Naga Chokkanathan

Archive for March 2010

(Wrote this for Tulika Books’ Blogathon-2 in this URL:

Few days back, my daughter forgot to take her water bottle when she went for her weekly dance class. We also didn’t notice it till she returned from the class.

Unfortunately, this class happens in some other student’s house, in a closed environment. As a result, she started feeling very thirsty and needed water. But she felt very shy to ask somebody else, as she is used to carrying water bottle with her wherever she goes, and both of us (Her parents) advised her strongly against drinking unsafe water. Hence, she remained thirsty throughout the two hour dance class and when I went to pick her, she was almost crying. When I checked, she just said ‘I need water.’

Of course, we went to a nearby shop and she got her water + a bowl of ice cream to go with it. But that gave me an opportunity to have a nice chat with her, about water, and natural resources in general.

Water is something we all take for granted. But the reality is, its fast disappearing and already many places in India (not only villages) are suffering because of this. If we are not careful, this may spread to the entire world – This is what I told her and after two hours of thirst, she could take the message easily, and agreed to co-operate with us to save water, or atleast not to waste it unnecessarily.

I need to see how much this works in reality. But I felt my daughter forgetting water bottle for a day, is a real good thing to happen for her!


Sometimes, Language can be very funny. Especially when you don’t know what certain words or phrases mean.

In reality, almost all of us use phrases such as ‘touch base’, ‘loophole’, ‘goose bumps’, ‘behind the scenes’ and many others without really knowing their meaning. Sometimes it just becomes a symbol as if there is no real story behind it.

This book breaks this myth. Webb Garrison Provides all the interesting stories behind some everyday words and phrases we use. Once someone reads this book, their way of speaking will be much improved. First they will know the meaning / reason behind various phrases they speak, and second, we will remember, and use many other new phrases which we never heard or thought of using. This book really makes learning language a child’s play, with wonderful stories.

As a sample, what Lion’s share means? Webb Garrison traces its root in an Aesop’s fable. Here, a lion, along with few other animals goes for hunting. They all work together and kill a deer. Now, the lion divides its meat into four equal portions, and then takes three for himself, and suggests others divide the fourth. This is how the term ‘Lion’s share’ came into our everyday English!

Surprised? Go ahead and buy this book, I bet you can’t stop reading until all the 600 and odd stories are completed!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Last week I was in an airport, where there was a shortage of baggage scanning machines. As a result, almost every machine was shared by two or three airlines.

Let us say my ticket was with Airline X, and I went to its scanning machine. It was shared with Airline Y also.

As I approached the machine with a heavy luggage in hand, two people came forward to help me. First one asked, ‘Which airline sir?’

I answered ‘Airline X’. Immediately, his face changed, he swiftly moved away from me, letting the other guy help me.

Obviously, the person who spoke to me is from Airline Y. So, I am not their customer, he is not paid to help me.

But if seen from another angle, I may be their potential (future) customer. Now this incident has gone in my mind permanently, because I felt that person ignored me, even insulted me by offering to help me and then turning away. It may be illogical and even stupid, But as a customer, that’s how I felt!

When this whole episode happened, the airport was practically deserted. There were not many people using this particular scanner machine, so the gentleman from Airline Y cannot justify his action by saying ‘I was busy with my present customers, how can I take care of a future customer?’. He had time (after all moving a luggage on top of the scanner machine is going to take 10 seconds maximum), and a chance to win some points with a potential future customer and lost it. That’s it.

The fact is, Businesses are no more dependent on current customers. If there are no future customers, they can as well close the shop! This means, we can’t afford to miss even a single chance to make an impression on a potential future customer, Even if they are currently using our rival’s products / services, it is worth servicing them with a smile!


Ever wonder why our Desserts are so expensive, sometimes costlier than the main food itself?

Of course, they need to use lot of costly ingredients to make those tasty Gulab Jamuns and Other sweets, But that’s not the only reason.

Recently I was surprised to read ( that restaurants purposefully overprice their dessert menu, In fact it is part of a bigger pricing strategy.

It seems, on an average people spend 25 minutes for their main course, and another 20 minutes for desserts. It doesn’t matter if its sweets, or juice, or ice cream, or whatever, people spend their sweet little time treasuring the moment.

