The creative mingling of trust and misunderstanding

Yoko Ono, Guggenheim, Bilbao
Yoko Ono, Guggenheim, Bilbao

In a paper due to be published shortly, I discuss what I have termed the ‘routines of innovation’.

To stay ahead, organisations need to innovate: creating new services, products and value for the customer.  And it is here that there is an essential connection between trust and misunderstanding.

First, misunderstanding:  I argue that for something new to emerge it helps if people see and experience things differently. This might be brought about by different people and groups working together and/or changing the way they do things – for example, people who might not otherwise work with each other being put into a project or product development team.  By asking simple, but often awkward, questions they start to unpick each other’s assumptions and ways of seeing the world.  Sometimes it can feel like walking into a glass wall resulting in argument or hurt.  But in this jolting, new patterns of noticing are established in conversations and people relate to each other, and sometimes themselves, differently.  Far from being a problem, misunderstanding creates the opportunity.

And now for trust: for the process of innovation to work there needs to be enough trust and willingness to put faith in each other. This means an acceptance of vulnerability to the actions of others over and above one’s need to monitor and control the actions of others (Mayer et al., 1995). This feels risky, particularly in the face of hurtful misunderstanding. Risk, vulnerability and a developing reciprocity of action and gestures are all essential in developing trust. In other words, we are increasingly invested in each other’s success and failure, and we need to understand how each of us can play our part.

But there is a tension between misunderstanding and trust, a dynamic paradox.  It is not a case of one or the other but both.  The nature of this ‘both-ness’ can be messy, but it is in this that trust, newness and innovation can emerge.

Rob Warwick

Mayer RC, Davis JH and Schoorman FD (1995) An Integrative Model of Trust. The Academy of Management Review, 20(3), 709–734.

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Rob Warwick

My experience lies in the various aspects of organisational change, particularly working with groups and individuals to understand the impact of change and the opportunities it offers. Areas of knowledge include: the formulation and implementation of Government policy; corporate strategy and planning; management control within organisational change; and public sector compliance. A common thread through much of my work is making sense of ambiguity and conflict. This includes the impact of newly introduced legislation and government policy, mergers between organisations, or their parts; and, the workings of multi-disciplinary groups. These experiences were a major influence on my doctorate on healthcare policymaking and the unpredictable and paradoxical impact it has on frontline staff practice. Areas explored in my thesis included the often unexamined implications of a scientific systems based approach to change and the impact this has on people. My thesis includes practical actions to improve policymaking.

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