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Regarding the relation between certifications and knowledge stocks, I like to tell people that a BS degree means you can follow instructions, an MS degree means that you can write your own instructions, and a PhD means you can even come up with your own questions. Clearly being able to at least write your own instructions is a key skill in a shifting world.

deborah nixon

Thanks for the post. Those of us workin in the trust space have always told clients that building trust is about transparency, taking risk, accepting accountability in a public way, being other centred. Building a personal or corporate brand is one thing- building a high trust brand is very different.

For the last 15 years I have been practising, researching and writing about trust. The message is simple- integrity and trust is what you do when nobody is looking. Trust in branding is about alignment- between your attitudes and behaviours.

Easy to agree with intellectually. Hard to do. Requires you to look inward, question your assumptions, and open yourself up to being wrong.



Thank you John! You have done a wonderful job of articulating concepts that have been rattling in my head for 6 years.

The Standard of Trust tribe is passionate about adopting open industry standards for the capture & measurement of Relationship Capital (RC).

"Commitment" is a fundamental word in the RC process. Trust has always been built on commitments-kept & positive perceptions. RC will be earned in real-time. To your point on "Vulnerability", we are human and we make mistakes. We do not always keep our commitments so "Forgiveness" is important in to maintaining high quality relationships offline or online.

Another "Ahah" in our research & development in measuring the quality of on-line relationships and earning Relationship Capital (RC) is the importance of "Guiding Principles". Principles of Honesty, Accountability, Responsibility, Respect, Support, Boundaries, and Trustworthiness are core to earning RC and Trust.

Thank you for sharing your wonderful knowledge. You have made an impact on my work & life!


Irving Podolsky

Hello John,

I just found your site via Tribal Writer and started reading. It's 11:20 am and I should be tooting off to work but I couldn't get off your site. So profound! I will be reading the comments as well, but I wish to leave mine before I forget it. (The ideas may have been mentioned in previous comments)

If may distill your essay a bit further, TRUST requires HONESTY. You didn't use that word but you described it. Holding back information may not be dishonest, but it can be misleading, and consequently create assumptions that are not TRUE. Without truth there cannot be trust.

People who share their vulnerability seek CONNECTION. People who hold back weakness seek MANIPULATION. And we all feel this. As you so appropriately explained: hoarding knowledge and masking intentions builds DISTRUST. And that goes for marriage as well.

I am a manager of people in the film industry. I am also a consultant. Clients hire me to get a job done, and I hire others to help me do it. Without trust, the tasks would fall apart. How do I gain the trust of my clients? I do that by always putting their needs (even emotional needs) before my own. Their problems become my problems. I share the responsibility even though that may not be part of the job. I support them, and I do it honestly. If I lack some knowledge to do it, I will tell them that, and then bring in the knowledge base from somewhere else, adding to the "knowledge flow." (I love that term.)

Unfortunately, with the concentration of wealth again shifting worldwide to the top, a ME-FIRST mentality is permeating throughout all societies. This breakdown of sharing and cooperation is unsustainable. Our systems of wealth management and government will eventually collapse under the weight of greed and paranoia. This is why your post is so important. We need a paradigm shift to pull us out of the dive, and you are helping to define it!


Ralf Lippold

Thank you John for this very insightful and delighting post.

Trust is the essence in the world (it always has been over centuries). Whom do I trust?

In the old days it was the one of your tribe in the village, your family - who did not stab you in the back the minute you had given him/her some insights.

Then over the last decades it was the person who did not ruin you in a financial sense, taking your knowledge to bring his/her company or goals ahead.

It often turned out to be a zero sum game - someone loses someone gains.

Zero sum, does that bring the society further ahead in tackling the challenges that lay ahead of us?

Certainly not quite, perhaps that has been the pulling force for the Web to evolve so quickly over the last years, enabling to connect with people we sometimes even never see in our life.

Does that mean there is no trust being built up that can lead to more?

Recently I had the chance to be part of http://amplifyfest.com.au in Sydney where I had the privilege to meet John in person. Even though we only had exchanged through Twitter and Facebook before, meeting him at the first day of the meeting it was like we'd know each other in person for much longer than just the minutes waiting for the coffee.

The Web enables us to challenge our own assumptions about the trustworthiness of other people. The new communication channels like chats (Skype, FB) or video (Skype, Google+, FB) enables people to communicate on a basis where one can give and take in small quantities knowledge, insights, feelings, personal experiences to each other without daring to loose.

