scales (small).jpgIf you’ve been following my previous posts on whether you should contribute to SCN and how you can contribute to SCN I would hope that by now you have made some sort of commitment to yourself that you will be adding some great content in the very near future.  However there’s something I haven’t discussed yet and that’s about how much to contribute.

You might imagine that it’s simply a case of contributing as much as you can as often as you can – which is an admirable view to have.  However I think it’s worth taking a moment to consider just how much you are willing and how much you can afford to share.  Giving everything may be the way to go or you might find you want to dial it back a little bit.

Let me explain….

Reasons to limit your contribution

When I began using SCN I was simply using it as a learning resource to research some SAP related topics.  As I began to get more involved with the SAP world my decision to give back was straight forward enough but I felt cautious.  I was beginning to worry about the negative impacts of what could be “sharing too much”.

Now by “too much” I don’t mean the sort of over-share you see on platforms like Twitter where some people feel compelled to share what they had for breakfast and that they just bought a loaf of bread.  The over-share I’m referring to is the sort where it could potentially result in a negative impact on your position or status.  Perhaps a few questions get the point across best?

  • If you share your knowledge with someone for free are you not giving them free training that allows them to pick up work you could be doing and getting paid for now or in the future?  Would you be in effect putting yourself out of a job?
  • If you freely give away the knowledge and experience you’ve built-up are you not de-valuing yourself and others like you?
  • Do you not have a responsibility to your employer to not better enable potential competitors by sharing things you’ve developed such as good practice and innovative solutions to issues?

Make no mistake everyone of us has something valuable to offer and it seems almost criminal to just give it away.  With that in mind it sounds a lot like, just to be on the safe side, everyone should reconsider contributing anything at all to SCN.  But is everyone who contributes to SCN just limiting themselves and their organisations?  Well judging by the clear success of so many of the more prolific contributors (including SCN’s own SAP mentors) the answer is emphatically no.  But how can that be?

Well I have a theory and it’s related to a business model.

Model Behaviour

Something I’ve noticed becoming more prominent over the last few years in start-ups is the use of the model known as Freemium.  In essence it is a business model whereby a company gives away a product or service for free.  This doesn’t sound like the sort of thing any bank manager would give you a start-up loan against and yet for many companies this model has proven to be extremely lucrative.

The truth lies in the counterpart to what is in reality a binary business model.  The free product or service is something that people find useful and gives the company a foot in the door that then allows the company to offer an up-sell.  This is the Premium part of what is actually a Freemium/Premium model.  The Premium service or product offers the customer an additional set of capabilities and features that effectively build upon and supercharge what the user already has.  It’s much easier to give people something for free, let them adopt it into their everyday use (to the point where they can’t imagine managing without it any more) and then show them how much better life could be with the paid for version.

It isn’t really a new model, but the digital age has opened a new instant access way to offer this sort of approach and it’s thriving.

So how does this relate to our ‘how much should I contribute’ dilemma?  Well let’s consider your skills, knowledge and experience as a service that you (and your organisation) can offer.  If you give away some of your insights and expertise for free, people will begin to see you as someone they can go to for help and assistance.  However to get access to the whole of your skills, knowledge and experience perhaps these people would need to engage you with some sort of incentive (such as paying you).  The chances are if you’ve already shown yourself to be knowledgeable about something and an approachable team player sort of person then they would be far more likely to engage with you than with someone they’ve zero experience of interacting with.

Hopefully we’re all coming back around to the idea of contributing to SCN being a good thing … though I probably had some of you worried there for a minute didn’t I?

So now the question of ‘how much to contribute’ might seem to be better approached as trying to answer the question of ‘where would you draw your “Premium Service” line’?

The 5% Rule

Unfortunately this question is one of the ones where there isn’t going to be a one size fits all circumstances and eventualities.  There are a number of factors that can be considered and the amount of contribution can even vary over time as personal circumstances change.  Even so I thought I’d share how I decided where to draw my line in the hope that maybe it will help you too.

This ‘how much to share’ dilemma was not new to me.  In my personal life I teach martial arts classes.  I do this on a voluntary basis and give my time for free.  I actually give up many hours each week to teach children and adults how to get themselves out of sticky situations and I feel I’m doing my bit to support my local community.  Sound familiar?

Now I don’t give private classes so my dilemma here is not financial, rather it is about control – but I think there’s still a clear parallel.

