In “The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity”, Francis Fukuyama finds trust to be the pivotal attribute of a successful culture. Creating a trust culture is what enables societies to
leap forward, while emerging distrust makes them decline.
Trust is the metric that best reflects the quality of our relationships, of our social connections. "The more interconnected a system (both internally and externally), the more robust and resilient it will be", finds philosopher Alicia Juarrero. Trust is a metric for the resilience of our culture.
Lean and agile thinking have helped us understand how we can improve the flow of the work and, while frequently mentioning that we have to enable self-organisation and foster trust within our organisation, putting these into practice routinely fails. Worse, we reliably find the absence of trust the cause for teams failing to adopt agile or lean practices successfully. So, how do you get out of this Catch-22? How do you change a blame culture to a trust culture? How do you get people to stop worrying about covering their back?
We're hardwired for connection. The same small regions in our brain light up when we experience social rejection, as when we experience physical pain. Rejection hurts. Yet, we crave to find confirmation in others. We cannot learn on our own. In order to validate our experiences, we have to expose them to others. This requires us to be vulnerable.
Brené Brown found in her research into shame,over two decades, that 85% of subjects can recount an event in school that has scared them as learners, and for more than half of them, the event left creativity scars, causing them to abandon a barely discovered talent. From early childhood, we're imprinted with experiences of not being "Good Enough".
A prevailing notion of human culture is that admitting vulnerability is a sign of immaturity. Among men, showing weakness is the top ranking shame trigger and it increasingly ranks with women as well.
"The secret killer of innovation is shame. You can’t measure it, but it is there. Every time someone holds back on a new idea, fails to give their manager much needed feedback, and is afraid to speak up in front of a client you can be sure shame played a part. [...] Shame becomes fear. Fear leads to risk aversion. Risk aversion kills innovation" narrates Peter Shearan about what he learnt from working with companies like Apple and IBM on enabling large scale behavioural change.
Being risk averse means we construct change so it is failsafe, looking for a safe path, which invariably leads us to imitate what we believe has worked elsewhere, unaware that by doing so we invite failure by ignoring the importance of our context and individuality. We need to make changes safe-to-fail, expect and embrace failure, so we can learn about ourselves within our own context.
"Management, in most of its incarnations, is an institutionalized form of distrust" find Robert Solomon & Fernando Flores. But Peter Drucker taught us:
"The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say *I*. And that's not because they have trained themselves not to say *I*. They don't think *I*. They think *we*; they think *team*. They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don't sidestep it, but *we* gets the credit. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done."
Complexity theory explains why we can no longer take "it's the system, not the people" as an invitation to design *for people*, but have to learn to design *with people*. System design becomes a co-evolving process, where we change the boundaries, the constraints, of the system to enable individuals to develop their capabilities, instead of forcing them into a behaviour that our analysis predicts to bring about a desired outcome.
In this context, *with people* means creating an environment that enables people to be vulnerable and we find that this requires leaders to show vulnerability first. Because we cannot create or design such a system, we have to focus on improving the environment for such a system to emerge. As leaders, we can do this by creating authentic connections to and within our team, to reach out to each other as individuals and create what Solomon and Flores describe as authentic trust, a trust that accepts failure, that copes with experiences of disappointment and betrayal. A trust that enables us to experiment, not just with data or products or services, but that allows our interactions with each other to become safe-to-fail. When this happens, organisational innovation happens.
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