Truth versus Trust

Truth and Trust are two legitimate ways of influencing people (in addition to rightful authority, etc). The first appeals to reason, what is true and the object’s own mind, experiences and processes which they trust. The second appeals to relationship and the object’s past experience with the subject and esteem for the subject, whether or not the subject has had the object’s best interests at heart or whether or not the subject’s advice was good.

These two poles of influence correlate with two poles of communication: low context and high context.

In low context communication, everything can be clearly known from the words spoken themselves–precise, complete and explicit (much like Java). In contrast, high context communication is very succinct because it is full of shared meanings that were formed by a long history of shared experience (maybe like Perl) such that the words themselves are difficult to decipher without the context. Within either type of communication, a person can influence others through Truth or Trust (or both).

Those who live in low context cultures are prone to lean heavily on truth and reason and clear articulations of why the person should do what they want them to do and why the chosen course of action is in the best interests of everyone. Those who live in high context cultures lean heavily on trust and the assumption that the influencer knows what he is talking about and that even though the influenced does not have a complete understanding, he does not need to know everything, but can follow the advice of the influencer since it has worked in the past.

We can also invert the causality: those who are skilled in logic and rhetoric would prefer appealing to Truth to persuade others and would thus succeed in a low context culture whereas those who are skilled in relationships would prefer appealing to Trust to persuade others and would thus succeed in high context cultures.

These two are not mutually exclusive, but in fact go hand in hand like the unity of grace and truth that is in Jesus Christ. Truth is best communicated when there is Trust because the influenced may doubt the Truth (though it may have impeccable logic) and assume some sleight of hand is involved in the reasoning because the influencer may not have the best interests of the influenced at heart. Truth also reinforces Trust because a trustworthy person is one who consistently tells the Truth. Trust would be ruined if a person fails to tell the Truth. 

What the distinction between Truth and Trust enables one to do is begin the process of truth-telling and trust-building in the proper order for the proper context. If you are communicating with a person who prefers Truth, influence them by appealing to reason. If you are communicating with a person who prefers Trust, influence them by showing that you have their best interests at heart. If you want to influence someone from a low context culture, clearly and precisely state the Truth. If you want to influence someone from a high context culture, take the time to be with them a lot so they know they can Trust you.

By beginning with the right foot forward, you can start a virtuous cycle where Truth and Trust reinforce each other in Love to others. And if you operate as a team, let each person play to their strengths and blaze the relational, truth-telling trail for others.

Why Small Means Fast

It’s common knowledge that the main advantage of small organizations is their agility and speed. A friend of mine recently showed me a $20 pull up bar he bought for his room. He’s probably a lean 5’9″–a whole half foot taller than me. When the bar was setup, I hopped up and did a set of ten pull ups without breaking a sweat, amazing my friend because doing three was already a challenge for him. Obviously, my ease resulted from my small size–I needed considerably less strength to lift my body mass than my friend. Mechanically speaking, it requires less force (hence work and power) to accelerate my mass resulting in a natural speed advantage for smaller bodies. My friend needs to exert a lot more energy (and stronger muscles) to move than I do.

This applies similarly to organizations: the big guys have inertia while small guys have speed. Once big guys get going, they are hard to stop and withstand, but if you’re small, they are easy to evade and outrun and there are many opportunities you can take before they can. Perhaps small organizations can even shrewdly attain equal momentum (impact?) to juggernauts by sufficiently increasing their velocity (momentum = mass * velocity). Agility also falls out of these metaphors because changing directions is just a form of acceleration, which means small bodies can adjust their courses with a lot less energy than big ones.

Given these realities, it seems odd that large organizations would try to “stay small” or offer a “startup culture” because while this may be a useful recruiting tool, it does not play to the strengths of bigness. Massive things are not easily shaken, they tend to be stable and unstoppable. They have the ability to take on massive problems that require the strength of numbers. They have more support structures to carry goals through to the finish instead of getting stuck when a team member leaves. They do have to work harder to accelerate (changing direction or going faster) and build up greater strength to reach their goals, but they also have more influence: their small decisions have massive implications.

Startups, on the other hand, have a tendency to “talk big” about changing the world, which again is useful for recruiting and morale, but does not reflect the present reality and advantages of a small organization: the ability to quickly exploit opportunities as they come, doing more/getting more done with less (10 pull ups instead of 2), and more control or influence over the direction and momentum of the organization.

For individuals, this may sound like a choice between “big fish in a small pond” versus “small fish in a big pond”, but I’m talking about organizations here.