Much of martial arts is based on control.  Control of one’s self and also of one’s environment.  I came to a realisation early on in my teaching that if I ever taught a student who was naturally more talented than me (which I’ve had the pleasure of doing countless times), and I taught them everything I knew, then I would put myself at a disadvantage should they ever lose control and end up in a violent altercation with me.  Whilst this is probably a very small risk, the repercussions would be significant and I decided I needed to address this possibility for my own peace of mind.

My solution was beautifully simple – I adopted a 5% rule.  I only ever teach a student 95% of what I know.  This leaves me with a very valuable 5% I can draw upon should things ever be against me.  Now some students have called me out on this saying that it is unfair; however I do have two further points that I think balance this out and make it really viable for everyone.

The first is that the 5% I keep back is different for each student.  This means that when the time comes and I’m no longer teaching people martial arts, the knowledge I’ve gathered will still be passed on.

The second is that I try to learn new things faster than I teach my most advanced students.  This means that I always have something new to teach them.  They never reach a knowledge plateau where they feel they have to seek out a new instructor and this also allows me to continue to grow as a martial artist (and instructor).

So as you might expect it was only natural for me to adopt the same sort of rule for my contributions to SCN.

At the moment I don’t think that there’s any SAP knowledge I have that would be “lost” if I left the SAP world; so the first point probably isn’t so relevant for me just yet, but I’m sure it is to countless others.  That being said, the second point supports progression and I am learning so much new stuff every day.  I figure as long as I don’t ‘give it away’ as fast as I’m learning and discovering it then I have some reasonable chance of maintaining any small competitive edge I might currently have.

As the more mathematically astute of you might have realised by now this approach actually means that a long term side effect of adhering to the 5% rule is that it would actually increase my competitive advantage at an increasing rate.  All the time it’s 5% of something that will be larger tomorrow than it is today.  It drives me to keep on learning and keep on assimilating what I can at even greater rates as my general level of understanding increases.  I love it.

The Danger Line

At this point I think I need to pause and put in a small but important caveat.  As well as establishing your Freemium/Premium threshold (or 95% : 5% or any other ration) I think it is also sensible to establish an additional line – a danger line.

Elephants and the Internet never forget.  Social media allows us to track all of our mistakes as well as our successes.  Employers are using social media more and more and I for one want to avoid posting anything that my current or any future employer might deem as ‘bad’.  Most employers typically have policies that provide guidelines for how staff can use resources such as computers and systems.  Many of these policies have now been extended (or even explicitly created) to govern the use of social media.  It’s certainly worthwhile checking to see if your employer does have anything that may formally limit what you should be contributing.  Hopefully they do as this will then give you (at least some) clarity around where the company line is so you can adopt it as your danger line.  If your organisation doesn’t have one then consider discussing it with your line manager at your next 1-2-1.

Every time I post anything online, be it on SCN or anywhere else, professional or personal, I give it at least one scan through to see if there is anything in the content that could be construed as business sensitive or even just plain unprofessional.  This is what qualifies and quantifies my own danger line.  If anything crosses it I get a hint of doubt and I then immediately re-word or remove it.  No ifs, buts or exceptions. Just gone.  Discretion is just as valuable as the information it keeps safe.

Whilst this may just seem like common sense and totally obvious, mistakes do happen, and it would be remiss of me not to mention it at all.  Quite simply my 5% rule wouldn’t quite work so well for me without this caveat.


So as a rule of thumb I’m happy to share anything up to 95% of what I know; so long as by sharing it, I don’t think it will give anyone reason to mistrust or devalue me now or in the future.  This approach to sharing also gives me another reason to push my own self-development to try and get ahead on the SAP knowledge curve.

Hopefully you’ve now got some sort of feel for the sort of level of SCN contribution you’re happy with and the sorts of considerations you might need to keep in mind when deciding just how much of your knowledge and experience to share.  I’m confident that if you approach it in the right way, contributing to SCN can greatly increase the prospects for you to grow; through self-development, collaboration and exposure to new opportunities.

So where next?  Well in the next blog post in this SCN contribution series I’m going to take a look at some ways that might just help “improve” your contributions to SCN.

Further Reading

For those of you carving more, here’s some resources you may find useful.

You can also find me on Google+

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  1. Jarret Pazahanick

    Great job with this series Stephen and pretty impressive the depth of each article.

