Before I attended the first official event of ASUG and SAPPHIRE, which was the Monday evening keynote, I got myself oriented to some key locations, including SAP’s Global Communications Center, which is literally in the “north forty” of the Orange County Convention Center, and the show floor. I was glad to catch up with Craig Cmehil in the GCC, then I found the ASUG speaker meeting and met up with several other SAP Mentors there, including Jim Spath, Karin Tillotson, Thomas Jung, Rich Heilman, and Sue Keohan. Then it was time to make our way to the general session theatre for the opening keynote.
Abbe Mulders of Dow Corning, ASUG’s incoming Board Chairperson, kicked off the event with remarks on the theme of this year’s event, The Difference is You. She reminded all of us of the strength in numbers of ASUG installation members, SAP and SAP’s partners, and university members. Stefan Kneiss, who heads up SAP’s Global Customer User Groups, highlighted the various opportunities available to conference attendees for participation in ASUG influence, highlighting the Virtualization and Subcontracting Influence Councils, the CIO Customer Council, NetWeaver Strategy Sessions, and usability testing. I was glad to see so many conference attendees at the keynote hearing about these key programs.
The guest keynote speaker was Steven Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago. Although I read his best-selling book Freakonomics more than a few months ago, I still recalled his unique style of explaining social movements and societal changes based on economic explanations. His remarks were more professorial in form than keynotes of past conferences, ambling and indirect rather than highly structured, but still thought provoking. One of the anecdotes concerned his start in the PhD program in economics at MIT, where he quickly realized he was in over his head when it came to mathematics. He came to the realization that when you don’t have a lot of talent, the way to succeed is to specialize in something really offbeat. Levitt continued to share several more stories around the same theme, people who succeeded by challenging the prevailing view. His anecdotes convinced me that economists are just as taken in by conventional wisdom as practitioners of other professions. The takeaway for me was that taking a fresh look at the generally accepted wisdom is something we might all want to keep in mind, both during the conference days ahead and once we return to our every day work.