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How to Rebuild Corporate Trust

By Dr. Bob Deutsch

Brain Sells Boston, MA


When Wall Street shorted junk mortgages it also short-sold every Tom, Dick and Harriet on Main Street.  Commercial greed kicked dirt on homespun grace.

The earth that everyday Americans walk on shifted when, for the first time, new words such as “sub-prime,” “derivatives,” and “ponzi” were jammed into the American lexicon.  As a result, moms and pops now have less money, face more uncertainty, and harbor more distrust.

Terrorism, war, and recession have shaken the pillars of American optimism.  We, the people, are hesitantly scratching our heads and wondering how all this happened?  We are justifiably cynical about the state of corporate sincerity.

Big Biz Doesn’t Get It

In most instances, big business still refuses to “get it”.  Instead, financial executives deny they could have done anything to avert the 2008 economic disaster, pass the buck or trot out reams of spreadsheets, showing that the economy has turned the corner, saying the “fundamentals are now sound” and they are paying back loans, with interest, to the Fed.

Well, let’s get down to fundamentals.  People don’t live their lives based on “fundamentals.”  People are not technologies.  Emotion always trumps numbers, and people (AKA: customers, consumers, shareholders, voters) are emotional animals.  So what’s a CEO to do to earn back the trust of the American people?


Earning Trust…in Four Timely Steps

First, the unit of time that business leaders orient to must be expanded beyond the quarterly reported ‘expedient present.’  Trust takes time and grows slowly over time. 

Secondly, trust comes from people feeling understood, and showing understanding means much more than mere rational (e) explaining.  PowerPoints are for “explaining.”  Corporatese is for obfuscating.  Only plain talk demonstrates understanding.

Thirdly, trust comes from a shared past, a collaborative present and a co-authored future with mutual self-expansion as the goal.  Secrets, and behind the scene maneuverings, corrode trust.  Stultified, scripted language annuls trust.  Corporate-speak doesn’t hack it.  Narratives that give voice to our deepest human selves must supplant cliché, linear propositions, and black-or-white simplifications.

Fourth, access encourages trust, even when it means acknowledging mistakes.  Here, for example, social networking may help.  Websites such as Facebook could be used by corporate executives to allow some business-decision dynamics – and even some personal information – to be made “public.”  Likewise, two-way communications could be encouraged.  Sharing helps to instill trust.    

Cognitive Reforms and Vitality

Furthermore, earning back the trust of the American people requires a wider cognitive vision from business leaders.  Government oversight alone is insufficient to prompt change.

This change in cognitive orientation need not be based on altruism.  It can be meaningfully based on a re-cognition of the nature of vitality.   When people – along with companies and with their workers – feel their authenticity has been tapped and can be further explored via a joint enterprise, they feel more optimistic, self-responsible, social and happy.  They feel “bigger” when connected to something bigger (“I see me in ‘it’”).  A sense of “me” and “you” are one is cultivated, such that through each other and the relationship, both grow.  Venues for such cognitive revamping include:


Markets imply mechanistic models whereby human dynamics are given short shrift.  Society means a common amalgam given rise by the human commerce of emotion, belief and belonging.


Money is great, and having a lot of it is a way of defining self-worth, but money can’t buy happiness, friendship or love – the things of real value.


People must have a human sense of scale; and human investment strategies must take into account biography, persona and local contingencies when taking action.  This tempers the currencies of “bigger” or “more.” 


More than artifice, people attach to products, ideas or other people that provide a venue for them to express and explore their self-identities.  A real performance is always more effective than a fake performance.


Given the complexity and the conflicts of the world today, the task of everyone is to transcend our individual identity without negating our individual identity, such that we recognize the fundamental idea that ‘The Other’ is in us.


It is understandable and, in fact, it is a bedrock of capitalism – particularly in the last part of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st – that one yearns for gratification from individual financial success.  But in this yearning, perhaps now is a good time to recall the 1946 Gregory Peck movie, The Yearling.  In its dramatic culmination, Peck’s character explains the sometimes-harsh facts of life to his son:

“Life is a fine thing…powerfully fine, but not easy.  Sometimes we have to see it through together.”

If companies find a way to create a genuine sense of relatedness with the public – The Other – the public will in turn give them the benefit of the doubt, instead of doubting them.

America has always been a performance culture that extols individualism.  But America, too, as seen in the election of President Obama, can surprise itself by being one step ahead of the expected.  

America must develop a culture of community in which the individual and the group can thrive.  In that way, America can live up to the idea of “WE, the people.” 

Trust is not something one individual or entity does.  Trust is a relationship.  When each Tom, Dick, and Harriet who sit in the boardrooms of corporate America can conceive of the idea of establishing a relationship with a Tom, Dick, or Harriet sitting at home in their living rooms, that’s the meaning of America.   When that happens America will become itself.

The time is right.     




About Dr. Bob Deutsch

The founder and president of consulting firm Brain Sells (, Boston, MA), Bob has worked in the primeval forest and on Pennsylvania and Madison Avenues.  His focus, since the mid-’70s, when he was living with pre-literate tribes and chimpanzees, has been to understand how leading ideas take hold in cultures.

From contributing to Military Review, “The Droning of Strategic Communications and Public Diplomacy (Sept/Oct. 2009) Joint Force Quarterly magazines, “Ambassadors to the World” (January 2010), to wining a Cicero Best Speech of 2009 Award for an address to the USG Intra-agency Committee of Strategic Communications (Vital Speeches of the Day, December, 2009) to portraying a college professor in a McDonald’s commercial, cognitive anthropologist Dr. Bob Deutsch breaks the mold.

Since opening Brain Sells, in 1990, he has applied this understanding to how people attach to products, persons and performances.  He is fond of saying, "Reasoned judgment about attributes is not the issue.  The brain evolved to act, NOT to think." Bran Sells’ retail clients include: TJ Maxx, Marshall's, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Home Goods, Radio Shack, Sephora, Verizon stores, McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, and Toyota.




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Status: 01. Juli 2015