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About ‘Embracing Inclusion to Drive Innovation’

As TechEd is closing its doors and everybody is heading home with lots of new impressions and learnings I find myself sitting in my hotel room reflecting about it all. One of the most memorable moments for me this year was the ‘Embracing Inclusion to Drive Innovation – Design Thinking Workshop.’

Why? Let me tell you… but be warned – it’s going to be a very controversial blog!

Setting the Stage

So when I got aware that Marilyn Pratt was organizing a Embracing Inclusion – Driving Innovation : An Introduction during this year’s SAP TechEd conference(s) it immediately caught my interest. Having been a (not so secret) admirer of Marilyn and what she does for the SAP community day-in/day-out I was both flattered and excited at the same time when she reached out to me asking whether I’d be interested in helping out as a facilitator. Of course I jumped on the chance for many reasons.

First I had heard many good things about the importance of design thinking in general and about the great work of Heike van Geel in particular and so I was really eager to learn more about it and give it a try (= learn from the pros!) Just watch her session from SAP InsideTrack 2011 to see what I’m talking about.

Second, as someone who is very passionate about technology, innovation and software development AND being a social animal (oxymoron?) I really wanted to get a crisp on embracing inclusion as diversity & international collaboration has become one of the things I enjoy the most working for SAP.

Last, but not least… how could I ever turn Marilyn down? (Apparently I’m not the only one feeling that way! [link])

As such I came to the event with high (in retrospect maybe inflated) expectations.

Marilyn kicked it off by welcoming everybody and then setting out the rules for the event. The ones that stuck with me where:

  • Don’t sit with anyone you know & team up with people who look different than you
  • Leave your title behind
  • Every opinion counts and is valued

She then handed it over to the sponsors of the event: Vishal Sikka and Sanjay Poonen. As Vishal unfortunately couldn’t make it in person we watched a video of him in which he highlighted the importance of design thinking (he has been promoting it as part of timeless software principles for years, remember?) He also shared how embracing inclusion affected his own life as he became the first Indian CTO of a large enterprise software vendor. After that Sanjay got on stage and captivated the audience by talking about his mother, how she affected his life and shaped his understanding of strong women. Both speeches were very inspiring and down to earth.

Next on the agenda was the panel… and oh my, what a great line-up we got here!

Introducing The Panel

So from left to right the panel consisted of the following people:

Originally, fellow SAP Mentor Vijay Vijayasankar was supposed to be part of the panel as well, yet unfortunately he had to attend an important customer meeting. However, he took the time to write a very good blog post about his point of view, so make sure to it check it out to get to know his stance on the matter. Based on what he wrote I’d say he would have added great value to the panel discussion. Marilyn surely felt this way, too! [Ref.]

So, then the panel got on stage to dig a little deeper on how embracing inclusion could be cultivated more strongly in the enterprise. Unfortunately, that’s when it started to go downhill from my perspective…

How come?“, you may wonder, “what could go wrong with such a fine panel?

Well, here’s the thing: as the panel started to introduce themselves I got the impression that they were violating one of the rules we had set up for ourselves. For some reason I felt that almost all of them were pitching to the audience about how important they are, emphasizing on their individual achievements, whom they know or interact with on a daily basis (C-level executives) etc. For me, that clearly violated the “leave your title at the door” attitude, which was meant to put everybody on the same playing ground in the first place. I not only found it completely out of place, but also completely unnecessary – I mean being on such a highly-decorated panel already speaks for itself and underlines your entitlement, so why would one feel the need to list all their accomplishments I wondered. (As I found out later I maybe wasn’t the only one feeling that way. This sarcastic (?) tweet from Thorsten nails how I felt. Gavin Heaton also captured Lisa Leslie saying it out loud.)

At first I tried to play down my growing frustration as I’ve gotten to the understanding that this is one of the areas where cultural differences come into play. During my year at College in the US I had realized that in the States it is generally more socially accepted and encouraged to proudly talk about one’s achievements and putting them on the wall for display (e.g. in the living room or office space) than it is in Europe, where such behaviour is quickly regarded as bragging or showing-off.

Especially in the given context I found it out of place and contrary to my expectations in regards to coming to an inclusion event organized by Marilyn Pratt, who probably is the most humble and modest person I have met (which I believe is one of the reasons why she has so many fans all over the world.) Later I found out that I wasn’t the only one feeling that way, but at the time I started to feel a disconnect with the panel. But there was more than just that, which added to my feeling of being “excluded from the inclusion event.”

Feeling excluded from the Inclusion Event*

So for example when Shaherose Charania started talking about start-ups and VCs and how important designers are in the process of getting a start-up up to speed. All fine with me, but saying “nowadays everybody can code” at a developers conference is both a slap in the face and just plain wrong! Believe me, I’ve been into this business for more than a decade now and I’m fighting on a daily basis to get the people to understand that software development is a craft (as any other) that needs to be mastered. Maybe she wasn’t thinking about how the audience would feel about it or maybe she didn’t mean it the way I got it down that moment. (I admit that I probably had set my mind about her by then and from there one I may had been very biased towards what she was saying.)

Another thing that added to my growing discomfort was that the panel seemed too narrow in focus on the topic for my taste. They solely kept talking about Women in IT (WIT) and what could be done to get more women in leading positions in the enterprise. Now, please don’t get me wrong now – it’s a valid cause! But just turning it into the single topic, when there is soo much more to it,  just made me feel like a lonely nut in the crowd as I couldn’t relate to any of it the way it was discussed. As I found out later on I wasn’t the only one thinking along these lines either: link.

