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Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing

Trust in the knowledge economy

Marco Tulio Zanini Michael Musante
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Trust in the knowledge economy
Marco Tulio Zanini
Fundação Getúlio Vargas, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and
Michael Musante
Springfield College, Springfield, Massachusetts, USA

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to provide insights into the expanding role of trust in the knowledge economy. Specifically it aims to focus on
the unique nature of the knowledge economy and the importance of informal and social control provided by the development of trust.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper is conceptual and a literature review.
Findings – The intra- and inter-organizational dynamics of the knowledge economy require a unique focus on the development and maintenance of
trust. Marketing relationships within and across firms will change and require a renewed emphasis on trust to safeguard the key asset in the knowledge
economy, knowledge.
Originality/value – This article adds new insights on organizational trust, specifically under the paradigm of knowledge-based production systems
that characterize a knowledge economy.

Keywords Organizations, Trust, Knowledge economy, Social control

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Paper type Conceptual paper

Introduction environment (e.g. Castells, 1996; Burton-Jones, 1999;

Audretsch and Thurik, 2001; Adler, 2001; Argandona,
Trust has become the focus of many studies in organizational 2003; Zanini, 2007; Santos-Vijande et al., 2013, Javalgi
and marketing research (Barber, 1983; Morgan and Hunt, et al., 2011). Some scholars have observed and characterized
1994; Lane and Bachmann, 1998; Dirks and Ferrin, 2001; the new institutional and organizational environment under
Brashear et al., 2003; Schoorman et al., 2007; Cook et al., the heading of the knowledge economy (Castells, 1996;
2009). As a result of such interest, contributions to the study Burton-Jones, 1999; Audretsch and Thurik, 2001; Adler,
of intra- and inter-organizational trust has come from other 2001; Argandona, 2003; Zanini, 2007). Companies operating
social sciences, including political science, sociology, in the telecommunications, telematics, and computer science
anthropology, psychology and economics (Cook et al., industries have been agents responsible for the “revolution” of
2009). Scholars affirm that, the existence of trust among the information and communication technologies which have
the members of an organization might contribute significantly occurred in the last three decades. These companies present
to increase the efficiency of many organizational tasks (Dirks singular characteristics due to the influence of a set of
and Ferrin, 2001; Sako, 1998; Mainela and Ulkuniemi, institutional innovations.
2013). In this line of reasoning, this article has the objective to add
Intra-organizational trust is believed to enhance new insights on organizational trust, specifically under the
organizational performance in a number of areas. For paradigm of knowledge-based production systems that
example, trust enhances the knowledge transfer process characterize a knowledge economy. Therefore, in section 2
(Rolland and Chauvel, 2000; Roberts, 2000; Mesquita and we will present an economic definition of trust and observe
Lazzarini, 2008; Jensen and Webster, 2009), facilitates the paradigm of the knowledge economy. In section 3 we
organizational efficiency and productivity (Ouchi, 1980; present some important aspects of the knowledge economy. In
Bradach and Eccles, 1998; Mainela and Ulkuniemi, 2013), section 4, we present some characteristics and work
and decreases transaction costs (Butter and Mosch, 2006; conditions in the knowledge economy companies. Finally, in
Argyres and Mayer, 2007). While there is a bounty of research section 5, we present our conclusions and outlook.
that discusses trust with respect to various marketing tasks,
there are fewer examinations that assess the role that trust
plays in specific institutional environments. Trust and the knowledge economy
Various scholars have addressed the various ways that The economic analytical framework considers trust as a sub-
technological advancements and information intensive class of risk situations related to human behavior. It is
activities stand to shape an institutional or organizational assumed that trust works as an informal mechanism in
economic systems which increase the effectiveness of
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at transactions, whether they take place in markets or within
www.emeraldinsight.com/0885-8624.htm hierarchies. It is commonly held premise that trust works as
an informal mechanism within economic systems to increase
the effectiveness of transactions. As Bradach and Eccles
Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing (1998) argue that as trust often emanates from social norms
28/6 (2013) 487– 493
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited [ISSN 0885-8624]
and personal relationships it has a role in economic
[DOI 10.1108/JBIM-04-2013-0102] exchanges.

