I’ve recently started Bruce Schneier’s new book, “Liars and Outliers: Enabling Trust that Society Needs to Thrive,” and came across an interesting anecdote which demonstrates the evolution of social trust. In order to introduce some key concepts in security, Bruce uses several examples in nature to demonstrate how different species evolved to “socialize” security and survival.
One particularly relevant example related to social trust involved hornworms and tobacco plants. Apparently, when hornworms arrive on the scene and begin feasting, some species of tobacco plants defend themselves by emitting a sort of SOS chemical to notify the other plants in the area which in turn deploy a chemical defense to repel the hornworms. In another example, tobacco plants, when mixed with the saliva of hornworms, can apparently summon another insect that eats the hornworm. An amazing example of nature and the power of evolution.
So what is the business lesson? When another company fails to pay their bill, emit a chemical which attracts the mafia enforcers? Unfortunately, the EPA frowns upon spraying chemicals around so we need another way to warn each other that predators are in the neighborhood.
Like the adaptable tobacco plant, businesses have been using signaling technology (pony express, US Mail, fax, email etc.) to communicate business reputation to each other for a long time. Recently, an experienced CFO explained to me how he and his peers have frequent face to face meetings and exchange index cards with lists of good and bad business partners. Their small group has grown from a handful of local friendly competitors to over fifty businesses who actively share their data on business reputation. This is a great solution but unfortunately it doesn’t scale and doesn’t take into account the wide geographic reach businesses have today due to the Internet.
In an attempt to help businesses solve this problem, we started Trust Exchange and are making the exchange of this key data as frictionless as possible. Our goal is to leverage social technologies to provide better insight into business reputation. We plan to this by enabling companies to exchange this data free of charge, strengthening the social aspect by engaging business peers and improving the process by focusing on monitoring business reputation over the long term vs. performing spot checks.
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