Being China-Competitive


Being China-Competitive
by Barre Fitzpatrick

(Reprinted with permission from Decision, March 2007.)



There’s a map in my client’s canteen in Moscow. It’s a map of the world, but not as we know it: Moscow is at the centre rather than away to the right as it is in our schoolbooks. And Ireland is up at 11 o’clock, a tiny island. Norway lies across the top at 12 o’clock. Teheran is due south at 6 o’clock, below the Caspian Sea. Japan is at 5 o’clock. The distance from Moscow to Sakhalin at its easternmost border is greater than the distance between Dublin and Washington DC. This is an unfamiliar projection of our world, but it illustrates two vital truths about economic realities: 

If you are going to do business with someone, you need to understand their map of the world.

We in Ireland are peripheral, so we need to be more aware of this phenomenon than others.

Consider the challenge of competing, for example, with the Chinese. How many businesses in this country are China-Competitive? That means shipping your goods to, say, Rotterdam at the same cost or less than the Chinese. Tough to do when they pay $3/hr. and we pay $33/hr! Whatever about start-ups, for mature industries in this economy there is a chill wind blowing from the East, be it China, India or Korea. We need to be innovative to even stay in the game.

There is one thing start-ups have in common with traditional manufacturing industry: when your back is to the wall you don’t lack motivation to survive. This may not be very high on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but it is what ‘skin in the game’ is all about.

One wet morning last year I called to see a textile business in Ireland’s North West region. The scene I found was depressing: downsizing, managers secretly preparing CVs, it seemed that the next employee to leave with vital skills would bring the whole place to its knees. The product price was tumbling on international markets. Everyone was talking about the good old days, and no wonder. People avoided eye contact. It was not a happy ship - more like a submarine close to its maximum allowable depth, with all eyes fixed on the depth gauge.

And yet who would have guessed how far they could come in a year? Who would have gambled on them reaching the critical China-Competitive threshold ever, let alone in October 2006, which they did with whoops of delight. Who would have forecast that they would be hiring now (they have been recruiting new employees for the last 3 months)?

What happened between then and now was a sea-change in which they

  1. Cut costs to the bone.
  2. Competed internally to win business from other sites that were shutting down.
  3. Pulled the management team and site team together to collectively rise to the challenge.

‘You can tell by people’s faces how much things have changed’, the Director of Technology told me. ‘There is a real future in this business now’. When corporate officers flew in at the beginning of ’07 they couldn’t believe it. ‘Tell me that again... you did all this?’

Innovation requires flexibility not just of thought but of behaviour. Innovation is inseparable from risk, and that can provide an excellent stimulus if well-managed. ‘Let the dog see the hare’, as one veteran told me. ‘That can turn anyone into an entrepreneur.’

It is clearer than ever that our manufacturing industry is vulnerable to competition from cheaper locations than Ireland. To survive and thrive we must do what was achieved in this  trailblazing business:

  • Recognise our true assets and source of added value
  • Strip costs to the bone
  • Achieve efficiencies ahead of the competition
  • Utilise the superior initiative and inventiveness of our workforce
  • Innovate at the level of product, process and organisation.



New Lessons from Old Masters

 New Lessons on Creativity from Old Masters

 7 lessons innovators can learn from great creators like Leonardo Da Vinci.

Barre Fitzpatrick, Stride.


When Leonardo da Vinci was instructing his pupils about painting, he told them to ‘Saper vedere’ - learn how to see. He would practice this in many ways, one of which was to ‘soften the eyes’ so that they lost their insistent focus on detail and could pick up patterns. This he learned during a long stay in bed as a child with fever, looking at stains on the wall as they ballooned into scenes of battle and storms at sea. Today’s innovators need to learn how to see too - to see through the flood of information and capture the pattern behind it. They need to learn how to tell the signal of the customer’s need from the noise in the marketplace.

