Managing in a post-trust world

For many humans, there is no greater terror than the terror of the unknown. Throughout human history, we have always tried to predict the unpredictable, to manage the unmanageable, to control the uncontrollable. The idea that there is no plan, no purpose, no intent to the world around us is terrifying. Are we just a pawn in some game where the pieces are moved randomly and nobody cares who wins or loses?

For millennia, humans have flocked to any leader or institution that gave them a sense of certainty in an uncertain world. Those who said they could predict the future were revered by desperate believers. Today, more and more of us know enough to know what we don’t know, and to know that the future is essentially unknowable. Equally, we know enough to know that the experts and the leaders don’t know either.

Just because you’re confident and certain and arrogant, just because you spout absolutes and certainties, just because you’re a fundamentalist, makes no difference. You’re guessing like everyone else. The best experts give educated guesses but they’re still guessing. Randomness lurks around every corner; chance, luck and unpredictability wait over the horizon.

“There is a paradox at the heart of the US’s lacklustre economy these days,” The Financial Times stated in May 2017. “Consumers in America are, according to much-watched numbers like the University of Michigan consumer survey, more “confident” than they have been in years. And yet they are spending less than they have since the Great Recession. They are also increasingly skittish.”

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the US consumer was a mystery. They were spending—with their credit cards—like there was no tomorrow. Today, they are spending like they have no clue what will happen tomorrow. Whether they will have a job, whether they will be able to afford their healthcare. The future is uncertain and the system will not protect you from the uncertainties.

Trust has evaporated like dew on a summer morning. And it won’t be back. Blame education. Blame a complex, interconnected world. Blame technology. The robots are coming for your job, whether you work in a factory, office or farm. Blame a corrupt, greedy elite.

“Consider a recent Roosevelt Institute paper showing the stark effect of money on politics, even on the left: for every $100,000 that Democratic representatives received from finance, the odds that they would break with the party’s majority support for the Dodd-Frank legislation increased 13.9 per cent,“ The Financial Times states. “As Allianz’s chief economic adviser Mohamed El-Erian puts it: “You cannot underestimate the economic and political effects of the profound loss of trust that the public has had in the core managers of the global system.”

Trust is not coming back. Skepticism reigns, as it should. Customers go to the Web to compare and verify. The social network is a conversation that is peer to peer, not peer to elite. The game has profoundly changed, yet many organizations delude themselves into thinking that if they can just get their marketing and PR right, they can control the message, control the future. Grand delusion.

What to do? Listen to your customers like you have never listened before. Become a feedback engine. React, adapt, respond. Maximize flexibility and adaptability. Embrace the network. Connect, connect, connect.

US consumers’ trust deficit is permanent

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