Confucius and the Q Factor

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 6:02AM

The fourth cornerstone of integrity is Trust (xin).

The Chinese character has two components: (ren) meaning person and (yan) meaning the spoken word. Trust therefore means literally a person’s word and embodies both trust and credibility.

At first glance, they may seem to be synonymous but they are not. If you were to lend a friend a sum of money, it is based on trust. But if your friend fails to return the money each time she promises to do so, she loses her credibility. Trust is founded on belief and is unequivocal (e.g. either you trust a person to lend her your money or you don’t). Credibility is based on perception and can be metrically scored and ranked.

Our lives today are driven by perceptions. The price of gold changes, depending on the perceived value placed on it. The gold itself has not changed but the perception of the value has. It is changing perceptions that drive the stock prices. A diamond ring is perceived to be worth more if it is presented in a turquoise Tiffany’s box than in a plastic Ziploc® bag. Perceptions determine the way we make choices and has fuelled industries created to mold and modify our perceptions.

Advertising, media and marketing aim to manipulate our perceptions and consequently to change our view of products. Image consultants do the same with the people they "market," including politicians and athletes.

In 1963, a metric score was developed by Marketing Evaluations Inc. called the Q Score, also known as Q rating, Q factor, or just Q (for Quotient). It is used to determine the likability and perception of products. This is an invaluable tool for marketers and advertisers because it measures and ranks perceptions of commodities, goods, television programs etc. Is there then a Q rating for scoring how we choose people and in whom we should place our trust? There is, according to Confucius.

Do we place our trust in people who are able to change our perceptions of them by the way they dress and speak and their academic and professional qualifications, but who are unprincipled and corrupt? How often do our perceptions cloud our judgments and cause us to trust in the Charles Ponzis, Allen Stanfords and Bernie Madoffs of this world?

What parameters do we use for choosing friends, recruiting staff, awarding scholarships, and electing leaders? Are we influenced by the people we surround ourselves with? Do we leave our trust in these people based on gut feeling, appearances, likability, status and even qualifications?

Abundant evidence exists from Chinese history of many dethroned emperors and empresses who have taken council from advisors who had put their own interests above those of the country. They were court officials, concubines and even eunuchs with the ear of the monarch. It is only natural one would trust the council of those we choose to believe in and trust. But that alone doesn't determine or ensure that they are of sound character and values.

Confucius asserts that government must not lose the trust of her people or the country will be lost. Choice of people to run the government is paramount. Are our choices guided by precepts or perceptions? Are they chosen on meritocracy alone without taking into account values, for if so, the country will be in peril warns Confucius.