6 min read

Trust Drives Innovation

Trust Drives Innovation
Now that's a diverse team for farm-related innovation!

This week we look at how the science of trust reveals how our unique qualities contribute to the collective for better teamwork and ultimately innovation.

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Research Roundup

On Trust & Human Potential

The neuroscience of trust is heterogeneous: each of us has differing personal borders for ingroups and outgroups, requiring different effort to share trust with someone new. We might be surprised, however, how dramatically those borders of trust change in response to culture or even a single Tweet.

A massive dataset of “50 million job postings from the 28 European Union” revealed that countries with higher levels of societal trust valued employee potential (“foundational skills”) over evidence of advanced technical skills. Even within the same multinational company recruiting in differing regions, higher trust allowed them to focus on the longer-term returns from an employee. (This also reminds me about my past post on societal trust, surfing, and violence.)

So our individual levels of trust interact with societal trust, allowing us to take risks on unproven potential. What about when trust is low? Well, for female economics PhDs entering the job market, receiving even a subtle plug from a prominent economist on social media earned them 0.9 more job offers. Papers from all PhDs receiving social media boosts received “442% more views and 303% more likes.” (btw - this paper is controversial for having affected these applicants' career outcomes without informed consent—a big ethical lapse.)

What bothers me is that good fortune for human potential in both studies comes from luck rather than collective effort. Hiring needs less exploitation and more exploration.

Mad Scientists Innovate

Two new papers bring us deeper understandings of how to maximize collective intelligence innovation: one reaffirming a deep truth and the other revealing a hidden secret.

As I’ve written about before, gender-balanced teams are smarter. Although scientific articles by mixed-gender teams are underrepresented in biomedical literature, they “are substantially more novel and impactful” than other research. In fact, greater gender balance on a team predicts increased novelty and impact. This shouldn’t shock us, but it ought to point innovators towards better collaborations.

On the topic of picking your collaborators, don’t be lured into safe spaces of deep expertise. While scientists that publish the most tend to collaborate solely with “single-topic” experts, those who have the biggest impact choose “higher fraction of multitopic collaborators”. Even when starting on a new topic “impactful scientists show strong preference of collaboration with [other] high-impact” collaborators.

You must bring something unique to the smartest teams, and you must embrace the (sometimes frustrating) uniqueness of others.

Weekly Indulgence

"It's the deeper person that actually makes a change in society."

Stage & Screen

  • June 5, Online: Mobilize Women Summit I'll talk about starting my company to end postpartum depression.
  • June 18, Stockholm: Hyper Island is hosting an AMA for me in Sweden!
  • June 19, Stockholm: Buy tickets for the Future of Talent Summit and so much more!
  • June 20-21, AmsterdamTNW ...well, I don't know exactly what I'll be talking about, but it will be huge!
  • June 21, Leeds, UKSociety of Otolaryngologists What else: changing education for doctors in an AI-rich world.

Find more upcoming talks, interviews, and other events on my Events Page.

If your company, university, or conference just happen to be in one of the above locations and want the "best keynote I've ever heard" (shockingly spoken by multiple audiences last year)?

<<Please support my work: book me for a keynote or briefing!>>

SciFi, Fantasy, & Me

So, sure…watch Dune Part 2. It’s beautiful, if a bit indulgent in using many of the same visual motifs again and again. I genuinely appreciated the explicit self-awareness of both Paul and his mother in manipulating everyone around them. But the finale came on so quickly it felt a bit unearned.

My main complaint (and again, watch and enjoy) is the total excision of the Mentat storyline. When I was a kid it was the joining of the Mentat and Bene Gesserit, the computational and the mystical, that excited me. They had 5 hours to work with—why drop this? (Yes, Mentals and other “cyborgs” from scifi inspired my choice of study.)

Excerpt: "Creating Creatives"

If you’ve followed my entire argument and still choose to believe that people can change and you’re willing to confront the uncertainty of creating creatives, you’re mad. You’re right, but you’re mad. For nearly every other company in the world, it’s a choice between substitution or chasm, and the reason is clear: growing creativity is both uncertain and effortful. One recent neuroscience study showed that highly creative people must engage multiple large-scale brain networks at the same time, a fundamentally effortful tension. Is it really surprising that quick and easy solutions like upskilling or programming bootcamps can’t shift the very architecture of our minds. Yet while much of this chapter evokes dismal futures of work, there have been clues along the way that growing creativity is possible.

We mentioned Raj Chetty’s research on the long-term impacts of individual teachers on their students. Some teachers produce a dramatic lift in their students’ career outcomes by teaching them how to explore the unknown. Ironically, this increased creativity served the students throughout their lives even as their routine academic performance dipped slightly over the next year. We found other clues of a dramatic lift in creativity in the research on desirable schools or peer tutoring opportunities.

My own work on the pitiable Stinjbot also revealed the possibility of nurturing creativity, even in adults. While the long term effects weren’t as dramatic as Chetty’s superteachers, Stinjbot repeatedly and reliably increased older students’ resilience and perspective taking during essay writing. This hints that creativity itself is more complex and multifaceted than a single quality that you either have or you don’t.

These four studies are only the tip of the iceberg. In upcoming chapters, we delve into a mass of research and projects whose explicit purpose is to grow creativity and human capacity. We identify underlying factors associated with creativity and interventions that can change them. These interventions share a set of common traits with Chetty’s superteachers and peer tutoring opportunities, traits that are missing in so many of the mythical “solutions'' mentioned before. Effective interventions are naturalistic–they are embedded in messy, real-world contexts. They are extended in time, requiring in many cases multi-year engagement. They are effortful for all involved. And as we will explore in detail, effective interventions must address multiple underlying factors, never satisfied to focus on single dimensions.

Now that you know that creating creatives is guaranteed to be long, effortful, and messy, you may be second guessing your decision. You can certainly understand why the incentives have favored chasms and lazy myths. But while the trends aren’t good, we still have a choice. This isn’t a thought experiment.

Discover how we can choose to build a society on the foundation of creating creatives when How to Robot-Proof Yourself hits the bookshelves!

Vivienne L'Ecuyer Ming

Follow more of my work at
Socos Labs The Human Trust
Dionysus Health Optoceutics
RFK Human Rights GenderCool
Crisis Venture Studios Inclusion Impact Index
Neurotech Collider Hub at UC Berkeley