November 12, 2010

TEDxConstitutionDrive: trust

i spent the day in menlo park at TEDxConstitutionDrive, a great event hosted by my friend and former colleague tam pham. the theme of the day was trust, and it was an especially interesting topic for a silicon valley crew to explore.

cantaloupe systems co-founder anant agrawal kicked off the morning with a talk about the importance of trust (in partners, systems, mentors, and capabilities) for a start up. in particular, he talked about how the entrepreneur's biggest challenge may appear to be getting investors and customers to trust him as a leader of the organization, but in reality, the more important challenge is transferring that trust to the company from the individual founder(s). money quote: "'bootstrapping' is a fancy term for 'we have no money, and no one trusts us enough to give it to us.'"

marine-turned-angel investor paige craig was really excited about the role of trust in online information sharing. he posed a question about where leaders currently get their information: focus groups, consumer surveys, sketchy peddlers of questionably-procured personal data. he then cited blippy, foursquare, twitter, and facebook as excellent sources of honest information about consumers. paige's opinion is that participatory, opt-in information sharing platforms have a lot of potential to "improve the world." for example, social networking sites can accelerate the get-to-know-you phase and speed up the rate at which relationships become high-quality. he's a thematic investor, and he wants to start a transparency fund that invests in getting people to (voluntarily) share their secrets. he challenged the audience to think about "what information exists today that i can share and make the world better?" he provocatively suggested phone numbers and personal health records as private information that's currently taboo to share, but that maybe we should. he acknowledged the trade-offs in making these "secrets" public, but had an infectious excitement about the aggregated societal benefits of sharing that type of information. overall, a really thought-provoking talk, which led us to a fun coffee break chat about other crazy information-sharing ideas, like a linkedin-style recommendation system for former lovers.

fran maier, founder of and CEO of TRUSTe, refuted 2010's popular refrain, "privacy is dead." she described privacy not as a condition but as a system that provides transparency, choices, and accountability. much like my mom, fran is a big evangelist for facebook as a platform for staying connected with her family. she talked about the day her son added her as a friend on facebook, and how it has helped form her opinions about the role of choice and proactive management in online privacy controls. her most interesting story was about her digital camera, which she lost during a vacation in europe. months later, photos of another family started to trickle onto her personal computer because she'd linked her camera to automatically download. not only did she have photos of the people who had her camera, but she knew exactly where the photos were taken. it was in intriguing cautionary tale about personal information and how it is everywhere.

paul zak, the so-called love doctor, talked about the neuroeconomics of trust in the context of his research on oxytocin. in his research, they've identified non-sexual activities that release oxytocin, and it turns out, they're situations that involve trust. he would administer oxytocin to test subjects (through a nasal inhaler) and then measure their levels of trust displayed in lab games involving giving money to other subjects. "it's vampire economics," he said. "you make choices while we take your blood." he found that the presence of oxytocin more than doubled the likelihood that a subject would trust someone else. his most provocative point related to the 5% of subjects who do not appear to respond to oxytocin (verifiable by a blood test). he warned that these individuals can be dangerous because they do not reciprocate human trust behaviors and may be more likely to take advantage of others. he brought a little vial of oxytocin as a prop:

colt briner, a professor of magic at santa rosa junior college (this is apparently a job), talked briefly about polynesian fire dancing, and how he longed to perform indoors. consequently, he invented a street light product that allows for a modernized (and fire-safe) version of the traditional dance.

after lunch, rebecca mercuri skyped in for a talk about online voting. she lamented the erroneous association between transparency and trust, explaining that transparency is a component of trust, but it does not necessary provide trust. she was particularly critical of the relationship between open source platforms and assumed trustworthiness, and she criticized the "open kimono system" of building trust when she said, "it doesn't make sense to say, 'you see us naked, so you should trust us.'"

after rebecca, i was asked to do some storytelling for the audience, and i shared a version of my story "bear necessities." (this is the same story i performed for snap judgement in october, which, i'm told, will air on NPR in the next couple weeks.)

rob fuggetta mostly pitched services offered by his company, zuberance, as he rattled off statistics about what sources consumers trust. laura slezinger of girls in tech used a story about her cousin falling ill to discuss trusting your own ability to handle breaches of trust and recover. sri arthan talked about trust gaps in business and how he's trying to address that through fair trade certification in the market for food. barak kassar finished up the afternoon with a talk about trust and media, citing the need for media literacy.

the highlight of the afternoon was bluesy vocalist katilin mcgraw who performed four beautiful songs inspired by her own experiences with trust, heartbreak, and changing her path. check her out.

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