There is no doubt that the SAP TechEd events being held around the world are a feast – there are business and technical sessions, informal lectures, workshops and a host of activities that allow us all to meet, greet and get to know each other. This year, I was lucky enough to attend the Las Vegas round – and out of all the great sessions on offer, there was one in particular, that remains in my memory.
Walking back from the conference zone at the end of a long “Day One” in Las Vegas, I bumped into Aslan Noghre-kar and Marilyn Pratt. Within minutes we’d all shrugged off our tiredness and were talking ten-to-the-dozen. And soon others joined us, talking about the day, people we’d seen and what lay in store. I mentioned to Marilyn that I was disappointed to miss out on her after hours event, Embracing Inclusion, Driving Innovation, as by the time I had settled all my plans it had been booked out. Generously, Marilyn smiled and suggested I just turn up – I could be squeezed onto a table somewhere.
The next day was another intense feast of ideas, meetings and discussions. I didn’t really know what to expect of the Inclusion event – but that was part of the adventure. This was going to be an experience!
I turned up, found a table and started chatting with other participants. There was a sense of excitement and a real buzz in the room. I remember speaking to one woman whose excitement was palpable – she had been a programmer for decades and had seen massive changes in the enterprise software landscape. But she felt that this event – with a wide variety of participants who were all asked to “leave their title at the door” – was a watershed of sorts.
The panel that kicked off the evening certainly was interesting – a mixture of passionate and articulate speakers including Bridgette Chambers from The Americas’ SAP Users’ Group, athlete Lisa Leslie, author and SAP colleague, Patricia Fletcher, SAP Mentor Mico Yuk, analyst and self-confessed Ray Wang, and CEO of Women 2.0, Shaherose Charania. Variously, the panel prodded and poked ideas (as well as the audience).
To be honest, it was at times, confronting. We had been asked to introduce ourselves and sit with people we did not know. We were encouraged to share our opinions and ideas and to “step up”. And at one stage all the men in the room were asked to stand. Questions were asked of us. Why were we here – at this event? What did we hope to achieve? One of the SAP Mentors, Matthias Steiner, has About ‘Embracing Inclusion to Drive Innovation’ of the event in great detail as has The Value Was in the Conversation ! Embracing Inclusion with Design Thinking – Driving Innovation.
We were being challenged – to be honest. I felt it was important to go beyond the question, and to not answer with a glib or off-handed comment. In the room, it felt like we were grappling with the deep, foundations upon which our perceptions and expectations are built. I could feel the agitation in the room, the uncomfortableness.
We had already heard wonderful, heartfelt stories from the panelists, from Marilyn and from the SAP executive sponsors of the event, Vishal Sikka and Sanjay Poonen – and now it was our turn. Why was I here? A direct and focused question left my mind blank. And in that blankness, in the moment, I knew why – so that perhaps, by the time my daughters had grown into women, that they’d be part of an inclusive and open business culture. And that they’d have opportunities to contribute, to participate and to shape the world in which they live.
And as I sat down, it felt like this was, in fact an important evening. According to Wikipedia, design thinking as a style of thinking, “is generally considered the ability to combine empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and fit solutions to the context”. In practical terms, design thinking requires us to challenge ourselves, our prejudices and our expectations – to break through (and sometimes to break down) the barriers around a problem. It’s personal and it is professional. In includes us whole.
These Inclusiveness and Design Thinking workshops challenge us all to figure out how to move forward towards a shared vision – even when that vision is not yet clear. What counts is our intention. This Wednesday, another workshop is being held as part of SAP TechEd Madrid. Make it your intention to attend. You’ll be glad you did.