Trust in the knowledge economy Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing
Marco Tulio Zanini and Michael Musante Volume 28 · Number 6 · 2013 · 487 –493

Modern economic contract theory proposes that every type outcomes (Dirks and Ferrin, 2001; Wolff, 2000; Zanini,
of exchange system or human interaction can be described as 2007).
a contractual relationship. Hence implying that every product
or service transaction has as part of its foundation either a The knowledge economy (KE)
formal or informal contract, or a combination thereof (Wolff
and Huppert, 2002). Business exchange is a nexus of Production systems based on the intensive application of
contracts whether they be formal agreements that can be knowledge have changed the nature and scope of the human
enforced by third parties (courts), or informal contracts that work in the contemporary economy. Consequently, it has also
cannot be enforced by courts or verified by third parties. changed transaction costs in the productive activities. De
Guided by corporate norms, trust is a highly valuable Alessi (1990) notes, a change in the transaction costs and
instrument that creates an environment which favors property rights systems implies in a change in the
exchange among interactive partners. This is particularly consequences that individuals bear as a result of their
evident for informal contracts between parties. actions, and it systematically influences human behavior (De
It has been suggested that trust has become an increasingly Alessi, 1990, p. 47). According to Roberts and van der Steen
important factor in contemporary knowledge-based (2001), the increasingly importance of knowledge as
production systems (Burton-Jones, 1999; Audretsch and production factor and the human capital suggests that the
Thurik, 2001; ILO, 2001; Adler, 2001; Zanini, 2007; Zanini providers of this capital should be accorded more
et al., 2009). Production systems based on the intensive representation in governance processes because they are
application of knowledge have changed the nature and scope providing more of the total capital and these investments may
of our contemporary economy. Lane and Bachmann (1998) need protection (Roberts and Van Der Steen, 2001, p. 128).
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claim that as knowledge-based production systems require It has created new demands for new control mechanisms in
greater sharing of sensitive information they function best economic exchange, more consensual, cooperative and
when strong cooperative partnerships exist. According to the interdependent, based on mutual interests (Figure 1). Lane
authors, the ability to develop and foster trusting relationships and Bachmann (1998) claim that intensive knowledge-based
becomes a competitive advantage in the new business productive systems require greater sharing of sensitive
environment. information as tacit knowledge built through consensual
The innovation process in the information era is rooted in relationships. Thus, according to the authors, trust
using technologies to efficiently produce new products. In relationships become a highly desirable property, not only as
many cases, given the sophistication of the task, organizations informal coordination mechanism, but also as a competitive
must go outside of the company to access talent and advantage in the new business environment. Figure 1 presents
capabilities that will allow them to meet their objectives. It has the transition to knowledge-based production systems and the
been argued that the accumulation of shared work respective change in the nature of the labor contracts.
experiences, mainly by groups of specialists, is at the heart The exponential rise in the use of technology by companies
of the innovation process in this new era (Castells, 1996). to either become more efficient, or develop innovative
This suggests that ongoing cooperation between strategic products and services, is the driving force behind what is
partners is a vital component of breakthrough advancements. deemed the knowledge economy. The process by which the
Cowan et al. (2004) claim that cooperation in the new era knowledge economy has arisen might best be classified as
takes on the form of sharing knowledge, routines, and ways of “creative destruction” as defined by Schumpeter. Schumpeter
approaching problems. (1942) characterized modern capitalism as being fueled by
Within any successful collaborative effort trust is most continuous “creative destruction” leading to constant
always present. Coriat and Guennif (1998) argue that trust competition.
among interactive partners is built through repetitive Castells (1996) states that two economic production
interactions over time that result in reduced uncertainty and paradigms exist, the traditional industrial model which is
the establishment of expected behavior. It could be easily based on intensive capital economies, and the new
argued that cooperation is a cornerstone of the innovative informational model which is guided by information and
process. As Selznick (1957) comments, the intentional communication technology innovation. A core difference
behavior of individuals who are mutually committed with between the companies operating in the knowledge economy
common ends defines the process of distinctive intellectual and those within traditional industries is the way in which
creation. Given the dynamics, it is seemingly fair to suggest technological advancements creates opportunities. For
that the value placed on cooperation and trust increases as we instance, steelworks, mining, and petrochemical companies,
move from traditional production systems to knowledge- though under increasing competitive pressures, experience
based production systems. relatively stable demand. The same does not occur in the
Economic systems based on trusting relationships lessen the telecommunications and computer industries where the
need for formal monitoring and control mechanisms (and emergence of technological innovations regularly culminates
their associated costs). Therefore, it may be argued that those with incumbent products being replaced by more advanced
firms that recognize the value of cooperative partnerships and substitutes.
promote trust within their corporate culture are well position The knowledge economy may be better characterized by a
to reap rewards including greater productivity and set of institutional innovations in a new macroeconomic
performance. However, some researchers suggest the path configuration that has as its means and motor the
to superior performance via trust is not that simple. While a advancement of information and communication
trusting environment is an enabling component for productive technologies (ICT). Such institutional innovations consist of
transactions, studies have often suggested trust provides a a set of elements that affect the national and international
more moderating than direct effect on performances economies, such as the opening of captive markets to foreign

