IN THE FLOW
Trust in Business
“He who does not trust enough will not be trusted.” — Lao Tzu
So much of our everyday life is conducted on the basis of being able to trust others, to trust for example that oncoming drivers will stay on their side of the road, that our water is pure or that our bank keeps accurate records of our finances.
Increasingly, we all rely on each other in this globalized society of ours, a society which is always quite delicately balanced between functioning and collapse. And of course commercial life is chock full of opportunities to trust and to be trustworthy.
In an uncertain world, where division grows suspicion, it can be salutary and useful to review where we stand on trust.
We could start with ourselves.
The more I get to know myself, the better I can spot any challenges on the horizon and have a sense of how I might respond to them. In this I increasingly trust my instinct, my intuition. Having learned that it is generally quite reliable, I can make choices that could, to some, seem strange or even risky. If for example, I have a rather negative intuitive reaction to a person or their idea, I will tread more carefully around them, despite everything seeming to be above board and thought through, and may well decide not to engage. Conversely, if I find myself wildly enthusiastic about an idea, I will try hard to listen to my intuition as well as follow my emotions.
Although I have sometimes missed out on an opportunity, mostly I have avoided difficult, possibly dubious and messy situations by trusting my gut, by listening to my sixth sense and above all, trusting myself to make the right decision.
This is never more important than when presented with a business proposition.
Does my instinct tell me that the person making a pitch, inviting me to participate, is fully emotionally invested in the idea? How can I use my intuition about the pitcher to better evaluate the pitch? Or vice versa?
Most business angels will tell you that they come to a decision based as much on their instincts about the person as the idea. Sometimes I have to remind myself that there is a great idea behind a very nervous pitch and the pitcher needs some support to make it work. That invokes my trust.
And in making that decision — to go with it or not — I will also be informed by my principles and their associated boundaries, and trust that to do so is wise. This is not about being “holier than thou”. It’s mostly common sense, practically manifested wisdom, wisdom learned from mistakes and failures, mine and others’. It can be about being more circumspect when presented with an idea, asking for more information, following up and checking statements that seemed almost too good to be true, not allowing the excitement of the New to cloud my judgement.
Trust and thorough enquiry often go together. And form the basis for responsible, well-informed risk-taking.
Trust is also a crucial ingredient in the complex mix that is business relationships, whether they be with those working with you, your clients and your wider stakeholder groups.
Trust can take a long time to develop and be lost in seconds.
Usually it comes from respect, from growing a sense of a person, and respect comes from interaction, getting to know someone well, getting past those tempting, seemingly time-saving and always lurking stereotypical labels so easy to attach.
This of course can be time-consuming, anathema to the drivers and driven of the business world, focused only on competition and increased profits, convinced that they alone can beat the clock. But it can also be a sound investment in a successful future working relationship, where mutual trust in everyone’s goodwill and integrity is the foundation for good business, business that endures in a disruptive commercial environment, business whose stakeholders — customers, suppliers, investors and fellow workers alike — are able to participate in growing the enterprise and themselves.
When he inherited a large Brazilian heavy engineering company, Ricardo Semler decided on some fundamental changes: rather than continue with his father’s top-down, paternalistic management structure, he decided on a much flatter one.
So he asked his employees to gather in their different divisions, to decide how much they wanted to be paid and how many hours they wanted to work. He equipped them with all the financial information, details of the overheads, the salaries, R&D costs and so on, and asked for their proposals within a month.
They were surprised but set to and came back with their suggestions: the salaries and the working hours they wanted were very similar to those that prevailed now, so very little change. But what had changed enormously was how the workers felt about the company and their different relationships with it: suddenly they were being treated like adults, not like children as before.
This enabled a thorough understanding of the complexities of their company and where they fitted into it; and emotionally “owning” it inspired huge loyalty and goodwill. It took an enormous act of trust to achieve that.
To trust that showing respect and trust in his workforce, in its maturity and integrity, would pay off. The company thrived.
Perhaps the most important aspect of trust in my life — both personal and commercial — has been learning to trust that whatever the circumstances, pressures and distractions, my day is going to be a good one, enjoyable, productive and instructive. Crucially, to understand that I am fully in control of that process, that if I can keep back the prejudices, anxieties and disbeliefs, I can experience flow. Being calm and trusting my intuition, trusting the goodwill of almost everyone I meet, knowing that any friendliness I demonstrate is usually and instantly reciprocated.
Trusting too that there are sometimes reasons for things not going as expected or planned, that the unexpected can bring its own gifts — if I am prepared to accept them. That my day will flow from one positive experience to another and if for some reason it occasionally doesn’t, then I trust I have the strength, generosity and humility to deal with it in a good way. I also trust that my intuition will tell me when to combine my trust with vigilance, when to avoid confrontation and complication, when to offer such calm as I can.
Thus equipped, I can fully engage with and enjoy that flow, can fully experience the joy of creativity and fulfilment that is there if we choose it.
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