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The May 2009 Carnival of Trust

If trust had a hologram for all of its forms — honor, commitment, credulity, betrayal, reliance, and, confidence (harboring the “con” that playwright David Mamet has made his life’s work) – that hologram would surely include images of the American Legal System.  We lawyers, mediators, arbitrators, legislators, and legal educators run on trust, or as much as we can generate, to resolve the disputes that are brought to us for resolution.  Some of us  craft legislation or regulations meant to prevent the calamities that breaches of private and public trust can create.  Because lawyers thrive on the creation, destruction and resurrection of trust, it is fitting that an attorney such as myself  be entrusted, from time to time, with Trust’s Carnival.

“You Never Open Your Mouth Until You Know What the Shot Is”

The moment trust collapses — perfectly dramatized in this clip from Mamet’s classic Glengarry Glen Ross — is played out in far less dramatic terms every day as Jim Connolly explained this week in Trust Me, We’re Great! at Jim’s Marketing Blog. To retain a customer’s trust, says Jim, your product or service must be consistent with your hype.

The salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross expect nothing from the world other than that which they can forcibly rip from its grasp.  But there is honor among thieves.  Beneath Pacino’s tirade is an implied homage to his fellow salesmen who trust one another to “know what the shot is.”  How does such a trust community arise?  Online according to  Hannah Levenson at SWOM (the Society for Word of Mouth) in her lengthy and intriguing post — The Importance of Social Media in the Marketing World.  As Levenson writes:

Trust is something all consumers want. Loyalty is something all businesses crave. But in today’s marketing world, one cannot exist without the other. “[Citizen marketers] are part of the mesh of a greater swath of fabric that interlocks everything together. The design of mesh ensures the fabric is evenly spaced. With this in mind, it is the open and transparent nature of shared production that enhances and illuminates what companies strive for but often misunderstand: loyalty” (Huba 173). Today two of the biggest problems a company has is obscurity and loyalty. Those companies that achieve trust are the ones that take risks and work hard to humanize themselves. They utilize the “greater swath of fabric” or in other words “social media.” Loyalty is the necessary seed for growth of a company. If small or large companies can utilize, blogs, podcasts, videos, comment boxes or any other type of social media they are setting the foundations for building a strong trusting community.

If you think you need an Italian and a Brit to create cross-cultural trust barriers, think again.  In the world of the con there are “men” who “live on [their] wits,” and “company men” like Williamson who don’t know “the first rule you’d know if you ever spent a day in your life.”  If cultures can so brutally clash in the same country, the same town, and even the same sales room, how much greater attention must be paid to genuinely different cultural understandings in a global marketplace.  To prosper there, you’ll want to run right over to  Cindy King’s Blog on International Sales Best Practice, where we learn the key to international trust-building — cross-cultural understanding.

When profanity and shaming don’t bring our trusted partners into line, we appeal to a higher authority.  Here, Pacino tells Williamson he’s going “downtown” to talk to “Murray.”  He’s going to have Williamson’s job.  After the collapse of Enron, Lehman, and AIG; the imminent demise of the Big Three, and, the death of the fractionated mortgage market, Washington is the new downtown and the FTC the new “Murray.”  Trust is sometimes insufficient and laws must be enacted to bring balance back to the marketplace.  And so it will be according to the Performance Marketing Blog which analyzes the Proposed new FTC Guidelines on Online Marketing here.

“You Don’t Think Abraham Lincoln Was a Whore Before He Was President? He Had to Tell His Little Stories and Smile His Shit Eating Back Country Grin and He Did It Just So He Would One Day Have the Opportunity to Stand in Front of the Nation and Appeal to the Better Angels of Our Nature.” Jack Stanton in Primary Colors

Is corruption the price of leadership?  The fictional Jack Stanton (a thinly disguised Bill Clinton) runs for President in Mike Nichols‘ tour de force, Primary Colors.  Above, Stanton explains  the necessity of cutting moral corners to achieve greatness.  Dr. Sam Vatkin writing at Global Politician this week might well agree as he teases out the pros and cons of corruption. Does “corruption run against the grain of meritocratic capitalism”?  Does it

skew[] the level playing-field; guarantee[] extra returns where none should have been had; encourage[] the misallocation of economic resources; and subvert[] the proper functioning of institutions.

Or does corruption “help facilitate the flow and exchange of goods and services in hopelessly clogged and dysfunctional systems and markets”?  Can it

“get things done” and “keep people employed”; serve[] as an organizing principle where chaos reins and institutions are in their early formative stages;  supplement[] income and help[] the state employ qualified and skilled personnel; [and] preserve[] peace and harmony by financing networks of cronyism, nepotism, and patronage.

In other words, does “just the right amount of corruption” build rather than destroy the trust that permits a social, cultural and political body to survive?  You must read Professor Vatkin’s article for the answer, or at least one of the possible answers to this age-old question.

Combating corruption in economic life is more on the minds of Rakesh Khurana and Scott Snook at Harvard Business Publishing for Managers this week in their Manifesto for B-Schools.  Khurana and Snook urge B-school professors to  “be honest purveyors of the truth,” presenting

solid arguments, and be[ing] clear about what we know and what we don’t. We need to acknowledge the difference between truth and sophistry, and value the former over the latter. As researchers, we need to understand that a commitment to the truth does not mean we possess the truth. Truth evolves; we must gather evidence that can be critically assessed, and revise our ideas in the face of a new data or better a argument. Otherwise, our knowledge amounts to little more than rank ideology.

