Knowledge Management’s Secret Sauce: Trust

Fortunes have been made in the food industry through the development and use of “secret” sauces. These are the seemingly-magic ingredients that chefs use to elevate a simple food item into a must have (or must eat).

Knowledge management has a secret sauce — it’s trust. Trust is the magic ingredient that reliably increases user participation. Where there is trust there is a perceptible decrease in anxiety. With that reduction of anxiety comes a willingness to create, contribute and collaborate.

Knowledge managers have always known this. It drove our KM 1.0 efforts to build large databases of vetted content. In a web 2.0 world, trust is even more valuable because we are asking users to create, contribute and collaborate in a more unmediated way. This permits access to a wider range of content more quickly, but it may also be perceived as risky if the content doesn’t have the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” that comes from the vetting built into KM 1.0 business processes.

Neil Richards (Knowledge Thoughts) provides an interesting analysis of the critical value of trust with respect to wikis. In his post, How trust & risk affect wiki adoption, he takes the concept of trust one step further and discusses the “trust threshold, ” which is the point at which trust and risk intersect. Here’s how Neil describes it:

Trust thresholds! It’s not just about trust; it’s also about risk of each task. You need to earn enough trust to overcome the risk. Therefore, wiki use is dependant on how much a user trusts the content. …when using a wiki to execute a task which involves risk, the trustworthiness of the wiki needs to exceed the risk of it being wrong.

Neil goes on to suggest ways of increasing the level of trust so that lawyers in your firm can get comfortable working with wiki content. If you’ve got a trust deficit in your law firm, also consider implementing some of the suggestions for increasing trust in the workplace contained in Shawn Callahan‘s recent post, Trust creating behaviours.

Trust may be the most valuable asset a knowledge manager has. Take the time to develop it in your workplace and then guard with your life!