Trust and Digitization

Rachel Botsman speaks of a “trust shift” which we currently experience. She defines trust not so much as a risk assessment technique but as our relationship to the unknown. In her view, “trust leaps” have shaped and changed fundamentally political and economic conditions over the centuries. Now we are at a new crossroads, placing less trust in the great institutions such as governments, state or large economic enterprises, and more in a network-like, unbundled structure.

Nothing has prepared the people working in large institutions to accomplish these new “trust leaps”.

In fact, news of major breaches of trust of economic giants, states men and women abound. As customers, citizens and employees of large institutions, we have already begun to take dishonesty, a lack of integrity and a policy of personal enrichment as normal state of affairs and react with resignation or, increasingly, with great emotional anger. This anger has hitherto been kept in check by the large institutions, and has therefore not significantly affected economic performance. Of course, reputation has always been a high good, but soft sweep, staying silent or spreading half-truths has helped in most cases. In times of digital transparency no longer.

Transparency has clearly gained in value. Many people now trust platforms, such as Air BnB, Uber, Botsman’s example BlaBlaCar, that generate transparency on human behaviour and thus educate people to responsibility. Virtues such as “standing by his word”, righteousness and responsibility for one’s own actions are popular on platforms and are checked by the comparison of self-description and external evaluation. The economies of scale effect ensures objectivity. Blockchain even goes a bit further and eliminates the element of the third-party rating. The technology makes your own actions transparent to everyone without interpretation. Reputation therefore no longer depends on individual opinion-makers or large groups, but on many micro-communities or solely on one’s own, un-interpreted actions (blockchain). Today, credibility of platforms reigns supreme. Take, for example, the negative customer reaction to the participation of Uber’s CEO at Trump’s “round table”. He withdrew. Like Botsman, we believe That this trend is irreversible.

Nevertheless, we see that today old and new “trust leaps” are competing with each other and often have to enter into a difficult alliance. Larger companies are a field of experimentation, because, of course, this development, in which private and public action have long been enmeshed, does not pass by the people who work there. Everyone knows now that embarrassing facebook photos also have relevance for their job search. In this company-internal field of experimentation, platform logic is increasingly being introduced – above all technologically, for example through digital feedback systems, social collaboration tools, and new performance appraisal systems. At the same time, nothing has prepared the people working in large institutions to accomplish these new “trust leaps”. Most do not know what to make of these new systems and how to use them. And doubting the trustworthiness of such systems is justified if their introduction is not accompanied by a significant change in governance, organisational design and decision-making. After all, the “old” parameters are mostly still effective in large institutions. But if it is true that the “trust shift” is irreversible and revolutionises economic logic, then the big institutions would do well not only to change technologically.

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