It is an interplay, a "social theatre" as was coined by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erving_Goffman, where we don't know the outcome and have to jump into the "wave" just as the surfers in John'sens (Johne Hagel & John Seely Brown) book "The Power of Pull".

Writing and thinking about an experience yesterday, when a FB friend gave me her thoughts that "face to face" is the only trust-building way (does "face to face" mean really means only physically "face to face"?) and a few hours later, while sitting down at Starbucks, I met -by chance- some folks from San Francisco where trust was built during the conversation, only to emerge into a FB connection later on.

"Pulled by the Urge of Trust - how to build worthy relationships ?" - should that be the title of the book I am thinking about to write for 30 years now?!

Once again I leave this conversation only to await what is emerging out of it and where it may lead in the future.

Cheers, and all the best from Dresden


What an amazing post John. Thank you so much for writing such a critical piece.

When I coach leaders/businesses in storytelling (for influence, branding, marketing), I have to deal with this issue head on in the beginning. No one wants to share their vulnerabilities.

My response is much like yours -- that trust is built when vulnerabilities are present. Besides, you can't have a compelling story without being vulnerable, sharing about the problems you get yourself into, and lessons learned!

Most people are too afraid of sounding arrogant, not wanting to share their stories. But of course the listener is craving those stories from a business or leader. Because of the protective attitudes you mentioned in your article, I end up spending a lot of time teaching people how to tell their personal & business stories -- where their vulnerabilities are present and without sounding arrogant.

Unfortunately, I run into too many leaders whose egos are either too big, or their fears to great, to consider mastering story sharing as a path to building greater trust, influence, and the like. The business and personal opportunities they miss are boundless.

Now sharing stories is not the answer to everything. And storytelling is not as simple as people tend think. Yet I do feel that storytelling can be a very powerful dynamic in building trust in today's changing and complex world.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and the thoughts of others on this. Many thanks. www.juststoryit.com


Another great one, John.

To your question, my biggest weakness, I think, is the same ones you point out that inhibits sharing: fear of sharing too much or sharing something half-baked. I need to let the conversations sort out the truth and get at the answers, but the important part is getting the conversation started.

It's tough to tackle the odds on where to trust and where to be conservative about sharing. There is such a thing as sharing to much and too openly.

The more I read about the power of sharing, (http://www.business-strategy-innovation.com/wordpress/2011/07/share-or-die/), the more I read about how comments in blogs can and will be used against you some day (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/20/more-employers-use-social-networks-to-check-out-applicants/)

It's a tough transition. Seems many companies using tools in the NYTimes article will wind up only hiring folks that are unwilling to share and unable to trust. But it's the easy, quantitative excuse to have a selection process.

Meanwhile, those of us who do find trust will all wind up working together outside of traditional employers.

I'll add that trust really occurs along 3 facets (for individuals and organizations) that are often jumbled together:
1.Competence: Can a person do what they say they can.
2.Consistency. Will they act in a predictable, professional manner? Can you count on them in all circumstances.
3.Alignment: Do we share the same goals? Do you have my back?

Sometimes you can get 2 out of three, but in many relationships, certain areas of trust don't matter. (I don't expect to be able to call someone at my car dealer for support on a business problem.) The expectations of trust and alignment depend on the relationship.


I don't think it is just a question of "strengths" versus "vulnerabilities", but is also a question of "being in command" versus "being possessed". We have typically sought to reassure people by seeking to demonstrate that we are in command of what we are doing. But when you are possessed by something that is greater than yourself, you are more likely to be trusted. In other words - a person who loves his/her work to the point of being possessed by it will be trusted, because he/she is driven by an internal standard that is higher than what others can demand.

So the key comes down to the kind of possession that occurs. It could be of a narcissistic type, which will work only if you have successfully played the media game to the level where you are branded as a creative icon, and others wish to leverage the power of that branding.

But it could be an information hungry possession, where you seek to use interactions with other people and context as sources to reframe and renew your sense of being possessed. So a person who is both "possessed" and a "listener" is the one who is most trusted.

monika hardy

great post John. the heart of the matter.

i'm reading through Dewey's How We Think. he addresses the need for the negative to authenticate the positive. and that was back forever ago..
i think that's why i like paradox as well. it's like an ongoing zoom out reality check.

we've been intrigued by hammering vulnerability in context. we live so much by theory. which makes it easy to sound good and right. but take away theory, and start doing - whole new ballgame. funny - how often what you are rallying against shows up so clearly - even while you're speaking out the other side of your mouth.

