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Four months later, I’m adding someone I want blog it forward to: my good friend and colleague Ferenc Tabori. Even though Ferenc hasn’t been very active on SCN so far, he is in fact very community-minded: He was a great help when Tobias Trapp and I organized SAP Inside Track Bonn, he was great help with my silly 2009 SCN community profile video, and he has attended several instances of SAP Inside Track NL Eindhoven and even the Den Bosch InnoJam.

(By the way, just for some geek fun, the hexadecimal color code I chose for the background of this box is “#ECC605”, and the title bar is “#ABA731”. What EhP are you on?)

Today, I am doubly honored because not one but two people were so kind to blog it forward to me: Tom Van Doorslaer and Marilyn Pratt. This is not a time for “first come, first serve,” especially since Marilyn blogged it forward to me after I asked her if I may blog it forward to her, so I gladly accept both mentions. (By the way, because it would otherwise go waste, here is the brief introduction to Marilyn I wrote when I was planning to blog it forward to her: Marilyn is the soul of the SCN community. She has challenged and inspired me countless times and given me the chance to make my favorite and most mind-changing contribution, playing a supporting role in the Design Thinking and Inclusion Event at SAP TechEd 2011 in Madrid.)

If you aren’t familiar with it, here is the link that explains the “Blog It Forward Community Challenge”.

Introduction

My name is Thorsten Franz, and I am an SAP Mentor and long-time SAP technologist, occupying myself mostly with the software architecture and technology strategy of an industry solution for German health insurance companies. My main area of expertise is large-scale enterprise application development on top of SAP software, and I really love being a builder of software, a bit like Tom and Jack Builder in Ken Follett’s novel “The Pillars of the Earth,” which is about the lifelong dream to build a cathedral.

I am also passionate about teaching (and have been called professorial, usually by those who find my exclamations lengthy) and sharing knowledge. Thus, I have co-written two SAP Press books about ABAP development and engage frequently as a speaker at conferences such as SAP TechEd, SAP Inside Tracks, and SAP’s internal event DKOM (which I felt was a great honor).

Fun (?) facts about my hometown

I live in Bonn, Germany, where I was also born and raised. Bonn is a quiet little (population 300,000) university town that used to be the capital of Western Germany when the country was still divided into a Western and Eastern part and the cold war still raged between Washington and Moscow. Living in a small capital in the seventies and eighties was often exciting: State visits by such illustrious figures at Brezhnev, Gorbachev, and Reagan took place right in my stomping grounds, and one could meet well-known politicians in the street, or go to school with their children. Police cars circulated frequently in the better neighborhoods, and I remember the morning when a classmate reported that their politician neighbor had just been killed on his front lawn by terrorists.

Growing up, I was painfully aware that enough Warsaw Pact nuclear missiles were aimed at my home town to turn everything within a 100 km radius into a radioactive glass desert with five minutes’ notice, which is why the sound of sirens still terrifies me. (Later, I learned that NATO also had its missiles directed at us to stop a potential Russian invasion. Good missile coverage, we had.)

The previous section may or may not qualify for the “fun facts about your country” requirement for a Blog It Forward post. It’s a little macabre, but I find this aspect of my home town nevertheless interesting and worth sharing.

Tom’s Questions

1. What’s your favorite food?

Japanese cuisine, because it is so perfectly aesthetic, elegantly simple, purist, delicious and often exotic. Generally, I love discovering new and exotic foods, and like to challenge chefs from foreign countries to cook something they like but can’t usually offer because most people find it repulsive – think innards, raw stuff, slimy or gooey stuff. However, I stay away from insects and animal cruelty (although I don’t avoid industrially produced meat as consequently as I should).

2. Which 5 things do you absolutely want to achieve in life?

I don’t have a list, but there is in fact one super-corny thing I absolutely want to achieve. I believe that just as violence and terror are passed on from generation to generation, when you treat your children with love and respect, they will pass it on down the line, both to their own children and other people they encounter. In many years, when I’m long gone, I want there to be many people who treat themselves and their fellow people with the love and respect that I gave my kids and contemporaries during my lifetime. I want that to be my heritage.

3. Can you tell us something about your hobby?

I’m a fan of Scottish single malts, but today I should mention something else that has occupied me in the past five months. After putting on weight constantly for many years and, recently, moving from overweight to seriously overweight, this March I drew the line and, from one day to the next, made it my number one priority to lose a lot of weight.

I went to a gym and started doing daily intense workouts, mixing cardio and strength exercises. A few days later, I also began to diet very consequently and reduce my calories intake drastically. Currently, my routine is to jog for one hour (about 10 km) every single day, if time allows add some optional other workout elements, and end each day with a negative balance between 1,000 and 2,000 calories.

