabbergasted how many times I heard that phrase while I was there. It was in a language that meant something to people.



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