You Don’t Have an Innovation Problem, You Have a Trust Problem! (Part 3)

by Yoram Solomon

You Don’t Have an Innovation Problem, You Have a Trust Problem! (Part 3)

In the first part of this article mini-series I demonstrated, based on my original research, that for innovation to exist, you must be able to create a culture of innovation, first. A culture of innovation exists when leaders give their employees autonomy, employees show accountability and are willing to try things (even if it means that they might fail), and team members are capable of holding constructive disagreement, in which they are willing to be vulnerable with each other, offer direct and honest feedback, and be receptive to such feedback.

In the second part of this mini-series I demonstrated, based on additional original research, that each one of those elements of innovation culture, you must have trust. A leader would not give autonomy to an employee they don’t trust. An employee will not be willing to take risks if they don’t trust their boss to be willing to accept failure. A team member will not be willing to be vulnerable with another, not be willing to give them direct and honest feedback, and be receptive to such feedback from them if he or she doesn’t trust them.

So trust is the foundation for innovation. To wrap up this mini-series, I want to offer what my research shows are the prerequisites for trust.

Trust develops (or diminishes) during interactions, and between them. During a meeting, the level of trust changes with the amount of time spent together (the more time you spend with another person, the more you have the opportunity to develop trust). The amount of time is compounded by the intimacy (or intensity) of that interaction. A face-to-face meeting will have a much bigger effect on converting time into trust. A phone call has less. An email has the least. Albert Mehrabian, in his 1971 book Silent Messages, claimed that 7% of our communication is conveyed through the words we use, 38% through our tone of voice, and 55% through our body language. Many have argued against this breakdown, and over what exactly did Mehrabian really meant. Regardless, a face-to-face meeting, I found, is so much more effective than an email in building trust.

Finally, the positivity of the interaction has not only a compounding effect, but also the ability to determine whether trust is built or destroyed in that interaction. The positivity in question does not refer to the positivity of the situation, but is rather measured as the answer to the question: how would you rate the behavior of the other person in this interaction?

The second set of factors affecting trust-building occurs between interactions. They can be bundled under different names. Call them respect that one team member has to another. Call them the context of the relationship. Whatever you call them, they are made of the level of competence you believe the other person has (in the context of this relationship), the level of shared values, and the fairness, or symmetry of the relationship with that person.

My research showed that the more competent you think someone is, the more you would be willing to trust them. In fact, if I asked you to rank how much you trust another person and how competent you think they are, then if you think they are more competent, you also believe they are 58.4% more trustworthy and you trust them more.

The second contextual element of trust is having shared values. Values could be universal (for example, nobody trusts someone who lies to them), personal (such as different personality profiles, or even as simple as your attitude towards using a laptop or a cell phone during a meeting), or interpersonal, unique to the specific relationship between you and that other person. When asked to rank the level of shared values with another person, I found that the more you believe you share values with the other person, you will trust them XX% more.

Finally, the third contextual element of building trust is the level by which you believe your relationship with the other person is fair and symmetrical. The elements of fair and symmetrical relationship are: how much more (or less) is your contribution (time, effort, energy) compared to the other person’s, and how much more (or less) are you getting (pay, resources) compared to that other person.

What I found is that in general, we believe we contribute more than the other person, and we believe that we get less than them… However, the gap between the two is 7.2 times higher when you don’t trust the other person, than if you did. Recently, I asked someone to think about a colleague of hers. I then asked her who is getting more. She believed it was her colleague. I asked who is contributing more. She believe it was her. I asked her by how much (on both questions). I then looked up the ratio, my research, and wrote a number on a napkin, without her seeing it. I then asked her to rank,on a scale of 1 through 7, how much did she trust that colleague (with 1 being “not at all” and 7 being “I trust him with my life”). She thought about it for a minute, and said “5.” I showed her the napkin. The number I wrote was 5…

This summarizes this mini-series of articles. Some companies believe they have an innovation problem. They are probably right, except that lack of innovation is a symptom, and not the problem. Those companies lack innovation because they don’t have a culture of innovation. But even that is not the problem, but rather a symptom of the real problem: those companies don’t have trust.

If you think you have an innovation problem, think again. You don’t have an innovation problem. You have a trust problem.

(Note: the author is the founder of the Innovation Culture Institute, LLC. Findings from additional research conducted by ICI will be included in the next parts of this article series).

Get lifetime access to all 50+ tools in the Change Planning Toolkit

Wait! Before you go…

Choose how you want the latest innovation content delivered to you:


Dr. Yoram Solomon is an inventor, creativity researcher, coach, consultant, and trainer to large companies and employees. His Ph.D. examines why people are more creative in startup companies than in mature ones. Yoram was a professor of Technology and Industry Forecasting at the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, UT Dallas School of Management; is active in regional innovation and tech transfer; and is a speaker and author on predicting technology future and identifying opportunities for market disruption. Follow @yoram

Leave a Reply