DfT Introduction

We are surrounded by wicked, thorny, complex problems that we are failing to address. If we stay on the current course, the next couple decades are highly likely to be really unpleasant for the majority of humans on the planet. The dangers we face won't spare the wealthy or well-connected.

I could spend a lot more energy convincing you of all this, but I'd be echoing all too many books these days. I'd rather talk about solutions. So let's skip the mess and slide over to what to do about it.

Many folks claim to know where the solution lies: Education! Legislation! Science! Innovation! Entrepreneurship! I don't think it's any one of these. They're all involved, but not the places or institutions that will catalyze the positive changes we need. For example, science is super useful, but we can't science our way out of our current messes.

The underrated point of leverage is trust. This book explains why and how. In addition, we will explain and explore the notion of Design from Trust, which is one way of rebuilding trust and redesigning our norms, systems and institutions, which are mostly designed from mistrust.

You have already experienced Design from Trust. If you've used the Internet, Airbnb, Wikipedia or Open Source Software; lent money through Kiva or other small-loan lenders; or explored workplace democracy, unconferences or unschooling, you've touched Design from Trust.

The problem is, nobody had pointed out what all these things had in common, never mind labeled it Design from Trust.


Ah, those pesky humans. Are we just stupider humans than previous generations?

Nope. Humans are pretty damned smart, but several things are making us act dumber these days, including:

  • Addiction built into our very popular social media
  • Consumerization, which ate our brains
  • Collective amnesia because we're drowning in the information flood and have little shared memory
  • Trust broken everywhere — with insurgents trying to undermine it, on purpose

Because I promised to skip the mess early on, I'll leave explaining these forces for later. For now, just one optimistic sentence:

People are generally more trustworthy than we think they are.

On a big stage at SXSW (South by SouthWest, an annual conference in Austin) around 2005, Craig Newmark and Jimmy Wales interviewed each other. Craig is the namesake and founder of Craigslist; Jimmy is the founder of Wikipedia. During the course of their 90 minutes onstage, each of them said a version of the sentence I just cited. Their experience was that bad actors exist, but they are outnumbered by people who just want to help make the system work properly.

Throughout humans' brief time on Earth, we have been trying to figure out how to live better — together. I set "together" apart in the previous sentence because we're such an individualistic culture, marinaded for so long in a "greed is good" ethos, that it's easy to interpret the first part of the sentence as a quest for individual improvements.

We are social critters. The things we built that are interesting and durable come from our interactions as societies.

Enter Design from Trust

As mentioned moments ago, examples of Design from Trust exist all over the world, and are working well. But so far, nobody has woven them together and pointed out what they have in common, never mind offered some guidelines for how to build similar systems in the future. That's the goal of this NeoBook. That, and exploring the very way we share, improve and implement good ideas.

So let's dive in!