Today’s world is ever-increasingly predicated on, influenced by, and revolving around a unifying currency of trust. Our rapidly changing but newly created ecosystem, comprised of institutions, brands, and individuals, offers transparency which in turn unleashes both liberation and trauma.

Without building and maintaining trust, the systemic virtues that promise an optimistic future can rapidly disappear. This subsequently clears space and creates opportunity for authentic interaction and new ideas. In this dynamic, fluid environment, the singular question that brands must ask themselves as they look to strengthen their businesses and prepare for the future is: can they trust us?

“Are we building something in which internal and external stakeholders feel they can place their trust?”

If looking for the next dramatic disruption – simply do your due diligence sector by sector under the pretense of searching for gaps in stakeholder and audience satisfaction and confidence. If the answer for any of your stakeholders, constituents, or audiences – from customers and partners to suppliers and employees – is no, then either get busy trying to rectify the divide, or get busy dying. In other words, you’ll be out of business soon, so start building trust.

Talkin’ ‘bout a revolution

The first industrial revolution sprang from Britain in the late 18th century, where mechanization of the textile industry transformed human involvement in manufacturing. The second industrial revolution came in the early 20th century, when Henry Ford thought, let’s make a really fast horse, by way of manufacturing cars en masse through pioneering moving assembly lines. The third industrial revolution happened later in the 20th century and digitized our lives through quick, zealous adoption of computers and a fascination with how the internet could disrupt business models and ultimately, our lives. As with most things today – namely our attention spans – this happened swiftly, and has led us quickly into a new period of innovation.

Coined by Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, the term Fourth Industrial Revolution is one characterized by, of course, technology, expediently fusing the physical, digital, and biological worlds, which in turn impacts all disciplines, economies, and industries, while simultaneously posing philosophical questions challenging what it means to be human on a level previously unseen.  

To remedy some of the fear and anxieties associated with this amalgamation, and to ensure we’re building a benevolent future that is beholden to improving humanity and the world, Schwab calls for leaders and citizens to “come together to shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them, and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.” How can organizations do this? How can brands adapt? The answer lies in the question: Are we building something in which internal and external stakeholders feel they can place their trust?

Experience breeds trust

“Individuals – hungry, excited, ambitious – are identifying areas where there lies potential to change the dynamic, where individuals could be treated better, and where those in power have either grown complacent, or seemingly lost focus on who they serve.”

In an age where the accumulation of interactions with your brand defines your brand (“the experience of the brand is the brand”), and everything, including consumers’ experience, is hyper-connected – this dynamic relationship decides your fate. How does the market react when people lose faith in big banks? Their businesses take enormous hits and there’s an exponential increase in fin-tech startups. Similarly, what happens when the electorate loses faith in government structures? Potential political tumult.

From healthcare and hospitality to automotive, retail, and pharmaceuticals, the resulting disruption may vary, but common discussion lies around big data, radical transparency, and transformative automation. As incumbents exploit market dominance and economies of scale, they forget to explore ways to better tailor offerings to customers and strengthen relationships yielding trust. In turn, individuals – hungry, excited, ambitious – are identifying areas where there lies potential to change the dynamic, where individuals could be treated better, and where those in power have either grown complacent, or seemingly lost focus on who they serve. It’s Shakespearean in essence, with the incumbents’ throne waiting to be usurped.

Unique despite ubiquity

With change being constant, it’s necessary to understand your space and what experiences and interactions build trust. Ask yourself, “What are our clients trusting us with?”

A bit of self-assessment can go a long way since brands must forge relationships that are both interactive and mutually beneficial with their audiences. Organizations who want to sell to a diverse array of audiences are thus, in fact, inherently diverse. Companies must know that they will make mistakes and have faults, and must act with sensitivity and compassion as opposed to ignoring the idea that they now have potentially engaged in an ongoing relationship, not simply executed a single transaction.

The tenets of trust

It’s something often overlooked or disregarded altogether, but the central, guiding principle from which every person within an organization should view the business and their world should be trust. If you’re not doing so already, consider these steps:

  • ABA – Always Be Asking. Always ask yourself, “Are we building trust?” Always question, always be curious. See what others are doing, experiment. Iterate.
  • Identify each one of your stakeholders, and develop an understanding of what defines the relationship. Start small, focus on your core mission or stakeholders – your employees – and extend outward concentrically, strategically.
  • Focus on interactions, engagement foreach experience and how it drives behavior.
  • Collaborate – find ways to build mutual experiences with a diverse array of stakeholders.
  • Admit to faults and work towards finding solutions openly. Transparency can be transformative. Ask for feedback. Build very open, honest relationships with employees, clients, suppliers.

A brave new but beautiful world

With the increasing amount of coverage surrounding the potential role that “fake news” sources and social platforms may have played in influencing public opinion throughout the U.S. Presidential election, the subject of trust throughout our system feels not only more relevant, but also more significant to understand and consider moving forward.

While we might be verging on a brave new world, we must maintain that – as humans – we’re in control of how we treat each other and how we build institutions for each other. It might require bravery, but it’s possible that we’re just now on our way towards building something truly special – a new kind of beauty, a beautiful future, and a beautiful world. I trust we can make it happen.