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“Hold on a minute,” Socrates replied. “Before telling me anything I’d like you to pass a little test. It”s called the Three Filters Test.”

The Art of Writing

As a frequent writer I’ve been wondering a lot about how-to express myself, what to say and of course what NOT to say. When thinking along these lines it gets you deeper into the art of writing and you begin to understand that there is definitely something that tells the great g(r)eek writers apart from the mortals.

Some of the greatest mentors I’ve had the privilege to meet do not only communicate by what they say; to all they say there is (yet) another layer underneath, which only reveals itself after applying a few simple thoughts (“Why did he put it like this?“, “What could she have said instead, but didn’t?” or “Why did he not say it like this or that?“)

Once you have started to learn how to listen on this level you start what is referred to with “reading between the lines.” That’s when you start to recognize and appreciate the most subtle nuances in writing and the individual style of authors. That’s when reading pieces starts to feel like meeting an old friend…

Playing Field and Guidelines

Seems like everybody has to find his/her own (guide-) line and style. It’s a personal thing – by nature. In terms of blogging it is the simply question “why blog?”

In my situation, working for SAP Custom Development puts me into a pre-defined playing ground. There are certain things I can freely blog about, yet there is also a set of topics and memes I should rather avoid. While I do have an explicit disclaimer indicating that “all my thoughts are my own and not endorsed by my employer in any way” – however, I do still wear a name tag that points to SAP. So, it’s good to keep that in mind when (micro-) blogging.

The social media guidelines we have at SAP certainly read a lot like  “just apply common sense”, yet it’s a good to have read them and use them as a starting set of blogging principles – especially at the early steps. Sooner or later your own style will manifest and down the road you may stretch or even intentionality cross some of the guidelines as you progress. It’s a personal type of thing (again) – yet I would recommend to take it easy at first.

I think a good way to start writing is by reading a lot. Start by commenting on other people’s work and get a feeling of what type of style you like and for what reasons. Then just jump in the cold water – too much theory won’t do you any good anyway.

The Simple Bare Necessities

Interestingly enough, I found a very simple formula that seems to work out most of the times. At least it does the trick to me. It resolves around being authentic, modest and positive. Writers and bloggers alike, this trinity seems to be the most appealing to me.

Nothing wrong with a good rant once in a while – the opposite! In fact I believe that this set of characteristics also applies to ranting – the good thing about rants is they tend to have a positive background: they want to change things for the better and the authors do care enough to step up. The best rants provide constructive critic based on research and shared experiences – at least when reading between the lines ๐Ÿ˜‰

So, that’s the only guideline I can truly promote: just be yourself, have confidence, be open and willing to learn and most importantly – have fun!

It’s that simple (well, at least on paper!)

Sources of Inspirations

In Ancient Greek people believed in Muses “who inspire the creation of literature and the arts. They were considered the source of the knowledge […]”

In my experience a good story finds the author and not the other way round – it’s mere  a cause of serendipity. As such I am not looking for stories consciously, but rather pick up on what is happening around me.

Those close to me know that one of the strongest inspirations for me lately have been the SAP Mentors. This group that is sometimes referred to as the “wolfpack” may look to be of chaotic nature at times, yet it’s more of a swarm-ish aspect to it – a collective understanding, a shared master plan -a mindset best expressed with “Open Thinking!

Styles change, Style doesn’t!

It’s hard to describe or even put your finger on as a whole, which may speak in favor of looking a little closer then…

yesterday Mark Finnern announced the new “SAP Mentor of the Month: Tammy Powlas.” And it’s no other than … … Tammy Powlas! ๐Ÿ™‚

I got to know Tammy at SAP TechEd 2010 in Vegas and around since then we have been working together in the editorial team of the Not authorized to view the specified document 7840 magazine. What can I say… it’s simply a blast working with her. Mark already wrote a Laudatio for her in his announcement blog and for those who know Tammy there’s little else to do other than to node our heads in approval, slightly bow down and acknowledge – well deserved!