Trust in the knowledge economy Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing
Marco Tulio Zanini and Michael Musante Volume 28 · Number 6 · 2013 · 487 –493

Figure 1 Transition to knowledge-based production systems and the change in the nature of contracts

investment in several countries (deregulation), the world economic and technological changes is necessary (Castells,
capital flow, the privatization of state companies, the 1996).
expansion of multinational companies, the continuous Many of the successful firms thriving in the new era have
innovation of new technologies, and a high international skillfully managed their cluster of informal network
competition. The association of such factors provided the relationships. According to Fukuyama (2000), the
emerging of new market opportunities, new technologies, new importance of informal networks is that they provide an
producers and services, new organizational forms, and a new alternative channel for information flow between and within
human labor dynamics. organizations. Such networks may aid in the access, storage,
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One of its consequences is the configuration of a new processing, and distribution of information both inside and
business environment under a high level of uncertainty and outside of the company. An established network allows a firm
risk, requiring from the companies a continuous need for to approach business activities from a difference perspective.
adaptation to the exogenous and the endogenous changes in For example, what distinguishes a simple material supply
their system. Three significant sources of inter-related contractual relation, or outsourcing, from such an activity
uncertainties can be identified in this new institutional coordinated with an informal network is that the latter will be
environment: developed under less formal, more equalitarian,
1 The uncertainties created by legal and political causes interdependent, and cooperative conditions. While a partner
relative to market deregulation, to the privatization of relationship may begin as one based on a formal contract, in
state-owned companies, and to the regulation process of many cases the relationship may evolve to take on more
competition between companies after the privatization informal properties as trust between the parties becomes
process. Very often, due to the regulation process, such more established. This suggests that the greater the reliance
companies operate under market rules that are undefined on informal networks, the greater the reliance on trust as an
operative function for the firm.
or undergoing definition.
2 The uncertainties relative to the constant technological
New work and relationship dynamics
changes and the continuous technology innovation
The second component we highlight addresses the emergence
of new work dynamics that are based on intensive knowledge
3 The uncertainties relative to the market conditions
and high specialization. This was well characterized by
characterized by a high competition, uncertain and
Castells (1996) in his comparative analysis between the
irregular demands, and the management of increasingly industrialism and the informationalism paradigms.
more complex solutions in a short period of time. All such Informationalism in this respect refers to the accumulation
sources of uncertainties derive from the aforesaid set of of knowledge and the greater levels of complexity in
institutional innovations under which the knowledge information processing. Knowledge application in
economy companies operate. meaningful ways promotes a process of systemic continuous
Given this, firms must be prepared to address both inherent improvement. Increasingly efficient production systems that
exogenous and endogenous changes. We next analyze three yield technological developments are the blueprints for
important aspects of the knowledge economy with respect to advancements in the informational age.
instability and insecurity within markets and how they relate While presenting a launching pad for the development and
to trust. implementation of new ideas, new work dynamics within the
knowledge economy presents two potential problems. The
first of which is the consideration of the property rights of
Coordination in relationship networks work output. Argandona (2003, pp. 13-14) poses the
The production capabilities for companies operating within question: “to whom does knowledge belong?” The author
the knowledge economy are largely dependent on effective notes that the question can be easily addressed when
coordination within relationship networks. Such coordination knowledge is externally provided, for instance, when
is critical given the need to constantly adapt to volatile, highly accessed via a database. But the answer to the question
uncertain environments. A well-developed network allows for becomes much more complex when such knowledge (as well
greater production flexibility and information availability. It is as skills, attitudes, and values) is acquired in a tacit way. The
the effective coordination within networks has permitted firms second problem relates to the great difficulty in measuring
within the information and communications technology individual performance in collaborative settings. It is often the
industries to be on the forefront of innovation. In ICT case that individual contributions cannot be clearly defined in
industries rapid adaptation to unpredictable conditions amid the creative process. How to measure individual contributions

