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22 January 2016

Trust Barometer 2016: Tech on the rebound but could this be the Death of Disruption?

Written by: Satyen Dayal, Senior Director at Edelman

Innovation, Technology, Trust

So it looks like the dip in tech trust reported in last year’s Edelman Trust Barometer has quickly rebounded. Through this uplift in trust, the tech sector has retained its number-one spot in the Trust Barometer 2016. One observation I gleaned from this year’s study came from what was dubbed the ‘The Grand Illusion’ of trust inequality. Specifically, the striking contrast in levels of trust between the rich and poor led me to wonder if the tech sector could be witnessing a ‘Death of Disruption’.

Cardiac Arrest

Okay, there is a big ‘could’ here, and many of those Silicon Valley Unicorns will rightly beg to differ. In order to put my observation in context I’ll refer back to my last few posts.

Firstly, in ‘Digital Lemmings’, I discussed how Clay Christensen set the record straight on Disruptive Innovation by explaining why true disruption must start life by serving the unserved end of a market. This ‘unserved end’ of course points to a lot of different audiences. However, I would argue that those less well off in society represent the ultimate example of unserved. Hence, in an increasingly unequal world, tech innovation would eventually need to make massive leaps to serve the underprivileged.

Disruptive innovation is therefore at risk of going into cardiac arrest. If my observation is hard to swallow, I urge you to watch economist Robert Gordon’s Ted Talk the Death of Innovation and End of Growth. Amongst other things, he calls upon today’s tech innovators to assess the power of their inventions against those of Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison.

On the Crash Cart

Through Interstellar inspired ‘Future Proof’, I explained the need for a stronger social narrative in technology. Indeed, a tech sector deep dive into the 2015 Trust Barometer suggested that the biggest challenge for firms in this space was convincing the world they had its interests at heart.  Stay tuned for more but as we go deeper into the tech trust data this year, I’m confident we will see further evidence of why this has become even more critical.

In ‘Sharing Economy Divided’, I felt that despite the undeniable benefits of this business model fuelled by tech innovation, it brought significant challenges to the social order. Moreover, I found myself continually questioning the impact of a ‘sharing economy’ that failed to become inclusive. In time these challenges could have a polarising effect, placing tech innovation on the crash-cart, completely out of reach from the unserved ends of society.

Flat-line?

Commenting on the 2015 Trust findings, the beginning of my post ‘In Tech we Trust’ pretty much summed up how disruptive innovation could flat-line. Specifically, I referenced a line from Don Tapscott’s Digital Economy warning of a looming tech dark-side where we’d witness ‘severe social stratification…and massive social dislocation and conflict.’

Do I believe the tech sector is leading us down this path of increased inequality?

No – putting this week’s stories of Davos robots on one side, I am a firm optimist when it comes to the potential of tech that serves the interests of society at large. Nevertheless, in a week that began by honouring Martin Luther King Jr. I turn to words from his seminal book Where Do We Go From Here. In it the civil rights activist who also spoke vehemently against global inequality observed nearly 40 years ago how “One of the great problems of mankind is that we suffer from a poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance.”

This year’s Trust Barometer offers tech brands a similarly prescient insight into the actions necessary for doing what is right, and creating an abundance of spirit that prevents a poverty in mankind’s technological innovations.

Image: Forty3Zero / Shutterstock.com

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