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This year at SAP TechEd Las Vegas, I had the honor of being a panelist for an ASUG Leadership 2.0 lunch panel. If you’re not familiar with the ASUG L2dot0 initiative, it is meant to go beyond the technical aspects of SAP, and help members develop leadership skills as well.

The topic for this event was “The Power of mentors” (note the lowercase ‘m’ since we were talking about mentors in general, and not specifically about SAP Mentors). Our discussion was centered around how involving yourself in a community is good for everyone.

I was also honored to be on the panel with my friend, mentor, and fellow SAP Mentor Jon Reed.  The two of us made up the entire panel, so we both had a lot of time to discuss our perspectives. Jon always impresses me with his ability to think strategically, and get to the meaningful point of the ‘big picture’.

So if you missed the panel, from my perspective, here were the highlights of the discussion:

  • Involvement in a community, such as ASUG or SCN, does not need to dominate your schedule. If you have an hour to spend each week, someone will benefit from your contribution.
  • When you participate in a community like ASUG or SCN, you get connected with other people who are just like you. It’s like Match.com for techies, only better. When you connect with other people who are like you, and do what you do, magic starts to happen. You learn from one another, and everyone is better for the relationship.
  • Volunteering time to a community has value. Many people don’t factor in the value that their time has, and therefore have a hard time justifying participation. Volunteering has value to the community. Someone, somewhere needs that bit of information you have to share. Volunteering has benefit to you. You’re helping to build the collective, community knowledge with your insights and your time. Your content is saving someone time and money somewhere in the world.
  • Many people feel they aren’t ‘qualified’ to participate. My challenge was to start with the forums. Spend an hour a week in the forums, and answer any question you know the answer to. Chances are, you’ll find a couple you know, and you’ll surprise yourself.
  • My friend, mentor, and fellow SAP Mentor Graham Robinson was in the audience, and Jon had him get up and talk about the “Multiplier Effect“, which was just magic. By participating in a community, you gain a voice, and that voice gets repeated, echoed, and multiplied across the community. It becomes a strong voice, and difficult to ignore. Thanks, Graham for sharing your insight with the group.
  • Mark Finnern, SAP Mentor Herder, and the inventor of the SAP Mentor Program also stood up and shared some ideas with the group about “Culture Jamming“. Mark is always inspiring to listen to with his visionary perspective. You can change things around you by your ideas, and by surrounding yourself with enthusiastic, positive people. While SAP Mentors are very different in terms of profession, location, and expertise, but are alike in one thing that binds us together, and that is passion for community. We share, therefore we are.
  • Along the lines of what Graham was saying with the Multiplier Effect, volunteering and sharing with a community can be good for your career. As you build a following, it tends to be more meaningful that a list of followers on Twitter or a bunch of ‘Likes’ on Facebook. These are people that follow your content because they can learn from it, and continue to learn from it. As you build your content (forum posts, blogs, wiki pages) over time, you will get noticed, often times in very positive ways.
  • Jon Reed had a brilliant insight. In all professional positions today, especially in technology, it is no longer okay to just ‘coast’. Either you are continuing to learn on a daily basis, or you are falling behind. With companies continuing to tighten their belts, employees who are falling behind really aren’t an option.
  • On the topic of having time to volunteer or contribute, I quoted a former manager of mine. “You never HAVE time for anything. You MAKE time for things that are important to you”.
  • I mentioned at one point that I was up there on stage as a member of the panel because I was a volunteer. Nearly everything I have learned about my SAP specialty, I learned from the community. Participating in ASUG and SCN is a way for me to ‘pay it forward’ to those who are now where I was a few years ago. And the beauty of it is, I haven’t stopped learning myself.
  • I was asked for closing comments to wrap up the discussion, and only one thing sat in my mind. I said that I am a better person because I am associated with these people, as I pointed around the room. This community has made me a better person, and hardly have words to describe the personal and professional satisfaction I feel at being a part of it, and by being here with all of you.

Let me echo my challenge to this audience as I said it to the panel audience. Take just 1 hour a week, and find a topic area that interests you and engage in it. Whether that is commenting on an interesting blog to start a discussion, or answering a question in a forum. Just one hour. Not only will someone else out there in the community benefit from your insight, but you will benefit from having made a difference.