See, as I said already I’m very passionate about technology, innovation and software development and as a father of three girls of course I’m interested in seeing the status quo improved and making sure that my daughters will get equal rights in their professional life regardless of what they will choose to do. However, I also truly believe that ‘positive discrimination‘ doesn’t do the trick either! If would be looking for someone to hire – I’d pick the one best suited for the job regardless of gender.

Another thing that didn’t go too well with me was when suddenly all men in the room were asked to stand up. I certainly did and do understand the intention behind it – yet being singled out is rarely a pleasant moment (Gavin handled it with humor!) and the time we had to keep standing was way too long for my liking.

And while I was sitting there, fighting my inner frustration and disappointment about how the event had developed, I probably started to look out for things I could pick upon to self-assure myself that my opinion was right. Especially since everybody around me seemed to really enjoy themselves, the discussion and the event. That’s when my inner conflict grew stronger. A part of me simply wanted to grab the mic and confront the people with a completely different mindset, the other just wanted to get out of the room as fast as possible. At that time I was not in peace with myself and that made me too insecure to stand up and tell the people that “they got it all wrong in my book.”

As it was such an intense experience I felt the need to talk about it with people close to me in order to get over it (of course Marilyn was one of them) and during these follow-up discussions Thorsten Franz (who apparently shared similar feelings) was able to put my feelings into words by saying: “As the panel had violated the first rule (no titles) right away all the other rules (e.g. every opinion counts and is valued) had been negated as well and as such the secure atmosphere they wanted to create was lost!


Well, I surely didn’t see it as clear then as I do now. I just felt a complete disconnect with all the people in the room. And then it dawned to me that maybe it’s just the fact that I’m coming from a completely different background than all the other people in the room.

I surely have enjoyed a very privileged upbringing and life and therefore I may not be able to relate to the topic that much. I mean we have a female chancellor leading the country I live in… most of my role models are women and they are doing equally well in both their professional and private lives. Being a young Caucasian middle-class male living in Germany I’ve never encountered discrimination myself nor am I aware of it being a major problem where I live(maybe that’s because it is ensured that each generation does not forget about our dark heritage!)

Due to all these things I opted against standing up and letting my voice be heard. I just didn’t felt like the appropriate thing to do, after all, I am “just” an SAP employee and got here to help run the event – not to crash the party!

On top of it all, I have gotten the impression that the panel wasn’t really interested in hearing any other opinion as comments from the audience were quickly discarded in order to keep up with the agenda. Maybe it was the fact that Vijay was missing, but as it was, there was barely any contradicting ideas being discussed. Patty did try to incorporate some of his ideas into the discussion, which just made me feel like they were violating yet another rule for panel discussions: the moderator should not have that much talking time, nor keep commenting on what has been said, but rather simply dispatch between the panel members and have them play it back and forth.

Now, I’ve never moderated a panel myself and as such it’s easy to criticise. I truly have the utter most respect for Patty and any other panel moderator that dares to do it. It surely seems very challenging to be moderating a discussion aiming to surface all angles in a structured approach while keeping it flexible, agile and spontaneous at the same time.

About Leadership & Feeling Insecure

After the panel ended there was a quick bio break before the attendees where supposed to get started with the design-thinking workshop based on what had been discussed. During his break I approached Marilyn as I wanted to tell her that I would like to leave and and why as I felt bad about letting her down.

Of course she argued that I should have stood up and addressed my point of view and so I explained to her how I felt, the struggle within me and that feeling of being insecure and not entitled. I know that as a SAP Mentor I should have done that and defended my stance, others probably would have done so right away! Yet being both an SAP employee and an SAP Mentor at the same time comes with its own challenges and maybe I’ve just gotten used to doing my part behind the scenes. It certainly was a very intense, but valuable experience, which got me thinking again on what it takes to be a true mentor/leader, about entitlement and feeling insecure. 

But fortunately Marilyn had been able to convince me to stay as otherwise I would have missed out on a great workshop and a fabulous time afterwards!

The Positive Side – The Design Thinking Workshop

After our talk I joined one of the groups and teamed up with Patty, Anne Hardy, Gail Moody-Byrd, Bala Prabahar  and fellow Mentorette Karin Tillotson (as facilitator) who were working on the question of what a company could do to attract/hire the best talents. (I know that by joining this team I violated the rule stating I should team up with people I don’t know, but as many people had left after the panel I pretty much knew at least one person at every table…)

What can I say – we had a really vibrant and intense discussion at our table as we were following the guidelines of design thinking. I also got to know all these people on my table so much better and even had a very deep follow-up discussion on entitlement afterwards (thank you soo much Gail about being so honest with me and for approaching me!)

It may sound strange after having written so much about what I didn’t like about the event for most part of this blog post, but let me tell you – I really enjoyed the event (well, the post-panel part that is) and I encourage everyone going to Bangalore or Madrid to try to get in (space is limited!) It’s been a great learning experience in more than one way, I got to have many great discussions and to meet some very smart and genuine people…

Before I call it a day (and get started on my general TechEd blog) let me refer you to the SAP TechEd Live interview we conducted about the event.

After having watched it now I feel a little embarrassed for not having been able to get a single straight sentence out 🙁  What I can say to my defense? Only that it had been a long TechEd with very little sleep the days before.