At the end of the day what I'm suggesting is that vulnerability in context can be the most powerful behavior in initiating change.
-Thomas J deLong in Flying Without A Net

we don't know who we are - until we try it without polishing it up first.

Joe McCarthy

Several months ago, I followed a link tweeted by @jhagel, and repeatedly watched and eventually blogged about a fabulously inspiring TEDxHouston talk by Brene Brown on wholeheeartedness and connection through courage, authenticity and vulnerability.

Ever since, I've noticed that the most inspiring examples of vulnerability I've encountered are all provided by women. Although I've read some interesting blog posts by men about "lessons learned", which admit failure, I can't think of any examples of men who are willing to admit weakness. The only weakness I can discern in the 25 Random Things that are referenced in this post are a weakness for chocolate.

This post ends off with what I believe are two sets of barely related questions. One is "What are your vulnerabilities?" The other is "What are the problems and questions that you are working on that you have not yet resolved? How active have you been in expressing these to others? Can you really build trust without this?"

Many of the things I've read, watched or listened to by John Hagel address the second question. None of them address the first one.

I'm a firm believer in "you spot it you got it", and I [too] have a hard time acknowledging weakness or expressing vulnerability publicly, and I've been looking for inspiring male role models who can show me the way.

I've been contemplating a vulnerability-based blog post for quite some time, but am not yet willing to write it. Meanwhile, I'll be looking for any inspiring examples - here and in other channels, online and offline - of men who are willing to be publicly vulnerable.


A thought provoking blog with some great insights. I'd be interested on your view regarding the role that wisdom and experience play in building trust?

My brief thoughts are that those who display wisdom and demonstrate (domain agnostic) experience will gain our trust.

What do you think?


Nice post, John. I study, live, and work as self-organizing groups. These groups have changed my perspective on the trust-worthiness of myself and others in part because they continue to make it clearer to me what my own passions actually are and what I can let go of and let others worry about. Blogging at www.collectiveself.com.

Thanks for sharing your ideas,


Trust? How about Anti-social Personality Disorder (aka the sociopath).

How can we develop trust, when a subset of the population actively engages in intentional deception and manipulation?

Because sociopaths are willing to engage in abhorrent behaviors (stop at NOTHING to get ahead), the learned, mature subset of the sociopathic population rapidly rise to positions of power and authority; able to control policy within corporations and government. THEY control the reality that we live in.

It is NOT a world of TRUST.
We live in a world of active, INTENTIONAL deception and manipulation.

Today's example:
Executive at Japanese Electric Power utility requests SOCK-PUPPET PR campaign.

Numerous sock-puppet and astroturf manipulation campaigns have occurred over the years. The telecom companies in the USA have been repeatedly caught paying for manipulation of the public. (E.g. astroturf campaign to oppose local-loop use by competitive DSL providers)

Indeed entire industries of professional sock-puppets have cropped up (like the one recently fired by Chrysler for errant use of the f-bomb in a post).

And our own government recently let an RFP for "persona management", which requested the ability to post to multiple social media accounts from what appeared to be locations around the world without being detected as fraudulent.

How can we be encouraged to have TRUST when both business and government are actively engaging in intentional precision-engineered deception?


Same as the fallacy of 'management'. You can't 'build' trust. You can only facilitate it by allowing for individuals to get their work done.

The goal is not to build trust, but to find ways to dispel mistrust.

Peter Evans-Greenwood

We're definitely moving from a world where you were defined by your ability to use knowledge (and therefor your ability to acquire as much as possible) to one where you are defined to create knowledge (which is a process of synthesising new knowledge from old). There's quite a few dimensions to this challenge, with trust probably being the largest.

However, as HBR pointed out the other day (http://hbr.org/2011/07/why-fair-bosses-fall-behind/ar/1), the politics of our current organisations has them firmly locked in the old model. The interesting question is if it is possible to transition an established organisation (with an established power structure)? Or if this new mode of operation is something that needs to be build in from the start?


One could describe this as first-order trust, where unilateral disclosure of vulnerability is quickly reciprocated by a non-malevolent party, leading to successful negotiation of shared risk.

But how does one identify a malevolent party that is merely simulating self-disclosure? One who is building trust for future trust-violation?

Such an identification protocol is not possible via digital media (see spam analytics) due to the huge economic value of any digital sequence that may be statistically characterized as trustworthy.