This means, someone occupying a table and having a single item for 20 minutes, blocks the opportunity for that restaurant to serve main course to someone else, and make more money, That’s why they overprice desserts, to recover at least some extra cost from you!

It’s refreshing to see how restaurants respect their time. We can take a lesson from them to respect our (office / free) time too. What could be our (time) pricing strategy?


Not very long after Pakistan got their independence, they choose to attack India to capture certain additional areas that they felt belonged to them. Prime among them was Kashmir.

Of course, India won that war, and many others fought for the same reason. That’s not our focus here.

During 1965 War, Pakistan had ordered number of latest army tanks, to fight against India. All of them were technically MOST advanced, and Pakistan felt it will be a key in their success over Indians.

But guess what, the same army tanks, equipped with latest technologies, became the primary reason for their failure.


The reason is very subtle. Pakistan soldiers had never seen those latest tanks before the war started, and they had no practice, or training, or time to get used to its buttons, controls etc.,. They were forced to use them directly in the real war.

This resulted in lot of confusions. Most of the army men didn’t know what those buttons do, or how to use the available (latest and most advanced) controls. They resulted in making errors, and lost their lives. India crushed them with their old, inferior technology, but simple, easily usable tanks and other weapons.

Having a product, or a service, or a project, or a software program with so many complex features doesn’t assure us a success. Sometimes, that itself can become the reason for our failure. That’s why iPod has fewest buttons among all the MP3 Players in the world, and still sells like … well, iPods!


When we read a news paper article, or an email, or a document, we don’t really read it in full. Mostly we skim through the content looking for recognizable patterns, and our mind fills up the rest.

To test this, just ask yourself a question, how often you find spelling mistakes in documents? Why? (Or, Why not?)

While reading anything, we may ‘see’ spelling errors, but it doesn’t register in our brain, we simply assume the right spelling in that place and go on, Similarly, when you read the characters ‘beau’ coming next to each other, you immediately assume the entire word ‘beautiful’ and move to the next word. This ability to ‘fill’ and ‘understand’ is a special power of our brain.

Especially, when you become expert in certain things, you assume more. This is because we already know more about anyone else on that subject and we want to save time, so we jump words, statements, sometimes paragraphs and fill the rest with assumptions.

Do you see the problem here? Making too many assumptions can backfire, we may think we have understood the problem statement clearly and provide a solution, But in reality some wrong assumptions might force our solution totally unusable.

This is very critical, especially when reviewing documents such as user requirements, designs, project plans, test cases etc., Any assumptions and jumping to conclusions on these will result in a disaster at a later point. Of course, no one would know its because of your wrong assumption all these happened, But our conscience will know the truth.

Just like human beings, respect anything you read and they will give back more than ever!

During the early days of 19th Century, people were afraid to build tall buildings!

The problem was, if someone is constructing a building with six or more floors in it, they can’t fully rely on staircases for people to move up and down. Elevators were necessary.

Fortunately, the Elevator (Lift) technology was already there. But people considered them unsafe. Imagine falling all the way from 10th floor, or worst, 25th Floor. No one wanted to take that risk.

In 1853, Elisha Otis, an American inventor developed a new and reliable safety device to avoid elevator accidents. His ‘special’ brake will come into effect whenever ropes of an elevator broke and save the people inside. It was a wonderful new invention.

But people were not sure if it would work. What if we believe this gentleman, get onto a lift and suddenly the safety brake doesn’t work? Again, no one wanted to take the risk.

Hence, Mr. Otis decided to take the matters on his own. In front of a huge audience, he got on an ‘open’ elevator, went to several feet high, and then cut the rope. When he started falling from that height, people were horrified, fearing a certain death for him.

But guess what, the safety device worked. Every time, he was saved and calmly told his audience, “All Safe Gentlemen, All Safe”.

This dramatic experiment, and the fact that Elisha Otis was willing to risk his own life to prove the worth of his invention, changed fortunes for the Otis elevator company. After that no one hesitated to build tall buildings and a whole industry grew around it, resulting in today’s skyscrapers!

What risk you will take, to prove your creation’s worth?



The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Organization He works for / belongs to.

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