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How do we foster trust in new ideas?

This seems like a pretty big topic these days because of how fast the tech stack is generally moving. You’ve probably heard of stuff like Bitcoin and Blockchain, for example. If we’re being completely truthful, I would guess less than 0.0001% of the population really understands what those are or how they work — so at this present moment, it’s hard for them to get to scale. And part of the issue is that trust in the basic concept (“What is this thing?”) is lacking.

So it raises an interesting question, and one that made Malcolm Gladwell and others into best-sellers: how do ideas/concepts become trusted and catch on? Surprisingly, for how often I blog about human behavior/trust as relates to work, I’ve only tackled this kind of trust/reputation deal once.

This time I’m going to use some ideas from Rachel Botsman, who has a video in that link above too.

The progression of trust in a new idea

It generally goes like this:

  • “I get it,” or The California Roll Principle
  • “What’s in it for me?”
  • “I trust this at a human level.”

Let’s go 1-by-1 here.

The California Roll Principle

Here’s what that means:

When US restaurateurs attempted to popularize the Asian delicacy with Americans in the 1960s, at first the idea did not bite — to many non-Japanese eaters, the thought of consuming raw fish wrapped in seaweed was bewildering, even dangerous-sounding. What helped win them over? The introduction of the California roll, which had ingredients — cucumber, avocado, crab — that were already very familiar to people and well-liked. Demand exploded, and Americans now consume $2.25 billion worth of sushi annually.

Basically: the familiar is important to us. We need a tie to the familiar to “get” the idea. That’s the first brick in the trust building.

What’s in it for me?

Ultimately — sorry to burst your bubble here — a lot of humanity is selfish and lazy, so a lot of people really do just want to know “what’s in it for me.” We can’t sugarcoat that fact even if it’s not the ideal human condition we want to believe exists.

Bitcoin, for example: is this going to make moving or acquiring money easier?

Self-driving cars: will I be more productive if I’m not focused on the commute and the actual driving? Will I save money?

Facebook, early era: will I learn more about my friends or be entertained in some way?

Now we’ve checked off two steps: “I get this” and “I see the value for me.” What’s last?

Adopters and influencers

You’ve probably seen this deal:

That’s the conventional approach and how you “cross the chasm” and start approaching “scale,” which is very important to the types of guys who come to run businesses. Botsman argues for “trust influencers,” which is similar but a bit different. It doesn’t have to be some hipster kids in Denver; it’s just people in similar life situations to you who are now experimenting with the idea. For example, if my friends from the gym start using a specific kind of workout, I’m going to try it. Trust influencers. None of my friends from the gym are famous, but their opinion matters to me in that context. Makes sense, no?

What does this all mean for companies and new products/ideas?

Thinking is largely dead within organizations, so what tends to happen is rushed (or massively delayed) product rollouts where most people think they’re being super strategic but are instead checking boxes. We’ve all seen/been on those teams.

People running point on a new idea should think through the steps, though:

  • How do we make people “get” the idea? A video on the homepage? Allow them to tie it to something familiar to them? (Most first-time AirBNB users actually search for properties where they live to “get” the idea.)
  • What’s in it for them? Explain the value clearly, not in bullshit sales speak, but in terms your “end users” (buzzword) can understand.
  • Trust: If your idea/product/service is good, people will talk about it with their peer groups. It will become trusted. It takes time though.

None of this is rocket science by any means. It’s all pretty logical and it’s probably how you’ve made decisions about new ideas your whole life. So in your professional context, it might be helpful to apply it too. Right?

Works in the personal context too: let’s say you want your friends to perceive you differently, or convince them of a weird career choice. First they need to “get” it (your actions), then they need to see what’s in it for them (how your relationship might adjust), then they need to trust the new you (repeated interaction).

What else you got on building trust in new ideas?

Ted Bauer

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