Another of Leonardo’s lessons was ‘Corporalita’. This was about the body. Getting away from abstract and verbal reasoning to the here-and-now of life. Tom Kelley of IDEO has the same idea when he advises us ‘never go to a meeting without a prototype’. He also complained that people running new product development projects should get used to ‘squinting’ at prototypes, so as not to get hung up on the detail, the material or the finish, for example, but get the idea itself. Working in Sardinia once, I brought a product development team into a pizza kitchen to get lessons in cooking pizzas. Why? Because they were too woolly in their thinking. (Many of today’s young execs don’t cook because they have not got the time, and so they lose the ‘corporalita’ they need to give lifeblood to their ideas. One such told me his eating habits were as follows: ‘It’s either a matter of Ding Ding or Ding Dong: Ding Ding is the microwave and Ding Dong is the pizza delivery man’.) So get people making things and working with their hands rather than thinking too much. 

Another lesson of Da Vinci’s was about the principle of ‘Sfumato’: ‘smokiness’. This is about ambiguity: the difficulty of interpreting weak signals. Uncertainty is an inseparable part of contemporary business life. Try forecasting the Next Big Thing in mobile communications technology (Quote Galbraith here on economic forecasting). Leonardo used Sfumato in the background to the Mona Lisa to suggest a distant, ideal landscape. Leaders use it to give scale to their ideas without specifying details. As one Production Manager in Rolls-Royce advised me, ‘Let’s not get lost in the bike-sheds’. Innovators have got to be comfortable with ambiguity, because it is their lot to be swimming in ‘maybe’s’.

Leo Esaki, a recent Japanese winner of the Nobel prize, advises us to never lose our childhood curiosity. And ‘Curiosita’ was Da Vinci’s 4th principle. When a supervisor in Baileys Engineering in Wexford was asked how people could complete 2 wiring harnesses at the same time he said it could not be done. But later he returned to the problem, and changed his mind.  In studying the table where the harnesses were made he realised that the process could be twice as fast if the table were to flip over. How could it be made to do that? With a motor and a timing device. Where might he find those? Earlier that day he had wandered next door to take a look at an extension they were building. There he had seen a cement mixer. He cannibalised this for the parts he needed.

General Patton once did something which exemplifies Da Vinci’s 5th principle, ‘Dimostrazione’. It was the year 1943, and the Allies were making their way eastwards across France. Patton’s amy were stopped by a river. There was a big meeting going on, maps out on a table under canvas, serious faces studying the detail. No one saw Patton leave the tent. He returned a few moments later, walked up to the table and pointed at a place on the map: ‘Here is where we cross’ he said with complete confidence. The others studied that place on the map even more closely. ‘How do you know?’ they asked. ‘Because’, he replied, stepping back from the table to reveal trousers wet to the knee, ‘I have just crossed the river there myself.’ There is no answer to demonstration, which is why hi tech product launches do it, and why food and beverage marketers encourage sampling. Dave Phelan used sampling at the recent launch of Coole Swan, the new super premium Irish cream liqueur, because he knew how important the taste is to the brand.

If you are looking for a short cut to innovation and creativity - for example in the development of a new product against a deadline - then working with the senses is useful. Leonardo called it Sensazione (the 6th principle), and designers often use this as a way of refreshing their thinking. Take your team out to a supermarket to get a first-hand feel for the the retail scene. Meet outdoors. Take a leaf out of Jack Welch’s book and hold chairless meetings: they will be short! Have your staff organise an Open Day, as a client of mine did recently, and it will unleash staff creativity: my client made 3 very important discoveries that day:

‘We have unearthed a lot of talent’

‘Pride - our factory is no place to be ashamed of’ 

‘Innovation is inseparable from risk: we trusted our people to earn our trust, and they did’.

Connessione, the 7th Da Vinci principle, is making connections between disparate things, and this is another useful tool in the innovator’s toolkit. Newton did this when the apple famously fell on his head, and he made the connection - the mega-connection - with gravity. Archimedes is supposed to have run naked from his bath into the street when he stumbled on a solution to a tough problem set by the king. Penicillin was only discovered by accident because Fleming was not a subscriber to the ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ policy and left a slide festering in the sunlight. Breakthrough ideas often come about accidentally, when new connections are made. So multiply the potential connections by hiring from outside, linking with creative outsiders, encouraging cross-functional teams, and bringing customers into the developmental process.

