My favorite T-shirt is not the original SAP Mentor Rugby shirt, although that is a close second. It is a very old one somewhere in the back of my closet from the geeky band They Might be Giants and it says:
Music self-played is happiness self-made.
I would add: Jamming with friends and friends of friends is Nirvana.
This is like a blog post version of an episode of the VH1 hit show Behind the Music, where I will share how the SAP TechEd Jam band came to be and how close we came to a total train wreck. So much so that one SAP Mentor, who will remain nameless, mostly came to the event beer and pretzel in hand to see us derail.
Many amazing things start out as a crazy idea. SAP Mentors Matt Harding and David Hull— both excellent musicians — were coming to TechEd for years, and every time they talked about how cool it would be to get a band together and rock out. I love making music too, and when I heard about their dream, I joined Matt and Dave to help them make it come true. With the reintroduction of the SAP TechEd Clubhouse this year, the time was right.
Great minds think alike: as we were planning the Jam Band, the marvelous Marilyn Pratt was developing the idea for a drum circle. She even tried to create the biggest electronic drum circle ever by us using a little app on our smart phones. Unfortunately the technology isn’t there yet. Lag on the Android phones made it unworkable.
Bjoern Goerke’s team also wanted to strengthen developer relations with a get-together in an informal setting.
Once the TechEd team realized the similarity in our goals, they brought us together and we pooled our ideas and resources. If it weren’t for Bjoern paying for beer and pretzels, the TechEd team for the drums circle leader, and my boss Mark Yolton for the band equipment, the idea wouldn’t have become reality. Thank you all for your faith in trying out something new.
Our goal from the beginning was to engage as many people as possible to join us in making music, singing and dancing. Mentor or not, we wanted to rock, but rock with you not for you.
As all community managers can attest, one of the toughest things is getting people from passive consuming to active participation, getting folks like the train wreck mentor out of the cynical observer role. The rule of thumb is that one highly active community member can draw nine active community members, and they draw 90 lurkers, also known as audience. We wanted to flip that and make 90% participants in one form or another.
The drum circle was great for breaking the ice, getting folks out of their thinking code mode and into rhythm and movement. It would have boomed even more, if we would have had real bongos and congas.
But I am getting ahead of myself as we first needed to get the rest of the band together, instruments sourced and songs selected. Alisdair Templeton joined us on guitar and many raised their hands for singing some of the songs. Turns out it was especially tough to secure a drummer, via the SAP Mentor network and the “Who’s coming” app on SAP TechEd we were able to connect with Marc-Étienne Desjardins, and boy was he a welcomed boost to our band!
Which songs to play? We used StreamWork to collect 25 song suggestions that were voted on and narrowed down to five.
At our first rehearsal on Monday night, it turned out that the keyboard amp was shot, we had no distortion pedals and no mics or stands for the singers. A couple of weeks back I cut the top skin off my left hand ring finger, it has healed, but it was too sensitive for me to play guitar.
So I tried to establish myself at (aka hide behind) the keyboard but Matt gently nudged me away saying: “We need you to be our front man.” I am convinced he just wanted me away from the keys, having heard me playing. That is how I became the reluctant front man of the Jam Band. That first rehearsal was a total disaster with no real drummer, no distortion and me forgetting/mixing the lines to the most important song our opening number: We will rock you from Queen.
Next day second rehearsal, what a relief to have Marc to keep a steady beat. Also Bryan Enochsturns out to be a great Brian Adams impersonator and he knows the lyrics to Summer of 69 too. You are hired. Marilyn, don’t walk away, we need your flute solo for the signature tune the Aussi anthem Down Under. It was actually one of my greatest joys having nudged Marilyn into bringing her flute and play along. Very nice. But still we were all over the place and sounded horrible. Note to self. Have mics and sound guy present for final rehearsal.
Now Wednesday was the day. That morning I also instigated the 6 am Run with the Wolfpack.
Picture taken with Bjoern Goerke Smartphone.
Now I am not a big runner and that morning was a bit much for me, as you can see from the red head right after the run. Someone tweeted that doesn’t look healthy.
Throughout the day I thought to myself: “you are such an idiot, you are exhausted and will crash right around 6 pm tonight when we play.” Thankfully the SAP Mentor schedule was packed and didn’t leave a lot of time to think.
The evening came and the drum circle started to engage people, get them moving. The beer helped too.
Pictures by Ali Samieivafa
I spend most of the drum circle time giving out these plastic tubes to people standing in the periphery to get them to join the fun, and many of them did.
Hat tip to Bjoern Goerke for rapping his welcome address to the drumming of all of us.
Pictures by Martin Gillet
Man that was gutsy, and it worked. The message came across: Welcome developers, have fun and don’t forget free indefinite licenses for some of the SAP software.
Bjoern was later overheard jokingly saying: “I’d take a keynote presentation any time over this.” I don’t blame him, I actually admire him.