And then … if it’s one thing I have learned from all of this it’s that every opinion counts (even it this person is a non-native speaker and barely understandable :)) And who knows… maybe it helps in making others feel more comfortable to step up (e.g. those who may not have been feeling comfortable with speaking in public) – I sure hope so!

One last thing: it surely wasn’t my intention to rip the event apart – far from it! I just wanted to share how I felt (and why) in order to provide feedback (hopefully the constructive type.) I just hope that the people behind this event (organizers and sponsors alike) will apply this fundamental principle of design thinking: fail often and early! [Ref] and take it from there… to new heights!

Further Reading

Credits and Remarks

* mouth-byte stolen, aeh borrowed from Jon Reed (he said it in a completely different context though!)

Images courtesy by Eventrix (usage approved by Chip Rodgers) and Karin Tillotson

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  • Matthias, I was feeling a little out of place at the end of the panel, as you know.  You have fairly articulted some of my difficulties with it.  But you went on to stay thru the Design Thinking portion – which was a much smarter move.
    And as Marilyn said, we should have taken the mic and talked about how we felt about it at the time.
    Lessons always ready to be learned,
    • Thanks for the encouraging words Sue. You know how much your feedback means to me. Well, it sure took a lot of convincing from Marilyn to keep me there… which leads me to another topic: mentors! I have been very privilegded to have had people watching over me and guiding me all those years, which has been such an incredible inspiration and motiviation.

      The only natural thing I can do to do it justice is to spread the word, praise them and do my little share! As I wrote down it’s not always as easy as it sound…

  • Thank you for writing this up.  I was busy back in my hotel room testing enhancement packs for work, plus going to bed early.

    Thank you for taking the time to describe your experience.  Every opinion counts, and I was interested to hear your thoughts, knowing that you are the father of three daughters. 

    What you say will help the future events.  As John Astill tweeted “nice read”.


    • Thank you Tammy!

      Some of it probably has sounded familiar as we talked about it a while back. You know that you’re among those I had in mind when talking about my role models, right?

      Has been great seeing you again at TechEd. Oh, and I still owe you a drink. Next time you have to hang out with us at least once so I can pay my dues 😉

      Warm regards,

  • Hi Matthias,

    Congratulations on having the courage to write this blog. This is a sensitive and difficult subject to write about, I think you did an amazing job.

    I was not able to attend (mobile madness for me), thank you for the insight into the evening. Hopefully your feedback will help future events.


    • Hi Jon,

      thanks for leaving a reply and the positive feedback. And yes, if I could ask for one thing irt event after all that I wrote it would be that they continue to do it and spread the word – after all, it’s this community that represents the spirit of the new SAP more than anything else!


  • Wow!

    This is one of the most brilliant blogs I have ever read. For someone who is a “non-native speaker” you have articulated your experience at the event brilliantly. Matthias you have missed your calling – you should become a writer. Thank you for the care and attention you have obviously put into this post to ensure the readers understand your perspective.

    I can relate to most of what you say. I too felt many of the things you did listening to the panel – albeit not with the same personal impact or affront. I agree that most of the panel members fundamentally broke the rules – thereby undermining the fundamental principles of the event and making it harder for the audience to participate in the discussions.

    I congratulate you on the clarity of your thinking. Despite feeling excluded by what was happening you took the time to think through and consider to what effect cultural issues, other biases, the difficulties of moderating a panel, etc. before coming to your conclusions. It is just this sort of careful consideration and self-evaluation that allows us to embrace other people and opinions in our lives. Well done.

    I too really enjoyed the event and recommend it everyone who can get to similar functions in the future – especially in Bangalore or Madrid.

    Graham Robbo

    • What can one add to Graham’s assessment of your brilliant post-mortem Matthias?  Yes, you are a gifted writer and thinker (and that is no surprise as it is evident in everything you post and do in this community).  I concur with what Graham has written about you and this piece and yet still feel that the dialogue should continue…..
      As we discussed privately, the panel “imbalance” might be viewed as a planning failure.  I was keenly aware of the delicate nature of the panel demographics while inviting participants and can say again to you, as I did at the event itself: think butterfly syndrome.  The smallest fluttering movement (ie the loss of a central POV or point of view in the discussion) can and did cause a Tsunami of effect.
      But I want to point out another factor in how we “feel” about an experience.  Sometimes, certain words, certain declarations, are words that create personal hurdles for us or impasses and they affect our listening.
      For example, once you, a professional coder and a code craftsman, felt your profession belittled, you probably weren’t in the “zone” to continue to listen dispassionately.  In fact, as you yourself admitted, from a panel content perspective, it was “game over” at that moment of seeming assault on what you hold dear.
      Yet you stayed the course and had a positive experience at the workshop.  In no little part I would reckon, from getting insight into how others think and feel.  And probably some of what was shared in the workshop part, not so very different from that which was shared on stage.  So why was one palatable and the other off-putting?  I dare suggest it was because you had the comfort level to really engage, respond, listen, share.
      I hope Gail also chooses to describe her experiences in your group as I know she had a very unique POV about the workshop and some really interesting observations about what was happening around her and what she experienced and felt.
      Before we walked into the evening, Anne Hardy handed me a fascinating set of articles in the Harvard Business Review (July-August 2011).  I’m still reading and absorbing but the gist was around: “Building a culture of trust and innovation”.  No one said that it was easy.  No one said that the paths to inclusion and trust would instantly be established upon entering an evening event such as ours. But for those that really did stay the course, I’d like to imagine them further along a path with exciting destinations.
      Richard Dawkins wrote in 1976 “The Selfish Gene” and felt that we need to teach generosity and altruism, “because we are born selfish”.  I don’t know about you, but I experienced a great deal of generosity of spirit in that room during the event.  As Yochai Benkler wrote in one of the HBR articles: “We are more cooperative and less selfish than most people believe.  Organizations should help us embrace our collaborative sentiments”.  Why?  Because there is growing proof that collaborative communities make products that are more innovative and technologically sophisticated.
      I’d like very much to continue the dialogue of transforming our working environments to ones that understand the business imperatives of collaboration based on market imperatives to: “innovate fast enough to keep up with the competition while improving cost and efficiency” (HBR)
      • I sure hope it’s not a post-mortem, but rather a call for a pivoting point! And yes, I truly hope that the discussion continues. If you’d still have me I’d very much like to continue to help promoting the values of the event and promise to try my very best to put actions to words from now on… something I failed to do at the event! :/

