by David Sawyer & David Ehrlichman
“The fundamental insight of 21st century physics has yet to penetrate the social world,” Peter Senge wrote. “Relationships are more important than things.”
Human systems are effective when the relationships between people are strong and authentic. Consequently, the most important currency in any collaborative effort is trust. But what actually is trust?
Fernando Flores and Robert Solomon, in their seminal book Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life, make a distinction between simple trust, blind trust, and authentic trust. Simple trust is the untroubled, unthinking trust that young children have for their parents. Blind trust is the refusal even to consider any evidence or argument that one should not be trusting, the kind of trust demanded perhaps, by some religious cult leaders, or that we might feel in spite of mounting evidence that one’s spouse is cheating.
Authentic trust – what we call “trust for impact” – is concerned with the ongoing integrity of relationships, and is mature, prudent, measured. It is a choice, not a state. It is not dependent on mere familiarity. It is something one does – not something one has.
As they write, “authentic trust in business and politics provides ample opportunity for complex and cooperative projects that otherwise would have been unthinkable. Authentic trust, as opposed to simple and blind trust, does not exclude or deny distrust, but rather accepts it and goes on to transcend it in action.”
While there may be significant beliefs that we do not share in common, authentic trust is all about finding the sliver of ground that we do have in common. It means engaging in generative, constructive, and meaningful ways despite whatever differences exist, allowing us to work together even when personal disagreements arise, and even see our differences as potential assets.
For widespread change to occur we must find a way to choose trust, especially with those who are very different than ourselves. Effective collaboration, not to mention the future of democracy, depends on it.
Participants in a large, complex collaboration can build a capacity for finding common ground—and it doesn’t have to take years. To learn how, read The Tactics of Trust, as seen in Stanford Social Innovation Review’s Winter ’16 issue.
David Sawyer and David Ehrlichman are partners at Converge, a strategy and design firm for systems impact. Converge partners with committed leaders, within organizations and across sectors, to build trust, take action, and work together to achieve uncommon results. Their current work includes building a network of 20 cross-sector organizations across the Santa Cruz Mountains to steward the region for generations to come, and designing a network to improve coordination of care for people with serious illnesses across the UCSF Health system. They served as design and systems directors for the New Leadership Network.