Naga Chokkanathan

Archive for May 2011

Dictionary Definition of ‘Jolt’ says ‘To Disturb. To Shock. To Interfere with Abruptly. To Shake things up’. This book by the same title tries to do the same to our lives, in a world that is changing every minute.

Phil Cooke, author of "Jolt!" is very famous in the social media. In this book, he describes twenty five jolts that we can use to change our lives. To make maximum impact, the entire book is designed in a ‘jolt’ed layout, which is funny at first notice, but makes lot of sense as you read more.

Jolts in this book are organized into five categories: Jolt your direction, Jolt what matters, Jolt your potential, Jolt your heart and finally, Jolt your future. Each category has five interesting jolts, why we need them, what is the benefit if we leverage them, what we lose if we don’t.

For example, my favorite part of this book is the "Jolt your heart" section. It talks about various jolts such as one becoming a cheerleader to make a difference, gaining the freedom by being accountable for what we originally agree (It sounds odd, but believe me, it is true!), Looking beyond ourselves and so on.

Most important point, all the jolts in this book are explained in short chapters which can be read in a matter of five or ten minutes. So you can literally open any page of this book and start reading. As long as we think about the jolts that apply for us and take necessary actions to implement them, this book will immensely benefit us.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com 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.”

Panera Bread, a famous bakery-café chain has around 1500 outlets in America. Out of these, three cafés work in a unique “Donation Only” mode, to support Charity.

These three stores are called “Panera cares”, and they look similar to any standard café: They serve soups, sandwiches and sell bread. But the major difference is, there are no cash registers, only donation boxes.

This means, you can go to these stores and pick whatever food items you like, a suggestive price will be mentioned to you. If you want you can pay it, or pay less, or pay more, or pay nothing at all. No questions asked!

Cute! But Stupid, Right?

Nope. “Panera Cares” stores are running for more than a year now, and surprisingly, they are making good profit. (Of course, all the profit goes for charity work.)

When people are asked to pay whatever-they-can, they have three options: Cheat the system by paying less, or Pay whatever you need to, or Pay more. In case of “Panera cares” the ratio is 20:60:20.

We can understand the 20% people who are cheating, we are happy to note that majority (60%) of the people want to be honest, But what about the other 20%? Why do they pay more? What really motivates them?

The keyword here is ‘voluntary’, as people are determining their own prices, the sense of donation / supporting a fellow human being who may not be able to afford this meal kicks in and makes them pay more. It may be just a dollar or two extra, but they feel happy to contribute. Such donations add up and make the entire operation profitable and useful to the society.

When you extend this formula from a single store, to a community, or a city, or a state, or a nation, or the entire humanity, it changes your view point about the whole concept of Charity. Are we paying enough?

(065)

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N. Chokkan …

20 05 2011

How to become an expert in some field, any field?

This is not an easy question to answer. We start in our field(s) as a beginner, learn, perform our tasks, observe, listen from others and slowly gain experience, expertise, skills… few years down the line, suddenly we are treated as experts (or not). How exactly this transition happens? No one seems to know.

If we can somehow understand this expert-making process, the benefits are endless. We can look at the stage we are in, observer what we are lacking when compared to people in same stage, and higher, plan the improvements required, measure how effectively we are performing in our ‘expert journey’ and so on.

(Image Courtesy: http://www.ovpr.uga.edu/ )

Dr. Paul Schempp has spent around 20 years studying experts. He is a genuine expert in the field of expertise. In his book ‘5 Steps To Expert’ he talks about five distinct stages that everyone goes thro’ when they become experts:

· Beginner (Everyone starts here, Limited experience, knowledge, and skill, Rely on established procedures, Attempt to mimic the skills of experienced, Conform to the traditions)

· Capable (Some Experience gained, Can perform assigned tasks at a capable level, Understand the requirements, Able to respond to situations)

· Competent (Planning is done contingently, analyzing situations, Prioritizing, Competent performance)

· Proficient (Consistently performing above average)

· Expert (Very few people can consistently do what you do, with the level of quality you are able to achieve)

This framework fits for every field, and there are some very interesting observations. Mainly:

· You can’t jump steps. Size of the step is dependent on various factors. But, However small a stage it may be, you need to cross them one after the other

· Realizing where you are is more important than anything else – It is very easy to get frustrated about not becoming an expert even after so many months / years of effort, But seen from this framework, it gives a clue what’s wrong

· Which step you are in: It is not individual-score, But field / area dependent, You may be in step 2 in a field and step 4 in another (Think of an all rounder in cricket!)

· Not everyone completes all five steps. Many stay forever in a lower step – Especially #3 and #4 are most dangerous and you may be locked there. Beware!

· Even when you reach the fifth step, the journey is not over. Experts continuously improve themselves to stay at top. So it is a virtual treadmill at step 5!

(064)

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N. Chokkan …

11 05 2011

Sometime back, I asked a question in twitter, about using Wikis for Software Development / Delivery. I got very useful responses / links from lot of friends, I thought of summarizing the top 10 ways in which software development teams can use Wikis. Please find this below.