        I hear what you’re saying about the butterfly effect, fortunately it goes both ways: for the good and the bad. Let’s tackle it from a positive perspective, should we?

        I certainly felt the generosity and as I said the workshop turned it around for me and I learned more than just about design thinking.

        Ultimately, it’s situations like this, when one is confronted with such intense conflicts inside when we are closest to ourselves and eventually grow by   working it out – that’s why I called it the most memorable event of the entire conference! (As I told you last year – that’s what my CISV experiences were all about…)

        Thanks for being a continuous inspiration and role-model Marilyn – and I know that I’m not the only one that thinks that way (not at all!) 🙂

    • … I’m just speechless to read this! What can I say other than: WOW!

      See Graham, you have been among those I’ve been aspiring to for so long now: never holding back and always articulating your opinion in a straight-forward way is one of the things I’ve always admired.

      The next time I should find myself in a similar situation again I’ll try to recall upon your words so that I may summon the courage to speak up right away instead of taking it back to my home court (SCN).

      Thank you for being such a great Mentor to all of us!

    • Hi Matthias,

      like Graham, I am blown away by both the clarity of your blog and the honesty with which you examined, and publicly put on display, your inner thought processes during and after the event. While reading through the blog and the following discussion, I very much had the same thoughts as Graham! I’ve lived in Australia for 12 years now and couldn’t even come close to this kind of writing!!!

      It’s just a shame I missed the event. Despite the challenges you described, I am sure it was still very valuable if for nothing other than the introspection and reflection it was sure to have triggered. If a v2.0 will be run at next year’s TechEd, I will be sure to attend!

      Thank you very much for sharing in the way you did!


      • Hi Sascha,

        good to see you here and thanks for the kind words! Yes, I sure hope that the #EIDI event will follow the roadmap that Sanjay lined out and that it may become a fundamental part of future TechEd conferences 🙂

        BR, Matthias

  • Steiner,

    Great write up, very even-handed, and very brave. It’s really easy to just duck in the corner and say it isn’t up to us white dudes to say anything negative about this type of event.

    • LOL, being called by my last name used to be another one of these triggers, but knowing where it’s coming from it’s all good! 🙂

      Thanks Jamie for backing me up on this. See, at the end of the day you show how it’s done everyday by “disarming with a smile” – your unique sense of humor puts smiles on faces everywhere and that’s the true global way of establishing a secure environment where everyone feels safe!

      Keep it up – #oswaldexperience 🙂

  • I’m sure you added to a diverse team.  The number of males in the room was low – and lower after the break.  It was hard to “capture” one of them.  We got lucky with Robert – he was great!

    You are awesome.  Standing up as a “MAN” that supports diversity including but not limited to the problems women face.  There are more problems than just that.  I hope you brought them up!

    Hope to see you again – if not keep blogging and I’ll keep leaving long responses.

    And as always – Marilyn is amazing.  She is doing 1000 things at once, but she never lets on.  She always stops to talk with you. 

    These ideas are given by a non-stupid person.  Marilyn knows what I’m talking about.  Marilyn, Natascha Thomson, Otto Gold, and you are one of those amazing peope that inspire me to be more than what I am.  Thank you, and thank you for coming back.  Now you have a little bit of what it feels like to be different from the other people.  And yes, I still feel the development answer upsetting.  But – there will ALWAYS be developers; nothing works out of the box.  I have heard we are a dime a dozen.  Mmmmm… Does that mean that all developers are experts?  After fixing lines and lines of code I wonder.  And yes, I’m adding another level of diversity contract vs. consultant vs. on-site programmers.  Who wants to work on fixing that issue?  Oh boy!  That one would be tough.

    I’m sure I’ll hear from you again.  We talked out a great Mentor’s quarterly article.  It’s all about diversity and changing roles.  It may be a good read.


    PS – maybe they coud limit the number of lines in a reply.  I tend to write a  book when the topic catches my mind.  Still getting used to the time change.  But I can’t complian too much.  The time change of some of the people I taled with were amazing

    • Hi Michelle,

      I may have never told you this (but others), but it’s just that – leaving long replies to comments that makes all the differences! (And it does get noticed!)

      You’re constantly working on the forums, networking sessions and so on – and people listen to you! You do have a very broad reach and it’s people like you who (maybe unnoticed by the masses) make a difference everyday!

      I’ve always enjoyed working with you, Tammy and Otto on the SAP MQ as it’s never been about egos, but about getting the work done – doing the needful if you will. You truly shine in this regard!

