Naga Chokkanathan

Archive for August 2010

This is a true story – from my colleague / friend Balaji. I have changed his name and few other details for obvious reasons 🙂

Few days back, Balaji landed in Singapore to deliver a training there. The class was supposed to start at 9 AM, and he reached there 30 minutes earlier, just to make sure things are okay.

Problem was, things were NOT okay. The training he was supposed to deliver was different from the one he prepared for. Due to a clerical error or miscommunication he was standing in front of 20 eager students expecting him to teach a topic he was clueless about.

Fortunately, there were some issues with respect to training setup. When their system administrators were trying to crack the problem Balaji went online and arranged to get the training material for the new course. He also got the login to the system where the labs are going to be executed. He started reading / understanding the slides and running the labs in parallel.

After sometime, Administrators announced that the system problems are resolved and the class can start. By then Balaji was ready to teach Module 1.

First session went well. When the students were doing labs for this module, Balaji started preparing for Module 2. This process continued till he completed all the modules for the first day’s class. After that he went back to the hotel room and continued his preparation for Day 2. He worked till Midnight, got few hours of sleep and was ready for the next day’s class at 8:30 AM prompt.

He repeated this same on-the-fly preparation and delivery for next couple of days and completed the training. Students were very happy about their learning – it reflected in the satisfaction feedback they gave to Balaji – 94.5%

I learnt of this whole story AFTER the training was over. I told Balaji ‘If I were you, I would have walked out of the class saying it was a clerical error and I am not responsible. There are so many risks in delivering a technical session in fast-food mode and chances for failure are very high!’

Balaji’s answer was ‘True. But I can’t let down my students for somebody else’s mistake!’

I am still not able to believe what Balaji was able to manage in his short stay @ Singapore. May be commitment is more important than everything else!



N. Chokkan …

27 08 2010


A few decades ago, IBM Corporation had a nickname ‘Snow White’. Can you guess why?

When IBM’s Mainframe computers were ruling the world, all other computer manufacturers couldn’t do anything to fight with this giant. They had to wait (and fight) for the leftovers. Media nicknamed IBM as Snow White and its seven competitors (Burroughs, UNIVAC, NCR, Control Data Corporation, Honeywell, General Electric & RCA) as seven dwarfs.

This domination continued even after the arrival of PCs. IBM’s personal computers introduced a quarter century ago was leading the market by a huge margin and others had to fight really hard to get any business. Their products were called “IBM PC Clones”.

In the last couple of decades, Big Brands still rule the world. But small companies are not far behind. In fact this long tail (collection of small and medium size companies, startups etc.,) is much more powerful than any single Corporation today.

Whether you are a product company or a service company or an individual freelancer, competition is there from all quarters. No one wants to miss even a small piece of business these days. In such a hostile environment what should a newcomer / small company do to get the confidence of prospects and prove its worth?

Yesterday I was watching an interview of Sachin Bansal, Co-Founder & CEO of the famous Indian online bookstore (CNBC / Young Turks Transformers). The interviewer wanted to know why Flipkart decided to concentrate on selling Books. Why not Mobile Phones or Cameras or other high margin goods?

Sachin Bansal’s answer was very simple and straightforward: ‘Books have a low transaction size. You can buy a book for a cost as low as 100 Rupees. So it is very easy for the customer to trust you with that first transaction. On the other hand if I sell a costly item, customer may not trust me (a new, unknown company) with a five thousand rupees order.’

(Image Courtesy:

Of course, Flipkart had so many other challenges. But earning the trust of a customer with a low value transaction was the important turning point. Once the customer places an order worth Rs 100 or so, all you need to do is bowl them over with your product quality / speed of delivery / quality of service / after sales service etc., They may not make too much of a profit in this first order, but it can be considered as in investment to get this customer’s confidence and do more business with them in future.

This rule applies for any business. Only tough part is identifying what is that low value transaction your prospects would be interested in!