So if you are managing people charged with innovation ask yourself these questions:

What are they reading? Is it expanding their horizons?

Are they learning new skills all the time, e.g. a new language?

Do they have the chance to ‘step back’ from their work occasionally?

Can their environment be made more stimulating?


Are you recruiting people who challenge you or who merely think about things the same way you do?


Marcus Aurelius for Our Times

Beware of nice. Nice is nice, but truth is better.

Barre Fitzpatrick, Stride.

Imagine my surprise to discover that the Chinese Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, is familiar with Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (


But I should not be surprised – it is a book with universal scope and has drawn its readers from many different cultures and social positions down through the years. 


Marcus Aurelius (121-180AD) speaks to this moment in the global economic situation, when he says that ‘the art of living is more like wrestling than dancing’. And indeed, he himself was more of a wrestler than a dancer. More important than bliss was attentiveness, kindness, service. 


His thought is about simplicity – ‘Philosophy is a modest profession, all simplicity and plain dealing. Never try to seduce me into solemn pretentiousness.’ (IX, 29) 


He is a useful purgative for our bloated times. ‘You can discard most of the junk that clutters your mind and clear space for yourself’ (IX, 32). 

As for collapsing fortunes and careers in free-fall, ‘all that you see will soon have vanished, and those who see it vanish will vanish themselves.’ (IX, 33)

To cope with the generalised panic, ‘Say to your mind, are you one of the herd?’ (IX, 39). 

This is no nihilistic message, just a matter of priorities, a reckoning that clears out the junk. What is left? Our one true purpose as human beings:

‘Humans were made to help others – or help them to do something – we are doing what we were designed for. We perform our function.’ (IX, 42) 

As for boom-and-bust, these are part of the great wheel of fortune, and ‘everything flows.’ ‘Frightened of change? But what can exist without it? What’s closer to nature’s heart? Can any vital process take place without something being changed?’ (VII, 18). 

‘Where have they gone, the brilliant, the insightful ones, the proud?’ (Gandhi, JFK, Martin Luther King, Pablo Neruda, James Joyce, Marie Curie…) ‘Short-lived creatures, long dead. Some of them not remembered at all, some become legends, some lost even to legend’ (VIII, 25). 

‘Augustus’ court: his wife, his daughter, his grandsons, his step-sons, his sister, Agrippa, the relatives, servants, friends, Areius, Maecenas, the doctors, the sacrificial priests… the whole court, dead.’ (VIII, 31) He regularly runs these tableaux, as if to put his own surroundings in perspective. His point is not fatalism, but focus: ‘You have to assemble your life yourself, action by action’ (VIII, 32). 

‘Just as nature takes every obstacle, every impediment, and works around it – turns it to its purposes, incorporates it into itself – so too a rational being can turn each setback into raw material and use it to achieve its goal’ (VIII, 35). 

Negative equity on your house? Lost your job? ‘Don’t let your imagination be crushed by life as a whole. Don’t try to picture everything bad that could possibly happen. Stick with the situation at hand, and ask: “Why is this so unbearable? Why can’t I endure it?” You’ll be embarrassed to answer’ (VIII, 36). 


Panic scales everything up, it doesn’t allow for fractions. But Marcus brings us back to basics: ‘Joy for humans lies in human actions – kindness to others, rise above the promptings of the senses, distinguish appearance from reality, and study nature’ (VIII, 26). 


As a curative for galloping consumerism, greed and envy: ‘Treat what you don’t have as non-existent. Look at what you have, the things you value most, and think of how much you would crave them if you didn’t have them.’ (That plasma screen, that car.) ‘But be careful. Don’t feel such satisfaction that you start to over-value them – and would be upset to lose them’ (VII, 27). 