All of a sudden Chip Rodgerstaps me on the shoulder and says “OK the drum circle has run its course, time for you guys to start.” Oh, oh stomach starts to cramp, need to go potty, but there is no time. It is also not the time to tell your fellow band members the truth, that you have never really played or sung in a rock band. All that didn’t matter at that moment though. it was showtime.
“Drummer play it slow! Band I may stop and we start again if people are not engaged enough. Let’s rock!” <Boom><Boom><Chuck><Boom><Boom><Chuck><Boom><Boom><Chuck> Buddy you’re a boy …
I gave it my all and to my own surprise it worked, we sounded halfway decent, actually we sounded surprisingly good and people were drumming, having a good time. But I felt that we could do better, and I also wanted to make it clear to everyone that WE all rock! After all the refrain is: We will rock you! So I stopped the band, stood on one of the chairs and said: “Come on, we can do better! One more time!” It really made a huge difference.
That was the seed of this going beyond being a band of mostly SAP Mentors playing music to a community happening.
I remembered almost all of the lyrics: the practice singing it with my daughter on the bicycle on the way to school paid off.
Picture by Martin Gillet
She sounded marvelous, even though she later insisted that nothing came out and that someone cued up a tape. We didn’t even have the equipment to do something like that, you played it all by yourself Marilyn.
The theme of the night could have been: With a little help from our friends, which we played next with the little big singing help from Gretchen Lindquist. That fluent in and out of band members was another spark that encouraged others to join us on the mics. The beauty was, it didn’t matter whether you were an SAP Mentor not, just join the fun.
As far as I know it is the only video of our jam session. Check out the joy on the faces of everyone. One can also clearly hear that the off key singing originated from my microphone 😉
After we finished our last song, someone came up to me and said: “This was so amazing, after three days of geeking out, and working with the head, it was exactly what was needed. Forget the concert tomorrow, this is it. My girlfriend is coming tonight and I am so bummed that she didn’t experience it, she often says you geeks are boring.”
Next was Philippe Rosset, asking me whether they could use one of the guitars, to play some Bossa Nova, which was funny as he knew that these were not our instruments, as he helped us to get them. “Sure, go ahead.”
Picture by Martin Gillet
He and an excellent guitar player who’s name I unfortunately don’t have, played and sung: Girl from Ipanema. “She just doesn’t see …”. It was marvelous and set the precedent that allowed others to come up and play as well, and they did.
Picture by Martin Gillet
I was super exhausted and excited, enjoying my first beer of the evening, when the music picked up again with a new combination of musicians. I was in heaven.
Picture by Joshua Fletcher
That was the time I stood next to Greg Myers who said: “This is epic. I mean us last year playing Elvis was amazing, but this is epic.” He did a great job with projecting the lyrics on a monster screen, so that everyone could sing along.
I was beaming and enjoyed every moment of it, you can see the beaming on all band members.
Picture by Martin Gillet
If we take a step back and analyze what happened that night, the SAP Community Network mostly lead by SAP Mentors came alive and had an amazing time together.
That was only possible because of this core group of people with strong connections of trust. The beauty is, that this Jam Session greatly strengthened these ties and drew more people into our midst, SAP TechEd participants that now want to participate more, want to engage. The pulsing heart of our strong community was beating load that night.
Thank you all for joining. We all rocked!
P.S. It will be interesting to analyze the Tweet stream of that evening. My guess is, that it didn’t even register, as people were totally immersed in the activity, engaged in the moment, there was no time for tweeting. If that is true, it would indicate, that our social media analytics are still not capturing the epic moments within our community. I pinged Greg Myers about it and he said that social media is great leading up to an event to make people aware, and after to tell the story, but during the jam he didn’t even think about his smartphone. He also remarked, that you can only be experiencing these kind of Epic moments if you put yourself out there, don’t hide in your hotel room. Engage!
P.P.S. People sometimes have a tough time to understand what we are trying to do with the SAP Mentor initiative. Someone even close to it recently commented: “You are mostly keeping a bunch of guys happy.” — Aka it has no real impact on SAP’s business. I realized, that it isn’t obvious to everyone, hard to measure or even to articulate. What we are doing is creating a safe space, a fun atmosphere around SAP for the inherent creativity and joy of people to prosper. A space where it is OK to fail, where there are helping hand that make sure you don’t, where people celebrate your ingenuity and effort, where you get inspired by what others come up with and implement. Like Martin Gillet who brought to SAP TechEd the monster yellow SAP Mentor balloon that you may have seen floating around the show floor. Find it in at least one picture above. It is the SAP Mentor magic, which is infectious, radiates out way beyond the little group of mentors as it did during this SAP TechEd Jam Band night, where everything fell into place and a good times was had by all. Is that changing SAP’s bottom line? Yes it does, although tough to proof, but that is for another post.