      Please continue to be the everyday change agent!

      PS: Speaking of which, Q3 is almost over – be better get started 😉

  • Hi Matthais,

    Clearly a lot of noodling went into your post. Quite the effort. I was one of the middle aged white man in suit and mentor shirt that felt like being in the wrong movie during the panel.

    I shared Thorsten’s tweet with Marilyn, which gave her the opportunity to try to open up the discussion beyond the plight of the women executives. By that time it was too late. I too should have walked to the mike to voice my opinion and didn’t.

    I loved that the theme of the evening got switched from Women in technology to inclusion, much more interesting and also where I think the biggest benefit in a corporation come from.

    Creating an environment that celebrates the differences of our background and upbringing as well as the similarities, we all love our children, is a place where the interesting ideas can develop. I just experienced it during innojam, really amazing ideas bubbled up triggered and derived from our different backgrounds. We were only able to implement a fraction of them, but that made the solution so much richer.

    Inclusion promised, during the panel it was WIT delivered. Just before the start of the panel I was engaged in a great discussion with Vijay as he shared what he wanted to bring across in the panel: Inclusion doesn’t work, as other priorities will always trump it. See the evening of 5000 people at the conference only 200+ could join, very exclusive, but needed as budget trumped inclusion.

    I would argue, that this doesn’t mean that we can’t have an eye on the problem and do wonders within the given framework.

    To my surprise 5 minutes later he was gone called to an important client meeting. Never have I missed Vijay more.

    It was very interesting to be in the presence of Lisa Lesslie an accomplished athlete and the world she is coming from of course her statement is true: Everyone wants to win.

    For that kind of win, someone has to loose. It is one of my frustrations with the Worldcup. Yeah great if your country wins, but on the way 99% of the world lost aka is excluded from the celebration, is frustrated and hopes for the next time in 4 years to have a better chance. It is quite an unfortunate ratio.

    That’s why I love Music. You have fun making music, even more so if you play with others, but spectators also have a smile on their faces if it sounds half way decent. 

    Inclusion at its best 🙂

    I also feel bad for Marilyn, as she worked so hard on the event and it had the potential to really make a difference. Bangalore and Madrid will be different. I was too exhausted to stay for the design thinking event, would have rather continued the conversation over a drink and some food.

    So that is what we did.

    Great post Matthias, Mark.

    • Hi Mark,

      I’m simply overwhelmed by the feedback I receive!

      During the event I was just a lone facilitator on an empty table in the corner of the room (because of the rules) and I had not the slightest idea that others had similar thoughts… now I know better and I’ll keep it in mind should I ever find myself in a similar situation again.

      And you’re absolutely right Mark, music is indeed an international language that embraces inclusion! Especially the way you celebrate it as it helps to foster an environment where everybody feels more secure and relaxed – the SCNotties are the perfect example (which is why I like them so much!)

  • Hi Matthias,

    thank you very much for your so particular and yet so understandable point of view. It gives us who couldn’t make it to the session a great sense of visibility into what was going on there.

    And, definitely, Marilyn is someone you can’t say no to. At least not that easily. She’s able to make you feel odd for not making your best, but not in a mean way. The point is that she always seems to drive you into doing what you should be doing (and not what you wanted to do) in the first place.


    • Well said Henrique! Marilyn usually does just that… making you feel secure enough to take that little step outside of your comfort zone and help you grow!

  • I also agree that this was one of *the best* events at Tech Ed.

    I came along not knowing what to expect. I saw early on that it was oversubscribed and was disappointed to not be able to attend. It was only thanks to a chance meetup with Marilyn that I could squeeze in.

    What I loved about the event – and even about the format was that it took me out of my comfort zone. It challenged and confronted me. And I always think that’s a good thing – even if it just reinforces the boundaries within which I do feel comfortable.

    The people on the panel were awesome. It was clear that they were powerhouse individuals. But I pretty much had the sense that they were “preaching to the converted”.

    But I also think the issue was with the format – the panel format tends to create the artificial distinction between those on stage and those in the audience. No wonder you did not feel like engaging from the floor – panel formats tend to work this way. But I found myself thinking that something like “World Cafe” may have proven to be a more inclusive format for discussion.

    As Sanjay Poonen said early on in the evening – this event should grow massively. Next year we should have 200 then 400 then 800 people coming along in subsequent years. And that is the point. This was an important first step – but we all need to work together towards next year. We need to support Marilyn in driving this wider and deeper – and we also must invite others in. It’s not just about inclusion but invitation.

    Great conversation Matthias – and thanks for raising the issues so eloquently.

    And let me also reiterate – this event was a highlight of my time at Tech Ed. I’d love to see this go to other locations and reach more broadly into our ecosystem. We would all be better for it.

    • Thanks for joining the discussion Gavin! I see a lot of great points in your comment and have little to add!

      Oh, and thanks for mentioning it – yes, Sanjay talked about his idea/plan (?) to grow the event. It definately sounds like the right way forward!


  • Hi Matthias,

    I enjoyed attending the event. It was a great experience. I was lucky enough to work with you in Design Thinking project. Thank you for that experience.

    My response is probably going to be controversial.