Call it naive, idealistic, blatantly obvious, foolish talk, but it seems like it’s better for big companies to act big and small companies to act small: play to the strengths of what you are and adapt your strategy as you “evolve”. This is a mistake I think my church made in the past: despite being small, we tried to use Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church methodologies, which resulted in an overbearing structure that we lacked the strength to sustain. Instead of acting big by applying big strategies, it would have been better to adopt any helpful principles, and maximize the advantages of our smallness by for example increasing the flatness of the organization and emphasizing relationships between the leadership and members.

Your organization might grow into an integrated behemoth or it might become a loose confederacy of organisms, but in any case, it seems wise to play to your strengths instead of acting like something you are not.

Drinking from a Firehose of Novelty

My apologies for the long delay between blogposts.  I haven’t posted more frequently because of my obsession with excellence that sets the bar too high for me to publish most of my half-baked thoughts.  I’m going to try trading off polish and thoroughness of thinking for frequency and volume of ideas.  Let’s see how this experiment goes–if it fails, I can switch back or try something new (comments welcome!).

Many people feel bored with life because of its plodding “same old, same old”.  I now know what it feels like to be on the other extreme: I feel like I’ve been drinking out of a firehose drowning in a pool of novelty for the past month.  Before I get into some details, here’s an observation:

Things get boring when they get old.  For a toddler, the simplest experience of a floating balloon can be a source of delight for several days.  For a particularly despondent teenager, you might need a surround sound system with a 500-watt subwoofer and stunning visual effects to arrest their attention.

The pain of boredom can often turn life into an endless pursuit of “the next big thing”, e.g. the newest smartphones, latest fashions, real-time political news, and nascent philosophies where wonder, mystery and discovery seemingly lie (this is perhaps one of the logical primary pursuits in life for a secularist who believes this decaying world is all there is–since the old is always passing away, you constantly must produce and keep up with what’s new lest everything you know or have becomes worthless).

One might assume that alot of novelty would be incredibly exciting, but I think I’ve bordered on the tipping point of what I can handle.  For example, last weekend I went on a roadtrip to LA with friends and had the novel experience of an 18hr drive without layovers.  Great company, good conversation, but my body clock has been way off ever since. 

During the trip, my Motorola Rizr fell on pavement and turned into a “Cracked-berry”.  This fortuitous circumstance disrupted my dithering–I had been meaning to buy a new cellphone for several months–and “forced” me get a Motorola Droid :-).  (I plan on buying an iPad, so I didn’t get an iPhone).

As you can imagine, my attention was totally absorbed by the shiny new toy in my pocket for three days straight.  Not good, especially considering that I am the coordinator for my church‘s Easter service this Sunday and should have been directing those efforts (which has also been a novel project management experience).

The day after Easter, I start my first full time job at Amazon.com, which I expect to be mindnumbingly mindblowing.  I’m anxious enough about all the learning, listening, relationship building and exploring I’m going to have to do my first week that I postponed buying an iPad because I know its alluring novelty will likely be a massive distraction.

Anyway, just to emphasize how novel-ed out I am, the two weekends prior to the LA trip, I attended two Seattle conferences: one for youth put on by Dare2Share and an “All Things Church” ministry conference at Overlake Christian Church where I helped man the booth for my dad’s company iCrescendo.  (I plan on summarizing my thoughts on these conferences in a future post).  It would be nice to have the freedom of exploring and enjoying all of these experiences at a contemplative pace instead of trying to process a year’s worth of material in the span of a month (sidenote: maybe that’s why couples need to cool off and pull back sometimes–too much, too fast without time to reflect…).

These experiences have led me to the (half-baked) conclusion that novelty is delightful and healthy in measured amounts.  Too little and we stop learning and growing and become boring.  Too much and we can’t take it all in and get frustrated because we want to enjoy it while it quickly passes us by.  Ideally we could engage in selective novelty from a basis of stability.  And of course there’s the dessert of reminiscing about the joy of a first ____ when novelty gives way to nostalgia.

Lastly, a brief note from a Christian perspective on how gracious God–the perpetual novelty–is in revealing himself as a relatable, discoverable human being in Jesus Christ.  After my experience being overwhelmed these past weeks, I wonder what it would be like for God to reveal His glory in a massive awesome display, perhaps like he did to Isaiah…not only would I feel undone by God’s holiness, but it seems like the innumerable virtues to enjoy and explore would overload my senses and cause my body to explode into a million pieces all longing to fully experience the slightest hint of glory.

By coming as a man in Jesus, people can meet and discover a fellow human being instead of falling apart at first contact.  By faith, we can today look back and contemplate the glory revealed in Israel’s history and at the Cross while looking forward to the hope of the Resurrection that Jesus guaranteed by rising form the dead.  Soon we will have the honor of spending an eternity exploring and enjoying every detail of the infinite glory of God–an everlasting novelty.

SDG.