So far, I have lost 28 kg (62 lbs) and it really shows. A lot of people congratulate me and tell me how much better I look, but that is nothing compared to how much better I feel: It’s a whole new life! It’s also very nice that a lot of people tell me that my example inspires them to also tackle their excess weight.

I know the value of inspiration through example because I owe my success to Thomas Jung and Stephen Johannes, two fellow SCN Community Members and SAP Mentors who lost a lot of weight and showed me that it’s possible, and that being overweight is not a verdict I have to accept: Except in some cases, it simply requires a certain amount of energy, invested over a certain period of time, to burn the fat.

•    You put in effort X and get weight reduction Y.

•    If Y is too small, increase X.

•    Even if Y is very small: Keep at it long enough and you can lose any amount of weight.

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It speaks volumes about how selectively humans apply their cognitive abilities that it took me so long to figure that out.

Marilyn’s Questions:

1. What was your dream job as a kid?

As a child, I wanted to be an inventor and comic artist. I was constantly drawing designs for machines (which I never built for lack of mechanical skills and inclination) and funny sketches. Later, I dreamed of being an entrepreneur, Freudian psychoanalyst, philosopher, musician, and scientific researcher. I can’t draw a line between my dream job as a kid and my current dream job – many elements of those childhood and adolescence dream jobs are realized in my current position and will be in whatever comes next.

2. What is your favorite place in the world?

Definitely: idea space, preferably on a discovery tour with a good friend such as Marilyn.

3. Describe an instance when empathy in a project, development, collaboration, work experience, or community interaction turned a situation around (or should have).

It always does, doesn’t it? Isn’t that question like asking: Describe an instance when oxygen was conducive to (aerobic) life? Okay, okay, I don’t expect to get away with that, so here is a concrete example. Sorry for touting my own horn – the best example I can currently think of is one in which I turned a situation around by being empathetic.

At TechEd 2011 in Las Vegas, I gave a presentation about my experiences with SAP River. Ten minutes into the presentation, a lot of people were giving me blank stares. I understood that they couldn’t digest what I was explaining because it was too abstract and they needed a more tangible foundation for the high-level content.

I asked the audience: “I’m seeing a lot blank stares, would you like me to make this more tangible, perhaps with a live demo?” Everybody liked that suggestion, so I improvised a long live demo during which I showed how to build a small application while interactively gathering requirements, entering sample data provided by the audience, and even refactoring the application to incorporate new ideas from the audience. The audience participated very actively and the demo was accompanied by a good discussion. Somehow, I made it work well together with my slide deck and concluded the session on time. The session was a success and received good feedback.

I think the session was a success because I had a good antenna for the audience: By paying close attention to my audience, I was able to sense what they needed, and I was not afraid to deviate from my plan to give it to them. By spontaneously allowing for a highly interactive session style, I made everybody feel like they co-owned the session, which yielded valuable input from the participants. Thankfully, I have a knack for improvisation so the unplanned elements worked smoothly together with the original plan.

As a contrast, some of the worst sessions I have ever experienced where ones in which I felt that the speaker was not responding to signals from the audience telling them how to make it relevant, or in which they were otherwise apathetic against the audience’s needs or feelings. The same goes for all group and leadership situations, whether you’re working with five, fifty, or five thousand people: You have to pay attention to your opposite’s needs and feelings, recognize and respect them, because otherwise you’ll waste their time and, in the worst case, offend them.

Blogging It Forward

I blog it forward to Tobias Trapp, Moya Watson, Stephen Johannes, and Ferenc Tabori:

  • My dear colleague and favorite collaborator Tobias Trapp has inspired me to do many joint projects, the first of which was our ABAP development book, and has introduced me to SCN Community Day, the predecessor of SAP Inside Track.
  • Moya Watson, whom I have yet to meet in person, is nevertheless one of my favorite people on twitter and Facebook. She is a smart and courageous fighter against bullying (of gay people and others) and an overall funny and sophisticated person. As far as I can tell, she has a big heart, a powerful brain, and a taste for good whisk(e)y, and what more can you ask for in a person?
  • Stephen Johannes’ example inspired me not only to start losing weight but also to understand it as a long-term project and be resilient. When I had just started the project, he was so kind to give me very valuable advice. He is also a deep and challenging thinker and a great person to have discussions with.
  • Ferenc Tabori is the great guy I introduced at the top of this blog. 🙂

I would like to ask them the following questions:

  1. What is the best you can teach others, or share with others?
  2. Suppose you won $ 500,000,000 in the lottery. Let’s allow for two years of reckless spending and fulfilling yourself some dreams – after that initial phase is over, what do you want to be and do?
  3. Marilyn’s question: Describe an instance when empathy in a project, development, collaboration, work experience, or community interaction turned a situation around (or should have).

