An ancient virus has come back to life after lying dormant for at least 30,000 years, scientists...
We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the emptiness of the center hole that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.
R.J. Sadowski, cited by Tara Bennett-Goleman in The Horse Sense That Builds Trust
Stowe Boyd via GigaOM Research
Increasing our trust of others is a way of loosening ties, and it is just that loosening that is needed to become faster: faster in response to the unforeseen, and faster in executing against plans.
There is no way to step up to the higher-order performance of fast-and-loose business without a dramatic increase in trust, and a significant curtailing of certain types of communication, which look like noise from the fast-and-loose perspective.
I plan to write more about the ‘higher-order performance’ threshold some more this week. Go read the whole piece, which was sparked by a piece by Brad Overnell-Carter.
Mark Birch supports Marissa Mayer’s ‘no remote work’ policy in an amazingly condescending way.
What I have found in observing human nature is that we are all inherently selfish. In many respects that is healthy because we certainly should look after our own needs lest we get taken advantage of in regards to compensation, opportunities, safety, or workload. There is a point though where it can be taken too far and many will push those boundaries to the limit.
Maybe we should rethink the line about treating employees like adults and instead treat them like children. That is not meant to be in the demeaning way which evokes some command and control relationship and constant browbeating. Rather, I view this from the perspective of nurturing, guidance, and support. That is what most people want in a company they work for and what they yearn for in their working relationships. It fosters an environment of belonging where people feel there is worth and value in their work where they are not simply some cog in the system or number in the HR database.
Treating them like adults sounds all well and good until you realize that that is a very cold place to be. It is all free agents all working for themselves. It might be efficient, but it is hardly nurturing or accepting or collaborative. It is the kind of place where you are expected to just know it and do it. There is little room for experimentation or tolerance for failure. Relationships are superficial and fun is only allowed during sanctioned company events. I have worked in this type of environment. It is very professional and clinical. While my more calculating and analytical leanings can appreciate its rigor and independence, it is not a pleasant place to work.
Childhood is a wonderful thing and sounds a whole lot better than this adulthood thing. I had fond memories of growing up and I never had to shoulder the cares and frustrations of the world. It was a time of play and creativity and exploration and freedom and fun. Maybe we would be better off being more child like in the workplace instead of pretending to play grown up as poorly as we do.
I guess the implication of saying ‘we’ should treat ‘them’ like children is that Mark Birch assumes that his readers are adults, like him, and those others — the lower status workers who should be treated as children — aren’t reading his post.
Birch suggests that people want to be part of a work context in which other, more grown-up people deal with the hard decisions, and they can simply do their jobs and not have to worry. This is Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, who tells a returned Christ he is no longer needed, because the Church now exists, and that people don’t want — or can’t handle — the freedom that he offered.
I don’t agree with Mark. People don’t need to be kept in an artificially juvenile state, and looked over by (supposedly) benevolent adult managers. While people’s view of the world is self-centered, that is a necessary basis for human existence and not equivalent to selfishness. Humanness is defined by our connections to others, and human altruism is the source of most of the good in the world.
Mark basically is saying that people can’t be trusted, that they will take advantage of any opportunity to ‘cheat’, and so we should structure the workplace and work policies so that temptation is taken away, for their own good. My attitude can be summed up as ’First trust, then trustworthiness’, or as Henry Stimson said,
The chief lesson I have learned in a long life is that the only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show your distrust.
Again, as I wrote earlier this week (see The polarization around remote work comes as no surprise), the most revealing aspect of the Mayer ‘no remote work’ edict is the bright light it is casting on how deeply polarized we are regarding the autonomy involved in distributed work.
The biggest single problem in most workplaces is stress. Stress can be caused by a hundred different factors — like fearfulness, feeling overwhelmed, lack of autonomy, aggression — but it likewise can be reduced significantly by a number of well understood techniques.
The most important single thing that management can do to increase the well-being of the workforce is to stem factors leading to stress. As perhaps the most important example, we should agree to a complete end to any attempts to control people’s behavior through fear, such as threats about being fired, demoted, or forced to take on unwanted tasks.
The single best thing management can do is to foster trust in the workplace. John Helliwell’s research shows that workers are willing to make considerable economic tradeoffs to work in companies where there are higher levels of trust (see What to do about the disengaged workforce). His work showed that ‘a firm managing to provide better jobs (as measured by some package of the non-financial job characteristics connected to higher levels of life satisfaction) would be able to reap rewards in some combination of dimensions: lower quit rates, lower monitoring costs, easier (and hence less expensive) hiring, and more effective effort from employees at all wage levels.’
