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Richard Edelman: The Path Toward Trusted Innovation

The pace of change has never been faster than it is today, and simultaneously, innovation has become an even greater imperative for success. Against this backdrop comes a surprising finding: the pace of development and change by business and industry today is too fast, say a majority of informed publics from around the world. This was a revelation from Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer survey, an examination of the public’s trust in institutions, released this week.


In effect, despite the near reverence for the term “innovation,” discovery and development are not inherently trusted or always viewed as signs of forward progress. Even if one’s industry has a high level of trust — such as the food and beverage industry — this is not a guarantee that new developments emerging from that industry will be trusted. Genetically modified foods, for instance, have one of the lowest trust scores when compared to other relatively new innovations — lower than hydraulic fracturing, cloud computing or electronic and mobile payments.

This insight is consequential for the future of successful business innovation — particularly in an age where mounting a campaign of resistance to a new development has never been simpler through digital technology and the ensuing ability of citizens to align and mobilize online.

So what is business to do in this environment?

To begin, understanding what drives trust is essential. The notion of business “contributing to the greater good” is one of the strongest drivers of trust in business — as is the concept of business enabling people to be more productive members of society. And yet, today three times as many informed publics believe innovation is motivated by greed as by making the world a better place.

At the same time, we understand that transparency is an important attribute to building trust — and moreover it is fundamental to public trust in innovation. Actions such as making clinical trial data publically available would increase trust in new developments, say a majority of respondents.  Partnering with reputable third parties, such as an academic institution, also increases the likelihood that a new innovation will be trusted.

In sum, the way forward for business — the road to Trusted Innovation — is about clearly demonstrating the benefits of new developments. When the public perceives and understands not only the societal advantages of a new innovation, but the personal benefits as well (e.g. things that “help me become a more productive member of society”), acceptance is more likely to follow. Apathy is replaced with vested interest. In conjunction, business must work harder to not only be fully transparent about the science and mechanics behind new innovations, but must work to ensure that these are fully understood.

This communication of benefit, and this commitment to transparency, both require engagement. Business must find new ways to facilitate dialogue, share information and foster genuine collaboration with — and among — a broad range of stakeholders.

This week at the World Economic Forum, the notion of technological transformation will be front and center. Indeed, it is our greatest hope for society’s most significant challenges. But for business to succeed in this regard, we need more than pure discovery alone, but innovation powered by trust. Trusted Innovation is the way forward.

Richard Edelman is the President and CEO of Edelman.

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