Smart Trust

This story is an excerpt from the new book on sale next week (Jan 10) by Stephen M. R. Covey and Greg Link, Smart Trust: Creating Prosperity, Energy and Joy in a Low Trust World. It is a Steve Jobs’ story you won’t find in the new Steve Jobs’ biography.

So how do we know who to trust? How can we operate with high trust in a low-trust world without getting burned? And how can we extend trust wisely to people when not everyone can be trusted?

We define Smart Trust as judgment. It’s a competency and a process that enables us to operate with high trust in a low-trust world. It minimizes risk and maximizes possibilities. It optimizes two key factors: (1) a propensity to trust and (2) analysis. Simply put, Smart Trust is how to trust in a low-trust world.

While the propensity to trust is primarily a matter of the heart, analysis is primarily a matter of the mind. Analysis refers to our ability to assess, evaluate, and consider implications and consequences, including risk. As with a high propensity to trust, strong analysis is a vital dimension of Smart Trust, but it, too, must be tempered. If it’s not—if we start out with a low propensity to trust—most of us are so steeped in analysis that the analysis will color our judgment. We’ll find all kinds of reasons to not trust our boss, our reports, our partners, our customers, our suppliers, our colleagues, or even our family. The point is that analysis is necessary but insufficient and, in most cases, shouldn’t lead.

An inspiring example of exercising smart judgment in the face of great risk in a fast moving business situation involved Apple. In 2007, Ted Morgan, the CEO of an unknown location-finding technology company called Skyhook, had been trying for months to get major companies to use his technology. Then one day when Morgan checked his voice mail, he found that a caller had left the following message: “Ted, this is Steve Jobs from Apple. I’d like to talk to you about Skyhook. Call me at . . .” Thinking the message was a joke played by someone on his team, Morgan deleted it. Later that day, he told Mike Shean, Skyhook’s co-founder, “Good try, but you gave it away by pretending to be Steve Jobs. You should have said you were Scott or one of the other managers we just met at Apple.” Shean said he knew nothing about the message. When Morgan realized the call had actually been from Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple asking to meet with him, he sat up in a hurry. Morgan returned the call and met with Jobs, and things started happening quickly. It looked as though a great deal was in the making.

Then one day, Jobs called Morgan and said that Apple had a big Macworld event coming up, that it was close to doing a deal with Skyhook, and that he wanted to model Skyhook’s technology at the event—but he couldn’t do it without Skyhook’s code. So Jobs asked Morgan to give him the code. While still on the phone, Morgan turned to his management team and whispered, “He’s wanting our code.” The immediate response of the team was “No! No! No!” Morgan said to Jobs, “Steve, as you might imagine, we’ve never given out our code. That code is our intellectual property. It’s everything we have.” Jobs replied, “I know that. You’re just going to have to trust me.” Against the advice of his team, Morgan gave Jobs the code. We later asked Morgan, “What do you think would have happened if you had said, ‘Steve, I just can’t?” He replied, “You never know. But personally, I don’t think he would have done the deal. I think Steve would have moved on.”

Instead, Jobs rewarded Morgan by personally demonstrating Skyhook’s technology at Macworld in January 2008, giving an animated explanation of how the technology worked and adding, “Isn’t that cool? It’s really cool.” Morgan called Jobs’s spotlight on Skyhook “the biggest publicity event any company can have.” Skyhook’s WPS became the primary location engine for Google Maps and other applications used by both the iPhone and iPod Touch until April 2010, and the company continues to provide location-based services for Apple as well as other technology giants such as Samsung, Motorola, Dell, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments. Its software powers thousands of mobile applications and is being used on tens of millions of devices around the globe. Morgan’s leap of trust turned out to be a huge positive game changer for Skyhook. It also affirms that although there is risk in trusting, there is often greater risk in not trusting.

Stephen M. R. Covey and Greg Link


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