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Context: Why adding Dummies to SAP Worked

At SAPphire in New Orleans, I had a rare experience for an author. Because I was invited to the conference as a booth dude to distribute 4,500 books, I was able to interact with hundreds of people who were reading or would soon read the book that Jeff Word and I wrote: SAP NetWeaver for Dummies.

The interaction with readers at the conference and the subsequent follow up amounted to a huge wakeup call about the right way to communicate about technology.

Here is my favorite example of how the book worked in the field that really got my attention.

An SAP customer, whom we will call Irving to avoid having to get the public relations department of his company invovled, used the SAP NetWeaver For Dummies book as a springboard to a new understanding of how his company could take advantage of SAP software.

Irving came to SAPphire with a mission: Understand what was ahead for SAP and how his company should prepare. Irving said the keynotes from Henning, Shai, and Hasso set the stage and book helped him understand how all of the products fit together to achive the vision in the keynotes.

“SAP is no longer just an application supplier,” Irving told me. “The company is now also a supplier of tools for creating composite applications.”

Armed with an end to end view of SAP NetWeaver that the book gave him, Irving, who’s main task is leading implementations of complex HR systems for his company, used the keynotes and the book to prepare a presentation on SAP NetWeaver for the rest of his department.

The reason that Irving liked the book is that it was simple, not because it was complex. Because the For Dummies form forced Jeff and I to cut out a lot of the detail and focus on simplyfing the message, the book was more useful to a the business audience than some of white papers I have written that tried to explain more about the technology.

The book explained the technology in simple terms, but it also spent a lot of time explaining the world in which the technology lived.

(Chapter 13 on SAP Web Application Server is an example of a simplified explaination of one of the most complex components of SAP NetWeaver.)

The context that the book provided was empowering and helped Irving make more use of much of the information already in his head. The book allows executives to merge their own understanding their business and the capabilities of SAP NetWeaver. The result is an understanding that leads to action, which is what many of us who write about technology hope for.

I would love to take credit for this, but For Dummies has been showing the value of context for many years in thousands of books. The reason that the SAP NetWeaver for Dummies book seems so odd to most people is that it seems impossible that complex technology can be made simple. But if topics like physics, surgery and chemistry can be made simple in the For Dummies style, why not SAP NetWeaver as well?

Most of the white papers I have written have brushed by the context and focused 70 percent of the effort on the the dazzling complexity of the technology.

The lesson that I’m learning from my experience with SAP NetWeaver for dummies is that the reverse approach would be better. Spend 70 percent of the effort on a clear explanation of context, and the rest on a simple and clear explanation of the technology. That’s what seems to get the job done.

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