Skip to content

César Hidalgo on the importance of trust in networks of innovation

Another great episode of Exponential View – recommend.

Azeem Azhar: It seems like the richer, faster growing economies require these dense and intricate networks of people, and these people need to have ways of communicating with each other, norms, behaviours that ultimately get reflected – measured – as trust.

César Hidalgo: Trust is fundamental for economic growth, because it allows you to weave networks of larger size, that allow you to accumulate more knowledge.

At the end of the day, if knowledge is too big to be accumulated in an individual, and you need to accumulate it in networks, the only places that are going to be successful at accumulating large amounts of knowledge are the ones in which social links are relatively inexpensive to make, they don’t require revealing a lot of information of whether you can trust a person or not, and these are places in which people can trust each other more easily, and can more easily form these collaborations.

So there’s a pretty strong connection between trust and the ability to form large networks, and that ability to form large professional networks is one of the preconditions that you need to be able to have explosive growth. It’s really hard to scale in a world in which every person that joins your network, that joins your organisation, that you try to do business with, is someone that you have to go through a very expensive process of vetting and checking.

But in a world in which you can trust people more at face value because, sure there are some bad people out there, but 99% of people are good and reliable, then it’s much easier to form those large networks that you need if you want to do something that requires a lot of specialisation and diversity of knowledge.

César Hidalgo on Exponential View with Azeem Azhar

Trust, stored in relationships and reputation, is more valuable than ever in times of uncertainty.

Trust (that someone will: behave with integrity and keep their part of the bargain; do their job well; treat people kindly; act appropriately; try to do the right thing when things seem fuzzy; regard contracts and the law as minimum requirements and consistently do better than ‘spec’) brings a multitude of benefits. It enables you to:

  • Move faster, knowing you can worry about minutiae later;
  • Focus on your part of the puzzle without spending time scrutinising other people’s work…
  • … or looking over your shoulder;
  • Work and communicate more freely, knowing you’ll have the benefit of the doubt;
  • Stop and let go at the end of the day, knowing that others will keep showing up and doing their best work too.

I’m reminded of the story of a young professional asking their boss, “What can I do to make people think they can trust me?” – the obvious answer being “Be trustworthy.”

So trust is more valuable in times of crisis and uncertainty – in part because it feels scarcer than ever. The good news is that these times are also opportunities to build trust and reputation:

  • Support your team professionally and personally – not because of how it looks, but because it’s the right thing to do and you actually care;
  • Communicate clearly and as early as possible about what’s going on, what’s important, what you’re planning to do and why;
  • Do what you say;
  • To do everything you can to keep paying people on time;
  • To make sure that managers make bigger sacrifices if pay needs to be reduced;
  • Keep paying informal workers;
  • Stay in touch with customers and clients – be a calm, encouraging and positive presence;
  • Find ways to keep serving.

Crisis reveals character at least as much as it builds it.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...