Khurana and Snook make other suggestions as well and their full post is well worth the read.

An optimistic view of the potential for global trust from a Chinese perspective can be found this week at The Globalist in Yu Keping’s post on Harmonious Diplomacy and Global Governance (Part III).  The strategies of Harmonious Diplomacy, writes Keping

center on dialogue and negotiation, win-win outcomes achieved through cooperation, finding commonalities while reserving differences, and promoting an environment characterized by inclusion and openness. To reach maximum consensus, harmonious diplomacy requires equal, friendly and sincere dialogue and negotiation, and mutual trust as well as mutual respect.

These are sentiments with which I, a mediator, certainly agree.  And yet trust without confirmation can lead to ruin.  “Trust, but verify” was President Reagan’s watchword, which is this week picked up by the Greenpeace blog, with the suggestion that our foreign climate crisis partners “trust but verify” American claims to U.S. support to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.  As Philip Radford writes in The Whole World in His Hands,

Even though President Obama was elected on a platform of delivering action on global warming, and has passionately reiterated those pledges since becoming president, he will have to overcome enormous skepticism from his international negotiating partners. At this summit, it is they who will be repeating Ronald Reagan’s maxim about Soviet overtures at the beginning of the glasnost era: Trust, but verify.

There’s no more trusted advisor than your physician.  You trust her not only to re-set your kids’ broken arm but, in extremis, to take a buzz saw to your sternum, crack it open, and lift your beating heart up in her hands for repair or replacement.  This week, a surgeon at the Cervantes blog (the Surgeon and the Torture Memos) reflects upon the medical training that “habituated” him to cutting through human flesh with a knife (“the scalpel [now] merely an extension of my fingers”) while he contemplates the role physicians played in authorizing torture at Guantanamo and further flung sites of extraordinary rendition.  The difference between the surgeon’s tasks of “poking sharp objects into other people, removing organs and extremities, and switching parts between the dead and the living” on the one hand and those of interrogators at Guantanamo?  Trust. 

What renders a surgeon’s work different and humane, however, is not just the individual doctor’s desire to do the right thing by his or her patients . . . It is the surgeon’s commitment to and steadfast compliance with his profession’s code of ethical conduct. It is a constant awareness of the extraordinary trust that patients and the public place in their physicians, a trust that entails transparency and accountability in the patient-doctor relationship.

That trust, writes the doctor, has been “shattered” by the participation of our trusted professionals — particularly physicians and attorneys — in authorizing the torture that the current administration has (somewhat redundantly but now necessarily) outlawed.

Well worth read and, by the by, the winner of the best literary post award for this month’s Carnival of Trust.

The Director of the FBI Testifies that He “Followed the Protocol” (reported to the Justice Department) after Concluding That the CIA was Torturing Detainees

Speaking of lawyers (see the banality of evil here) Robert Ambrogi at Legal Blog Watch weighs in on Facebook lawyer and Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly’s announcement that he might throw his online fedora in the ring for the office of California’s Attorney General.   (Facebook Attorney Explores Run for California AG).  As Ambrogi notes, Kelly hopes to parlay Facebook members’ “trusted online experience” into a two-hundred million member constituency.  Whether Facebook’s responses to  serial mishaps with their members’ private information is a trust builder only time will tell.

If you’re continuing to repose trust and confidence in financial advisors in this post-Madoff world, check out Investor Watchdog’s post from last week on the means to detect Financial Advisor Fraud.  Although the advice is commonsensical, too many of us do not take the simplest precautions to “trust but verify” the people to whom we entrust our financial future.  The advice?  Review account statements and activity promptly and only make checks payable to the custodian.  As “wealth advisor” Michael J. Chasnoff concludes:

While an advisor working as a fiduciary does add significant value, the investor is ultimately responsible for his or her financial independence and should take steps to stay engaged.

Finally, we have Influence, Trust and Authority from Future Buzz, outlining the indicators of social media influence as follows:

Influence is the power of someone to be a compelling force on the actions of others.  Robert Scoble is an influential person in getting us to try out new web services because he gets so jazzed about them we just have to try them out.

Trust is reliance on the integrity in someone (essentially confidence).  If you stop and think about it, we trust each other a great deal in the social web.  Consider something as simple as all the shortened URLs you click each day, we trust our networks won’t send us a spam link.

Authority is power or right delegated, given or in the case of the web earned.  Lawrence Lessig, a law professor who has written several books and works hard as an advocate of free culture on the web is an authority on copyright (amongst other things).

With these definitions in mind…

  • . . . influence and authority are not necessarily personal, while trust is more abstract and difficult to measure because it is personal.
  • We have trust with people on the social web and blogs we read because we form personal relationships with the people behind the content.  It is something that has been leeched from traditional media, and illustrates the shift in influence – from brands to people.
  • [A]ttention + trust = authority.  Trust is the shortcut to both of these, thus explaining the earlier example of why someone with just 20 readers can be as influential or authoritative if not more so than popular people, at least to their networks. . . . .

There’s much more of value to gain from this incisive post and I highly recommend you read it (in the event I have any influence to motivate you, authority to convince you or confidence to draw you into my own personal evaluation of blog post quality).


Victoria Pynchon

Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon is a panelist with ADR Services, Inc. Ms. Pynchon was awarded her LL.M Degree in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in May of 2006, after 25 years of complex commercial litigation practice, with sub-specialties in intellectual property, securities fraud, antitrust, insurance coverage, consumer class actions and all… MORE >

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