Trust, a business imperative in disruptive times

The age of disruption has arrived. Could your business be like the Phoenix, the bird that rises from the ashes with renewed youth, to successfully navigate the disrupting hordes?

To start off, it’s urgent to examine the way we look at the world and the way we do business. Every day, new players and products are entering the market, making their predecessors obsolete or forcing them to reinvent themselves in an attempt for longevity. These ”change as you go” times are here to stay for a long time.

The new entrants, restless and agile, have the power to transform industries entirely, and even economies. In this hyper-globalised and volatile environment, societies and businesses need new frameworks to think and act, a sort of moving base that pins them to the floor from one side, but lets them be responsive and quick on the other.

At the heart, we require these frameworks to help answer two crucial questions: who we trust, as individuals and as organisations, and how we know what we know (or how we remain trustworthy. How can we answer these questions concretely when they seem rhetorical? By digging deep into the past to unearth the patterns that made businesses more confident. And then applying them to innovations to carve out a brave new future.

Together in this article, let’s take a more panoramic view of where the world is moving to and explore the factors shaping business today.

One common past, five different futures

If you look closely, we quickly realise that the key structures making up the fabric of our society – nations, states, countries, cities and communities – are developing in different directions. Indeed, the concept of nation in itself is changing, and could become obsolete. The shared identity, pillar of any nation, is gradually diluting or, more accurately put, becoming more nuanced.

And what about the other structures? Well, states and their governments are struggling to remain influential, with services that are falling short of being capable of answering to the demands of their citizens. They are at risk of being disrupted by better solutions commonly brought about by innovative startups that challenge incumbents too.

In turn, countries, the lands we live in, are under pressure from global warming and demographic shifts. The urban part of the world is becoming gigantic and overcrowded. Cities are growing in size and influence, transforming into micro-states. These cement monsters are appealing to younger generations, with their undeclared promise of “here everything is possible and if it’s not, you can build it.” But is the promise of this urban life really that bright? Are cities really that manageable? While we cannot reply to a question of such magnitude alone, we’re sure that it requires the participation of several actors, business being one of them.

Finally, in a fight against impersonal and global city life, communities –  the smallest structures of our society – offer individuals a sense of belonging,an undeniable human need.

In internet we trust

Technology is fueling the two key drivers that are shaking up our social fabric. The close connection between them makes them a strong, almost unbreakable, binomial.  

  1. The first is internet access. As the world’s populations plug into the internet more and more, and build their own online communities around shared interests, people are losing connection with the physical world as a source of personal and financial well-being. This switch of attention makes them vulnerable somehow, as they now depend on the forces shaping the internet – the once considered “promise of freedom” that is falling apart – and at risk of being trapped.
  2. The second driver is (mis)trust. A sort of echo-chamber phenomenon that the algorithms proliferating the internet have caused is driving institutional mistrust, shaking the long-held belief in our traditional institutions – political, security bodies and the legal system. The echo-chambers are creating a biased vision of the world, managing to push people to the extremes.  In these small fiefdoms of intransigence, our beliefs are rarely challenged, because we see what we want to see.

Businesses today cannot escape this reality; beyond everything, they are part of the social fabric. However, while the internet and mistrust are influencing the world order, three other drivers are forcing businesses to re-think their innovation agenda. And, once again, it’s technology that is the  trigger.

Three tips to rethinking the innovation agenda

Along with the drivers influencing business reality today, we have assembled, in parallel, three tips you want to consider when thinking of your innovation agenda.  

  1. Be predictable

Driver: trust

When we are able to predict the actions of others, we trust.

In our society, where social structures are undergoing transformation and many agents are acting independently, predictability diminishes as does clarity on what to believe and whom to trust.

A shared, more holistic vision of reality is collapsing. This is due to the echo-chambers we talked about before feeding people with information that fits their world view. This leaves businesses in an unsafe situation, as hackers, experts in playing with our biases, use misinformation and confusion as weapons that influence the rise and the fall of brands, and impact trust and reputation severely.

Building trust and, above all, maintaining it, has become an imperative for business. If not, how can innovation efforts have an impact on business growth, if customers do not commit to brands?

  1. Follow this coffee technique: blend learning and work

Driver: the workforce of the future

In the face of the accelerated expansion of technology, businesses can take either a reactive approach or a proactive one, in dealing with change. When betting on the reactive approach, they play the catch-up game, improving organisational processes incrementally. Some functions, then, or even entire job positions, become automated.

In a proactive approach, businesses accompany and assist employees in embracing new ways of working, aligned with new customer demands that technological developments are triggering. This translates into transformation that, in some cases, disrupts the organisation from within. This approach calls businesses to blend learning and work to create one seamless customer & employee experience. Failing to do so, businesses risk finding themselves out of sync with reality.

  1. Get artificial but not superficial

Driver: artificial intelligence

With the rise of ‘smart’ everything, artificial intelligence (AI) has found its way into our everyday life. Machine learning, key to supporting AI advancements, has made robo-advisors and virtual assistants who make decisions on our behalf possible. After all, who wouldn’t fancy a robo-friend?

However fancying a robot is one thing but trusting them is a completely different story. That’s why, at first, AI business solutions are augmenting our business decision-making, but we still have the final say.

In the future, not so far from now, AI will get smarter, and so will its ability to learn faster from human patterns and behaviours. It will give us suggestions to take the best possible actions to solve complex problems. The question for businesses is not if AI will be adopted, but how and what processes will need to be put in place to avoid all the potential pitfalls it may bring.

The most important business decision (or the conclusion)

“Hyper-globalised” is an overwhelming word. It brings with it the idea of something busy and stressful. Volatile, on the contrary, recalls evanescence, short term, and ephemeral things. We actually started this article with a sentence mentioning both.

But being overwhelmed and volatile is exactly what you have to avoid, as a business manager, as a business professional and as a person. Cut the noise; forget the buzzwords that we’ve used to write this article and think of the values that make your organisation strong. Values are the cement of trust. Only then, can you face the forces, factors, winds and ill winds that are shaking our times.

The most important business decision you can make now is to build strong relationships with your stakeholders and if they are already strong, make them stronger. Trust is pivotal to guarantee any change you want to embrace, any innovation initiative you want to bet on.

What we think
Armin Prljaca, Human-Centered Design & Innovation at PwC Luxembourg
Armin Prljaca, Human-Centered Design & Innovation at PwC Luxembourg

Are you confident in your future? Today, businesses need to be ready for much more uncertainty coming their way. Technology still remains the main driver of disruption, but it doesn’t solve the trust issue. Businesses need to sit down and draw up new frameworks to think and act in the age of disruption that will answer a fundamental questions: whom do we trust?

Isabelle Lunven, Managing Director at PwC Luxembourg



New technology (like Blockchain, for example) shall bring more trust in many fields. In this evolution towards the emergence of robots & augmented capabilities we, as humans, will need to magnify our humanity through meaningful relationships and creativity to build trust and create a more sustainable future.

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