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Why SAP TechEd is a ‘Safe Environment’ and why that is so important

I had the great pleasure to spend a lot of my TechEd experience exploring Design Thinking, it was during these workshops, exercises and presentations that I was told that I was in a ‘Safe Environment’. Upon hearing this most people, like myself, immediately put up the shutters and nervously peek round the edges to see what embarrassing fate is to befall them. Although, knowing the person who had made the statement – Marilyn Pratt I really had no need to put up the shutters.

It was during the evening workshop of ‘The role of Empathy in Design Thinking’ that I reflected a little more on Marilyn’s statement and what it meant in a wider context. Here I was in Las Vegas, with 3 friends, 2 of whom were complete TechEd newbies and I could see that they were having an absolutely wonderful time. I myself had just come from the Drumming event and sang ‘Learn to Fly’ with Matthias Steiner in front of a large group of strangers, something I know many people in my everyday life would not quite believe. So there I was at the event and I thought about SAP TechEd some more and how it in itself was a ‘Safe Environment’, for a number of reasons

  • TechEd is about education, there are lots of people who are there to explore the art of the possible, because there is an implicit permission to do it.Of course there are some who are there to diligently go to sessions and rote learn a company santised line of what the technology is and go back all proud of what they were told. Others go to challenge the presenters and the exhibitors to work with them and make their lives/jobs easier. TechEd is about the power of possibility as much as it is about being informed about what people have done, I have stood up and presented at TechEd, at Expert networking sessions and on a booth, there is rarely as much fun to be had than discussing something which you had never thought of before (unless it is your mistake :-)) and when you are learning, it is OK, even beneficial to get things wrong if in order to learn.
  • The Community leaders put on amazing events which allow us to open up to new ways of working, the Design Thinking workshops and exercises are something I would rarely have the opportunity to experience in my consulting practice. It was an eye opening experience, and one I value as it has allowed me to explore a new way of working and enabled me to see some shortcomings in my own practice. These events allow us the time to experience these practices and to reflect on what we found good or bad about them and relate them to our own practices – if we’re brave enough.
  • Fun, TechEd is also about fun as well as learning. It has been proven time and again, that people learn more, have better experiences when they are having fun. I have been to 3 TechEd’s in the last 4 years and I can safely say that I have walked away with a great experience, I have learnt a lot and made new friends. Quite often I have learnt as much from my friends, telling me about their subject areas as I have within my own, which gives me a more rounded view of SAP rather than a myopic view of my own area. It is quite easy to meet people at TechEd, because everyone is surrounded by people they have never met before, at breakfast, at lunch and at the coffee machines – all you have to do it stick out your hand and say “Hi my name is…” – because it is a safe environment and everyone is in the same boat, you usually get a better response than if you tried that in the street.

The best example of TechEd being a safe environment and having a strong community is of my 2 TechEd newbie friends – both had never been to TechEd, Vegas and certainly not an InnoJam. They participated in the Innojam and were introduced into a wild ride of technology, Design Thinking, Community and lack of sleep. The strength of the implicit permission within TechEd to explore new technologies and the art of the possible was exemplified by my friend Tobias, a GRC consultant, in 1 day he learnt how to design a UI, something he had never done, using a tool he had never used before. He had an amazing time, won the Red Eye Prize, loved working on Mobile UI’s, wants to become more involved with the community and present at TechEd next year. My other friend, David, has had the same desire to contribute to the community and enhance his experience within SAP, without the lack of sleep.

Of course there is the flip side to this implicit permission turning your SAP TechEd experience into an amazing one, the return to work and the occasional drudgery of normal work (no matter how interesting your job, there is always drudgery) – it is called Post TechEd decompression or Post TechEd Withdrawal, this is where all the art of the possible begins to fade a little, like a really nice dream you had the night before. Real life intrudes on your dreams and wild plans to build the next Facebook on NW Cloud and use HANA as the datastore, but it only lasts for a week or so – if you continue the conversations you began at TechEd and continue to work on your evilplans then your next TechEd could be even better.

Anyway, I thought I will leave it there, and let you reflect on whether you agree with me on the fact that TechEd has an implicit permission to explore the art of the possible, as much as a requirement to learn about new things. All that remains is for me to thank a lot of people, you know who you are – I had a brilliant TechEd, learnt an awful lot and again experienced a place and a group of people that make me feel welcome and normal when so far away from my loved ones.

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  • Hi Chris,

    This is a really great blog - I am glad that your n00b friends learned within the safety of our community.

    It was great to wave to you across meetings - maybe next TechEd we will be able to stick our hands out and say 'Hi!'.


  • Chris - excellent write-up of your TechEd experience and thank you for presenting (and supporting ASUG)

    I like the term "safe environment" and so true.

    Thank you for coming to Las Vegas and writing up your wonderful experience.


    • Tammy,

      It was an excellent experience, I loved presenting and would do it again in a heart beat, despite the nervousness that kicks in about an hour before your slot 🙂

      Too many people go to the conference and just do the sessions etc.. and do not engage in exploring the possibilities of what they are seeing or with the people around them. Which is why the community events are so important, and what I feel sets TechEd apart.


      • Agree with you re: presenting; I never thought I would present at TechEd but with some Sue Keohan encouragement a few years ago I presented - and I learned way more by presenting than being an attendee 🙂

  • Well said, Chris.

    I definitely will say that you modeled the inclusive nature of the safe environment. It was great to meet and hang out in real life.


  • Chris, thank you so much for picking up on the "safe environment theme".  Since I can't embed a graphic here in the comments, I'll link to the guidelines for participation that Nancy Marguiles created for us with her magic crayon last year for the Embracing Inclusion event: which helps highlight some of what we really work to provide in terms of environment, learning, sharing, networkiing.

    I loved sitting next to you during innojam; , I loved seeing your colleagues Tobias Cowling and Paul Tomlinson in action.  I am grateful for your participation in the Role of Empathy in Design Thinking event as well.   I learn so much from your unabashed sharing of yourself, professionally and personally.  And although I saw Kevin Grove a number of times during the course of saptechedlv I am so sorry not to have had the opportunity to speak to him.  So a *wave* here to Kevin and here's hoping that this won't be my last opportunity to meet him (a la his Blog It Forward question and no, not Salesforce or Workday but maybe retirement in my future..... LOL

    • Marilyn:I appreciate the *wave* here. I think you should order several clones for TechEd Madrid so that you can be everywhere you need to be. I will "camp out" at my next TechEd if needed, to be sure we can get at least 5 mins for a conversation.

  • Hi Chris,

         You do a good job of articulating some ideas I have had for a while, but couldn't find the right words for.

    Doing something new (like presenting a session for the first time) or learning something new means we have to be open about our weaknesses or lack of knowledge. We are in a subset of the IT industry that places a lot of emphasis on experience and knowledge, so if my 'status' is measured in experience or knowledge, it could be difficult to admit I lack in experience or knowledge.  However, whether it's the SAP Community in general or just the people I know,  I have always felt that 'safe place' feeling at both the TechEds I've been to, and at the local (Australian) SAP conferences I attend.


    • me again...

      Came across an interesting quote today ...

      “It appears from these studies that humans are predisposed to cooperation and generosity, and only become selfish when they take time to think about the situation.”



      Essentially, it appears that we are naturally cooperative, but if anything 'breaks the flow' of that cooperation, then we are more inclined to start thinking of 'whats in it for me'. Possibly, having the 'safe place' you write about makes that break in the flow less likely....