For the philosopher, indifference, properly understood, is a useful weapon. ‘Wash yourself clean…with simplicity, humility, and indifference to everything but right and wrong.’ (VII, 31) 


Imagine you are in the position of knowing that your business will fold soon. Such a person is like the driver of a fast car, cocooned in the latest technology, driving through a snowy night, with very little petrol in the tank. You need to prepare for the very big shock to the system that lies ahead by taking small steps to reduce your artificial separation from the environment. Open the window. Switch off the music. Think about what you will need for survival in the snow outside. 


Beware of nice. Nice is nice, but truth is better. 


We have been in a dream, the Celtic Tiger dream. Now we need to get back to the truth, and quickly. It has been a time of noise and distractedness, when big was small, and small was big, when everything was for sale. It has been a headlong, mad rush. It had to be, for, as Emerson said, ‘In skating over thin ice our safety is in our speed.’









By Barre Fitzpatrick

Given that trust is so crucial at so many levels, in intimate relations, in business and in government,  it is important to understand what it means, how it works, and how to restore this most essential part of our social being when it goes missing.

Without trust, we cannot stand, Confucius said to his follower Tsze-kung. Three things are necessary for government: weapons, food, and trust. If you must give up one of these, give up weapons first, food next. Trust should be guarded till the end.

Bank robbers place the same importance on trust. Honour among thieves is traditionally at its most vulnerable when the stakes increase: witness the successful Northern Bank raid of 2004 in Northern Ireland. The robbery foundered when the thieves saw the size of the booty. It was so big that the bond of trust was compromised. The gang split up and got caught.

In marriage, trust is decisive: once it breaks down, the relationship is usually irretrievably lost. "You betrayed me - How could you do such a thing when you promised you wouldn't?" However, in choosing to trust (when you don't know, when there may even be grounds for mistrust), the marriage partner can turn a situation around: the wife who finds evidence of her husband's unfaithfulness can choose to ignore it and act as if she still trusts him. This atmosphere of trust can in turn create the conditions for trust to flourish, and for the husband to change his ways.

The alternative to such an atmosphere of trust is a climate of suspicion. And because this climate can become so poisonously destructive, nurturing an atmosphere of trust is often seen as a better policy. Samuel Johnson got it right when he said, "Better to be sometimes cheated than never to have trusted." This also explains why companies like Google adopt a policy of Trust and Verify, which translates into giving the person the benefit of the doubt (at least for the first time).

Trust is the willingness to place one's interests under the control of others in the belief that these others will protect those interests, even if it means sacrificing some of their own interests.

Consider how we entrust our money to a bank,  and how quickly that trust can unravel once the bank loses our confidence. First there was Northern Rock in the UK, then Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers in the USA, then WaMU and all the others, as the trickle turned into a flood, and the 'credit crunch' of October turned into the Recession by December and the spectre of the Depression appeared by January 2009. The speed of the collapse was a reminder of just how fragile trust can be.

Or consider an more homely example. In traditional Gaelic society, a chieftain would put his children in the care of another family for a period of years. This system of fosterage forged a unique bond between the families, and the bond forged between the child and the foster-parents was said to be stronger than the bond of blood.

In an everyday sense, we say that we trust or have confidence in devices that protect our lives, like forms of transport, or like the way parachutists trust their parachutes (but pack a second, just in case!). But while we say that we trust/distrust a piece of equipment, this is only by extension from the primary sense of trust, which is said of another person. Much of the richness implicit in a relationship of trust becomes visible only when it is seen in the context of a relationship among adults.

When we say we trust someone, this includes several elements:

  1. Competence: we believe that they are capable, responsible people.
  2. Fulfilling promises: there is some history of having delivered on commitments in the past.
  3. Character:  referring to what we believe to be trustworthy behaviour, yet referring to something more than behaviour.

Although the calculation of trust can be quite complex, it must often happen quickly. For example, when you are hiring professionals, or assessing a supplier or a customer. Attempts to model this process scientifically - to eradicate subjective error - can satisfy some of the necessary criteria such as competence (evidence of professional qualifications, peer referral, curriculum vitae etc.) and promise fulfilment (any historical evidence that demonstrates delivery of promises). But it is generally accepted that there is an irremediably subjective element in the decision to trust someone. This makes it difficult to later give an account of this aspect of the decision - "He struck me as a sound character" - "You could tell that she would not let you down", "It was the handshake, the look in her eye..."