Trust in the knowledge economy Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing
Marco Tulio Zanini and Michael Musante Volume 28 · Number 6 · 2013 · 487 –493

in the development of technological solutions or in the these companies. As Dantas (2002) states, such companies
implementation of complex information processes is a are often committed to short term investment and return
managerial challenge. Traditional models that appropriately perspectives due to the risk capital nature (venture capital),
quantify and reward effort and input are not easily applied in used a lot in the development of technology companies since
sophisticated, multi-layered processes where contributions the 1950s. Additionally, the strategies adopted by such
come from many sources. An unfortunate outcome is that the companies follow the same dynamics. Earlier Cyert and
misattribution of recognition and rewards may lead to March (1992) observed that scenarios of greater uncertainty
dissatisfaction and ultimately the loss of commitment by as to the future suggest the adoption of short term strategies.
employees (Ouchi, 1980). That creates two problems for such companies: the first is that
Given the challenge of fairly attributing intellectual the evolution of such technologies is usually out of proportion
contributions, one can appreciate the belief that trust must with the company’s adaptation capacity. It is constant the
be present in the new work dynamic in order to achieve need for quick reorganization, re-dimensioning, and re-
sustainable functionality. Only under the pretense that disposition of resources internally, and externally, for
attributions, recognition, and rewards will be fairly instance, through the formation of partnership networks.
apportioned will harmony exist in the system. In this respect The decision process in the choice for a certain technology
all parties must possess an adequate level of trust in their has an impact on the choice and contracting of suppliers, on
organization, and the system as a whole, that accolades and the quality and quantity of the contracted resources, and on
rewards will be distributed fairly and equitably. the investments for new products development and launching.
The result is an organizational management through constant
New business dynamics restructuring and layoffs of the workforce. Such practices
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An era beset by high technological and market volatility has establish a less co-dependent relationship between employer
led to new business dynamics. The new environment is not and employee under more short term perspectives and,
only wrought with technological uncertainty and risk, it is also consequently, it affects the internal relationships based on
highly competitive. Only those companies that can trust which can be built over time. What occurs
outperform their competitors in delivering superior solutions simultaneously is a loss of monitoring capacity and the
for their target markets will realize success. implementation of formal and informal rules due to constant
Technologies are often viewed as information and/or reorganization of rules. Here we see a paradox, especially
communication “solutions” rather than as a products or because such companies have work routines in which
services. In order to be embraced by the market, tech individuals must constantly interact and share knowledge as
solutions must provide value through their ability to either sensitive information, common ideas and tasks as part of the
reduce costs or improve quality. However, given shortening productive process. It suggests a greater dependence on
cycles found in the knowledge economy, technology solutions relationship-based, informal contracts. However, in that
are often quickly leapfrogged. To provide the superior context, trust becomes a rare element for the promotion of
solution is a fleeting concept in the new environment. Thus, spontaneous cooperation.
a firm’s success is highly correlated with its ability to quickly
develop and market new products. In this dynamic Knowledge economy companies and work
marketplace where new offerings must improve upon
existing models, continuous technological innovation is
inherent. The knowledge economy is not considered a sector
The competitive advantage in such markets will be a lot phenomenon, but rather a fundamental restructuring of the
related to human capital, as the management capacity to economy. Yet, we perhaps too conveniently associate the
stimulate an intensive and continuous, knowledge-based knowledge economy only with companies that are similar in
innovation process, with a high sensibility for the their technologically-oriented scope. Argandona (2003) noted
competitive market. This requires a skill to conciliate the that the knowledge economy has affected commerce in
management of distinct temporal processes, such as the general, but to different degrees of intensity among industries.
solution development time and the time for its According to the author, while the KE is in essence a
commercialization, requiring a full coordination of universal phenomenon, the companies most identified with
specialized tasks in internal and external networks. The the knowledge economy are those associated with providing
growing complexity of the offered solutions requires not only goods and services based on ICT. While ICT firms may differ
a type of specific knowledge, but also a set of information on in focus (e.g. Information production, storage, or
converging technologies. In this way, such companies are distribution), they all have as their marketable product a
often led to form partnership and association networks with technological solution.
other supplier and distribution companies. The quickness in As noted previously, the knowledge economy is
strategically synchronizing the development of technological characterized by uncertainties. This uncertainty extends to
solutions, forming and keeping alliances and partnerships, the workforce. A challenge for companies competing in the
and the capacity to negotiate with clients and suppliers in due new environment is adapting to keep pace with the demands
time are success factors that may secure such companies’ of the market. Given this, firms are faced with the constant
survival. need to quickly reorganize and redeploy internal resources. At
Such dynamics often happens in an environment of high times the result is organizational action that requires
uncertainty about future demands and about the potential restructuring and layoffs within the workforce. The threat of
extension of the solution life cycle and unsuccessful cases are reorganization has a negative effect on internal relationships
frequent. What can be noticed is the transference of short and a detrimental impact on trust between the employer and
term transactional perspectives of the market dynamics into its workforce.