    Overall I’ve a slightly different viewpoint. That event was a baby step towards “Embracing Inclusion”. We had to start somewhere and WIT was a great theme for the following reasons:

    1) Women represents ~50 of the world population. There were more representatives from women than any other class in that room. IMO, WIT was just a case study for a bigger problem of inclusion. I don’t know if lessons learned using WIT case study can be extended to other classes(such as Male Indian, Male African-American, Male Chinese etc) but that is the objective of Design Thinking, isn’t it? We used Design Thinking because we didn’t know what we didn’t know.

    2) Let us assume for a second, we discussed the inclusion from everyone’s standpoint. Don’t you think it would have led to chaos? IMO we were not only able to focus due to WIT case study but also WIT was something easy to understand for (almost) everyone because everyone is related to or familiar with at least one woman(Hint:Mother). We needed to focus and WIT acted as a great bridge to “Embracing Innovation”.

    3) Now onto other points you raised:

    a) Leave behind the title: what I understood by that was that “Don’t use your title to force your opinion/thoughts”. I guess it was important for people to know how they(panel) reached their current status. I don’t know how they(panel) could discuss the challenges the women face without discussing their(panel members) current status. I mean “I’m Ms X today; I know how hard to reach this level because this is what I went through. Anything wrong with this? Did Ms X violate the rule: “Leave behind the title”. I don’t believe-I may be wrong-they used their title to force their thoughts. Let me give one more example what I understood by “Leave behind the title”. In our table, everyone except me was an SAP employee. My interpretation: Don’t use your SAP status to force an opinion during the event.

    b) “nowadays everybody can code” – I completely agree with your opinion. I’m in the software business a little more than 2 decades. I know how it feels when someone says “Give me a document, anyone can code or install or implement Software system”. It was not her fault for making that statement. I would blame Software Marketing department for that. I guess this is not related to the event anyway.

    c) “we have a female chancellor leading the country I live in” – I don’t know Germany but I can talk about India. In India, we had a woman Prime Minister Indra Gandhi from 1966-’77. Does that mean women are included in India? Absolutely not. Several times my wife and I had discussions about returning to India. She opposed that idea. Why? She doesn’t want to give up freedom she is enjoying here in the US. US never had a Woman President. Yet my wife and her friends enjoy more freedom here in US. The point is that women’s status is not tied to whether the country has/had woman president. I fully understand Germany may be different.  

    Finally my personal opinion is that EIDI committee, including the panel, did a marvelous job in having discussions on very difficult and controversial topic. I’m just surprised it didn’t create any major controversy. It just shows how well it was organized.

    I believe WIT topic helped us stay focused and accomplish a lot in 5-6 hours. Marilyn and Heike, Thanks for that wonderful experience. Before attending the event, I thought I was going to get tired. It turned out to be more relaxing and enjoyable.

    Matthias, this is a great blog. I don’t need to spend my time blogging about this event. Awesome job. I’ll spend my time on other topics. Once again I truly enjoyed working with you in EIDI.

    Best regards,

    • Hi Bala,

      thanks for stepping up and bringing some controversy to the discussion 😀

      It completely caught me by surprise to see so many people “taking my side”, which I took to be the minority. I’m grateful to you for bringing up “the other side!”

      I do agree that it would have been impossible to surface all the potential topics and challenges we face in regards to inclusion, focusing on WIT makes perfect sense. Yet, it was the “positive discrimination” aspect that I completely disagree with!

      Let me shortly reply to your points:

      a) I see your point, I really do! As I tried to explain I think that’s really a prime example for “cultural differences.” I believe that the big majority of the audience felt about it as you did. This is why I wanted to shed some light of what I felt was a minority view.

      Oh, and Karin is not a SAP employee. I sure hope you didn’t get the feeling that I’ve abused my SAP employee status in a negative way. As I said, I am aware of the conflict and it was one of the reasons I remained quiet during the event. And again, I’m just stunned by the echo I have received about this blog… I simply wanted to get it off my chest by writing it down.

      b) No, it does not directly relate to the event, you’re right. But it may just help to make people aware of the fact that even a simple sentence can go a long way – so it sounds advisable to be careful on what to say and shows the importance of “knowing your audience”.

      c) Hm, not convinced by your argument. I can only comment on the situation from the few business trips I had there and about the impressions I got from my colleagues (which are all SAP employees and hence I think it’s safe to say that they are enjoying an equally priviledged life as I have in Germany), but I did not have the impression that they are lacking in freedom. In general, however the situation in Germany is probably quite different from India I’d say. Surely sounds like a great topic i’d love to pick up and discuss with you.

      See Bala, I’m really happy to hear that you enjoyed the panel and that you had a 1st class experience – I had the impression that most people felt as you do! As such I wanted to represent what I felt was a tiny minority (myself) and give that group a voice! 🙂

      I’m really happy you took the time to state your POV and even more so getting to know you better during this year’s TechEd. As I kept saying to everyone asking me about TechEd this year… it’s all about the people you met and the discussions you had. And that’s why it gets better every year as every year you know more people and you continue to get to know these people better (and meet new people as well) – as I tried to say… it’s that what makes my TechEd experience and you’ve been a part of that – thank you!

      Best regards,

      • Hi Matthias,

        We’re in agreement on all topics except “women in India”. Yes, you’re correct that they’re not lacking in freedom when you interact with them in business environment.  However outside business environment I don’t believe they’re “included”-I’m making a generic statement purely based on personal experience. I would love to discuss with you with examples.
        “I sure hope you didn’t get the feeling that I’ve abused my SAP employee status in a negative way” – Absolutely not. I thought Karin is an SAP employee. My bad.

