Hiroo Onoda: Never Surrender!



Everyday, we read so many tales of amazing people around us. Some well-known and some not. Some who fade into history’s archives after being a bright spark and some who continue to stay and refresh our memory. My effort is to bring out the best of management and life’s lessons that could be gleaned from these individuals.

This is the story of Hiroo Onoda, a soldier from the Japanese Imperial Army. His story dates to the Second World War and beyond.

Hiroo Onoda was trained as an Imperial Army Intelligence Officer.  His mission was to go behind enemy lines and gather intelligence that would be useful for the Japanese army, while leading small teams of men to create havoc and unrest. If you are able to win skirmishes and ensure fatalities for the enemy (the allies, in this case), all the more better. Waging guerilla warfare and collecting intelligence were his training focus areas.

So, what’s special about him?

Hiroo Onoda continued his war for a period of 30 years (December 26th 1944 to March 10th, 1975) on Lubang Island (Philippines)! This is long after Japan had surrendered. He did not know about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and neither did he believe Japan’s surrender (extremely Jingoistic).

What actually happened?

Hiroo Onoda was following orders from his superior to the T:

  • No matter how long it Takes, the Japanese army will come for him
  • Even if there is just one man, continue leading him
  • No suicide
  • Collect intelligence and don’t be caught by the allied troops

Onoda and his companions employed guerilla tactics and continued harassing the enemy soldiers. One by one, his men fell but that did not deter Onoda in continuing his fight. He and his band of men refused to believe Allied propaganda on Japan’s surrender as for them there was no way that Japan could lose the war. Hence, all efforts from the Philippines government to draw them out failed as they construed the steps taken as traps. Efforts from the free locals, who were tired of being harassed also failed at convincing Onoda to surrender. What kept them going was the thought:

” Japanese army hasn’t come for us, so that means we haven’t still won. We can’t lose, so the war must still be on”

Though his men fell to the Filipino police and patrols, Onoda continued his individual efforts. He was so good at his work, that Japanese search patrols could not locate him. It was in 1974 that a student  Nario Suzuki succeeded in locating Onoda and tried persuading him to come home. As expected Onoda refused and it took his commanding officer, who was now working at a book store, to meet and talk him into surrendering. Onoda finally surrendered on the 10th of March, 1975 to the Philippine president, Ferdinand Marcos. He was pardoned for his crimes (he had killed around 30 Filipinos and injured scores as part of his guerilla warfare) against the Filipinos as Onoda has committed them in the mindset of an ‘At war’ soldier.

What’s the learning?

  1. Dedication to country and to duty: One would actually call Onodo crazy, but looking at his perspective, he performed what was right for Japan. He did not fail to carry out his orders. His intelligence notes and logs were maintained and preserved.
  2. Resourcefulness: Even on the day he surrendered, he had a working  rifle – all oiled and in an excellent condition with 500 rounds to spare! His uniform was well maintained and had very neat patches sewn on. He survived in the jungles on what the forest could offer and by looting the farms and livestock in the villages adjoining the jungle.
  3. Planning & Decision making: His decision making (despite being contradictory to the facts and based on minimal information) is still commendable. Where to attack, how to conceal oneself, how to make the best of his men and meagre resources and all along ensuring that Japan was benefiting from their service.

The strength of character demonstrated was exemplary – how many can continue such a hard life for so long, driven just by his duty to his country? It only takes the twist of fate to accord the right treatment – if Japan had won, Onoda would have been a certain hero for his valiant efforts and not looked at as a soldier who killed innocent civilians. He deserves respect for not opting to give-up and for pursuing his duty relentlessly.






Let’s Skype: Talk in 6,Chat in 56

When I and a colleague completed a Coursera course on Chinese,  I asked my colleague Abhishek a question – So, What next?

His reply: Making friends from 1.4 Billion People! 🙂


Hello in Many Languages

Knowing an additional language can be awesome. There are so many more people to reach out to! What if we could achieve the same benefits without having to really learn a new language? Reading about Skype Translator and looking at how it has already started changing lives thrills me to no end!

Imagine being able to speak in 6 languages (Spanish, Mandarin, Italian, German, English, and French) and type/chat in another 50 (called messaging languages) – you can reach out to almost anyone in the world! And Skype is going to make sure that people understand you and are able to express themselves well. Simply superb.

I am excited and while making it obvious, share some areas where I believe disruptions are going to be common because of real-time Language translation, that is readily accessible:


  • Reduction of the emotion conundrum:

LOL, ROFL, HA HA – they really don’t express the underlying emotions! You can have a poker-faced person typing out these in the chat window on the other side and yet come away thinking you just cracked a great joke! Similarly, in a conversation, where  the importance of emotions is often underplayed, the conversing parties can actually see each other utter the words, and follow the emotions – helps to reduce the confusion and also promotes better understanding!

