Collapse of trust and digital transformation

Published on the 15/11/2016 | Written by Gerry McGovern

Trust in digitisation

Globally we are facing a collapse of trust – and it is being driven by digitisation, writes Gerry McGovern…

Governments, brands, institutions, experts are all facing a crisis of legitimacy. Digital is an accelerant in this collapse and in the making of a radically different world. How do we navigate this historically significant transformation?

The anchors of society are loosening. The traditional certainties are fading. It’s getting harder to know the present, let alone predict the future. People are aware that they are faced by enormous change but a growing number of them are no longer turning to traditional institutions in the search for certainty and answers. Religion, politics, brands; fewer people than ever believe.

There is nothing firm or certain about digital. A mountain is a mountain. It might not be there in a million years but it will be there tomorrow. A mountain of data can be quickly deleted, stolen, processed, moved. In minutes, a digital mountain can be gone.

We have never been more connected and disconnected. Paradoxes abound. Contradictions are the norm. It’s called the World Wide Web, yet it seems to create these ever-tighter tribes of like-minded people making like minds even more alike.

Trust, regarded as an essential glue for society, is collapsing all around us. Except for the elites. This small group trusts the institutions of society much more because, of course, they have done very well by these institutions. The incomes of the top 10 percent have grown dramatically over the last 30 years, and the incomes of the top 1 percent have grown stratospherically.

Meanwhile, in many societies, the middle class have become the new poor. The old poor face a world of diminishing choices and opportunities. The vaunted Millennials are better educated and poorer. They are the first generation in modern times that have less financial opportunities and job security than their parents. That truck and taxi overtaking you will soon be driven by a robot. Artificial intelligence is only getting started. The knowledge workers will not be immune to the march of the algorithms.

And yet.

And yet on a global basis, humanity has never been healthier or wealthier. More of the world is at peace today than has ever been in human history. Ordinary people everywhere have digitally transformed. They have embraced digital tools and they are using and innovating with them at a phenomenal pace. There is a world out there—within the many other worlds—of savvy, highly connected customers who are looking for genuine quality and real experiences.

Digital transformation has not occurred for most organisations. Most have fallen severely behind, with often appallingly-designed enterprise digital systems. It used to be that organisations led and invented the future. Today, it is ordinary people who are the inventors, the innovators, the leaders. The clever companies organise around their customers. They don’t seek to invent new experiences, but rather use digital as a looking glass, to see deep into the experiences that are already happening, and design so as to make these experiences deeper and richer.

Trust in institutions is gone and will probably not come back. Trust in ourselves and in our network has never been stronger. Complexity is unpredictability. What the future holds can just be guessed at. And digital transformation of the customer means that they have more power today than they ever had.


Gerry McGovern is founder and CEO of Customer Carewords, which has developed tools and methods to help large organisations identify and optimise their customers’ top online tasks. He has written five books on how the web has facilitated the rise of customer power.

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