Category Archives: Customer Psychology

Importance of Weak Ties in Strengthening your Social Network

In your social network you have two types of ties:

  1. Strong Ties: These include your close friends whom you know well and with whom you interact frequently.
  2. Weak Ties: These are the acquaintances who know you superficially and your interactions with them are rare.

Between the two of them who should support you more in propagating your service? The intuitive answer is obviously the former,  that is the strong ties.  Let us look at a hypothetical scenario.  You (A) have strong ties with B & C with whom your total strength of the network is 28 connections whereas with X & Y you have weak ties and the total network among you is 25 connections. Which one should give you more mileage? (refer figure below)


Let us look at it mathematically.

You will observe that in strong ties there are lot of common connections which lead to a great deal of overlap. Whereas in case of weak ties, the overlap is less and the distributed network is high.


You will observe that your message will spread to 7 new connections with strong ties whereas with 18 connections with weak ties.

Let us look with two examples:

  1. My book, Contextual Selling was published a few years back. I had conducted a few sales training programs for Rittal India, a leading manufacturer of IT enclosures. When Jacob Chandy, the Vice president Sales and Marketing went through the book, he immediately ordered for 80 copies. In the last 5 years I might have met him hardly 3-4 times.

I was delivering a Keynote address for Metrology Division of Carl Zeiss in 2014. After seeing the book, Mr. Wolfgang Schwarz, VP Sales based in Germany ordered for 30 copies. Our interactions over mail and linkedin are hardly 3-4 in the last two years.

I suggested Sunil my good old friend (strong tie) who was in sales about the book. He said, “I need a complimentary copy.”

  1. Last week I was conducting a program for Bruker Analytics in Mumbai. I had interacted with Dr. Shreeram Oak CEO, only once in 2012. After that meeting the second time I met him was while conducting the program.

In Mumbai I have two close friends, Amar and Ramesh (names changed) who are CEOs of companies in similar field and competing with Bruker. Both of them know me for the last 25 years. (We were working in the same company earlier ) Whenever we meet,  they regularly  complain about the poor quality of their salespeople and the need for a training program But training program to Rajan , no way!

Strong Ties:

  1. They know you too well. ( familiarity breeds contempt?)
  2. They move in almost similar circles
  3. There is a considerable overlap in their networks.

Weak Ties:

  1. They know you enough about your professional competence.
  2. More novel information about you can move into this network.
  3. There is a less overlap

The concept paper on Weak ties was developed by Mark Granovetter a Harvard Theoretician in 1972 as a part of his Ph. D. thesis. The Strength of Weak Ties is considered as a most influential sociological paper.

Quite often life is illogical and counterintuitive, do not ignore the weak ties,make the best use of them to improve the strength of your social network. Wish You a Very Happy and Prosperous New Year!

Rajan Parulekar|Paradigm Trainers Private Limited| #7, 7th Main, Binny Layout, Vijaynagar, Bangalore 560 040| T: 080 23207930, M: 98450 14098|

Importance of Tacit Knowledge for Organizational & Individual Growth – Part I

The two crucial challenges faced by today’s organizations in remaining competitive and thus  profitable are:

  1. Cut-throat Competition: I was talking to one of my clients who is in carbide tools, mould and die business. Twenty years back there were only 3 players. (two from Sweden and one from Israel) Today there are more than 20 players.(including  those from  Korea, Japan etc.) This has brought down the average margins by almost 50%
  2. Attracting and Retaining Talent: High competition leads to higher levels of attrition. It is assumed that a new executive starts contributing to the organization only after 7-8 months. Later he starts earning his salary and the real contribution starts only after 18-20 months. However in the present context, by the time the organization expects the employee contribution; the latter has already started looking out for greener pastures elsewhere.

Peter Drucker, the eminent management thinker predicted 40 years back that the future belongs to  knowledge workers and firms can have a competitive advantage only through effective knowledge management. There are three ways how firms can  remain  competitive:

  1. Generate new knowledge continuously.
  2. Disseminate the new knowledge across the organization in a systematic manner.
  3. Apply the new knowledge to develop new technologies , products and services.

