Our trust in institutions and the establishment is in severe decline. At the same time, we are getting into cars with strangers and letting strangers sleep in our houses.

We are increasingly deciding who to trust based on what the network of our peers says.

Historically, societies have looked to leaders, institutions and deities to get guidance and direction. Global surveys are revealing a collapse in such institutional trust centers. And yet a sharing, service and collaboration economy is rapidly emerging that is highly dependent on trust.

The new brands that are leading in this economy — Uber, Airbnb, Facebook, Google — are not so much trusted in themselves. Rather, the trust is in the network of drivers, home and content owners. 

Of course, this nascent new economy is constantly under assault with fake news and other attempts to game the system. However, even with such challenges, there are many promising developments.

People are willing to put trust in the wisdom of the crowds. In a survey of 16,000 people by BlaBlaCar, 88 percent of respondents stated “that they highly trust other BlaBlaCar members with full profiles.” This is just 7 percent lower than the 92 percent who highly trust their friends, and 30 percent higher than the 58 percent who say they trust their colleagues. The key to trust is having a “full profile,” much of which means being vetted by a significant number of other people who use taxis.

“At Trust Amsterdam,” Irene Dominioni writes for Euro News, “you can walk in and sit at the cozy, vintage tables, enjoy unique vegetarian recipes prepared in the open kitchen, and pay … as much as you think your meal was worth. There are no prices on the menu.” Trust Amsterdam has been successfully running for three and a half years.

On a grander scale, Blockchain is a way to establish trust between two strangers. It taps into the collective processing power of millions of computers in a highly distributed and decentralized way. According to David Siegel, Blockchain can:

  • Eliminate trillions of dollars of wasted effort in coordination, market functions, and clearing
  • Record data — including ownership rights to anything of value — permanently, in a way that can't be hacked or stolen
  • Eliminate middle men — companies that bring buyers and sellers together and charge high fees (everything from banks to insurance companies to ecommerce to Uber)
  • Eliminate data centers, which are targets for hackers
  • Eliminate IT departments, which are expensive, sluggish, and prevent companies from being agile
  • Radically transform government services to be far cheaper, faster and better

Of course, there is exaggeration here but what is no exaggeration is the latent power of the network. Humans have a capacity to circumvent traditional models of the "establishment" order and organizational structure in a way that is unique in history. The World Wide Web is already a giant hub of human intelligence and connectedness. We are at a point of reinvention of what a society and economy is and can be.