This is why high-risk negotiations are conducted F2F (REAL-DEF) by experienced detectors of simulation, and not digitally (HIGH-DEF) by inexperienced consumers of simulation.

Social media can be used to discover collaboration peers, but not to screen for trust. Social media can be used to discover trust claims (e.g. "friends" or "circles" or "untrustworthy"), but not to determine the trustability of those claims.

Ellen Weber

Excellent insights on trust, thanks John, and an engaging discussion on several sides of the issues! Especially loved your two criteria for building trust through vulnerability: “First, do they have the values, conviction and courage to do the right thing? Second, do they have the capability and skills to do the right thing?” I agree that just as gridlock may feed ego or greed but often closes out trust, so the transparency you detail here – generate trust.

Can you elaborate a bit more on your notion however, that – “we all strive to build trust?” How so? Are you saying, for instance that all are transparent?

We’ve all seen bullying and cynicism and unfair advantages keep distrust alive, and we’ve likely all been part of some angle of eroded trust. By banishing trust through backdoor deals for personal gain, or acting transparently and in good faith, we all define daily trust and distrust by the lived experience of your paradox. How so? By daily choices we make for transparency and growth, or greed and ego.

Has anything really changed though? I’d like to hear a bit more about what the things that used to build trust, now erodes it, as that does not seem to be so from the brain’s perspective of how trust is built and how it is lost or eroded.

One thing is certain - recent surveys show lack of trust tops the most prevalent problem modern workers face. Interestingly, it’s also the most craved trait - according to most workers.

Trust reducers have not much changed though. Would you agree? They still include excessive concern for personal gains, mixed messages, responsibility avoidance by passing the buck or dropping the ball, opinions without facts, and blaming others when problems arise, according to researcher Dr. Paul Bernthal.

In spite of ups and down $ issues trust runs deeper, as I see it. In fact it likely never was in places that see it eroding now. Psychologist, Carl Rogers confronted trust in his best selling book, On Becoming a Person, and concluded that it’s tough to trust when one feels betrayed, annoyed, or skeptical. Trust, for Rogers, was less a matter of being rigidly consistent, and more a matter of being dependably real.

I sense that newly discovered mental equipment offers trust tools such as new neuron pathways to dynamic innovation with people whose ethics mark their way toward transparency and people as capital. Was trust really possible in organizations when ego generated gridlock, that characterized the past decade? Yet it’s also the tonic that keeps humans resilient when others give way to skepticism and blame. A great post to ponder as we all move forward:-)! It certainly got me thinking on the topic from a brainpowered perspective. Thanks for raising the bar for a finer future!


throw out the word "trust" and say the same thing again.

"trust" is a word that has become a useless object, and the real issue you are addressing is pure subjectivity.

Peter West

John, many thanks for sharing your thought-provoking article.

I inherited a passion for life and discovery from my parents, for which I will be forever grateful. They nurtured values of integrity, respect, honesty, fairness, openness and sharing. They instilled an insatiable curiosity.

Commitment to deep discovery requires one to place trust in others and reveal, as you describe – one’s will, skill and vulnerabilities.

Disclosure of vulnerabilities has had a deep impact on my personal and professional life. In my personal life, disclosing vulnerabilities to close friends has been pivotal in my ability to solve problems, leverage opportunities and grow as an individual. Professionally, disclosure of vulnerabilities has led to career-related opportunities, but also disaster. Early in my career, disclosure of vulnerabilities ultimately culminated in the loss of a job. As part of my adaptation to a new management position, I quickly developed a strong working relationship with a fellow manager. This enabled us to acquire a deeper understanding of corporate challenges and led us to mutual disclosures of related vulnerabilities. As a team we conquered a number of challenges. Some years later, as part of a corporate power struggle, that same individual used their knowledge of my vulnerabilities to orchestrate my departure from the company. Interestingly, disclosing the vulnerabilities that resulted from that job loss, and seeking a temporary workspace from a trusted individual in my network, provided them with an opportunity to observe how I was able to quickly rebound and acquire consulting engagements. They were so impressed, they offered me a consulting position in their company, which eventually led to my current passion – knowledge management.

My experience with disclosing vulnerabilities continues to be a source of important revelations about myself, my network and my environment.

To feed my passion, but at the same time to ‘protect’ my career investment, I find that I am required to be guided by informed trust and informed disclosure of vulnerabilities. I must force myself to adequately consider the positive and negative consequences, now and in the future, of trusting and disclosing. As a result, the ‘burns’ have been less frequent and their outcomes less adverse, while the ‘returns’ associated with positive encounters continued to be profound. (It has also been my experience that passion is more of a ‘potential gateway or opening for trust’ than a “foundation of trust.”)

