I think the core issue is trust

Browsing my Google+ stream this morning, I saw this brief note:

Watching questions to +Steven Levy at Newport Beach Public Library talk fascinating, underscores how little general public knows about Google. Lots of misconceptions.

Not sure why, but the thought struck me strongly.  The technology industry is EXACTLY like the agricultural industry.   Google is part of the #bigtech crowd, what they do/know is starting to scare the general public, and no one really has any clue how today’s technology really works.

If your in agriculture, this sounds familiar right?  I think we sometimes overdo the “generations removed from the farm” concept.  The real issue is folks don’t understand technology, or agriculture, and therefore they don’t trust it.  This hits me strong because I feel like these are the very two industries I do understand the best, and I see things completely differently.  So it made me pause and consider a couple of industries I know nothing about:  healthcare and education.  And I realized I have the exact same trust issues.

Specifically, in healthcare – I trust my local doctors, probably because I know them personally.  However, as anyone knows there’s a growing movement out there that does not, and hence the entire “alternative medicine” business, that is only very weakly based on science, and much on emotion.  But I’m not immune to this lack of trust.  A few years ago, I dealt with kidney cancer.  After two operations four years apart, I’m walking around with one less kidney.  When the first scan came back that the mass had reappeared after the first operation and a second was needed, my emotions ranged from “is business just slow for this doctor and he wants to operate?” to “maybe things are a lot worse than he’s really telling me?”.  In reality, in either case, I simply didn’t trust him and a big part of the reason was I had no clue what was going on.

Secondly, in education – I think I’ve mentioned my children attend a small private church-affiliated school. I serve on the school board as well, so in such a position I see a lot of material from many sources “distrustful” of the public education system.  I’ve been guilty of those same thoughts at times, but I’ve learned over time that really it’s the same problem.  Education is an involved, intense business, there’s a lot I don’t know or understand.  In education I don’t think it’s as much a technology issue as the challenge of providing a good and proper education for the large diversity that exists in today’s population.  But the lack of trust in something we don’t understand can be the same.  And I absolutely believe there is very, very few people in education, from preschool through the most prestigious universities, who’s objective is intentional harm to my kids or spend my money foolishly, yet there’s a lot of distrust that exists.

At the risk of being mis-understood on many levels, I want to make a key point.  I think in any of these areas – what we eat, health care, technology or education I have observed that one’s faith can often be used as the reason for taking a given position.  I consider my Christian faith the key component of who I am, but I do think there can be a strong tendency to say it’s a “faith” issue, when in reality we just don’t just trust people or things that we don’t understand. I certainly make choices in any of the above industries because of my faith and my view of the world.  What I want to stress is that for myself and I believe most of us, the real issues we struggle with is a lack of trust, and it has nothing to do with what our faith may be.  If that seems really confusing, feel free to question me in the comments or privately, I’m not sure I did a good job of explaining my thoughts on this point.

What made this whole idea of trust strike home is this – I’ve met lots of people in the agriculture industry.  There’s folks with lots of different motives, desires, purposes.  But I cannot think of a single one who I think has any intent in trying to actually harm someone, which is what all the agriculture critics claim is happening all the time.  Now, lets be realistic, those hurtful people exist, fortunately it seems their usually trying to pursue a life of full-time crime rather than take the effort to infiltrate a solid industry like agriculture, healthcare or technology.  And the bad apples that are out there?  The entirety of human history tends to demonstrate that we have a rather poor ability to separate out those that are trustworthy from those that are not, so I think our very best approach is to trust from the start, until proven otherwise, and than give plenty of second chances.  After all, that’s what we would want others to do for us.

Maybe my concluding thought is this:  There’s nothing unique about modern agriculture’s struggle with connecting with the general public.  The exact same issues seem to exist in most other modern industries (I didn’t even mention things like energy, or the industry of government :)  It seems to have very little to do with being “generations removed from the farm” and a lot to do with a lack of trust trait we all share combined with a high-tech complex world in which we live.  As we consider how to better connect and share our agriculture story, I think the core issue is trust.

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15 responses to this post.

