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We need trust to innovate

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The last few months have seen much debate about public trust in experts, or rather a lack of it. So who do you trust to provide you with a solution to your problems?

Trust is critical to innovation and a functioning society. For these reasons it is one of my favourite cards to debate on our Horizons tool - our free to use tool to help you look at societal and environmental drivers of future markets.

We need trust to innovate, throwing in the air

I’ve been in many a Horizons workshop where it was overlooked initially but, once considered, is quickly realised to be key to making any innovation stick.

This is because:

trust builds confidence, which in turn builds markets.

Trust is vital in adoption of innovation

Trust is easily lost and with it market share.

Consider some recent examples such as the horsemeat scandal or the Volkswagen emissions scandal.

The Nobel-prize winning economist Kenneth Arrow wrote in a 1972 paper:

Virtually every commercial transaction has within itself an element of trust.

Trust is therefore vital in adoption of innovation.

Indeed the Edelmen ‘Trust Barometer’ concluded in 2015 that:

countries with higher levels of trust were more supportive of business innovation.

This effect can be seen in the example of the UK (behind schedule) roll out of smart meters.

Take up has been slow and is held back by a lack of trust in energy suppliers and concerns over data privacy and security.

Perversely, the use of smart meters should mean a far more transparent relationship between supplier and customer.

Wisdom of the crowd vs ‘experts’

We need trust to innovate, people buy from people they trust

It seems true that members of the public have greater trust in the wisdom of the crowd and peer networks rather than ‘experts’.

Pregnant mothers find far more comfort learning from others in the same position using sites like BabyCenter than from medical professionals.

Such an example is part of a trend towards using “Doctor Google” that has arisen from a democratisation of data.

Companies need to work with this and add greater value than simply selling information.

Transparency is key to trust

To build trust companies need to actively engage stakeholders and ensure transparency in their operations.

McDonalds, for example, were able to show how they used the same UK based supplier as M&S for their burgers at the time of the horsemeat scandal, and the short supply chain meant they knew their provenance.

In fact, the company has invested heavily in opening up its farms and supply chains to consumers.

Opening up your data and products to your customer base enables them to engage and connect and even shape your products.

Companies need to trust others to help them innovate

A sophisticated way to do this is to encourage the ‘hacking’ of your offering and sharing of that insight.

Ikea has done that for its flat-pack components with Ikea Hackers where their customers share the designs they have created.

Opening up your information and letting others help you innovate takes trust.

Many companies have open innovation sites but when you share the data you hold this can lead to solutions you hadn’t considered.

This approach is critical in how cities are transforming the way they enable services to be developed for their citizens.

When Transport for London opened up its live timetable data it led to apps such as CityMapper being developed which have led to increased use of their services and better outcomes for passengers.

This idea can be extended to how a company can source or procure new solutions.

Innovate UK’s lead customer programme

Innovate UK has now extended our successful work in innovation-led procurement with government departments to helping companies become lead customers for new innovation.

In seeking new solutions to a challenge sharing the data behind the problem and being agnostic about the approach takes a fair bit of trust but can result in ideas you never would have come up with on your own.

The first of these is currently live as EDF seek new solutions to their challenges of inspection and monitoring of assets in extreme conditions.

So if you want to be trusted, be open and trusting yourself.

Follow me on Twitter: @pittso

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