This rapid and somewhat mysterious calculus can be seen on an even bigger canvas in the public assessment of a political leader. Consider former US President Bill Clinton's self-presentation as he attempted to win back the people's trust after the Monica Lewinsky affair*. But even he could not rebuild the trust that had been lost.

The nomination process for the US Election of 2008 was an extended drama of trust. How far could we trust Barack Obama to take that 3am phone call? Could we trust John McCain's judgement? Was the race-card, the age-card or the gender-card going to prove the trump in deciding the winner in November by undermining the credentials of one or other candidate? Was one of the candidates going to break through the wall of doubt and establish winning credibility? The first strategy of each candidate's team is to raise doubts about the competence of the opposing candidate. The second strategy is to find evidence in their record to support an argument that they have not delivered. And the third is to sow doubts about the candidate's character, as happened in the case of John Kerry and other recent US presidential hopefuls.

Without trust, what would happen to our society? Look how quickly international relations degenerate and move towards military aggression, as happened in the Georgia/Ossetia/Russia engagement of August 2008. Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher, argued that such warfare is in fact our natural state and that, in the state of nature, "Mankind lives in a perpetual warfare of every man against every man", as a result of which human life can be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." For Hobbes, it is the State which provides the sole defence against such anarchy, a conclusion he reached based on his witnessing the English Civil War of 1642.

Like Hobbes, Nicolo Macchiavelli believed that we are by nature selfish:

"One can make this generalisation about men: they are ungrateful, fickle, liars, and deceivers, they shun danger and are greedy for profit; while you treat them well, they are yours, but when you are in danger they turn away."(The Prince, 1532.)

Even if we do not accept all Macchiavelli's claims, it is clear that without trust as a social glue, we would only have very simple forms of human cooperation which could be transacted on the spot. Planning would be impossible. Paranoia would paralyse the people, as happened with Soviet citizens under Stalin.

A heckler once interrupted Krushchev in the middle of a speech in which he was denouncing the crimes of Stalin. "You were a colleague of Stalin's,"  the heckler yelled, "why didn't you stop him then?" Krushchev apparently could not see the heckler and barked out, "Who said that?" No hand went up. No one moved a muscle. After a few seconds of tense silence, Krushchev finally said in a quiet voice, "Now you know why I didn't stop him." (From The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, p.73.)


"Trust is the great civility that acts as an umbrella over all our transactions, or as a ground for them. Whatever matters to human beings, trust is the atmosphere in which it thrives; when it is damaged the community as a whole suffers." (Sissela Bok, Lying: Moral Choice in Private and Public Life)


Are we entering a period in history when social trust is in decline? MORI polls ( show that many respondents claim that they do not trust professionals, the police, the government or financial institutions. In Ireland, trust in the Catholic Church is in decline, at least partly due to clerical child abuse scandals of the 1990s. The many tribunals which were instigated to expose corruption in planning laws and other areas seem to have increased the level of popular cynicism but without adversely affecting the average turnout in Irish elections which at 71.2% runs just behind the figure for other established democracies of 73%*.


While English speakers use the term trust, French and Germans speak of confidence. Zygmunt Bauman in his Liquid Modernity (2000) speaks of confidence as the central feature of modern capitalist society: confidence in oneself, in others, and in institutions. All three used to be indispensable. They provided the framework for the investment of trust and the credibility of the claim that the present value system would go on being cherished and the rules of the game would not change. The enterprise was the most important site for the sowing and cultivation of trust. Any conflicts were conditioned by this underlying framework of confidence. With the demise of this trust went the decline, for example, of the labour movement. The current pensions crisis means that the employee is no longer encouraged to trust the employer's promise of a defined benefit at the age of retirement, but instead is encouraged to play the stock market and take on the full risk him/herself. French theorists speak of precarite, the Germans of Unsicherheit and Risikogesellshaft, the Italians of incertezza and the English of insecurity. This insecurity operates at three levels:

  1. Insecurity of position, entitlement and livelihood.
  2. Uncertainty as to their continuation and future stability
  3. Unsafety of one's body, one's self and their extensions in the form of property, neighbourhood and community.

