Naga Chokkanathan

Archive for July 2010

I love Google Reader’s “Explore” feature. It analyzes my blog reading pattern and somehow magically finds items of interest to me from other blogs which I am not even aware. 90% of the time, Google’s guess is right, I love the random blogs it brings to my “Explore Box”.

Today Google gave me an interesting picture. It had two boxes, one HUGE, and another tiny. The huge box had a text inside it “200 Billion Hours: A year spent in watching TV by US Adults). After reading this, I immediately jumped to the tiny box. Its text was “100 Million Hours: to create Wikipedia”

(Image Courtesy: http://infobeautiful.s3.amazonaws.com/goggle_boxes.png)

What a powerful message! Even 1000s of articles, videos, expert interviews or advertisements about Wikipedia wouldn’t have given me this insight. Now I can clearly understand what a focused attention can achieve, even if the number of people behind it is less, or the amount of time spent is tiny, or both. This message was conveyed with a simple picture, which even a 4 year old kid can draw on a piece of paper or computer.

These images are called “InfoGraphics”. We see them in newspapers, magazines, television, and every other visual media. They take a bit of information (many times boring statistics) and visualize it in such an interesting way that it sticks in people’s memory. Many times we forget the article accompanied by these infographics, but we remember the image / information very well.

Power of visualization brings the context. As the cliché goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and an infographics is worth a lot more. It is worth investing our time to build such visual imageries whenever we want our messages to stick!

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N. Chokkan …

30 07 2010

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Last weekend, I was talking to a friend who is a soft skill trainer. Everyday, she meets different kinds of people (school kids, college students, corporate staff, government officers, soldiers, doctors, housewives, even senior citizens) and trains them in topics such as communication skills, creative thinking, presentation skills, public speaking and so on. A very cheerful individual who really loves her job.

But on the day we spoke, she sounded very upset. When I asked for the reason, she simply said, ‘Nothing, Just a difficult student.’

‘Why? What happened?’

‘This fellow has come to my class with the prejudice that this course is useless. So he questions every assumption, challenges me just for the sake of disturbing my flow. I am having a tough time convincing him that this class will benefit him.’

I had to say something to cheer my friend, ‘Come-on, you can always throw him out of your class, or ask him to shut-up.’

‘No, I can’t and I won’t’

‘Why Not?’

‘Can’t you see? He is not troubling me, he is actually helping me!’

‘What do you mean?’

She explained (with an affectionate tone that only a teacher will have :)), ‘When we conduct the same class / topics again and again, we tend to lose focus, We make certain assumptions, we take certain things for granted, We do certain things just for the sake of doing it, without really getting any benefit out of them for us or for our students. In short, we stop seeing things from student’s angle and start preaching, instead of teaching and guiding, That’s where such difficult students help a lot!’

‘I don’t understand’

‘See, this fellow acts as a devil’s advocate and challenges me continuously. He tells all the negative things about my course, the way I teach and so on, that I haven’t thought of. Those negative points may or may not be true, that’s not the point, without such a difficult student, I wouldn’t have raised those questions myself, or improved from where I was.’

‘Do you mean to say you were a bad trainer?’

‘Nope. I am just saying there was (and is) room for improvement and that fellow helped me locate them. When I work on those gaps and improve myself, I will be applying that knowledge in every future training I deliver and it will benefit all my students. Isn’t it?’

Very true. When we get a difficult or demanding customer / manager, we generally feel bad about it. Most of the times we try to duck away from that difficult person (or situation) so that we can continue the status-quo – our usual, comfortable existence. We don’t even realize the great chance for improvement that we are missing.

When we do something extra for a difficult customer and convince / satisfy them, that improved work quality will reflect in our interactions with all our other customers and make us a better professional / individual. That’s why great sportsmen like talented, challenging opponents, they are the actual reasons behind making of a champion!

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N. Chokkan …

23 07 2010

Recently I bought a book from an online store (betterworldbooks.com) and couple of days later, I got a mail confirming that my book is shipped now.

Usually we don’t even open such machine-generated emails because … well, they are machine-generated and boring, they lack a human / personal touch. Also, most of the times the subject itself tells us what is inside the mail, why bother opening it?

But this time, for some strange reason, I opened the mail and was pleasantly surprised to read a very unusual message. It was machine-written all right, but even in such an automated response, they managed to add a bit of creativity and enhance my customer experience. Here is that mail for you to read and enjoy (Believe me, you WILL enjoy it, even though it’s machine-written and not addressed to you!)

Hello Naga,

Holy canasta! It’s me… it’s me! I can’t believe it is actually me!

You could have picked any of over 2 million books but you picked me!

I’ve got to get packed! How is the weather where you live? Will I need a dust jacket? I can’t believe I’m leaving Mishawaka, Indiana already – the friendly people, the Hummer plant, the Linebacker Lounge – so many memories. I don’t have much time to say goodbye to everyone, but it’s time to see the world!

I can’t wait to meet you! You sound like such a well read person. Although, I have to say, it sure has taken you a while! I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but how would you like to spend five months sandwiched between Jane Eyre (drama queen) and Fundamentals of Thermodynamics (pyromaniac)?

I know the trip to meet you will be long and fraught with peril, but after the close calls I’ve had, I’m ready for anything (besides, some of my best friends are suspense novels). Just five months ago, I thought I was a goner. My owner was moving and couldn’t take me with her. I was sure I was landfill bait until I ended up in a Better World Books book drive bin. Thanks to your socially conscious book shopping, I’ve found a new home.

Eagerly awaiting our meeting,

– Your Book

Such a simple mail, but it conveys so many things about the company and builds customer relationship in a very unusual manner. Just few days back, I didn’t even know a website like this existed, but now, I am eager to buy more and more from them, difference – a single Email. Effective communication, Indeed!