Of course, this is not a complete list, In case you find anything missing or any other useful ways, please leave them in the comments so that this page can become a mini-wiki collecting more and more information. Thanks in advance!

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N. Chokkan …

09 05 2011

Sl. No.

Area

Description / Example

1

Internal Communication

Team level communications – Official / Unofficial / Social – Such as news, completion announcements, congratulatory messages, downtime / uptime announcements, sharing ideas, posting pictures, posting personal ads etc.,

2

Software Development Tracking

Similar to Project Tracking Solutions we use, but in a much smaller scale – useful for short module tracking

3

Developer Networks

SAP –> https://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/sdn/wiki, IBM –> http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/wikis

4

Solutions / Knowledge Base

FAQs, Answers, Solutions, Sharing Documents, URLs etc., Similar to #1 above, But more focus on Technical aspects, Classified / Categorized based on product / area, Some part may be shared with external world (via a Portal)

5

Technical Documentation

Same as #4, But only for documents such as Technical Design, Solution Architectures etc., Only for internal use

6

Task Lists / Action Item Lists (Personal / Team / Project / Module)

 
7

Test Plans, Results, Status Update, Regression test results

 
8

Checklists

For various tasks, common checklists across the organization can be maintained as wiki pages, with notes on each item wherever required

9

Source code comments

Managing Comments for important source codes in a separate wiki, linked to the program (via URL)

10

Meeting Log Records

 

Indians have a love – hate relationship with Baseball. We know it is a lot like cricket (our unofficial national game), But we also know that it is a lot NOT like cricket. Compared to cricket, Baseball rules look less straightforward, May be Americans will find cricket rules confusing.

Recently, I visited Singapore and in one dinner conversation, we had people from 7 different countries. Everyone else understood baseball, except three of us from India. So, we explained them the Cricket rules and they compared them with Baseball rules and arrived at a conclusion that it is not difficult to map these two, if you care to spend 15 minutes of your time.

Baseball superstar Albert Pujols’ autobiography (titled "Pujols") gave me some very good insights into this game, How a professional player approaches it, How it all started and what it takes to reach the status he is in today. Surprisingly, Pujols states in this very well written book that there are many more things which are important in baseball success (or for that matter any success) than the game itself, For example, human quality, guiding forces and more.

Some may think it is too early for a Pujols biography. But that is the point here, While the history is in the making, it makes sense to analyze the factors behind it. Except few statistics, and new successes, not much is going to change in terms of basics, Right?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com 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.”

Andy Andrews created a very famous character David Ponder in his earlier book ‘The Traveller’s Gift’. Now we have the same David Ponder coming back, in yet another thriller, novel, self-help, motivational book (whichever way you want to call it) titled "The Final Summit".

In this wonderful story, David ponder time travels(?) and meets some of the very famous characters in the history, works with them to save a personal gain, or a common gain for all of us, depending on the way you want look at it. Andy Andrews’ style of story telling grips you from page 1 and slowly adds and removes interesting knots in a way that makes this an unputdownable, yet useful work.

I liked Andy’s earlier books "The Butterfly Effect" and its young audience version "The Boy Who Changed The World". Compared to those, this story is much more detailed and appeals to wider audience. Andy uses some well known characters and few new ones to establish some simple, yet powerful principles that can shape our lives.

This 200+ pages book can be read in a day or two, depending on your reading speed. But it will be much more effective if we take some time to think about the concepts and digest them, apply them. Would be great if Thomas Nelson also brings a condensed / illustrated young audience version of this story!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com 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.”

Recently I read couple of books about Brain, Memory, and the way our brain processes information. In the middle of all those interesting content, there was a surprising (and fascinating) scientific fact: Neuroplasticity.

Brain Plasticity or Neuroplasticity is the ability of human brain to reorganize itself, throughout our life time. Unlike our other body parts which stop growing or changing after certain age, Brain is a not out batsman. As you read this article, as you look around, as you talk to someone, as you listen to somebody talking, the new knowledge is organized, and reorganized in our brain – Some neural pathways are created, some are disconnected, or reconnected, or strengthened, or new cells are formed… This happens non-stop, without our explicit knowledge. Means, our brain is changing its physical shape and functional areas constantly, and that’s what makes it ‘plastic’.

(Image Courtesy: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cerebral_lobes.png)

Recently there was a study conducted by three researchers (Fred Travis, Maharishi University of Management, US, Harald Harung, Oslo University, Norway and Yvonne Lagrosen, University West, Sweden) to analyze high mind brain development. They concluded that everything we do in our daily lives, changes our brain, constantly. Fred Travis says “If you are a very envious, angry, mean person and that’s the way you think about people, that’s what’s going to be strengthened in your brain. But if you are very expanded and open and supportive of others, there will be different connections.”

This effectively means, we are better off doing some ‘right’ things, to make sure that our brain development is in the positive direction. There are some kinds of people whose brains are ‘highly developed’, It makes them very alert, interested in learning, calm and playful. Those are:

  • Musicians
  • World class Athletes
  • Top-level managers
  • Individuals who practice transcendental meditation

Do you see the pattern? 🙂

(063)

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N. Chokkan …

06 05 2011


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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