Trust: It’s the Bottom Line of Life

Emmanuel Sumithran Gnanamanickam, a community leader and manager of an NGO in South India, is an inspiring young man. He and his small group of people have dedicated their lives to provide basic health care, education and support to tribal groups in the region. He said that his experience with the tribes taught him a very important lesson:

unless you are willing to trust, and be trusted by people, life cannot go on, because a lot of what happens in life is based on trust. It’s the bottom line of life”.

There are quite a few things that have happened recently that made me also think about trust, how important it is for our lives. There is an unprecedented crisis that affects us all. Companies close, people are left unemployed; there is a lot of insecurity and uncertainty out there. Many seem to have lost their confidence in their government or even towards society as a whole. Others feel betrayed as if somehow a contract has been broken. I have heard too many speak of their lost faith in the human kind; they are our friends, our neighbors, our family.

Our lives are woven together as in a fabric, but the connections that used to make society strong now seem to make us vulnerable. What we seem to be lacking of is trust and somehow this seems to have a negative effect on everyone’s life.  It is proven for example that where trust is low, crime and corruption are high.

From a business perspective, IBM boss Thomas J. Watson notes that: “The toughest thing about the power of trust is that it’s very difficult to build and very easy to destroy.”

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Trust is valuable and needs to be fostered. Trust is the key. When you are in a relationship, if you can’t trust the person you are with, the relationship will fail. Trust involves a degree of vulnerability; People feel safe in the hands of another therefore share personal information, feelings, thoughts. It is necessary in a romantic relationship, in a relationship of a patient with a doctor, in a relationship between a customer and a company, between a citizen and his government. Trust is a silent contract; people have confidence that the other part will not act or use information shared against their interests and will fulfill a certain role.

Almost everything evolves a relationship of trust. A trivial thing like driving a car is based on trust. If I didn’t trust that the drivers of the cars coming against me would stay on their own side of the road, driving would become a very difficult and dangerous experience. A law is valid only when people trust that it is on their interest and act accordingly.

To give another example, if I was lost in a country I‘ve never been and I didn’t trust the people, I would be quite stressed and full of anxiety when asking directions or any kind of request. I would personally spend a lot of time and energy to evaluate the correctness of the information handed to me in fear of being tricked into an unknown and unpleasant situation. You’ve seen horror movies. You know how it all starts and how it ends. Can you really trust these strange people?

Yes, you guessed correctly, low trust makes you paranoid…

The simple fact is that you don’t have to get lost in a strange country with strange people to become paranoid. Just ask all those who don’t trust their government. Maybe they have a real reason.  According to recent researches, fewer Americans than ever trust their government to solve their problems. The same goes for British and Greeks  to give but a few examples of a growing global tendency.

And what happens when citizens don’t trust politicians? They seem to get drawn towards conspiracy theories. In Greece, more and more people believe in the theory of chemtrails. Paranoia, is a sign of low trust and signifies a severely damaged relationship; in the case of Greece between citizens and government.

We live in times of a crisis. These are difficult times for many that test the strength of our relationships. This is true for individuals, as it is for companies and governments. My recent observations would suggest that nowadays more than ever progression in business demands uncommon levels of trust. Buyers are more nervous than ever before. And it makes sense.

The only way to turn this situation around is by really caring for your customer. You see, the thing about trust is that you can’t fake it. And this is where actions speak louder than words. Action is the only language of trust.

In the field of business, an example of such an action that helps foster a relationship of trust is a software escrow agreement http://www.ironmountain.co.uk/services/software-escrow.

. It is signed between developers and users of software to ensure that despite what happens, in case of an uncontrolled catastrophe, due to a bankruptcy or a merger with another company, the user of the product will not be left without access to the source code that might be required for maintenance, disaster recovery or upgrades. And this can make the difference.

As Emmanuel Sumithran Gnanamanickam said, trust is vital; without it “life cannot go on, because a lot of what happens in life is based on trust. It’s the bottom line of life”. In our difficult times (which will unfortunately be with us for quite a long) this is truer than ever. In the end, “to be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved” (George MacDonald, The Marquis of Lossie, 1877). Just think about it.

The importance of trust and the question of software escrow agreements

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Trust starts from the very beginning. From the way you lay the foundations of a business. It is about the relationships you form with your employees, with your customers, with your providers. Trust is the invisible glue that keeps all parts together. Without it, all collapse. It can’t be measured but when it exists, you know it is there. In its absence, simple problems can lead to catastrophes.

Take for example, the case of a possible important decision that you will have to make; the choice of customizable software for running your business. Now, what weights the most in such decisions is that the software fits your needs. But the next most important aspect is that the software you decide to purchase will keep on working under any circumstances. You just can’t risk organizing your business on a program that might fail you on a critical moment due to circumstances out of your hand. This is just out of the question.

You will ask me and you will be correct to ask me such a question: “how does this have to do with trust?”

In order for your business to run, it needs specific programs provided by software vendors. You find the software that fits your needs and you purchase a copy of it. When you purchase the software what you gain access to is the “object code”. The object code is the program that runs at your computer and all supporting data that are necessary for the software to run properly and according to your needs. Therefore, when you buy software what you gain access to is the use of an “executable” program, not the program itself;  its deep rooted essence – the “source code” – is something completely different.

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A copy of the Source-Code in a protected location.

But why is the “source code” so important?

Source code” is what makes a program; a sequence of statements and operations that have a logical sequence written in a computer programming language such as Java, C++ or Visual Basic. It controls how data is processed and how the software functions. These “logical sequences” can be many thousands of lines of code. Who “writes” these lines? That is the work of programmers, specialists who know how to read and what to write in such languages. You could call them, computer linguists. In the end, when all work is done, the result is an “executable code” which the consumer and user of the program can install and run on his computer.

Software vendors don’t usually give access to the “source code” or technical documentation that goes in depth. They don’t want to. Why should they give you access to knowledge of the ways the program functions, when as a consumer you only need to know how to use the program? Why should they give up so easily on their intellectual property? They see themselves as the owners of a knowledge that is on their interest to remain confidential. It makes sense.

However, there are cases when all becomes very problematic; special circumstances that require that access to the source code should be made available. Such case is when the software developer doesn’t have the ability anymore to support the product due to an uncontrolled catastrophe, due to bankruptcy, or a merger with another company. If the user of the product doesn’t have the source code he can be left with software that lacks support and functionality. In such cases the common solution comes through a software escrow agreement. It is all about trust.

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Business handshake

The one side – the potential buyer and user – wants assurances from the other side – the software provider – that what they are getting will keep on functioning and will have support through its whole life cycle. The other side – the seller – wants to reassure the buyer that their software will keep on working no matter what happens to them as developers. Therefore, in order to seal the deal between the two sides, they agree to sign a software escrow agreement where both sides agree that the supplier holds on to the source code and will release it to the buyer – user of the software – under pre-agreed exceptional circumstances. What the supplier gets in return is reasonable assurance that the source-code will not be released in a way that can hurt his interests.

The next step is to find a trusted neutral third party that will retain a copy of the source-code in a protected location and will make it available if the specific requirements agreed are met. The deal is sealed.

Business is not about buying and selling. Business is about relations of trust. Trust creates the field for successful business. And successful business is good for you. It is good for society. It makes for a secure future for everyone. It makes life easier.