Finally

Please follow the Blog It Forward Chain in order to be updated when Tobias, Moya, Stephen, Ferenc, and other members of the community blog it forward. Also, please join the fun (see the original blog on how to do it)!

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16 Comments

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  1. Susan Keohan

    What a nice blog – even if we are far apart on what we will eat. 
    I love that you saw what was in (or not in) your audiences’ eyes, and then improvised a demo.

    I have never met Moya in person, so I am looking forward to both her blog, and hopefully will be able to meet her in real life. 

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    1. Thorsten Franz Post author

      Thanks, Susan – I remember you and Tammy being there and being very supportive (as you always are). I hope my description didn’t make your toenails curl because it was all entirely different and I should have noted that by the time they were throwing vegetables at me. 😉

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  2. Fred Verheul

    Hi Thorsten,

    I’m getting lazy with all this liking and rating of content, but a comment is due here: thanks a lot for sharing this personal stuff with the community. Personally I had no idea Bonn was such a dangerous place to grow up (always thought of it as a quiet little even boring town somewhere across the border (there was a border in those days, if you remember)).

    I have not really told you yet how much I admire your commitment to losing (over-) weight, and most of all the perseverance that comes with it. I mean, anyone can go crazy for a week and think they get somewhere, but it’s much much harder to keep going after the initial excitement wears off. Kudos for setting an example many could benefit from ;-). If you get to go to Madrid, I’ll bring my running shoes (I use them at least twice a year) and would love to join (btw, it looks like plans are already being made for running in Madrid).

    Cheers, Fred

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    1. Tammy Powlas

      I didn’t know about Bonn either; I always wondered what happened to people who grew up in West Germany as it isn’t really discussed all that much.

      Thank you Thorsten Franz for such a thoughtful blog

      I could learn to be more improvisational from you.

      Your exercise routine is an inspiration as well.

      I haven’t met Tobias Trapp or Moya Watson either, but I hope to one day.  For sure I’ve done Zumba like Tobias and Moya and I share the same music tastes.

      Looking forward to seeing you again in person soon!

      Tammy

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  3. Stephen Johannes

    Thorsten,

    Thanks for the kind mention and I’m glad that my advice/inspiration was helpful for you.  The information about Bonn was very interesting.  On strange note I was listening to my Sirius radio last week and they played the German Language version of 99 Red Balloons last week(which was much more beautiful sounding than the English translation). Your story about the sirens, made me think of that song which I think only could have come out of Europe during the “cold war”.

    On the otherhand even though I’m more in maintenance, seeing your progress keeps me motivated/honest when it comes to fitness/weight loss. 

    Take care,

    Stephen

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    1. Gregory Misiorek

      this must be some kind of cold war nostalgia…i always thought i was under 99 air balloons growing up about 100 miles east of Berlin, but now i don’t think there are absolutely safe places anywhere in the world, with or without borders.

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  4. xMoshe Naveh (Old Acct)

    Hi Thorsten!

    Tnx a lot for this intersting and inspiring blog.

    I think that the way you felt your audience and adjusted to them is a very important quality that I personally wish to enhance.

    As a teenager I was in a student exchange program in Bonn. A very interesting city but at the same time peaceful. I’m glad that it is much safer these days.

    Few months ago I went on a whole rice detox diet and it made me feel so good. Now I try to find ways to implement it in my daily diet.

    Thanks again!

    Moshe

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    1. Marilyn Pratt

      Trust Moya Watson to add her roguish and delightful humor to the mix.  Thorsten, I’ll say that in reading about whiskey tasting (an art you introduced me to)  I stumbled upon this description which might well serve as a metaphor for your journeying through the world of ideas. Here is an interesting answer to the whiskey tasting question of “how do you learn to pick up different and expressive characteristics” (when tasting the whiskey)

      The answer is to build up experiences of tasting different things that are unrelated to whisky and taking a ‘taste snapshot’ of the characteristics of that flavour. The more that you do this, the better and more precise your whisky tasting will become. Another key is that whisky is unlike most other spirits in that the true character comes through after some time, so it is important not to drink it too quickly. It is important to remember that taste is a personal thing and that there are no right or wrong answers.

      In the many responses to your post and your story about Bonn, I hear and see much empathy for your very powerful word images and sharing of your experiences.  I just read this wonderful quote: “Maybe stories are just data with a soul.” — Brené Brown”

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      1. Moya Watson

        Surely you don’t mean to imply, Marilyn Pratt, that whiskey is irrelevant.  As you note, it’s all related to ‘building up experiences and tastes’ — the foundation of any good software developer.  At least, I think I could make the case in Vegas.  Were I ever to go there, of course.

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  5. Jan Penninkhof

    Lovely to read your blog-it-forward blog. It seems that you have even turned weight-loss into a science. Fully matched my expectations of an NT!

    Nice facts about Bonn as well, learned something new today!

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