Trust in the knowledge economy Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing
Marco Tulio Zanini and Michael Musante Volume 28 · Number 6 · 2013 · 487 –493

While companies operating in the KE need to be nimble, The knowledge economy is characterized by constant
they must also be conscious to manage personnel in such a change and innovation. It is important for researchers to
way that will mitigate negative outcomes when change is explore other underlying forces that may impact the market
necessary. It is those organizations that strive for a more stable responsiveness capabilities of KE companies. This
environment have the best chance to be witness to a more understanding is especially critical given the speed at which
trusting workforce. The outcome of elevated levels of trust these companies must efficiently execute their strategies
within an organization is a more committed, reliable, and (Ribeiro et al., 2009) in order to be successful. Ultimately, it
productive employee base. In this case effective human may be suggested that performance depends not only on the
resource management grounded in fostering employee trust capacity to create marketable goods and services, but also on
may be considered a competitive advantage in the new the capacity to adapt to environmental changes in a way that
economy. maximizes workforce operations.

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Trust in the knowledge economy Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing
Marco Tulio Zanini and Michael Musante Volume 28 · Number 6 · 2013 · 487 –493

About the authors appeared in Revista de Administração Contemporâne, HSM

Management and Valor Econômico. Marco Tulio Zanini is the
Marco Tulio Zanini is Professor and Program Director of the
corresponding author and can be contacted at:
Executive Master in Business Management at the Brazilian
School of Public and Business Administration (EBAPE) at marco.zanini@fgv.br
Fundação Getúlio Vargas, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. His research Michael Musante is Assistant Professor at Springfield
interests include organizational trust, leadership, management College. His research interests include services marketing,
of organizational intangibles, and high performance teams business-to-business marketing, and brand management. His
and special operations. He is the author of four books research has appeared in the Journal of Marketing Theory and
including Intergrated Management of Intangible Assets Practice, Journal of Hospitality Marketing and Management and
(Qualitymark, Rio de Janeiro, 2009). His research has Sport Marketing Quarterly.
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