But companies can also attack stress head on, and help workers cope. One promising area is meditation, which starts with a bad rap, but offers a great deal in stress reduction, as Mirabai Bush relates in a piece about her company’s efforts in teaching meditation within the corporate setting:
Teaching Meditation Techniques to Organizations - Mirabai Bush via the NYTimes.com
At first, resistance was everywhere, but so were the possibilities. A litigation lawyer thought that if he became more compassionate toward the opposition in his cases, he couldn’t be a zealous advocate for clients. But he found that being calm, clear and compassionate gave him better insights and better timing.
An environmental leader thought that if others knew he practiced meditation, they wouldn’t take him seriously — and would write him off as a tree-hugger without scientific rigor. Instead, he found that he became more resilient, and less overwhelmed by climate-change predictions, and that he collaborated better with colleagues.
Magazine editors thought that they would miss deadlines; in fact, they learned to focus on priorities and work better in teams to meet the deadlines in new ways. Data-driven Google engineers questioned the value of developing capacities that can’t be quantified, but many of them learned better ways to communicate. One engineer told me his wife had noticed a change in the way he listened to her. She asked him: “What happened to you?”
[…] Neuroscientists have confirmed much of what we were experiencing: that meditation improves attention, reduces stress hormones, increases appreciation and compassion for others and helps us recover faster from negative information.
Personally, this work has made me feel more connected to the world. Watching the responses of so many people — from an economics professor to Army soldiers — I’ve come to believe that it’s a basic human need to be calm and clear, to be aware of ourselves and others, to be kind and collaborative, to be fully present in each moment.
When you take away the residue of stress, even if nothing else in a person’s work setting is changed, things slow down. There is time to think, time to reflect before acting.
As T.S. Eliot styled it, we can be ‘at the still point of the turning world’, and then get back into the dance of work, but breathing a bit deeper, and seeing a bit farther.
A Lift 12 talk by Tricia Wang on trust in online social networks.
One takeaway: shared interests lead to shared identity leads to shared responsibility.
PJ Rey via Cyborgology
Being a cyborg is risky business; we must depend on the expertise of others to ensure that our equipment is fit for use. This radical dependency on expert systems—and the societies that create them—makes cyborgs fundamentally social beings. In fact, it is through dependency on technology, and the subsequent loss of self-sufficiency, that we express our commitment to society. Technology has always been part and parcel to the division of labor. Think bows and shovels. In this sense, being a cyborg requires not only trust in technology producers, but trust in other technology users. There is no such thing as a lone cyborg. The birth of cyborg marks the death of the atomistic individual (if such a thing every existed). Donna Haraway rightly contrasts the cyborg to Romantic Goddesses channeled in small lakeside cabins. Cyborgs are cosmopolitan.
This is not to say that Modern day cyborgs are incapable of being critical of technology or expert systems. On the contrary, the cyborg’s humility in admitting her own dependencies leads her to acknowledge the importance of struggling to enforce certain values within techno-social systems, rather than plotting a Utopian escape (the sort that had currency with Thoreau and other Romantics and that continues to be idealized by cyber-libertarians who view the Internet as a fresh start for society). My favorite Haraway quote explains:
This is not some kind of blissed-out technobunny joy in information. It is a statement that we had better get it – this is a worlding operation. Never the only worlding operation going on, but one that we had better inhabit as more than a victim. We had better get it that domination is not the only thing going on here. We had better get it that this is a zone where we had better be the movers and the shakers, or we will be just victims.
Cyborgs always see the social in the technological; the “technology is neutral” trope is a laugh line.
Recent Pew research that shows that those that use the web more, trust people more:
The typical Internet user is more than twice as likely as others to feel that people can be trusted,” with regular Facebook users the most trusting of all. “A Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day is 43% more likely than other Internet users and more than three times as likely as non-Internet users to feel that most people can be trusted.