In Ireland the Social Partnership that has underpinned much of the economic growth of the Celtic Tiger looks to be unravelling, which may be an even more perturbing socio-economic indicator than the flight of manufacturing industry to cheaper countries.

The recent collapse of the property market, the credit squeeze triggered by the sub-prime housing loans collapse in the USA, and the resulting global recession have certainly undermined confidence in the economy. But the deeper social issues pointed out by Bauman may lie concealed behind the panic that currently grips markets in Ireland, Europe and the USA.

Trust Networks

Where there is little trust in central authority,  in a barrio in Rio, for example, or amongst immigrants in Birmingham, England the trust network provides an alternative structure. A trust network is a group bound by similar ties. A tie gives a member of such a group a claim on the attention or help of another. Such groups are often formed around a collective long-term project, such as an underground religion or a long-distance trading opportunity. The collective enterprise is at risk to individual malfeasance or failure, and so they must provide safeguards against this risk. These normally take the form of controls built into their routine operation, for example cell structures to minimise the number of members that are known to, and can be betrayed by, any one member. The cell structure reduces the trust boundary, as an admission of the limits of that trust once it comes under stress. In some cases, family provides a basis for such a network, and this has its origins in the original trust network, the clan system. In the clan system in the Scottish Highlands, for example, the chieftain called even the lowliest of his kinsmen cousin, and was obliged to protect and house clan members who fell on hard times.

In contemporary culture, the TV series The Sopranos provides an opportunity to study the workings of such an ancient trust system at work. The dramatic tension is generated by the contrast between this hierarchical, ritualised collective and the contemporary suburban culture of New Jersey around it. This contrast is captured in the central relationship between Tony Soprano and the analyst, Dr. Jennifer Melfi. Tony's decision to undergo psycho-analysis is at odds with the core principle of the Mafia, omerta, the code of silence which seals the boundary between those within la famiglia and those outside. The fault line between the archaic blood-brotherhood and the law runs through in-laws (Adriana la Cerva, married to Christopher Multisanti, becomes an FBI informant), mavericks (Ralph Cifaretto who is incapable of the self-discipline required of a secret society) and Tony's children (Meadow and AJ in their schooling and their relationships with the opposite sex). The point here is the mixed feelings generated in the viewer: the dynamics of the trust network exert a powerful fascination and seem to offer a more ancient law than that to which it is opposed. Honour,  respect and duty are commonly used terms amongst the Mafia but do not appear in the police vocabulary. What is illustrated is a culture clash between a pre-modern code (Tony is said to be based on Cesare Borgia, Macchiavelli's patron) on the one hand, and the civil society born in the Enlightenment on the other. Where the pre-modern code is personal, verbal, ritualised and hierarchical, the modern code is anonymous, text-based, functional and individual. The Badabing Club uses self-enforcing sanctions on improper behaviour (even if entirely based on the whim of the boss), while the state uses legal sanction and 'due process'. While one side hugs, kisses and looks deep into the eyes, the other side prepares to 'throw the book at them'.

Consumer Brands

A consumerist culture no longer operates like a clan. Transactions are impersonal, fluid, functional. Brands offer the consumer authority that they can trust: in the bathroom, in the kitchen, in the car, as a credit card, as a guarantee of sexual attractiveness. In a busy world, you can trust brand x to deliver, because

1. Brand x is capable (read the label)

2. Brand x has a history of delivering on its promises (see the advertising for evidence of its efficacy)

3. Brand x has character and brand values with which I identify.

The point here is that in an increasingly insecure world, consumer brands are offered as surrogates to supply the need for trust. In the absence of other trust indicators, brands operate socially not only as a guarantee of reliability but also as a badge of identity.