So, I did and while doing so I spotted one particular comment to the above mentioned blog post, which caught my eye:

Based on your comments/blogs, it seems you follow a very simple guideline in life:

“If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, Don’t Say Anything At All”.

This looks like a very simple guideline; very difficult to follow. You’re doing a great job in following this guideline.

Bala Prabahar

I think that Bala has nailed it and his quote made me remember a great story about Socrates called “Three Filters.”

I believe that it’s a great guideline, not only for writing or blogging … but for life.

Three Filters

In ancient Greece, Socrates was reputed to hold knowledge in high esteem.

One day an acquaintance met the great philosopher and said, “Do you know what I just heard about your friend?”

“Hold on a minute,” Socrates replied. “Before telling me anything I’d like you to pass a little test. It”s called the Three Filters Test.”

“Three Filters?”

“That’s right,” Socrates continued. “Before you talk to me about my friend, it might be a good idea to take a moment and filter what you’re going to say. That’s why I call it the Three Filters Test. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?”

“No,” the man said, “actually I just heard about it and…”

“All right,” said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it”s true or not. Now let”s try the second filter, the filter of goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my friend something good?”

“No, on the contrary…”

“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about him, but you’re not certain it”s true. You may still pass the test though, because there’s one filter left: the filter of usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my friend going to be useful to me?”

“No, not really.”

“Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither true nor good nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?”

This is why Socrates was a great philosopher & held in such high esteem.

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  1. Tammy Powlas
    but in real life interactions – I should remember the 3 filters before I speak.

    I haven’t thought about blogging guidelines, although Jason Cao’s blog made me think I should add critical thinking – I will try do that in the future.

    Off the record comments on my blogs are that they are too notes-style like. 

    Funny, but recently I even found an answer to a question I received in my own blog.

    Thank you for your comments about me – for sure you are a great source of inspiration and huge behind the scenes help in the Mentors Quarterly.


    1. Matthias Steiner Post author
      Yeah, Jason’s < href=”Between You and Me: Think-Blog-Think” target=”_blank”>blog certainly has some great points, especially the feedback mentality.

      It’s really the most rewarding aspect of blogging – your example speaks for itself.

      Now don’t you dare to turn this around now. It’s your stage atm… enjoy! ๐Ÿ™‚

          1. Matthias Steiner Post author
            Sorry Greg, must have missed your comment yesterday.

            Unfortunately I don’t understand what you’re trying to tell me about the link (detail vs margin)? I double-checked and it seems to work fine. Or was that concurrent modification as I had a typo originally?

            Looking forward on hearing your thoughts on the topic!

            1. Gregory Misiorek
              Hi Matthias,

              i hope you will not take it the wrong way, but i have explained a bit more in my word press tool, which can be found here: i leave the URL dumb as anchoring has not always worked for me in the past. more on that in my word press comment as well.



  2. Former Member
    As always, you set the bar high with your writings and although I could read much between the lines of what you are saying – It doesn’t even matter if I do as the direct message is powerful.

    Nice work (I believe my comment passed at least 2 of the filters).


    1. Matthias Steiner Post author
      ๐Ÿ˜ฎ “Tell me more!” ๐Ÿ™‚ \o/

      For real, many thanks for that comment. That’s among the nicest things I’ve ever heard. Recharges my blogging battery for sure!

      Funny how it goes, as with both of you it feels like a mutual cross-pollination phenomena that works out nicely for everybody involed.

      PS: Now you got me thinking which one you left out and if you did that intentionally? Which makes me want to add a disclaimer: you can over-interpret when trying to hard to read between the lines – handle with care! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Former Member
    Now if only I could program the three filters into my computer.  (And into my mouth – too!)

    What a great world we would live in if we all followed the 3 filters.  There would be some magazines out of business though.

    Of course – it could get boring….  There are times when the 3 filters MUST go out the window.  Have you ever read a good Stephen King book?  Boy do I hope those aren’t true!!!  ๐Ÿ™‚

    Seriously – I would love to say I always follow those rules.  Of course – I would be lying.