Adam Pennenberg connects the dots between this and conventional, face-to-face trust bonding:
Adam Pennenberg, Digital Oxytocin: How Trust Keeps Facebook, Twitter Humming
[…] trust goes to the heart of our economic and social systems. Neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak, a professor at Claremont College and author of the forthcoming book, The Moral Molecule: Vampire Economics and the New Science of Good and Evil, says that trust is the lubricant that makes economic transactions possible. […]
In his own research, Zak and a co-researcher found that nations with higher levels of trust (Sweden, Germany, the U.S.) have stronger economies than those on the other end of the spectrum (the Congo, Sudan, Colombia). “Where there is more trustworthiness, there is more prosperity,” Zak says. This trust also influences what we buy. A 2009 Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey study found that shoppers value the opinions of people they know the most, followed by online reviews written by strangers or in online communities.
There’s a good reason for this. We humans are hard-wired to commingle with one another offline and on-, and the web and its platforms like Facebook and Twitter make it more efficient than ever. That’s because virtual relationships can be as real as actual relationships. The truth is we’re all one step removed from reality, living life through the prism of our own minds. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found when they scanned the brains of fiction readers that they reacted as if they were actually living the events in the story.
Zak has traced much of our behavior to oxytocin, a single neuropeptide he’s dubbed “the moral molecule” because it appears to shape much of our better nature. Also referred to as the “cuddle hormone,” oxytocin is the same chemical that forges that unshakeable bond between nursing mothers and their babies. Women have 30% more of it than men, but men have plenty, too, and in a spate of experiments spanning a decade Zak has linked oxytocin to all manner of human behavior—from empathy to generosity to trust. And when we believe that someone trusts us, we trust them back, and this alters our behavior: It makes us more generous, for one. Ultimately, oxytocin is, Zak says, the “social glue” that adheres families, communities, and societies while simultaneously acting as an “economic lubricant” that enables us to engage in all sorts of transactions.
It turns out that oxytocin is not all sweetness and light: it is also associated with xenophobia and tribalism. Nonetheless, it is certainly at the root of our commitment to others, and our sense of trust, which arise from various sorts of friendly interactions, and these can happen just as well in general online as off, in general.
(Turns out there is a big surge in oxytocin after various sorts of intimate touching, both sexual and asexual. But that’s not the only pathway to intimacy.)
So, once again, our online relationships are as real as those formed offline, and the trust that accompanies them is too.
Debra Meyerson and other colleagues developed the concept of swift trust in the mid-90s, through observation of temporary work teams, such as those used in Hollywood for movie production. They discovered that the conditions surrounding temporary work teams foster the fast bonding of groups around the task based on the specifics of how groups coalesce around the project work to be done, and the suspension of mistrust.
I’ve pulled out a longish sample from Swift Trust and Temporary Groups, here, as a placeholder. I will be returning to this material for some in depth posts, but this is fundamental to my ongoing research agenda on The Social World.
As an organizational form, temporary groups turn upside down traditional notions of organizing. Temporary groups often work on tasks with a high degree of complexity, yet they lack the formal structures that facilitate coordination and control (Thompson, I967). They depend on an elaborate body of collective knowledge and diverse skills, yet individuals have little time to sort out who knows precisely what. They often entail high-risk and high-stake outcomes, yet they seem to lack the normative structures and institutional safeguards that minimize the likelihood of things going wrong. Moreover, there isn’t time to engage in the usual forms of confidence-building activities that contribute to the development and maintenance of trust in more traditional enduring forms of organization. In these respects, temporary groups challenge our conventional understandings regarding the necessary or sufficient antecedents of effective organization.
These observations come together in a fascinating puzzle. Temporary systems exhibit behavior that presupposes trust, yet traditional sources of trust — familiarity, shared experience, reciprocal disclosure, threats and deterrents, fulfilled promises, and demonstrations of nonexploitation of vulnerability — are not obvious in such systems. ln this respect, temporary systems act as if trust were present, but their histories seem to preclude its development.
In the following discussion we argue that one way to resolve this puzzle is to look more closely at the properties of trust and of temporary systems. A closer look suggests that temporary groups and organizations are tied together by trust. but it is a form of trust that has some unusual properties. In other words, we propose that the trust that occurs in temporary systems is not simply conventional trust scaled down to brief encounters among small groups of strangers. There is some of that. But as we will show, the trust that unfolds in temporary systems is more accurately portrayed as a unique form of collective perception and relating that is capable of managing issues of vulnerability, uncertainty, risk, and expectations. These four issues become relevant immediately, as soon as the temporary system begins to form. We argue that all four issues can be managed by variations in trusting behavior, and if they are not managed, participants act more like a permanent crowd than a temporary system. It is the configuration of these variations in behavior that accounts for the unique form that tnrst assumes in temporary systems, a form that we call swift trust.
