Be trustworthy

“Do things right. Do the right thing. Proactively.”

Don Peppers and Martha Rogers

Back in 1995, I read The One to One Future in my car outside the bookstore. Don and Martha’s book was that good, and it changed my life.

A few months later I found out the authors had started a company based in my town, and soon thereafter I became a partner in that firm.

A couple of years ago, Don and Martha wrote an even better book, Extreme Trust. In the context of companies operating in a world of social media, it talks about the difference between being passively versus proactively trustworthy.

A company that bills you accurately for the exact monthly fee you agreed to pay is passively trustworthy. But they fail to mention the fact that their records indicate you haven’t used their web-based service in 27 months. In contrast, that same firm could send you a note asking if there is a problem. That’s being proactively trustworthy. One is more profitable in the short run, the other more profitable in the long run.

I always cringe when the son or daughter of a family friend posts on Facebook something to the effect of, “Still drunk. Blew off work.” They might as well buy a billboard in Times Square that says, “I am not trustworthy. Don’t hire me.”

One of the other lessons Don and Martha taught me is that, increasingly, memory is everywhere. Every interaction through a digital device leaves a trace. This means that every time you use your phone, tablet, laptop, and even your car, doing so creates a history of your life.

Living in the midst of this sort of pervasive memory changes how much we know about each other. It’s safe to assume that pretty much anybody can find out what you paid for your house, where you went on your summer vacation, how long you’ve been employed or unemployed, and when you flamed someone on a public web site.

And we haven’t seen anything yet. Over the next five years, sensors will spread from your phone (it is already jam-packed with sensors) to pretty much everything else you own or use. You won’t be able to escape the truth about your life and your actions. You will either be trustworthy, or not. “Not” will be a very difficult place to succeed.

Most of us have experienced some variation of the theme when either you or your child got a bad grade at school and failed to mention it. When this became obvious and the word “lie” was mentioned, the student protests that he just forgot, and that’s not lying.

This grey area will disappear. Trust in a transparent society requires proactive actions, because other people will discover the truth about you, and to protect your reputation and interests, you will need to tell them first.

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