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Trust and The Three Dilemmas

Catherine Cooper, SETL Java Developer

Perhaps the word “trust” has been on many people’s minds far more than usual in the year 2020. I think we can all agree that trust is absolutely crucial when there is a need to coordinate tens of millions of people to achieve one common goal. However, is a trust-dominated society a utopian illusion that we, as human beings, could ever reach? If we do reach it, would our civilization take a huge leap in just 100 years, like what happened to a species, the Ood in Doctor Who, who have a centralised mind that communicates to individuals through telepathic sensors?

Hiveminds and Critical Changes

Hiveminds no doubt have their own disadvantages. While diversity is the basis of survival through natural selection, no system is perfect. Differences between systems form another layer of diversity as some systems encourage highly uniformed behaviour, whereas others allow more individualism. One system may fail in one crisis. This does not mean, however, that other systems would also fail in the same crisis. 

Trial and error is an effective method for making progress. For example, where individualism is the predominant belief, it may require strategic communication and complex management when mutual behaviour is needed, which can be costly. On the other hand, a centralised system may be more prone to corruption – like hiveminds, a fault in the root could corrupt the entire system. In theory, we should be able to look for the right balance having learned the pros and cons of each system. 

In reality, as we are part of it, a system in which changes are required can be very difficult to change itself. A system going through drastic changes could lose its core identity; without changes, it may send itself to catastrophic failure. This is our first dilemma.

Higher Risk or Higher Cost?

Individual minds cannot be controlled, but can be directed, redirected and manipulated. We are born trusting. After a few occasions of being let down and letting others down, we learn to take things that we hear and see with a pinch of salt. We also develop a habit of judging others and truthfulness against context. That judgement is our base for risk assessment, either consciously or subconsciously, which eventually leads to decision making. 

Trust is a personal choice, but sometimes whether we trust or not, the action that follows may not be a matter of choice at all. It could depend on what possibly the least damaging outcome is. A lot of the time, only taking a risk is not good enough, so we have to have a “contract” to secure commitment by allowing ourselves to seek compensation and minimise loss in case the trust is betrayed. 

In a competitive environment, organisations and individuals invest a great deal in building and marketing their credibility in order to gain that initial trust. However, all that extra work due to mistrust does add various costs to overheads here and there. The less trust there is in a system, the more likely that the accumulation of overheads could grow into a huge bureaucracy and become a drag to the overall development. Higher risk or higher cost? This is our second dilemma. The more flawed a system is, the harder it is to hold everybody accountable for their actions or lack of actions.

Trust vs Emotion

Some people say they will trust nothing or no one because it is too easy for their trust to be exploited, which is reasonably understandable. The implication, though, is that every decision they make has to be well-informed. The development of Information Technology clearly helps people make more and more informed decisions. However, if every person makes every decision in such a manner, the intensity of analytics would simply be too unrealistic to fulfil. 

Not everybody has the ability or the interest to think logically. It is easier to let your emotions take the driver’s seat and believe what you want to believe. After all, trust is also a state of emotion, more so than the description of a relationship. Having emotions makes us human but can also prevent us from thinking rationally. Emotions help us relate to one another, without them, the society would not function; with too strong emotions, irrational behaviours, especially group behaviours, are often subject to exploitation. This is our third dilemma. You could let a computer make decisions for you, but then who would you trust to build such a computer?

Components Of Work

For a system to run smoothly, it needs all the components to work together in a coordinated fashion and the individuals to play their designated roles. The more sophisticated functions a system provides, the more complexity there is in its structural design. However, not every system was purposefully designed. They come into existence after having gone through a long period of pilling legacy rules on top of legacy rules, very slowly reshaped and remoulded often by external but implicit forces, such as the change of environment, the discovery of new tools or new knowledge, or the development of technology or attitude. 

Such “re-work” finally triggers significant events at tipping points, like matter changing its physical properties when the conditions are right, but yet to reach any chemical change (our first dilemma). The element of time adds another level of complexity which could open up more wounds. One example is conflict of interest in its generic sense – one party’s gain means another’s loss, whatever kind of loss it may be. And mistrust is sometimes sourced from such conflict.