N. Chokkan …

20 08 2010

I am a big fan of Sachin Tendulkar. Whenever he scores a century or more, next day morning the first website I open will be Google News. I will search for the word “Sachin” and read every article (usually more than 100!) every paragraph, every word written about his exceptional performance the previous day.

Okay. What if Sachin fails?

No prize for guessing. I avoid newspapers the next day. I just don’t want to read anything about Sachin’s failures. That’s it!

On a related note, recently I read an article about famous people’s sleeping habits. It had an interesting trivia about Napoleon Bonaparte.


(Painting By: Antoine-Jean Gros

Image Courtesy:

Napoleon was a light sleeper. Especially when he was in a battlefield, he slept very little and was always thinking, strategizing and discussing with his team members.

Sometimes, this made Napoleon less energized during the day. He would feel very tired and his body asked for a well deserved rest. In such situations, Napoleon used to take a 30 minutes nap – Nothing more, Nothing less, this simple trick used to energize him for next many hours.

Naturally, Napoleon didn’t want his counselors, generals and army men to disturb him during this power nap. However, there was one exception – Napoleon instructed his subordinates: ‘Don’t hesitate to wake me up, when there is a bad news!’

‘What if there is a good news?’

‘Don’t bother. Good news can wait. But I want to hear about the bad news / failure / mistakes as soon as possible, so that we can start thinking of corrective actions!’

No wonder, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar remembers every dismissal in his 20+ years’ career!



N. Chokkan …

13 08 2010

This decade seems to be the age of Business books. Especially those with unique themes, simple Analogies that are trying to move complex topics away from CEO desks and reach the general public.

Problem is, not even 0.01% of this general public run their own businesses or manage a team of individuals. So explaining business / team building related topics to them is very difficult, unless and until you choose a theme which makes sense for their present world, and tries to connect it with the bigger (next) stage they want to reach.

This is the reason Sports and Military are the two repeating themes in Business Books. Anyone can visualize these scenarios which helps in learning even if you are not born with the B’gene.

‘Lead Like IKE’ by Geoff Loftus narrates the real story of General Dwight D. Eisenhower using World War II background very effectively. However, this is not just a very interesting thriller biography, but teaches 10 business strategies from the way Eisenhower planned and executed the famous D-Day.

We can compare this book to "Art of war". Instead of ancient war, this uses the recent (well, at least comparitively) WWII battles as examples and details business strategies such as Prioritizing, Dealing with pressure, Making decisions, Managing Difficult personalities, Never Giving Up etc., It also has a chapter on how to adopt and implement these strategies in our real life scenarios.

Author Geoff Loftus has done an exceptional research on Ike’s life / methods, and presents them as simple, well narrated chapters. Only negative comment I have is, he could have added few other (non-War, Non-Ike) examples too without disturbing the central theme. As of now, this book can be a bit boring for those who don’t like to read about war for almost 300 pages.

But Then, they shouldn’t have picked the book in the first place 🙂

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.”

 SethGodin     tribes-seth-godin-hotel-emarketer

(Images Courtesy: &

Seth Godin, in his bestseller book “Tribes” talks about two kinds of people – Thermometers & Thermostats.

What’s the difference?

Thermometers are good in showing the temperature. They may be very accurate in pointing out how hot (or how cold) the day is, but they can’t do anything about it – a thermometer can’t change a hot day to cold or the other way. You need a thermostat for that.

Seth Godin says there are some people who just find faults. They don’t know how to correct those problems, all they can do is point their fingers and say ‘you are wrong’. That’s’ it. Their job is done.

Of course, we need such people to make this world a better people. But what we really require is more ‘thermostat’ variety (those who not only understand the problem, but also set about doing something about it).

You can differentiate Thermometer people and Thermostat peoples by just looking at their notes / emails / letters. One will have just problem statements and the other will have possible solutions too, at least to kick start the discussion in the right direction!



N. Chokkan …

06 08 2010


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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