Who can you trust?

Trust is increasingly becoming a rare commodity, but in business is also becoming more necessary. BRENDAN LEWIS

Brendan Lewis

By Brendan Lewis

The other week I caught up with one of my brothers for lunch, and as per usual we spent a while character assassinating members of the extended family, before moving on to the main topic of the day, which was expert advice.

My brother’s position was that business is simply too complex and you can’t operate without getting expert advice. I, more cynically, felt that most advice was worthless because if you asked around you were sure to get opinions both for and against any subject. Especially when the question was something along the lines of “will this idea work?”. I say most advice is worthless because the closer the advice is to the “fact” end of the scale than the “opinion” end of the scale, the more likely I am to value it.

However facts are also of course open to interpretation, which causes further issues.

Getting back to the office, I mentioned my position to our office techo (studied politics, philosophy and computing before dropping out). He mentioned that the issue is actually a classic problem. As the world becomes more complex and you need to rely on experts, the question is whom do you trust and how do you determine whom you will trust?

Certainly if I look around I find that my level of trust is low:

  • Politicians appear to be pretty much self interested after their first term.
  • Lawyers, accountants and consultants have their own commercial objectives they are trying to meet.
  • News reporting organisations are only interested in today’s stories that they decide to be “news worthy”.
  • And having worked in IT for many years, I am comfortable with the concept that every expert can make a convincing argument why their software is the only choice I should ever make.

They can’t all be right.

I feel therefore that trust, is one of the major emerging issues of the western world. For example, who do you trust re climate change? There appears to be expert voices both for and against. As the total volume of information available in the world is increasing at an almost exponential rate, and I am forced to trust others just to cope with living.

Determining how I will determine whom to trust is difficult. On the couple of occasions I have purchased something on eBay, I have noticed that their trust system has been compromised. Many sellers have a 99.9% confidence rating. But when you dig deeper you find the underlying patterns are too strange to be real (thousands of positive recommendations, all one sentence long, posted six seconds apart).

I get the impression that one of the reasons social networking sites have developed is based on the fact that Gen-Y find the recommendations of their friends far more trustworthy than any third party expert or advertising.

I am only just starting to think about systems for generating trust, as I think this area will be huge in the future (if not covertly now), however open business models have really caught my eye. So much so that we are having a look at it tomorrow night 17 July 2008) at the Churchill Club. Some of the basic principles of open business models inherently make products developed from it more trustworthy. Principles such as:

  • Unrestricted access to all information.
  • Management by meritocracy.
  • Licensing arrangements that encourage innovation.

These types of principles make software products inherently more trustworthy as you know they haven’t been bastardised by overt or covert commercial agendas. Outside the software area you can see open business models being applied in a wide variety of areas from education, to football teams, to just recently a boutique brewery.

My thought is then that open business models are recognised as attractive because they generate trust, and trust is increasingly becoming a rare commodity.


Brendan Lewis is a serial technology entrepreneur having founded : Ideas Lighting, Carradale Media, Edion, Verve IT, The Churchill Club, Flinders Pacific and L2i Technology Advisory. He has set up businesses for others in Romania, Indonesia and Vietnam. Qualified in IT and Accounting, he has also spent time running an Advertising agency and as a Cavalry Officer with the Australian Army Reserve.

To read more Brendan Lewis blogs, click here.



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