In a society where people feel insecure, it is not surprising that high-trust networks like the Mafia, or secret societies like the Freemasons or Opus Dei, or cults like the Moonies, exert a powerful nostalgic attraction. If you have sufficient wealth, you educate your children in elite schools and you live in gated communities (12% of the US population)*. But this tendency leads to a retreat from participation in the life and structures of the state. For example, military service is less attractive for the wealthy -  hence the high percentage of army recruits that come from disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

The erosion of social trust therefore represents a considerable threat to the cohesion of society, bringing with it the fragmentation of the populace, and a flight from democracy.

Building Trust

How then can trust be built or re-built? How can I develop a trusting relationship? Where are there examples of trust providing a good basis for a society, economy or enterprise? As Flores and Solomon point out in Building Trust, true trust is not to be confused with naive credulousness. Naive trust is out of place, for example, in business. This is why some hard-headed business people think that all trust is out of place. In fact, the success of Toyota's manufacturing system - acknowledged to be a global benchmark of excellence - lies in the very vulnerability of the process and the consequent requirement for high levels of trust in the workforce. The contrast here is with Henry Ford's system at River Rouge (as analysed by Francis Fukuyama in Trust: the Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity).

Ford minimised the discretion of the operator and maximised control through specialisation and supervision. The subsequent evolution of car manufacturing has discredited Ford's low-trust process and recognised the superior efficacy of Toyota's high-trust system. High trust societies, Fukuyama concludes, are good at creating prosperous partnerships.

In fact, trust is not so brittle that it can be destroyed easily by perceived betrayal. As Solomon and Flores argue, breaches of trust are part of the process of learning how to trust, because authentic trust entails the possibility of betrayal. If you say that you trust your adolescent offspring with your car and you mean it, you are admitting the possibility that the car will not be returned in the same condition in which it was lent. Learning how to trust involves acknowledging the other's intention - "I know that you did not mean to hit the gatepost" - and therefore allowing the difference between an honest mistake and betrayal of trust. Authentic trust changes the truster and the trusted, e.g. the father who trusts his son to carry out a task and who is not sure that he can, is happily surprised when the son succeeds in carrying it out. The son earns his father's respect and trust, and the relationship changes. This kind of authentic trust is a conscious choice, with something at risk, and stands in contradistinction to what Solomon and Flores refer to as cordial hypocrisy which poisons a relationship.

All of this is not to say that distrust has no place in our society, or plays no useful role. Democracies incorporate distrust into the system of 'checks and balances', including the distrust of power because of the wealth of evidence that we are unable to resist being corrupted by it. "There is danger from all men," as John Adams said. "The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty."

The armed forces are distrusted to the extent that a barrier is placed in most democracies between the military and the government, with the senior officer reporting to a Minister of Defence. But such useful elements of distrust are enabled by a larger consensus about what matters, and, if anything, serve to underline that consensus.

Online Trust

Finally, how can this notion of trust apply to online communications? How does one establish the bona fides of an email acquaintance? Do you cite Wikipedia as a trustworthy authority? How do dating agencies, for example, map out the steps of love's old dance as they apply in this new medium? What if Google, the new Leviathan of the internet age, is not to be trusted with its immense databases? Or should we be more worried about sheer stupidity, in the number of instances where laptops containing confidential information were lost, left on buses and taxis?

Or perhaps we are witnessing, in the web, the development of a new mode of communication with its own rules and personality, one which is the outcome of an unprecedented sharing and connectivity, but which opens the possibility of a planetary conversation.

* Bill wanted to be liked, and was a serious student of the art of winning trust. His use of the handshake became a signature. There were four handshake options. The first was conventional, reserved for distant acquaintances and the leaders of unpopular regimes such as Mugabe. The second, or 'glove handshake' used two hands and imparted warmth to someone for whom he wanted to express his admiration. The third was an elbow-clasp, extending sometimes to a ;hand-on-the-shoulder, and accompanied by a warm smile or laugh conveying lively affection. The fourth moved the hand around the shoulder, and was suited to facing the TV camera side-by-side, demonstrating comradeship and buddyhood.

* and Voter Turnout in the ROI&, R. Sinnott and Pat Lyons, 2003 (

* Evan McKenzie, Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government (New Haven, CT, 1996) p.12.