In languages such as French and Chinese, where a minor difference in the accents can make a world of difference, the parties will understand the real intent and act accordingly rather getting culturally sensitive about a misplaced accent!

Now, you can emote in your language and still ensure that the person on the other side understands you and is able to feel the passion….completely!


  • Connect more:

What prevents one from approaching another from a different country/culture? The language! Our folks on the USS Enterprise (StarTrek) had these fancy language synthesizers and converters that helped them carry on a conversion, talk peace and even plan war with Alien races. Skype translator is similar, though restricted to earthlings at the moment!

Doesn’t it feel wonderful that the entire population (~7.4 Billion) can now be reached out to and engaged in a conversation!

There is a phrase in Sanskrit – ‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam’ ( वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् ), which means – “The World is one family”. We shall now connect with our other members, in the language that they prefer!

  • Reach out more:

A Tourist asking for directions, a student of theology wishing to connect to great teachers from around the world, an academician willing share and get his work reviewed by the eminent in his field – they will all be now able to reach out better than what has been happening now. Berlitz translation books and notes, however useful, will have to pave way for a translated speech and text that clearly question and communicate with the local population!

Students  will be able to discuss science projects and lessons with their counterparts across the world!

  • Help more:

Mankind’s problems are global. Patients in trauma, students in need of counselling, people with suicidal tendencies, victims suffering from phobias and post traumatic experiences – they are all over the world. The number of hands that can help has now exponentially increased!

A counsellor in India can now help  someone in Kenya to overcome depression, a US based consultant can help speed up an initiative in China by providing experiential inputs…the scope is literally endless.

  • Expand:

Establishing Businesses or outsourcing work have more markets to consider, now that the language barriers are eroding faster. More social entrepreneurs in the areas where help is needed the most can help in faster development. More businesses can increase the count of developing and developed countries. The sharing of best practices across countries and industries will be simpler and so will be the sharing of relevant intelligence.

Countries that prided themselves on communication skills, especially knowledge and fluency in English will now need to take a relook at their USP as language will cease to be a barrier for business.

  •  Increased knowledge base:

Videos, Podcasts, Songs, Dialogues and Audiobooks – they can all be made available in multiple languages without significant effort. You could actually watch a Chinese movie in French by having edited the sound track (except for the lip sync!)

Skype Translator, as I understand, is a spin-off from Microsoft’s Siri-like clone called Cortana. The translation technology has evolved over 15+ years of development at Microsoft as mentioned by Satya Nadella.


It has positive network  externalities, which means that I benefit from more and more users joining and using it. You get better translations, an increased spread of the languages covered and of course, have more people to communicate with!


Though these are the initial days, the future is full of promise and the expectations are huge! It wouldn’t be long before ‘Skype’ would actually refer to a verb that means to communicate in native language with a translator!

All the best #Skype & #Microsoft!

Hope we increase the tribe of the folks below, so that their languages can be learnt by more people and thus prevented from getting wiped out!


Workshops that work! (Part 2)


This post follows from the part 1 at:


Part 1 deals with,

– identification of workshop objectives

– classification of participants

– Dealing with each category

This part deals with the preparation for ensuring a super workshop!

‘Be Prepared’, the boy scout motto applies itself well in our case! Workshops that deal with organization level changes have much higher rate of success when the participating audience is comprised of individuals across the organization. While this ensures a high quality of discussion and a wider coverage of options, this also necessitates that the workshop preparation is at an organization level. Imagine having to switch topics (production – sales – supply chain – general management – product development-…) while discussing a single idea or impact!

An interesting introduction ice-breaker that we could use to bring out the value of each participant would be to pair the participants and have them ‘sell’ their partners to the audience. The selling terms would be in terms of expertise, roles & responsibilities and hobbies – this ensures that the audience understand the value that each individual brings to the workshop while also establishing a personal connect!

From experience, 8 preparation activities that have helped me connect well with the audience and conduct a great workshop:

  • Research, research & research:

Understand the industry, the players and the latest happenings in the industry. How is your customer going to be impacted?

Ideas and the suggestions that will make the Senior management sit up and take notice (‘Wow! That’s interesting – we never thought of it that way!’) are important. The quality of interaction could make or break the senior management commitment to the workshop.

  • Who’s who?

Use LinkedIn and other social networks to really understand the participants better. Using their name as they walk-in and referencing their experience works wonders. A simple ‘Hey Mark, how’s your whitepaper on predictive analytics going?’ warrants a focused participant and a great contact!

If you can’t find them on the social network, the organization’s intranet could help you with the photos and the project details, so that you have a ready greeting for them!

  • Be value driven:

Workshops could actually result in a massive waste of time and money if not properly channelled. A 2-day workshop with 15 participants could be a massive 240 hours wasted if not conducted properly and if it fails to meet the expectations. Ensure that the expectations are set forth and the objectives clearly communicated before the start of the workshop. Time checks and course corrections are a must!