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  1. Derek Loranca

    Great blog, Greg!  I wholeheartedly agree with you that even volunteering a little bit pays back in bigger dividends.  Start small and work your way up…that seems to be the way most folks have done it.

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    1. Mark Finnern

      Thanks Greg for this marvelous post.

      Derek I stumbled over your comment: Start small and work your way up.

      As it implies that there is a goal that needs to be reached.

      For me it is much more a journey, the joy of sharing and being amazed at the positive impact it has for others and the many ways it comes back to you. There isn’t necessarily a target, just enjoy the ride.  

      Another great way to enhance the community is using the main Improve Comedy rule of “Yes, and …” that makes you embrace other ideas and built on it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Improvisational_theatre

      I love that, Mark.

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  2. Mark Yolton

    Fantastic insights, both intellectual / strategic, and practical.  I really enjoyed this, and wish I had attended the session – it sounds like it was extremely valuable.

    Thank you, Greg, for this blog, and for your ongoing work consistent contributions every week to enriching the community and its individual members.

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  3. Gretchen Lindquist

    I agree completely with your observation that no one “has” time for volunteering, one must “make” time for it, and getting back more than you ever put in seems to be everyone’s experience. Thanks for making the time to share your experiences with TechEd attendees. I hope that some of the people who attended the panel take the plunge into volunteering  and mentoring in SCN or ASUG.

    Gretchen

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  4. James Oswald

    Don’t forget the value of anti-Match.com as well. Most of the people I respect the most and have learned the most from are completely different from me.

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    1. Jansi Rani Murugesan

      Thanks a lot Greg for drafting such a wonderful blog abt mentors, (yes, it should be small ‘m’)

      Enjoyed your practical guidace, Its true, starting may be a small kick like weekly 1 hour, but if you look, it is some thing stated by Mark, as a Journey,just a pure enjoyment of sharing and learning ( either from match.com or anti-match.com) drived by own interest…. 🙂

      Thanks again for sharing..

      Regards,

      Jansi

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  5. Michelle Crapo

    HA!  When asked what mentors do – I can point people to this post. 

    Here are the reasons I hear about non-activity:

    1.   I don’t know enough.  

    2.   My answer may be wrong even though I do it that way.

    3.   Why bother?

    4.   I don’t have the time.

    You nicely answered all the questions.  So it’s not just about mentors.  It’s about being active on SCN too!  MMMMmmmm…   Back to the definition of mentors – active on SCN.

    Thank you for putting down the words that I can’t always thing of,

    Michelle.

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  6. Susan Keohan

    Greg,

    Thank you so much for summarizing the panel discussion points for us.  I totally agree with you – and have been making that time (at least one hour a week!) to read discussions, blogs, etc – and to try to respond with something beneficial. 

    Way back in the olden days, I did a little video for the ‘SCN My Way’ initiative, and it’s still how I start my day.   Sometimes I am not quite awake enough to actually answer questions, but I can tell a good answer, and even if I am just pressing ‘Like’, the community does get some benefit.

    Cheers,
    Sue

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  7. Cathy Kenlin

    Great posting, Greg, and you and Jon both were excellent on stage as the panel.  It was very obvious the value and the passion you both have for what you do.  As others have said here, I hope you have inspired others to get more involved. 

    You talked above about the value that volunteering gives to others and the reasons why you volunteer.  A point you made during the panel discussion that was not made above, is that as you become more involved in SCN or ASUG, you can quantify the benefit of that involvement to your management, if need be.  I have often used the examples that you pointed out in the panel, that by using my community contacts,

    • I saved x hours in research
    • I was able to benchmark with five other companies
    • I was able to avoid trouble because I learned that so and so had to rework their solution because they chose option A instead of option B

    Obviously none of us can afford to ignore the day to day requirements of our real jobs, but as Jon and Greg pointed out, becoming active in SCN or ASUG allows us to do our real jobs better!  And, like Greg said, you make a lot of friends along the way.

    Thanks again

    Cathy

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