There are two types of knowledge:

  1. Explicit Knowledge: Is the one which is available through systems, processes, technology, patents etc. This knowledge to a greater extent can be shared. Through technology transfer it can be acquired.
  2. Tacit Knowledge: This type of knowledge is with the individual and does not reside in SOPs. It is also context-specific. This is acquired through experience. The term was coined by Michael Polanyl in 1958 who said, “we can know more than we can tell.” It can be defined as skills, ideas and experiences possessed by an individual. Quite often they are not codified, written or verbalized and hence difficult to transfer from one person to the other. Examples of tacit knowledge are playing a musical instrument, preparing a signature dish, driving car etc.

Three decades back I was working with a renowned electrical consultant called P.H. Padhye in Mumbai  who was having a consultancy assignment  ( paralleling of existing Petbow and Skoda DG sets with the MSEB supply) with Ceat Tyres.  Once the plant had tripped off and the entire production had come to a grinding halt. The maintenance head and others were struggling to solve the problem but could not succeed even after 24 hours. When we went to the plant,  Mr. Padhye told the maintenance head, “ the setting of the speed governor of your alternators are wrong and that is why the tripping has occurred.” The problem was sorted out in half an hour. This is tacit knowledge.  Mr. Padhye was a very knowledgeable person. Once after a marathon session on electrical circuit design, I asked him,” how do you know so many things?” He replied, “after 32 years of experience in the industry, I know what I don’t know.”

Many of you must have heard the apocryphal story where the boiler of a steam turbine had malfunctioned. An expert mechanic  was called . He asked for a hammer hit it at the right spot and lo behold… the boiler started working.. When the mechanic submitted the bill of Rs. 10,000 /- The finance manager was quite perplexed. When asked for the breakup of the  bill for a task which did not take more than 5 minutes,  the mechanic replied as follows:

  1. 100/- for hitting the hammer
  2. 9900/- for knowing where to hit and thus solving the problem.

You will observe that the former is explicit knowledge whereas the latter is  tacit knowledge.

You will appreciate the importance of tacit knowledge through this example. recognising the face of a person in  a crowd is tacit knowledge;  whereas to  recollect the other details is explicit knowledge.  Only though experience this tacit knowledge is acquired. Every evening when the employees leave the office such tacit knowledge is leaving the organization and when a talented and experienced employee leaves the organization; such tacit knowledge is lost forever.

At a number of places I see that there are no jobs available for executives who are 45+.  This shows our irrational bias towards explicit knowledge (read technology) which youngsters seem to possess. But we fail to realize that  a fast-changing technology can even make a young executive redundant equally fast. What  is important is not so much as knowing a  specific technology but the ability to learn new things and the organization having such workforce (who are willing to learn continuously)  is called as a learning organization. A number of organizations feel cost to be  the only driver to retain a competitive advantage and replace older executives.

E.F. Schumacher in his book, Small is Beautiful has something relevant on this topic. Quote:

Education can help us only if it produced ‘whole man’. A truly educated man is not the one who knows a bit of everything, not a man who knows all the details of all the subjects (if such a thing is well possible). The whole man in fact may have little detailed knowledge of facts and theories (read explicit knowledge). He may treasure the Encyclopaedia Britannica because SHE KNOWS and HE NEED NOT, but he will be truly in touch with the centre.

He will not be in doubt about his  basic convictions, about his views on the meaning and purpose of his life. He may not be able to explain these matters in words; but the conduct of his life will show a certain sureness of touch which stems from his inner clarity. (read tacit knowledge)

Unquote (italics mine)

What are the different ways the tacit knowledge can be effectively harnessed shall be looked into my next blog…

Rajan Parulekar||

On Human Nature – Case of Irom Sharmila

Irom Sharmila has called off her hunger protest against AFSPA. She went through pain, misery and deprivation for 16 long years. There were hundreds of people who have been killed in the encounters with army. What was Sharmila’s demand? It was to repeal the AFSPA act or to modify some of its provisions. Continue reading

Three Bad Habits Sabotaging Your Productivity

Clock-StressPeter Drucker was  consulting for a CEO of a major bank in US.  For every meeting the  CEO used to assign Peter a time slot of 90 minutes. A highly effective person, the CEO was delivering  consistent results for his bank year-on-year. During the  one-and-half hour meeting the CEO refrained from taking any telephone calls Continue reading

How NOT to recruit a candidate

Natasha,  a sales manager from a renowned  hotel in Goa interviewed a candidate called Moin,  a B.Com graduate for the post of a trainee sales executive. Moin was a tall, fair and handsome guy who  spoke fluently during the interview. Natasha felt he was an ideal candidate for sales. When asked about his strength, Moin  replied his strength was manipulation. Save for this ‘minor’ aberration he looked OK on other fronts.

