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July 13, 2010
How to Rebuild Corporate Trust
Recession, war, and terrorism have shaken the pillars of American optimism. We, the people, hesitantly scratch our heads and wonder how it all happened. We are justifiably cynical about the state of corporate sincerity.

In most instances, big business still refuses to get it. Instead, financial executives deny they could have done anything to avert the 2008 economic disaster and pass the buck or trot out spreadsheets to show the economy has turned the corner, saying the “fundamentals are now sound,” while they pay back their cheap loans to the fed.

However, people don’t live their lives by the “fundamentals.” People (customers, consumers, shareholders, and voters) are emotional animals, and emotion always trumps numbers. How can the CEOs of America earn back the trust of the American people?


Earning trust in four timely steps


1. Trust grows slowly over time. The unit of time that business leaders orient to must be expanded beyond the quarterly "expedient present."

2. Trust accrues when people feel understood. Showing understanding means more than merely rational explaining something. Corporatese is obfuscating. Plain talk demonstrates understanding.


3. Trust comes from a shared past, a collaborative present, and a co-authored future where mutual self-expansion is the goal. Secrets, and behind-the-scenes maneuverings, corrode trust. Narratives that give voice to our deepest selves must supplant clichés and linear propositions.


4. Trust is encouraged through access, even when it means acknowledging mistakes. Here social networking may help. Corporate executives could use Facebook to allow some business-decision dynamics -- and even some personal information -- to become public. Two-way communications must be encouraged.    


Cognitive reforms and vitality


Furthermore, earning back the trust of the American people requires a wider cognitive vision from business leaders, which need not be based on altruism. It can be based on a meaningful recognition of the nature of vitality.  


When people feel their authenticity has been respected, they feel more optimistic, self-responsible, and social. They feel bigger when connected to something larger than themselves. A sense of “me” and “you” are one is cultivated, and such a relationship can grow. 


Venues for such cognitive revamping include:


1. Society, not just markets.

Markets imply mechanistic models where human dynamics get short shrift. Society is an amalgam given rise by the human commerce of emotion, belief, and belonging.


2. Quality of life, not just income. 

Money is great; having a lot is a way of defining self-worth, but money can’t buy happiness, friendship, or love -- things of true value.


3. Reasonableness, not just extremism. 

People need a human sense of scale; human investment strategies must take into account biography, persona, and local contingencies.


4. Authenticity, not just performance. 

People attach to products and ideas that provide a venue to express their self-identities. They also attach to other people. A real performance always is more effective than acting.


5. Connectedness, not just individualism. 

Given the complexity and conflicts of the world, we need to transcend our individual identity without negating it and recognize the fundamental idea that "The Other" resides in us, too.


If companies can forge a genuine sense of relatedness with the public -- "The Other" --  they will be given the benefit of the doubt.


America must develop a culture of community in which the individual and the group can thrive. Only in that way can America live up to the idea of “We, the people.” 

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Dr. Bob Deutsch is the founder and president of consulting firm Brain Sells. He has worked in the primeval forest and on Pennsylvania and Madison Avenues. His focus, since the mid-’70s, when he was living with pre-literate tribes and chimpanzees, has been to understand how leading ideas take hold in cultures. Since opening Brain Sells, in 1990, he has applied this understanding to how people attach to products, persons and performances. He is fond of saying, "Reasoned judgment about attributes is not the issue. The brain evolved to act, NOT to think." Bran Sells’ retail clients include: TJ Maxx, Marshall's, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Home Goods, Radio Shack, Sephora, Verizon stores, McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, and Toyota.

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