Wednesday, June 10, 2020

TRUST - looking through the prism of a mathematical formula

E = ?
I heard you all say E=mc2

That is the power of a formula, it stays in our memory and gives us a conceptual understanding of the subject.

Out of curiosity, I was exploring can Trust be represented by a mathematical formula?

What made me contemplate about Trust? 
In my opinion (own perception and interactions with family and friends) and from the public discourse, globally Trust has become fast eroding social capital. This contemporary relevance of Trust and Mistrust got me to explore this subject.

Oxford dictionary defines Trust as the feeling you have that somebody or something will do what they should do; the feeling that somebody is honest and good. 

Moving away from language, when I tried to look at Trust from the point of view of a mathematical formula, I stumbled upon a beautiful concept called 'Trust Equation', which I am sharing here for our collective learning: 


T = (C+R+I) ÷ S

The concept of Trust Equation was introduced by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green and Robert M. Galford in their book, Trusted Advisor.

Let's look into all the factors of Trust Equation, in details: 
  1. T: Trustworthiness
  2. C: Credibility 
  3. R: Reliability 
  4. I: Intimacy 
  5. S: Self-orientation
  • T (Trustworthiness) is the trust factor between the two individuals.
  • C (Credibility) is one's credentials, truthfulness and transparency. In simple words, how believable one is to others.
  • R (Reliability) is how others perceive the consistency of our actions and it's connection with our words (integrity).
  • I (Intimacy) is the sense of security one generates for people around him/her, so that they feel safe to share and discuss.
  • S (Self-orientation) refers to where does one's personal focus lie? Do they have my best interest in their mind or Are they are doing this for themselves?
  • C, R and I (Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy) are the numerator 
  • and S (Self-orientation) is the denominator of the equation.
  • The C and R are the Rational components (In fact these are measurable attributes). 
  • I and S are the Emotional components (Difficult to measure directly but can be inferred indirectly from one's behaviour).
What inferences can be drawn from Trust Equation? 

  • Trust Equation reflects the balance of Mind and Heart. 
  • C, R and I increases Trustworthiness
  • Whereas S decreases Trustworthiness
  • It takes long term commitment and effort by both the Trustee and Trustor, to build a Long-lasting, Meaningful Relationship (whether it is in personal space or in a business context). 
  • In essence, "Relationship trump transactions, with trust at the heart of the matter" - Charles M. Green 
Reflecting upon some contemporary incidences of Mistrust and it's correlation with Trust Equation: (Living in middle of a pandemic, I couldn't think beyond COVID-19 related incidences)
  1.  This COVID-19 pandemic, has lowered the trust factor of general public on WHO (World Health Organisation). Several investigative journalism have pointed out WHO's flip-flop on handling the Corona virus outbreak in China when it was still in Phase 2 (localized within Wuhan). WHO's approach towards China has raised questions if WHO (an international organization) applies the same standards for all countries or there is differential approaches based on the country's power quotient? This lowered C (credibility), R (reliability) and S (Self-orientation) factors caused an overall decline of  WHO's Trustworthiness (T) in public perception.
  2. Recent publication of a clinical study on the drug HCQ (Hydroxy Chloroquine) in Lancet a highly reputed medical journal has caused a huge dent on it's Trustworthiness which was build over two centuries (a 197 years old journal). 
This study [Hydroxychloroquine or Chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of COVID-19: a multinational registry analysis] claimed HCQ:
  • Had no positive treatment outcomes on COVID-19 patients and 
  • It caused Cardiac rhythmic irregularities and increased the risk of cardiac fatality. 
On the basis of this published study medical practitioners stopped prescribing HCQ and ongoing HCQ clinical trials were stopped across the globe. Later when discrepancies were noticed by peer reviewers and they demanded to see the raw data, the authors backtracked as they couldn't furnish the data. The paper was subsequently retracted from Lancet with an apology from the authors. 

This incident raises serious questions ranging from conspiracy theory, to  conflict of interests (HCQ an effective cheap drug can potentially lower down the market valuation of a new research drug from an innovator company), to political affiliations (Did Trump's endorsement of HCQ, politically polarized the drug and a section of scientific community developed a bias towards HCQ?). 

Whatever be the truth behind this, such irresponsible act of publishing a unsubstantiated study had put so many life at risk, by depriving them of  HCQ from their treatment protocol. This incident shows low C (credibility) and high S (self-orientation) factors of the authors and the editorial board (conflict of interests or personal biases), reduced Lancet's Trustworthiness (T) which was build over two centuries.

3. There are innumerable accounts of such mistrusts which keeps exploding at institutional or individual levels. Collapses of giant corporations, financial institutions or sportsperson falling from grace due to doping or shady financial transactions all are due to compromise of either or all factors C (credibility), R (reliability), I (intimacy) and S (self-orientation) as explained by the Trust Equation.
4. Similarly on a positive note, when a company or a brand or a person commands Trustworthiness, it can be correlated to high standards of C, R, I and S factors as explained in the Trust Equation.     


Trust is the key ingredient for Social Capital. Without trust no meaningful relationship can be forged. Therefore it is important to nurture the attribute of Trustworthiness in us, for becoming effective individuals and to become a better human being, professionally and  personally. 

"Relationship trump transactions, with trust at the heart of the matter" - Charles M. Green 

Trust Equation: T = (C+R+I) ÷ S serves as an easy to recall formula, which gives us the conceptual understanding of Trust, in a simple yet profound manner! 

  1. Understanding the Trust Equation and 12 Trust Tips - Webinar by Charles H. Green
  2. The TrustedAdvisor
  3. How Trustworthy are you? article by John Baldoni on HBR 
  4. Surgisphere: Governments and WHO changed COVID-19 policy based on suspect data from a tiny US company. 
  5. China delayed releasing coronavirus info, frustrating WHO
  6. Star Cardiologist Mehra and data doctor Desai - story of Indian experts behind HCQ scandal.