He was shortlisted  for the next interview, where he repeated the same answer when asked by the GM. The considerate GM said, “young man, please go home and refer the dictionary and check the meaning of the word manipulation. You should not give such answers. Elsewhere you would have been rejected straight away.”

After joining, Moin started throwing tantrums . When asked to usher a guest in the restaurant, he said, “I am graduate, I do not do such things.”  Natasha once asked him to follow up for payment from one of the regular guests of the hotel.  Moin fired the guest saying that if the latter does not pay immediately, he may have to face dire consequences. Luckily Natasha, the manager overheard the telephonic talk, seized the receiver and apologized to the guest. Within two months, Moin resigned without giving any reasons.

The manager had spent her precious time of hers as well as of others including the GM. It is very rare for someone to contribute significantly during the first six months. Precious time and money of the organization were wasted.  Some of the mistakes managers  make while recruiting are:

  1. Selection Bias for common traits: The candidate revealed his interest in being a DJ which was a common interest for the manager too.
  2. Emphasis on external appearance: Selection of candidates is based on appearance, personality as well the hearing the expected responses. For example when asked why would you like to join our company, the typical response from candidates is: “I would like to take challenges and grow with a growing organization.”
  3. Ignoring the Obvious: Listen to what the candidate says and also what he does not want to tell. Here Moin went on harping his manipulation skills which was ignored.
  4. Mistaken Competencies of a Job Role: Most of us feel that a good talker is a good salesman. It may be true for low-value sales. However for high-value product or service like premium hospitality,  the converse is true. It is not the glib talker but the effective listener who fits the bill for a good salesperson.

For more details please refer the chapter,  Why do Salesmen Love to Talk in my book Contextual Selling (for more details

Cognitive Biases that affect Decision Making

“I tried to get an appointment with my client for six months, I could not succeed”, said Shashi, my friend in an Omani Company. “However the moment my Scottish counterpart sitting in the next cabin called him, he got an appointment the next day”.

Two Caucasian ladies, one French and the other a Polish, sang an average composition on peace & harmony in Bangalore for 2-3 minutes. After their recital, there were hordes of people from the audience who wanted to get photographs along with them. The singers were neither celebrities nor accomplished singers, but the colour of their skin made all the difference! Let us look at the different types of perceptual biases most of us have.

  1. Blind-Spot bias-: Your own cognitive bias is a bias in itself. People notice cognitive and motivational biases much more in others than in themselves. We have a positive bias towards the Caucasians but may discount brown or dark-coloured skin executives.
  1. Anchoring bias: People are over-reliant on the first piece of information they hear. In a salary negotiation, whoever makes the first offer establishes a range of reasonable possibilities in each person’s mind
  1. Availability heuristic: People overestimate the importance of available information. A person might argue that smoking is now unhealthy because they know someone who chain smoked and still lived upto 100. Quite often the information is taken out of context or only a sample is selected by ignoring the other data.
  1. Bandwagon effect: The probability of one person adopting a belief increases based on the number of people who hold that belief. This is a powerful form of group-think and is reason why meetings are often unproductive.
  1. Choice-supportive bias: When you choose something, you tend to feel positive about it, even if that choice has flaws. Like how you think your dog is awesome – even if it bites people every once in a while.
  1. Clustering illusion: This is the tendency to see patterns in random events. It is key to various gambling fallacies. Like the idea that red is more or less likely to turn up of a roulette table after a string of reds.
  1. Confirmation bias: We tend to listen only to information that confirms our preconceptions – one of the many reasons it’s so hard to have an intelligent conversation about climate change.
  1. Conservation bias: Where people favour prior evidence over new evidence or information that has emerged. People were slow to accept that the earth was round because they maintained their earlier understanding that the planet was flat
  1. Information bias: The tendency to seek information when it does not affect action. More information is not always better. With less information, people can often make more accurate predictions.
  1. Ostrich effect: The decision to ignore dangerous or negative information by “burying” one’s head in the sand, like an ostrich. Research suggests that investors check the value of their holdings significantly less often during bad markets

It is not possible to eliminate all the biases, but the least we can do is to be aware of them and in mindfulness the chances of our decisions going wrong can be minimized.



Achieving expertise also depends on the domain!