        Best regards,

  • Hi Matthias,

    actually, i had a comment yesterday, but after including a link i found it inapporpriate to be left undeleted after there had been some trolling in the SDN space. if anyone had found it offensive, that was not my goal.

    in any event, i would like to comment by including a link to a “social experiment”. i think it applies not only to the topic at hand – inclusion –  but to our overall state of mind when being outside of our comfort zones. (#11 only, 12:11 minutes)



    • Hi Greg,

      I wondered as I say it in my inbox. Due to the sheer amount of replies I had not been able to follow the link back then, yet I read your comment and I would have loved to comment at it how it was.

      As I’m abaout to fly home soon (yeah!), I may won’t be able to get back to you about the “social experiment”, but I will ASAP.


  • Matthias:

    I was going to write a blog about the event…but after reading your blog, I’m speechless or worldless? You just make it so right, it hurts my blogger feelings -:)

    I totally agree on everything you’re saying…specially on the “everyone can code”…say it again? I almost stand up and ask for a laptop to make her code in Ruby or Python…or ABAP even better -;) Let’s see how easy it is -:P

    What I really want to add…and that’s something that really disappointed me…specially because despising the violated rules, that was a “Marilyn Pratt’s” tribute…(yes, I’m a big fan of her and she knows it), and it really blow up my mind, when after dinner everybody started to slowly walk out of the door…I stayed for sure…I stayed for Marilyn and for my team…and really had a wonderful moment…”Leave your titles on the door”? Sure thing…I had Jeanne Carboni and Mark Yolton on my team…isn’t that awesome? And just not be the bad guy…I also had Graham Robinson and Matt Harding -:) Two fellow Mentors and really good friends -;)

    If we have an event like this next year, I will surely join it and stay until the end…no questions about it -:)


    • Hi Blag,

      just realized today that I missed to thank you for your blog. It surely was great finally meeting the famous Blag! 🙂

      Yes, for all of us Granimari fans out there it was also a tribute night for sure… and many more to come 🙂

      Cheers mate!

  • Matthias,
    Kudos to you for so bravely sharing your views and personal experience of this event. I can certainly see how that comment about coders would be offensive to you; I used to hear disparaging comments quite frequently about security analysts being “only button pushers” . If I was going to stick with it, I had to force myself to tune out such comments as a personal viewpoint with which I did not agree. Thanks for sticking it out; I’m sure you made a difference in the design thinking at your table.


    • Hi Gretchen,

      good to know that you shared similar experiences and to hear about how you handle it.

      About the design thinking workshop, well, as we were only 5 (+ Karin as facilitator) everybody made a difference 🙂

      Warm regards,

      PS: Really enjoyed our breakfast talk about volunteering for non-profit organizations 🙂

  • It is only after reading this blog that I realized what and how much I missed that evening. If I felt bad before, I feel worse now.

    1. Most of all – I feel terrible that I promised Marilyn and still could not attend. I owe a lot to her- without her, I would have never found out the world of blogging, and all it comes with. I am pretty sure without her support, I might not have become an SAP mentor either. Sorry Marilyn – I will make it up somehow in future. And more than all of it – without her, I would never have known what it feels like to be part of a thriving community.

    2. I had a definite POV on the issue, and was very keen to put it across in the panel discussion. I explained it to couple of people before I left – like Mark Finnern, Ray Wang etc. I already had a feeling that my opinion might not be in tune with majority of the panel, and was mentally prepared for a good debate. Too bad for me that I could not do it, and it is a big learning opportunity that I lost.

    3. But all of this being said – while I greatly appreciate Matthias, Marilyn, and Mark saying I might have affected the outcome somehow – I seriously doubt it. But if I get another opportunity, I am willing to give it a try. At a minimum, the audience will have some free entertainment 🙂

    One last point – maybe, this was just too ambitious an agenda for a first attempt. For example – I have a feeling that if it was stated upfront that this session will be using women in technology as a case study, participants might have had an easier time relating to it.

    • Hi Vijay,

      happy to see you chiming in, especially as I wrote about you – hope you din’t get the impression I put you on the line or anything!

      1) Interesting to get to know that we share a similar #marilynprattexperience here. Well put!

      2) Well, not so sure the learnings are lost… unexpectedly (for me) it seemed we got some traction and as such I’d like to see it that we simply post-poned that discussion and instead have the panel discuss it we all are doing so now.

      3) Well said, yes, that’s the spirit we should promote!

      Best regards,

  • Matthias,
    I wonder how many drafts you went through in order to get the excellent balance of this piece, your courage in putting a piece like this in front of your friends and your peers is astounding.
    The Design Thinking Workshop is something I would have loved to have attended had I been at Teched in LV, but hoping to at Madrid. Perhaps I am reading it wrong, but from my perspective asking the panel for their experience in how people can embrace inclusion forces them to draw upon their experience which then (for some people) requires a back story or some sort of justification of their experience.
    I think it speaks a great deal to the hard work that Marilyn and others put into these events that they were able to get such a panel and also to challenge people to speak up and work through these issues.
    I am looking forward to Madrid, this blog and it’s comments has reaffirmed that these events are full of support to bring up and work through issues.
    • Hi Chris,

      I surely admit that I spend a lot of time on that piece (haven’t even started on my general recap, which has became a tradition/ritual for me.) but that’s just how I always do it. I feel that proper references and a little love for formatting and images greatly helps in making a blog post attractive (especially if it’s that long!) As I keep saying to people who ask me about blogging… give it your best shot, show that you put your best effort into it – after all as a blogger you are competing for a very valuable thing: people’s attention!