  1. What a realization….. Can’t believe we hadn’t thought of this before. So true.

    Reply

  2. Great points, trust is something to not be taken lightly.

    For a different take on trust have a gander at this:

    http://www.justfarmers.biz/blog/2012/02/27/market-with-culture-manage-with-science/

    “The public expects and trusts farmers & ranchers to manage our farms and ranches based on science.”

    Reply

  3. We fear what we do not understand, cannot see or control. Consumers place a huge amount of trust in farmers and ranchers everytime we purchase and eat food. We don’t know how it was raised, where it came from or who was responsible (or not) for making sure it is safe and wholesome. Frankly, it mostly amounts to blind faith. So I think the question we need to ask is what can we do better to earn their trust?

    Reply

    • Show them our “culture”?

      Reply

    • Good question Daren.. It’s becoming a cliche, but we’ve learned that science isn’t the answer.. basically, there’s too much technology, and few are going to take the time to understand the science involved.. but the insignificance of science as a factor in public perception is well known in the agvocacy movement I think.

      I think the most important are revolves around “being human”. I’ve attended and been involved in plenty of messaging/PR efforts, and I very much appreciate what I’ve learned. But humans connect with humans, not with humans programmed to publicly say certain “nice” things all the time. And the public is far from a single entity – for some, trust will be gained by connecting directly with the provider of their food (via a farmers market for example). For others, hearing a speaker explain how the beef industry delivers a safe, nutritious product to their plate will be all they need to feel ok about their next grocery store trip. I think understanding the wide range of needs/desires in the group we call “consumers” is important.

      Reply

      • It strikes me that even in that last comment of mine, I don’t “get it”.

        For some, science IS the answer.. they will want to know all the detail of where their food comes from.. That just isn’t the answer for everyone (or we don’t think for the majority)

        For some, they want a “super nice” person.. the kind of folks I write off as “phony PR” they connect with that, for others they don’t mind/even appreciate seeing the humanness we all have at times.

        My biggest point is of all of this is people connect with people, that’s been happening for thousands of years, few if any of us in ag have insight into how to improve that process, the most important thing we can do in agvocacy is provide understanding of the importance of making connections and aids in the opportunity to do so. Sorry for being a bit wordy…

      • According to the latest “Trust Barometer” from Edelman the category of trusted people growing the fastest is the “people like me” category.

      • What I find interesting is that “people like me” can be people we’ve never met. Mom’s listen to other moms, athletes to other athletes, etc. But they can be other moms/athletes they’ve never met other than through Facebook, Twitter or a blog. The connection doesn’t seem to have to be face-to-face but rather having something in common. I think we need to find more ways to connect on common ground. When we focus on areas of mutual interest (protecting the planet for future generations) rather than where we disagree (whether or not global warming is actually happening) we build a relationship, which leads to trust.

      • I agree Darin,Rays post on Monday that he linked to above made me think about this. We have been managing and marketing on science alone when we would have been building more trust if we would have been managing with science and marketing on culture.

  4. [...] is everything, and this morning Darin Grimm’s post on trust made some timely comments in relation to this one I’ve been pondering all [...]

    Reply

  5. Posted by bonniekaye on March 3, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Right on Darin. Thanks for putting it down on paper, or well in a cloud somewhere. *chuckle* I had to do it.

    You really have hit the nail on the head with this one. *trust* is the base of all things good in life and love. How many times have we failed, only to realize later that if only we would have had more trust it may not have turned out as a failure.

    Great job!

    Reply

    • Thanks Bonnie,

      I really appreciate that, esp. with your extensive background in education. It’s a bit uncomfortable to throw some this kind of thing out publicly, I can get nervous it will be taken wrong

      Reply

  6. Posted by bonniekaye on March 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Thanks for being brave and “trusting” yourself. Trust is such a simple word. Think about how many times a day we think the word, say the word, or hear the word. However until we really look at it…well your post understandably defines it.
    Keep up your good work. I appreciate all you do.

    Reply

  7. Trust, but verify. Ronald Reagan
    And if you’re the one being verified–which we all are in that position from time to time across industries and situations–if you’re the one being verified, prove yourself trustworthy. That means open communication. Consistent messages. Walking the talk. And doing it persistently for a very long time to build… you guessed it, trust.

    Reply

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