  • Be prepared:

Prepare for exigencies – non availability of meeting rooms, workshop materials, food and beverages (very important – hunger is a big distraction), reduced availability of key participants…. could all feature in your list of risks. Plans B & C really help!

  • Ensure mutual respect:

More the participants connect with each other, the easier it is to conduct and achieve the objectives. One fun way to ensure that each individual understands the importance and the value of the other participants is to conduct a ‘Sell him’ introduction. Participants in pairs, sell each other to the audience at large bringing out the best that they have to offer in terms of their experience.

  • Have Fun!

Workshops need not be morose, sullen affairs where the focus is merely on coming up with an organization strategy or defining the requirements for the next state-of-the-art trading system. The idea is to not only come up with the best of plans but to also ensure that the participants are at their creative best. You would never believe some of the great ideas that come up as a result of participant letting go of their constrained thinking.

  • Hold individuals responsible

Walking away from a workshop and forgetting what happened is a very common occurrence. Workshops should be followed up with action items and status reporting to ensure that the learning and the actions do not go waste. Institutionalizing a desired trait needs the best of nurturing and directions and of course, follow-ups.

  • Ground rules rule!

Laying down the rules for usage of electronic devices, breaks, expression of views and attendance helps in setting the context and ensures a workshop with minimal interruption.

Enjoy your workshops!

This article on LinkedIn

Indian Railways – The Joys of travelling without a reservation; Part 1


India’s largest employer and the 9th largest employer in the world with 1.4 million employee, Indian railways employers more than our armed forces (1.3 million) but has fewer employees than McDonalds, Walmart & the Chinese army and railway corporations (!). Still, from an Indian context the impact is huge. It is amazing to know that at any point of time more than 5 million people are on the move using Railways and more than 25 million people use the railways everyday to reach their destinations. Roughly 10-11% of the passengers (by my calculations) travel by what is called as the General or Unreserved class. This blog is dedicated to the hapless souls (such as myself) who have experienced a journey in the General compartments. Filled with inconveniences and learning, these travel experiences certainly mould one’s character and ensure significant servings of hope, patience and will-power enhancement.

It started with a last minute plan to visit my sister in Birsinghpur for Diwali this year. Birsinghpur is  a township and hosts a Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board power plant. To reach the place it takes a minimum of 2 connections. I had my ticket booked for the ‘Garib Rath’ (tr: poor man’s chariot) a train that belies its name and is comprised entirely of 3rd AC coaches. The definition of poor is a little shaky here given that its from the lower middle class that the fare becomes affordable. Booked at a waiting list of 774, prayers and addition of coaches brought it down to a teasing 50 on the day of departure! Wanting to make it at any cost, i decided to go for the unreserved travel option. Confident from an experience gained in my first year at college 14 years ago, when as a result of ragging we had to forego confirmed tickets and take the train for the next day to our home towns from Durgapur (WB).

The first alternative train was supposed to leave at 12:40 PM. I went to the station and verified the time and they said it will leave at 12:10 – i was pleasantly surprised that the train was running before time when the clerk added – 12 hours running late….ouch!

Found out the next alternative – this time a triple connection via Itarsi & Katni. confident and keeping my focus fixed on a great diwali ahead, i bought the general ticket. Knowing that i had better forget a good meal for the next 18 hours, had a good(!) lunch at the railway canteen. Attempting caution even in such a scenario, i bought a sanitiser and a couple of tablets for cold and fever and a few old newspapers (never know if you are going to be ‘floored’ for the journey!!). Thus armed and prepared (once a scout, always a scout), i began my journey.

Went to the platform an hour early and found that people had already started forming a queue for the general class. About 75 members deep, they sat in a line reminiscent of the colourful plastic pots that queue up for the corporation water in Chennai. You start at the 75th position and yet find yourself at around the 130th as a rest of people calling their kith and kin over to join them in the middle, braving the protests from the people at the back! A couple of minor squabbles over the size of a family (8-9 members) that a person was trying to insert claiming to be his immediate family had the railway police drawn to us. The family suffered a partition as 5 sullen souls made their way to the end of the line, now at least 150 deep. People in our country wield power, no matter the situation! There was this guy who was late with his family of 4 and was still making a phone call to the station in charge so as to be placed in front of the line! Howls and physical signs of protest, however, showed him rightful place at the end of the line! You know, the mob is like best thing to set things right – unless you are on the receiving end!

One thing that i have firmly come to believe in is that no matter how ugly the situation or the experience, you are never alone. There are always other who have gone through similar, if not worse situations. When i started chatting up with my neighbours in the line, i found that a couple of them wanted to reach Agra and had absolutely no idea. A few wanted to get to Jhansi and were clueless as well! Reminds me of Lao Tzu’s quote:

 “A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving” 

Next part: The 18 hour Journey and camaraderie in the coaches! 🙂