Sadly, it has been my general experience that other professionals in my network/environment do not react well to the revelation of vulnerabilities. In this fast-paced world, they do not seem to have the time to truly and deeply understand my vulnerabilities, let alone invest time and resources to resolving them. There are exceptions, but they are rare. People often feel uncomfortable dealing with other people’s vulnerabilities. They either do not have the skills or the compassion, or both. A small number seem to derive enjoyment from, or take advantage of my vulnerabilities.

I have been deeply sensitized to the good and the bad of trust and revealing vulnerabilities and whenever I sense someone in my network is in need of help I thoughtfully and genuinely extend a hand. They are always surprised and very grateful.

Peter West


John, it's a great article -- but are there deeper reasons or explanations for your fascination with paradox? I have it too, as many others will. Dunno that "I love it", though. In some ways it provides existential relief from excessive rationality. Paradox also emerges from reason itself. Do all paradoxes resolve? Trust is always a challenge. Dunno that "flows" actually replace "stocks". I think they work together. Jon

Steve Ray

Beautiful post John... this so resonates with me and my role as a facilitator of groups.. the key to trust is to remember we are in the dance of terror and longing... terrified we will be evicted from the tribe, and longing to belong. When people show vulnerability, they give us all permission to sit with our own weaknesses and straight away there is some shared territory of the most important kind and we can embrace that and trust more.

At the deepest of levels of our being we are discovering that we are 'broken' and we are actually looking for people to show that part that has been hidden for so long. For me there is a deeply spiritual aspect to all this as its in our brokenness that we can also connect with the infinite... Jim Finley the Christian contemplative calls this coming together of our broken-ness with the infinite, the Christ consciousness. This to me is the emerging paradigm and is directly relevant to the Big Shift you mention where it's tacit knowledge, not hard knowledge as you put it that now matters...

Knowledge as power is dissolving through the technological changes that are occurring and beyond that, its wisdom not information that matters... and that is found not in individuals, but in groups, communities etc.

Thanks for your insights... so helpful :)

Steve Ray


Hi John,

Thanks for a very provocative article as always but I think that Bob and Chris bring up excellent points, specifically in that in challenging times we revert back to "survival" mode which does tell us to "trust no one" and "rely on your own instincts". I believe also, through extensive observation of social behavior over the past 20 years that survival traits bring out great strengths in people and also ugly characteristics such as the ones suggested by Bob. In fact, not to be negative, but the negative traits are most predominant in recent times maybe because social mediums make it that much easier to steal IP, or plagerize under the belief that with all that content, how could anyone possibly track back such minor theft? Not sure, could also be that social media just highlights behavior that has always existed. Regardless, we as a society have seem to have lost a large portion of common sense and integrity which I believe are critical foundations to establishing trust. Exposing vulnerabilities or sharing tacit knowledge is inviting these "sociopaths" as Bob referred to them, to an open and free banquet.


A thoughtful article, but, ultimately optimistic (even naive).

The analysis ignores intentional deception. Anti-social personality disorder (sociopathy) seems to afflict numerous individuals. Those who are simultaneously intelligent and mature percolate into positions of dominance. They are able establish policy. We see concrete manifestations (externalization of their affliction) in the wide spread corporate use of sock puppets and astroturfing. Literally: engineered, precision deception and manipulation.

If we are ever going to be able to trust one another again, we either have to become reliably adept at spotting sociopaths (and the policies and programs that they spawn) OR we need to physically excise this cancer from society (figurative or literal genocide against the sociopaths who prey on the good and kind bulk of humanity).


I am so compassionate regarding #thegreatdisruption, especiallly for men 45-60 raised in Western culture. There was an entire generation that was told "know as much as possible and you will inherit the earth." Many people sacrificed so much in order to attain and control knowledge. In today's economy -- being a conduit--allowing informataion to move through you and to aggregate people who have the knowledge is the new power. You are in such a visible position and you have the leverage to teach and educate this entire generation on how to surrender "control" and how to seek being a "conduit." We used to be the content and now we are the container.
I wish you clarity & courage as you lead this transformation.


.. would be remiss not to call out a great book by Carol Dweck that's authoritative (imo) on the above thread, called "Mindset".

And of course, S.M.R.Covey's "Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything."

Besides twitter, of course :)


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