The characteristics of temporary systems, which have potential relevance
for the formation of trust, include the following:
- Participants with diverse skills are assembled by a contractor to enact expertise they already possess.
- Participants have limited history of working together.
- Participants have limited prospects of working together again in the future.
- Participants often are part of limited labor pools and overlapping networks.
- Tasks are often complex and involve interdependent work.
- Tasks have a deadline.
- Assigned tasks are non-routine and not well understood.
- Assigned tasks are consequential.
- Continuous interrelating is required to produce an outcome.
To convert the individual expertise of strangers into interdependent work, when the nature of that interrelating and work is not obvious, people must reduce their uncertainty about one another through operations that resemble trust. Interdependent strangers faced with a deadline also face the need to handle issues of vulnerability and risk among themselves.
An inquiry into swift trust in temporary systems starts with propositions such as the following ones, which restate themes introduced earlier:
Proposition 1 . The smaller the labor pool or network from which personnel in a temporary system are drawn, the more vulnerable the people who are drawn; the stronger the grounds for not expecting harmful behavior, the more rapidly will trust develop among people. The presumption here is that people in a small labor pool have a higher chance of interacting with one another again in the future. which means their reputations as competent or incompetent people whom others can trust or distrust will follow them and shape these future contacts. Reputations are implicitly threatened in any given project to the extent that chances of future interaction increase. ln Axelrodian (Axelrod, l984) terms, the “shadow ofthe future looms larger” in such groups. However, people in overlapping networks or networks of weak ties may face more reputational vulnerability because a damaged reputation would disseminate across a wider group of people.
Proposition 2. Role-based interaction leads to more rapid development of trust than does person-based interaction. This presumes that role expectations tend to be more stable, less capricious, more standardized, and delined more in terms of tasks and specialties. all of which diminish the anticipation of ill will and help reinforce and sharpen expectations.
Proposition 3. Inconsistent role behavior and “blurring” of roles will lead to a slower build of trust. This presumes that role blurring heightens uncertainty. People who exhibit inconsistent role behavior raise questions about what they will do with whatever is entrusted to them. Attempts to answer these questions slow the development of trust.
Proposition 4. People under time pressure in temporary systems make greater use of category-driven information prosessing, emphasizing speed and confirmation rather than evidence-driven information processing that is focused on accuracy. The presumption here is that interpersonal perception in temporary systems is subject to the same patterns in a speed-accuracy nadeoff as is perception in other kinds of systems. The time-limited nature of a temporary system tends to be reflected in perceputal tradeoffs that favor speed.
Proposition 5. Category-driven information processing in temporary systems is dontinated by institutional categories that are made salient by the context in which the systems form. The presumption here is categories imported to accelerate interpersonal perception disproportionately reflect local organizational culture, industry recipes, and cultural identity-based stereotypes. These categories affect expectations of goodwill or ill will and encourage swift trust or swift distrust. In some cases, tust may develop even more swiftly when imported categories also produce behavioral confirmation.
When this happens, not only do perceivers look for data that confirm their initial categorization, but their behavior itself increases the livelihood that the target will behave in the manner anticipated. This combination of selective perception and behavioral confirmation produces data relevant to trust more quickly, which means trust itself is enacted sooner.
Proposition 6. Greater reliance on categorgrdriven information processing in temporary systems, with its attendant pressure for confirmation, leads to a faster reduction of the uncertainty associated with trust but to a higher risk that subsequent action will disconfirm the trust and produce damage. The presumption here is that swift trust, especially in response to category-driven perception, overlooks a great deal. Although these oversights leave room for behavioral confirmation and self-fulfilling prophesies, they also allow for actions that disrupt trust (Zucker, 1986. p. 59) and for errors in misplaced trust.
Proposition 7. Swift trust is more likely at moderate levels of interdependence than at either higher or lower levels. The presumption here is that moderate interdependence creates moderate vulnerability, which can he handled with the moderately strong expectations of good will that flow from placement of a trustee in a salient institutional category. People who fit salient categories are to be trusted more so as the degree of trust needed is modest.
At higher levels of interdependence, conformity of action with expectations formed on general categories alone is too little data for too high stakes. This combination represents a greater amount of perceived vulnerability than the data can address. Trust will be shaky rather than solid, slow rather than swift, and actions will be tentative rather than firm.