      Not so sure about the courage part – never thought of it this way. I mean all I did is state how I felt… so, what’s the risk? I got to the understanding that I’d like people to like me for who I am – seems to be the only thing worth pursuing in relationships! 😉

      I simply wanted to get it off of my chest and move on, so it was just a very “selfish” thing to do (Check my “Why blog?” post a while ago to see my stance on that matter – if you’re interested of course!) 

      And yes, I’m looking forward to Madrid as well… as an SCN addict my latest fix is wearing off fast – already suffering from Post SAP TechEd WithDrawal syndrome (#PWST)

      Looking forward to seeing you all there!

  • I’m about to head out and fly back home tomorrow, so I won’t be able to follow-up on the discussion the next 2 days or so. Please don’t take it as a sign of me not being interested no more!

    (Still puzzled by all of it! :))

  • Hi Matthias,
    I tried to register for the event but due to technical issues, didn’t register in time. Regardless, I crashed the event (nicely) because I considered this an important event to recognise (and I genuinely wanted to learn more since I’ve experienced the power of diversity before in teams). 
    My observations – The first panel section was pretty awkward IMO and the design thinking section lacked the guidance required since titles typically get demonstrated, even if they are not stated. But despite this the majority of the night was well worth it and I’m looking forward to see where this event goes next.
    Cheers, Matt
    • Thanks Matt for sharing your thoughts on it. I have no doubt that this event is in the best hands so where should it go next other than… awesome 😉
  • Matthias did a great job of fully summarizing the ‘Embracing Inclusion to Drive Innovation’ event at SAP Tech Ed Las Vegas. Kudos again for his honesty and openness in sharing his views – and investing allot of time doing so. We were on the same team, and were each so moved that we had a few long chats after the event, learning allot from each other.
    I had a very different perspective on the lessons we could learn from this event. Maybe I see it differently because I have always viewed such discussions from the perspective of a minority so my antennae are always up and I’m conditioned to look/listen for behavioral clues – that’s how I’ve made it this far being who I am.
    So – what WOULD HAVE BEEN FASCINATING to share at the end of the evening was “How we each experienced being part of these teams?

    Marilyn asked me to blog about this, so i did here:
    The Value Was in the Conversation ! Embracing Inclusion with Design Thinking – Driving Innovation
    Feel free to comment in either place – I see them both.

    • Loved the ending to your comment… “I see them both.” Guess that sums it up in regards to the workshop… to take a look at things from multiple angles! I already saluted you in my blog and then you added yours… see that’s what I love about community work: sometimes it may seem like an uphill battle, but then there’s always a moment when it makes a difference, at least for a few people… who just got the right message at the right time. With such great teachers and mentors around learning is fun (for the most part!)

      Thanks for it all! 🙂

      Warm regards,

  • Matthias:

    enjoyed your blog and the detailed summary. You have a great eye for detail and write well.

    While I think all your points are valid, I really enjoyed the event a lot. For me, it was an experiment. Heike had been running a lot of the planning for Design Thinking by me and I could not wait to see how this would play out live at the event.

    I agree that the panel was too single-mindedly focused on women and I am not sure how we got there. I’d like to partially blame some of the shortcomings on the late hour. I think eveybody was pretty exhausted from a long day; maybe hard to stay on focus?

    My group was so awesome and we had so much fun discussing our topic and getting to know each other and our view points, that despite it being so late, we really bonded and had a blast.

    Overall, I saw this event as an experiment. And for me inclusion extents to accepting some mistakes when you take a risk and try something new. You can’t control a panel 🙂 and I think if people talk about their jobs vs. the topic at hand, that tells you more about them than anything else. Don’t get me wrong, all wonderful people, but maybe we are all too wrapped up in our work identities, what we have “accomplished” vs. who we are as a person (especially when it comes to inclusion)?But then again, those personas can’t be separated…

    Bottom line, the event gave us a lot to think about, as your blog highlights. Thanks for continuing the discussion, and being so brave to speak your mind,


    • LOL, isn’t that what inclusion is all about… to embrace different mindsets, opinions, etc? 😉

      I think at the bottomline we are on the same page – it was a great event, and one that succeded in creating thoughtful follow-ups and discussions. It was a great learning experience and … the DT workshop was a blast!

      Maybe the panel just got me on “the wrong foot” so to speak and that paired up with high expectations and resulted in what I described.

      Time has passed since the event and from what I can tell Marilyn and her team are about to rock SAP TechEd Bangalore with a great inclusion event again. The plans for Madrid sound great too and I’ll surely be around for that one again.


      PS: The feedback I have received is really astonishing and way beyond my wildest imaginations. When I wrote this I surely didn’t expect that kind of attention. That much about courage… 🙂

  • Hello Matthias,
    I am somehow very contended to read this blog of yours.I can’t predict how far would this initiative reach pragmatically but very happy to see the issues being highlighted and discussed clearly at these events.Your blog was little long to be read quickly but captive enough to be read till the end.(owing to lot of links in the blog).The point raised about Panel too is very justified and I think its great to be raised by a Mentor.I managed to attend this workshop at tech-ed Bangalore this year.(Thanks to Marilynn)Looks like there were little differences b/w the events in LV and BLR. You might want to read my experience here: [original link is broken] [original link is broken] [original link is broken]