3 major shifts in the nature of trust in business relationships


While the subtitle of my book Living Networks referred to the ‘hyperconnected’ economy, the reality is that living networks are built primarily on human relationships based on mutual knowledge and trust. Here is a brief excerpt from the book about what is changing in the world of trust.

Trust is a business perennial—from the days when chickens were traded for cowrie shells until we start trading with extraterrestrial races, trust has been and always will be the central factor in business relationships. However in the networked world there are three vital shifts in the nature and role of trust.

1. Trustworthiness is swiftly becoming more transparent. We are now all naked—there is no hiding in the network economy. Your reputation will increasingly precede you as the flow of information through the networks rapidly increases. In the old days someone might have made a few phone calls to try to sound out others’ experience with a potential supplier or partner. Now consumers and businesspeople can quickly and easily gather a broad spectrum of experiences and impressions about almost any company in the world.

2. The pace of trust development is being outstripped by technology. We are entering a “plug-and-play” world, in which businesses can readily integrate their information, processes, and systems. In the past, the pace of developing trust between organizations was accompanied by the practical issues of bringing the firms’ operations together. The development of trust often happened as a natural side-effect of working together closely on these kinds of issues. Now companies can integrate their systems and share information far more easily, but that is useless unless solid mutual trust is in place.

3. It has become a key competitive factor to be fast and effective at developing trust with partners. As the technology landscape becomes more of a level playing field, trust becomes the key differentiating factor. Your products and services can be outstanding, and your processes for sharing information with partners excellent, but unless you can command a high level of trust, you are unlikely to be successful. In the network economy relationships are formed ever-faster, and unless you can build a high level of trust quickly, you will never be considered a top-tier supplier or partner.