Half-life is the period of time, for a substance undergoing decay, to decrease by half. Trust, reputation and social capital also decay, but at varying degrees. First, let’s look at how they’re built up:
Please excuse the rudimentary attempt at a diagram, but the visual does help. And if it makes sense, I may create a more comprehensive diagram…
The idea is that you need trust in order to solidify and build your reputation, and you need reputation to generate social capital. Your social capital can then be leveraged for your own purposes (business for example). They’re clearly building blocks, one on top of the other. If after gaining trust (within a community, for example) you attempt to leverage that trust for your own purposes, you might find it’s too early. Same holds true if you make attempts to use reputation and trust. But once you’ve gotten to the stage where you’re generating social capital, you can find ways of “cashing in on it.” And that’s OK. It’s expected, and done correctly can generate huge dividends.
Each of these elements decay, but at varying degrees. The top building block decays the fastest. If you pull out of the social sphere that you’ve engaged (for whatever reason) you’ll find that your ability to go back to that sphere or group and use your social capital diminishes fairly quickly. It’s not that those people don’t recognize your reputation or trust you, but social capital is built in large part on your frequent activity. You give, you get.
Reputation decays quite slowly, but it does diminish over time. And it’s not necessarily as transferable as social capital. For example, you’re working in one industry for quite some time and you’ve built a reputation there. You then move to another industry. You can transfer social capital fairly easily, especially if there are people who straddle both industries in your network, or people from one industry that can connect you to the other. Reputation is a bit tougher, because what you’ve done in one space may not translate as well in another. And once you’ve made a move, your reputation in the original industry deteriorates.
Trust decays the slowest. You can disappear out of a social sphere for years but still have the trust of those people. They may no longer be as eager to help you, and truthfully they may no longer be as able to help you, but they’ll still trust you … and consider you a friend. And not surprisingly, if you find yourself with a huge need, those that trust you will come to your aid. Trust still does deteriorate, just like everything does with the passage of time. But it’s the fundamental foundation piece needed in the equation.
If you look at how people build personal brands, develop careers, start companies, raise capital, close deals — essentially, how people create and seize opportunity for themselves — it’s through building trust, reputation and social capital.
You need to be aware of how these things deteriorate and diminish over time, and find ways to maintain the right levels of social capital, reputation and trust to ensure that you can keep moving in the right direction.
The more I read this, the more half-baked I think my half-life really is, but what the heck. If I only ever posted complete ideas, I wouldn’t have much to post… — What do you think?