  4. Former Member
    Hi Matthias,
    Your blog passes all the three filters quite comfortably.

    I have to learn more on reading between the lines.

    Please keep writing.


    1. Matthias Steiner Post author
      Hi Bharathwaj,

      thanks for your kind words. It really means a lot to hear that people appreciate it and that it was worthwhile to write. At the end, this is the driving force behind why people express themselves – that the reader relates to it in any way. Commenting on somebody’s other work is a great way of showing interest and acknowledgment.

      Now that we are able to communicate on a global level I personally find a lot of inspiration by interacting with like-minded individuals and learning from them. The least I can and and should do is to act as a multiplier on what I find useful and cheer for those I have the priviledge to follow.

      Many regards,

  5. Sandra Rossi
    I tried to find the reference of this “triple filter” text. It seems that it’s a philosopher’s joke, but anyway very interesting ๐Ÿ™‚
    1. Matthias Steiner Post author
      Thanks for joining the discussion Sandra.

      valid question indeed. I’m afraid I cannot provide a solid reference for that text. It’s something we talked about in school a looong time back. When I stumbled across the above mentioned comment to Mark’s blog about Tammy it reminded me of that story about Socrates.

      By coincidence I also talked about it with my 7 year-old daughter at the dinner table. The post was just a quick blog putting a few things into a story that got to happen at the same time.

      Either way (sorry for getting side-tracked here for a moment)- whoever is the author (and I will try to do some research on it – pointers welcome!) I never stated it was Socrates’ own work, but a story told about him. Regardsless of who wrote it I personally find these three filters quite appropriate in a lot of settings: blogging just being one of them.

      On a different note [about blogging comments in general]… “interesting” is a brilliant reply as it allows you to acknowledge a story w/o taking any side, yet still giving back to the author. In this regard “interesting” at least indicates that it was considered worth-while and as nowadays time usually is a limited good this already is an accomplishment. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Tom Cenens
    Hello Mathias

    Very inspiring and thought provoking blog.

    I definitely have to keep those three filters in mind as I tend to unwillingly add a little extra sexyness to stories when I speak/blog which makes the stories a little bit more interesting.

    It’s never a good idea to talk bad about a person and always dangerous to jump to conclusions.

    I’m going to read through the social media guidelines as I find it to be interesting.

    Another link some might find interesting features social media employee policy guidelines from over 100 organizations:

    Kind regards


  7. Thorsten Franz
    Hi Matthias,
    Thanks for this blog post – I really enjoyed it. On my good days, I employ something similar to those three filters, but then there’s also the dark side of me which loves to receive gossip, no matter how unsubstantiated any rumours or allegations may be. However, I hope this dark side won’t break through in my blogging (although I’m sure some may clear their throats audibly here).
    Anyway, thanks for sharing. I always enjoy reading your texts, especially the more personal ones. ๐Ÿ™‚
    1. Matthias Steiner Post author

      oh you know, what goes around comes around they say. Of course nobody is perfect and we all have a darker side that we indulge on all those social media platforms nurturing us with all sorts of gossip, rumours, non-sense Thanks for your feedback, which feels like a blogger’s accolade to me as I’ve been become a regular reader of your own work for some time now. Your horizon and interest both technical and non-technical is ever so broad and diverse that I have stumbled upon more than one nugget on your timeline ๐Ÿ˜‰ <br/><br/>Reserve me a seat in the front row when you will be on TED and keep spreading ideas ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. Ivan Mirisola
    Hey Matt,

    That was very insightful.
    As always I’m very glad we can pick such sound minds on SCN.

    I’m not an active blogger, but I intend on changing that. So I’ll keep in mind those three filters while blogging.

    Keep up the great work!

    1. Matthias Steiner Post author
      Thanks Ivan. Happy to hear you found it insightful and that it got you thinking about getting more active irt blogging. All the best with that! ๐Ÿ™‚



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