    You bring up an interesting angle on the 95% vs the 5% and when I started blogging on SCN I was “worried” about sharing to much of my knowledge for some of the reasons you outlined but over time started to see the value of sharing and overtime starting contributing more and more so hopefully I am up to the 95% πŸ™‚

    On a side I loved your karate example and the need to continue to learn as I am constantly learning and have been doing SAP for over 14 years.  As soon as you think you know everything about a certain area SAP will find a way to humble you πŸ™‚

    1. Stephen Millard Post author

      Thanks Jarret – too kind as ever πŸ˜€

      I do occasionally write shorter form posts.  Originally I was just going to write one post on contributing to SCN but as I was mapping it out it very quickly became so huge I had to restructure it into multiple posts.

      I’ve two more posts to publish over the next two days and that will finish up the series.  After that I think I’ll start working on one of my technical Nakisa ones I’ve got shaping up.  I do however have an idea for another SCN focussed series I’ll maybe put out later this year.  Time as ever is a limiting factor!

    1. Stephen Millard Post author

      Thanks Andre – good to hear from you.

      I’ve got quite a few ideas for more blog posts so they won’t be stopping any time soon … but I will be putting more than 24 hours between them.  Putting out so many long form posts in rapid succession has been rather challenging.

      Anyway hope you’re doing well and maybe I could look forward to some posts from you too? πŸ˜‰

  2. Luke Marson

    Hi Stephen,

    Another great post and an interesting viewpoint.

    I’ve never considered keeping anything back, but then I’m not sure I’ve got anywhere near giving 95% out yet – so I’ll bear it in mind πŸ™‚ . The problem I find is so many people adopt a more 50% rule than 5%, where they think giving anything out is giving away a competitive advantage. I know for sure that I’ve given competitors an advantage, but I think ultimately a good salesman will sell a project even if it can’t be delivered so the risk for me is very low. Ultimately a bunch of How To guides are not much use to someone if they don’t have the overall knowledge to link together all of the information.

    If you could leave your future blogs longer than 24 hours apart (or make them shorter!) I would appreciate it – there is only so much time I have in a week! πŸ˜‰

    Keep up the good work,


  3. Luke Marson

    p.s. I also think it would be great if you could create single blog post listing all of your blogs from the series – this would make a great reference for newbies and oldies alike.

  4. Martin English

    my 2c on how my sharing of information directly helps me

    Sharing has two components;

    • swapping – i.e. comparing notes on how you did this compared to how I did it. The potential benefit to both parties is a lot more obvious here; even if you don’t get anything out of the initial exchange, you’ve opened up the lines of communication, and both parties now know someone extra they can talk to about their problems. A typical example for me was finding the right combination of wear and grip for my motorcyle tyres.
    • dissemenation – which in turn has two components, listening and presenting. Realistically, most of us have to do a lot more listening. Well, I do, anyway, because I am a bear of little brain…. The return for the listener / reader is obvious; the knowledge and experience of the presenter / writer.
      The return for presenter / teacher can be as simple cash or glory (“I presented at SAP Teched on xyz” on your resume is good for your ego, if not job hunting)), but on the odd occassions I have presented or written articles, the return has been a lot more intangible. That’s because I’m only confident enough to present / teach on things I feel passionate about. This means that the big return is watching people’s attitudes change, receiving feedback on how I do things (i.e suggestions to improve on how and what I’m presenting, and passionate, about), and, in general, watching my area of passion grow..  A typical example has been the conversations and reactions I’ve had (from both inside and outside SAP) over the last few years about my ‘on-premise’ SAP running on cloud systems.

    Now, there’s no simple way to quantify the benefits to your career or bank balance, and to a certain degree, there’s no point; No, you can’t always say that a particular interaction was worth $X to me and my company, but each and every one of these interactions increases, sometimes a little bit (sometimes an infintesimal, but still positive, amount), sometimes a lot, the pool of knowledge and knowledgeable people in a particular area. Those people, that community, will know you are a positive contributor and will be willing to help you when you need it.


  5. Erika Atencio

    That dilemma made me stop contributing (with blogs), and I had to delete some of my blogs. It made me sooo sad, but I had to do that-  I really loved to share some tips I had invented by my own and anyways, I thought, this is SAP, what could be wrong with sharing tips about a SAP product itself?  But yes what your employer would  think of you if they know you like to blog about SAP products in an SAP community?


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