Why is there a gap between efforts executives put and the results they get? The linkage between the improvement in one’s skills vis-à-vis the efforts put can be termed as structure of growth.

Last two weeks I was conducting training programs on Effective Value Selling for Capital Equipments which were in the price range of Rs. 50 L to Rs. 1crore.( Approx. $100k-200K) Selling of CNC machines involves considerable technical complexity and the sales engineers need to understand the customer behaviour in a sensitive manner. For most of the participants, I perceived a huge gap between the job role and the skill set possessed.

Remember the adage, practise makes a man perfect. Generally it is assumed that the improvement of a skill is directly proportional to the efforts, time spent and the intelligence of a person which is partially true. But it also depends on the domain in which one is working. Most of the domains may have the following types of growth structure. There are a number of growth structures but the major ones are: Logarithmic, Exponential and Sinusoidal ( Please refer figure: growth figures      )

  1. Logarithmic Growth: Here one tends to get visible results during the initial phases of activity. But the growth becomes harder as you go along. For example, in athletics running 100 metres in 14-15 seconds looks an achievable task for a beginner. Chopping off the next second or two is relatively easy. But to break the 10 second barrier only athletes at international level can achieve. One needs to be an Usain Bolt to reach a figure of 9.79 seconds where the runner up can be behind by just hundredth of a second. Same is true in cricket where a cricketer can scores a century on debut and become a celebrity but then it is only people like Sachin Tendulkar who go on reinventing their styles and techniques even after reaching a few milestones.

The first phase of logarithmic growth is steep and success comes easily. The second phase is like a plateau where the rate of growth slows down considerably. (refer figure a. logarithmic growth)

Thanks partly to media hype, you see such growth in music ( with pop stars, Little Champs in Saregamapa shows etc.) and in sports like IPL Cricket. With some talent and average efforts some people in such domain, become instant celebrities overnight. The real challenge is in phase 2 where you need to maintain your disciplined habits. You need to move away from your regular routine and break away from those habits. You can even develop a technique which may be beyond the textbook. Tiger Woods reinvented his swing in the second phase.

  1. Exponential Growth: There are some fields where one needs to put lot of hard work initially and the results will not be visible for considerable time. Mastering a field like Physics, computer science, music takes a hell lot of time. In the HBR Article titled The Making of an Expert by Anders Ericsson, Michel Pretula and Edward Cokely, the authors propose that to master a particular field it takes around 10,000 hours of systematic efforts. The results may not be visible initially so one needs to have lot of patience (refer figure b. phase 1 of exponential growth ). And one day, a miracle happens. Suddenly things fall in place and what you were struggling all these days and years, the obvious answers are revealed. The pieces of jigsaw puzzle get into the right place. Kekule developed the model of Benzene ring in his dreams by correlating a serpent swallowing his own tail, Einstein worked on his special theory of relativity for a number of years as a clerk in a Swiss patent office. Marie Curie had to process tonnes of pitchblende in inclement weather and in an ordinary laboratory for a number of years before extracting a few milligrams of radium. Science whether applied or pure is a typical example where the structure of growth is exponential. Einstein, Kekule or Marie Curie did not get the success overnight but had enough perseverance to sustain the phase 1
  1. Sinusoidal Growth: Fields like spiritual growth are neither exponential nor logarithmic. You do not start your spiritual journey as your hobby or for earning a livelihood/achieving fame. ( with the exception of fake gurus,babas & bapus ) It only comes out of genuine suffering or existential dilemmas of life. ( Refer figure c. Sinusoidal Growth ) It is said if you have not suffered a breakdown you may not get a breakthrough. Initially you start from a negative state, you may get results for some time, again you fall down and each time you raise the bar. Siddharth Gautam had to experiment with different techniques that were available in his time from the age of 30, and by 36 he realized chasing the techniques itself was a mirage and he was enlightened to realize his Buddha nature.

Each field may have either one or combination of the above growth structures. So to be an expert and an authority in a specific domain, it is not only important what traits you carry ( which is your DNA ) but to see whether there is a synergy between your traits and structure of your domain.

Remember, Vinod Kambli and Sachin Tendulkar had similar talent. Sachin could sustain in the phase 2 of logarithmic growth; Kambli could not.

As a professional remember, a formal education at the university does you no harm, provided you start learning there afterwards. It is simply beyond attending a 2-day company sponsored training program.