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Trust Part 1

Part 1: Trust in National Institutions

Ignoring both history and dystopian science fiction, almost every institution in society is seemingly rushing to a future in which no one wants.

At the start of 2022 it seems appropriate to ask how much do we trust our most powerful and influential institutions?

For most institutions, the answer isn't great. With the notable exceptions of Small Business, the Military, and the Police, we, as a society, don’t really have a whole lot of trust in most institutions.

Trust in Institutions 2022
Source: GallupJune/July 2021


If society is heading off a cliff, perhaps most people realize it’s a good idea to be on the right side of the people with the guns or the people running your local store.

That's a pretty cynical explanation for the top three most trusted institutions. But likely very incomplete.

The rest on this list? That’s another matter. Let's take a look at a few of the most notable institutions and their standings in terms of trust with the general population.

The Medical System:

And while it may seem like the Medical System is doing far better than most, just remember we’re thinking about the medical system. That can include health insurance companies, but also includes doctors and nurses. You know, those people we trust with our health? The ones who are known for taking oaths promising “to do no harm”? Historically speaking, that just 44% of people indicate they trust the ‘medical system’ is pretty pathetic.

Public Schools:

A mere 32% of Americans indicate they trust their public schools. That is well outside of the bias of any political ideology and indicates a huge crisis in confidence for our public education system. That’s nearly 40% fewer than those who trust the police.

I point out these two because I think there’s an important lesson here. These used to be some of our most trusted institutions, but something happened. Remember this….

Big Business:

Unsurprisingly, Big Business is perceived to be trustworthy by a just 18% - about a quarter of the same people who trust Small Businesses.

Why is this important?

With many local and small businesses having suffered significantly throughout the extended pandemic-era lockdowns, the high level of trust for this category is actually somewhat encouraging.

The good news appears to be that small businesses already HAVE the trust of most people.

The key challenge for small business owners is don’t blow it!

There may be another reason that small businesses may have a higher standing relative to trust that all of the much larger institutions on this list.

A small business owner understands and prioritizes their customers before all else.

Small business do not have the luxury of engaging in activities that alienate customers. Most large institutions, on the other hand, are managed and controlled through mid-level careerists located at a distant metropolitan headquarters, far removed from actual face-to-face engagement with their customers or stakeholders. From the large, institutional perspective, they believe they can afford to take 'risks' for priorities that they consider important - even if that position conflicts with their current stakeholders values or expectations. Many large institutions also have a monopoly or a strong enough brand (or both) so that they can ignore any potential negative reactions from their customers.

On the other hand, small business owners continually receive near real-time feedback from both quantitative business metrics (sales, follows, etc...) and a fire hose of non-stop digital reviews.

It's not surprising that these factors ensure that small businesses owners are hyper-focused on NOT forgetting who they are and who their customers are.

Imagine if big business, banks, presidents, congress, the criminal justice system, unions and other institutions were as focused on their members, stakeholders and communities they are supposed to serve as small businesses are?

We would certainly see a completely different result in terms of the general publics' willingness to trust them.

This post has avoided Big Tech. That's an entirely different topic and will be the focus of attention in the next two posts on the topic of trust.


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