Trust in a new paradigm
In the past our view of the world (the Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm) allowed for the assumption that an organisation, and its operation, were knowable, predictable and controllable. Everyone knew what to expect in this ‘simple’ world. There was a basic common understanding that allowed for a form of trust in the organisation, in the community, and in society. For example, many of our organisations:
- Assumed they were separate, independent entities in control of their own destinies.
- Were focused on ‘harvesting’ freely available resources for their own short term benefit.
- Maintained simplified, repetitive roles in their factories and offices, and encouraged a mono-culture.
- Primarily focused on generating wealth for a single stakeholder (shareholders).
While this view and approach was seen to be highly effective and ‘trust-worthy’ for the past 150 years or more, it has now become a liability when approaching the challenges we now face. For example, an excessively narrow focus on creating monetary wealth, efficiency and growth in the short term has led businesses to lose sight of the many other stakeholders who support their long term viability (e.g. staff, clients, suppliers, local communities, the environment, and so on).
The inadequacies of our old approaches have set us somewhat ‘adrift’. We no longer know who or what to trust. It has all become much more complicated. No two people can be sure that they have a 100% common understanding in any situation – never mind being certain as to what will happen in the future. Trust, as it should be, becomes a relative term.
In many disciplines people are finding that a systems based approach brings a new and more helpful perspective for making sense of our increasingly fast-moving, complex and interdependent world. For example, such an approach helps us to see our world as defined by relationships – from the smallest particles to the largest social cultures. It is in these networks of relationship that we now must find and develop a new and deeper trust.
Of course a systems approach will not, on its own, cause us to develop trust with and within our organisations. What it can do is help us understand the significance and complexity of the key stakeholder relationships. This encourages us to engage with those stakeholders in a way that develops trust over time and thus supports the long term viability of the organisation.
It is this understanding that changes the way we engage with trust, and how we can develop it in our organisations, so that they can thrive in our complex and fast changing world.