Growing Trust And Confidence In Times Of Decline

Seth Godin recently made a post citing a Brookings Institution survey series that showed a decline in confidence in multiple institutions and companies since 2018.   Godin notes that some of the decline may be due to news and propaganda eroding the general perception of institutions with which people don’t regularly directly interact. But he suggests that by and large, the diminished confidence is due to companies trading trust for short term profit.

Amazon and many other companies went from investing heavily in being reliable, trustworthy and fair to taking persistent steps to trade these valuable assets for quarterly results. It’s worth being clear about this–they did this intentionally. They decided that the confidence consumers had placed in them wasn’t worth as much as the shortcuts they could take to increase profits instead.

Near the end of his entry, he writes:

This is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for–to become the one that earns the benefit of the doubt.

As I was reading his post, I was thinking along the same lines. Surveys have shown that arts organizations, and particularly exhibit based experiences like museums, parks and zoos have been enjoying an increased level of trust since Covid restrictions have ended. The ability to control spacing between oneself and others in exhibit based experiences gave them a slight advantage over performance based entities, but both types of spaces have earned a greater measure of trust over the last couple years.

There is an opportunity to retain and grow that trust by examining interactions with experience participants to ensure you aren’t undermining that trust with anything that appears to be trading it for easy gain. There will always likely be some negative interactions people will have with your organization, but those interactions won’t necessarily significantly diminish the level of trust people have if it is handled well.

After all, we have probably all had interactions where we got what we wanted, but still had a sense that we were held in low regard by the company and organization. Air travel immediately comes to mind. Many people can probably remember two-three instances where they were on equally crowded travel conditions, but you felt more attentiveness and care being paid in one instance versus the others.

Think about how you can continue to exhibit trustworthiness and care, and potentially grow that in contrast to people’s experiences elsewhere.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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