Conflicts And Setbacks

Conflicts of interest could challenge organisations’ ethics or integrity and individuals’ professionalism or morality which are the building blocks of trust and confidence. Even if all of these are held firm, there is still the question of competence. The party that receives your promises relies on your competence to deliver the promises as you play your role. 

Any sign of incompetence or dishonesty could set their trust back to zero. It is well understood that a trusted partnership can lead to successful collaboration, with benefit for both parties. If that trust is broken at any point however, there would be little chance for a recovery. How their expectations are set from the beginning could define their perception of where your competence level should be. The worst way to handle a relationship is denying wrongdoing or making up “stories” to cover up incompetence or previous dishonesty in an effort to rescue broken trust. Not only would it cause more distrust but also damage an organisation’s reputation irreversibly. Transparency is often underrated.

Transparency Through Communication

Transparency can be provided through communication. Real expertise includes the ability to communicate the expertise as well as delivering on it. Any kind of operation requires communication, as the quality of communication can sometimes determine the success or failure of a mission, a project, or business plan. The higher the complexity or competition, the more it requires well-thought out, well-timed, and well-delivered communication with clarity, consistency, and efficiency. 

Often, good communication is not about the quantity or the details. Short, sharp messages can be many times more effective than lengthy mumbles. It really depends on the audience at the receiving end. Some audiences may prefer more explanation and evidence to help them understand the situation, whereas others might prefer something more straightforward to help them take action accordingly. Good communication requires a high level of intelligence with sincerity.

Understanding Mistrust

Not all mistrust reflects a negative context. For example, when pioneers push for new innovations, there is a tendency for people to be sceptical or extra cautious about anything unfamiliar. We all rely on experience to build our first defence. Without our own experiences, or those from someone else we trust, it can be a little daunting when we encounter something completely new. Misconception is often caused by the lack of information or understanding. 

In these situations, the quality of communication becomes even more critical. Reassurance is needed with the support of a constructive approach. By providing the opportunities for your audience to observe, understand, and experience what you offer, you go beyond communicating with them; you educate them to be your advocates who will help you expand that trust to a wider community.

This Is SETL

At SETL, we understand the importance of trust and the challenges to gain and retain trust. We are confident in our ability to withstand any pressure that comes with our ambition and do not build credibility for the sake of building credibility. To our clients, partners, and stakeholders, our belief is by delivering quality products, solutions, and services that truly make a positive difference on a great scale. We work together to build a better future for all of us! SETL believes in innovations that enable practical and meaningful changes, but also drive the industry forward in the right direction. We understand that changes are hard to implement, but no matter what the difficulty, we shall always stand by your side every step of the way. This is also in line with SETL’s belief in long-term growth – nothing is better than growing with you whose best interests are directly related to ours. 

Long-term does not mean slowness. We set our goals high, so we do not fall short of progress, in distance and in speed, while being proactive makes us competitive and being loyal gives us a strong foundation. With both combined, it takes us far and beyond. We reject anything that might slow us down, such as legacy rules. To avoid them, all the major elements for which we are responsible, especially our technology, are put under constant review. As innovators, SETL can never be static – not only do we keep our technology fresh, refined and cutting edge, we also never stop looking for ways to change the technological landscape wherever we can. Moreover, SETL welcomes, invites, and embraces any relevant external feedback, assessment and challenges from specialists, SMEs, and regulators to help us go further. 

Last but not least, our technologies are built by people, for people. People are at the centre of everything we do. We establish a safe culture where people feel comfortable to bring out their best. SETL is coherent through our common values and objectives with a hugely diverse team by offering very different skills, expertise, experience and strengths. Collectively, we are SETL. Having your trust is a privilege for us and we shall never be complacent about this.

Perhaps in the year 2020, when we have all experienced the unexpected, some of us wish we had advanced abilities, like Ood. Despite the imperfection, the flaws and limitations, being human still gives us many wonderful abilities which we ought to use wisely, so our songs, good songs, can also go on for millennia.

“Serva me, servato te… Dum inter homines, sumus colamus humanita.”  Ood songs

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