If you have some extra time, Just re-read this beautiful mail once again, and this may be the right time to ask this question ourselves, ‘What do my Emails say about me? Am I sending a positive, likeable image? If not, what can be done differently?’

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N. Chokkan …

16 07 2010

‘Multitasking’ is a buzz word we take for granted, it is assumed that people who multi-task are superior human beings when compared to others who can only focus on one job at a time, poor souls!

kablam_numu010_juggle

(Image Courtesy: http://www.openclipart.org/detail/27863)

But the fact is, many of us don’t understand what is multi-tasking. Is it doing 10 things at a time? Or doing ten things one after the other, in a disciplined manner, switching between them in allotted time slots, based on their priority, criticality and nature?

In the second case, it doesn’t look like multi-tasking at all. After all, at any given point of time, we only do one task, then how can it be called Multi-tasking?

Whether we accept it or not, this is the nearest we can get to multi-tasking, the other case (doing 10 things at a time) is just not possible – You may be reading Email, listening to a song and typing a SMS in phone, but in reality, your brain doesn’t process those three things together. It can’t.

Many researches say that human brain is capable of handling / processing just one string of data at a time. If you try to push it beyond that, you either lose quality of work, or worst, it may impact / damage your concentration / cognitive control.

This means, when you are trying to do multiple things in parallel, your brain really focuses on one of them, keeping others in back burner. After few minutes (or seconds, if you are really used to this) it may switch the focus to another task, do a bit of work there and jump back to the first one (or a third one), This continues forever, creating an illusion that we are multi-tasking 24*7.

This leaves us in a very big confusion. There are so many things to do and so little time, how can we manage without the magic of multi-tasking?

The solution is very simple, Just understand that we can’t multi-task and it is not an option at all. Prioritize the items in your task-list, focus on one at a time, switch between tasks if required, But let the time slots be wide enough to do some decent work in between, otherwise you will be changing channels very often, not watching any program.

That gives me an idea, may be we should ask further tips from people who watch a live sports program, and a movie, and a mega-serial, all at the same time!

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N. Chokkan …

09 07 2010

File:Amazon.com logo.svg

(Image Courtesy: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/7/74/Amazon.com_logo.svg/300px-Amazon.com_logo.svg.png)

Anybody with a internet-age of more than few months would have seen amazon.com logo thousands of times, if not millions. All of us remember that distinctive smile-like arrow in that logo. But have you noticed that this arrow connects letter ‘a’ with letter ‘z’, conveying the message that they sell everything from A to Z?

Well, I didn’t, till I read this amazing article. This explains such hidden messages / meanings from many other popular (and few not-so-popular) logos. Before you click the link, Just see if you can spot the hidden things in these logos:

 

Eighty20

(Image Courtesy: http://www.eighty20.co.za/databases/Eighty20_files/logo.gif)

toblerone

Image Courtesy: http://theroxor.com/wp-content/uploads/toblerone.jpg)

File:Northwest Airlines 1989-2003.svg

(Image Courtesy: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/2/2a/Northwest_Airlines_1989-2003.svg/250px-Northwest_Airlines_1989-2003.svg.png)

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N. Chokkan …

09 07 2010

Traditionally, a war is a big, messy affair. Each side tries to gather a bigger crowd, better weapons and a tough strategy to beat its opponent. When we talk about Alexander or Napoleon or any other famous army leader / ruler, they had organized battalions, with clear roles and responsibilities planned for each soldier. Based on the leader’s strategy, different roles worked together to win the war. It was all very expensive, but the prizes after the war is won, made them worthwhile.

In addition to these ‘big budget’ wars, there were (are) Guerilla wars, They are highly unorganized attacks by small groups of people, using tactical ideas and minute-to-minute decisions, Compared to traditional wars, these are sort of low budget affairs, but very effective in terms of achieving the intended target.

During a Guerilla war, Team size is small, resources are very little, most of the times the opponent is more powerful and war conditions are difficult. But still Guerilla teams manage by sharing roles and responsibilities, saving money / time / resources in the march towards victory. This attitude is very important, otherwise they will be wiped out in no time.

Authors Anthony F. Smith & Keith Hollihan, in their book “ESPN: The company” use this Guerilla war analogy to explain how ESPN television (in its early days) managed to produce sports telecasts with relatively smaller teams / resources / budget. They call this “Guerilla TV”.

(Image Courtesy: http://www.espnthecompany.com/)

When ESPN entered the Cable Television market, It had very little money for producing sports related programs. They had to manage with whatever little they had and fill 24 hours of sports telecast, there was no other option.

Fortunately, ESPN’s team members were very committed to sports and wanted to serve a fellow sports fan very well. Hence they found innovative ways of running a “Guerilla TV”, while other (bigger) channels were running a traditional-war-styled television.

For example, If a golf tournament needs 4 cameras, 5 phones and 20 members to tape and telecast it, ESPN would send One camera, one phone and six people there. These team members will split the roles in such a way that they somehow manage a good quality production of that event. It was the passion they had for sports that did the trick.

Important point is, even with such shoe-string budgets, ESPN didn’t produce bad programs. In fact, they revolutionized the way sports telecasts were made by various unique, sports-fan-friendly features and innovations. Today, ESPN is THE standard for sports television, making it one of the biggest success stories in Media.

Guerilla TV is a wonderful lesson for any small team. Especially, you can compare it to a training program or an onsite software requirements gathering workshop, when making the whole team fly overseas is not practical. Hence, a small set of members travel, and they are expected to fill-in all the roles, responsibilities to produce a quality show in front of the customer. In such scenarios, Learning to fight Guerilla war, really helps!

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N. Chokkan …

02 07 2010


Disclaimer

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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