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ChEnected Post: The Credibility Threshold

January 27, 2011

This post was written for ChEnected.  That (slightly modified) version can be found here.

Being the youngest attendee (by about 10 years) at a recent conference meant that I spent a considerable amount of time observing the interactions between the more experienced engineers and businessmen.  As with many social interactions, there seems to be a formula for such discussions:
  1. Exchange pleasantries, handshakes & (if appropriate) business cards.
  2. Ask where the other person is based or “where that accent is from.”
  3. Share a story of working in the discussed location.
  4. Discuss the business environment and developments in one of the locations.
  5. Eventually get around to asking what one another do.
  6. Acknowledge that your organization needs their offering, can fill their need or has similar technical interests.
  7. Make agreements to contact the other person to maintain a business contact, acquire their services, or provide them your own.
  8. Shake hands, and move away with a slight nod.

The interesting thing for me was noting that, in order to discuss the business you are both there to discuss, you must first (a) indicate how experienced you are, and (b) show that you understand the industry. If you can’t satisfy these steps, then you end up stumped at Step 2, which is inevitably followed by an awkward excuse, a gentle nod and a quick exit.  The take home message here is that some reactions only go one way:

Tell me why I should listen to you, then tell me what you have to say.

We hear all the time about the importance of market knowledge and experience, so I got thinking about a business barrier I now refer to as The Credibility Threshold. Enter the activation energy graph that all chemical engineers know and love:

Generic potential energy diagram showing the e...

Input enough energy (Ea) and your reaction can proceed, but don’t put enough in, or try to go directly to the payload (that’d be the equivalent of only adding the delta H energy value) and pfft…  nothing.  Without sufficient energy input no bond can be formed, no product produced, and no (pardon the cheese) chemistry occurs.

But now replace our activation energy with activation credibility, and the interaction recipe above makes a little more sense.  We need to put enough energy into the relationship before it is going to produce the end product we are seeking.  If we try to jump straight to the payload discussion of what we can offer each other, then, again, pfft…  nothing.  Stumped at Step 2.

In short this means that we need to ‘talk the talk’ in order to network effectively.

Engineering information can come through many channels (for entry-level professionals this is often through our professional certification bodies), but for more industry-specific knowledge we may need to be more creative.  Here are some of the methods I use to keep up-to-date:

  • Going to local seminars through Engineers Australia and IChemE;
  • Taking advantage of conversations with my colleagues and bosses who see different aspects of projects, have more experience, etc.;
  • Reading industry RSS feeds on my daily commute (if you have a smartphone, then I recommend NewsRoom);
  • Following Twitter users who post interesting industry information (e.g. I follow a number of oil companies, energy news outlets and Chem Eng related posters);
  • Reading industry publications (e.g. for O&G the SPE, Oil & Gas Journal or Offshore Mag publications are a good place to start); and
  • Staying in contact with previous colleagues (through lunches, phone calls, e-mails and LinkedIn – preferably in that order).

I’m the first one to admit that this takes some effort, but I’ve seen the payoff of breaking through that credibility threshold.  It opens up opportunities to discuss interesting information, make business contacts or build good industry relationships.

Oh, and see how the use of a catalyst means that less energy is required in the activation energy graph?  Maybe a future post will talk about how having a good mentor or champion to be your catalyst can make the credibility threshold just a little easier to break through.

Lego people courtesy bucklava on Flickr; Activation energy plot courtesy Wikimedia.

This post was written for .

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. Eowyn permalink
    January 27, 2011 11:30 pm

    Love this. What a perfect analogy😀

    • January 28, 2011 10:17 am

      Thanks, Eowyn! I love it when communication and nerdiness can compliment each other😉.

  2. February 2, 2011 2:10 am

    Good insights and post, Aurian. Love your adaptation of the energy activation chart.

    The “credibility” factor is key to ultimately engaging someone to work with or for us. My take is that in the absence of personal knowledge (eg: I worked with this person for some period…) we resort to others’ knowledge (the referral) and ultimately the “brand” — which might be a company brand, an educational institution, etc.

    This is come of the stuff I blog about at my site ( as it specifically relates to career management (


    • February 2, 2011 9:16 am

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Tim, and a huge thanks for featuring my idea on your blog!

      There are so many contributing factors for credibility, and you are right that affiliation (to yourself, someone you know or a brand you ‘trust’) can all be instrumental in developing a level of understanding regarding someone’s intellectual context.

      The thing I constantly have to remind myself is that affiliation isn’t everything, and re-evaluation of the mental context I’ve built for someone, as a result of their affiliations, is critical (I write about that here:

      I’ve enjoyed reading your posts, and I’ll be watching to see what else you come out with!

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  1. Credibility Threshold | Musings of a Business Engineer

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