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This October 1st, I became self-employed and launched my own business, operatics. After 15 rewarding and successful years in a good job, I quit that job and put my own and my family’s economic existence at the risk of being wiped out unless I manage to get my new, HANA-based business up and running almost from day one.

“Bravery” and the underlying motivation

I was at TechEd Las Vegas this week, and almost everybody I spoke to used the same word when commenting on my adventure: “bravery.” Now if you let your mind wander and think of any cases of actual bravery, perhaps you’ll come to the same conclusion I did: Bravery alone explains nothing. I don’t even believe that bravery per se exists, because it doesn’t tell us WHY someone is doing something that might get them hurt. To understand what might appear as bravery from the outside, the thing we really must understand is a person’s motivation. If the motivation is strong enough to override whatever fear might be keeping us, we act despite the fear.

As I prepared to launch my business, I tried to understand my own motivation for doing this, and I found an answer that I believe translates to many people inside the SAP Community, which is why I’m sharing it with you.

I asked myself the question: What motivates my behavior? A few examples for the things that I’ll do:

  • Think hard about an industry I know I’ll never engage in, try to understand it and reflect on its specific challenges, and invent possible solutions.
  • Invent new business models or think of improvements for existing business models (of other people’s businesses). I love to brainstorm about innovative business models such as “the hotel of the future” even if nobody ever asks me to do that.
  • Notice details that turn something that could otherwise be a great experience, place, service, product, etc. into something unsatisfying or mediocre, carefully think through it how it could be improved, and what other opportunities exist in the field.
  • Reach out to the people in charge and share my feedback and suggestions.

Thinking about other people’s problems (without being asked to)

In a way, this behavior is irrational, because I’m spending my energy and brain CPU cycles on somebody else’s problems without them even asking me to do it. Because not everybody  is indeed interested in growth or improvement, and because many people feel under attack when they receive constructive criticism, my analysis and suggestions aren’t even always welcomed and lead to no actual improvement (although I do get better at giving these ideas away in a diplomatic manner that makes the recipient actually accept the gift). I’m self-confident enough to know that I’m no idiot and the analysis and advice I come up with is not worthless. People who follow my advice don’t usually regret it. So I spend a lot of energy on creating it, it’s valuable, I give it away for free without even being asked to, and frequently it lands in a metaphorical dumpster as an undesired present.

Irrational?

And yet I do it. I thought that if I can understand the motivation for this behavior, it will lead me to understand my overall motivation structure for launching operatics and taking this great risk in my life better. As I reflected on this, the following insight came to me:

Whenever I see the ingredients for magic, I want to put them together in just the right way to allow the magic to happen.

Let me repeat that, because truer words were never spoken:

Whenever I see the ingredients for magic, I want to put them together in just the right way to allow the magic to happen.

And the ingredients for magic are all over. I stumble upon them every day – at a hotel with great, truly dedicated staff, or at an SAP customer’s site who has all the tools and technology in place to allow the creating of amazing solutions, or when speaking with an SAP architect who is working on a software product, or in a restaurant with great food, service, and customers.

The ingredients for magic

This is my way of looking at the world: Where someone else may see a typical business they’re working with, I see that they’ve got all the ingredient for magic in place, even if they aren’t using them. I can feel that the magic is just waiting to happen – it just needs some minor obstacle removed or some of its constituents to be slightly rearranged so that the magic can happen and amazing events may unfold. And I have a strong urge to be a catalyst and an enabler for the magic to happen, because that is something you just can’t allow to go to waste, can you?

The foundation of mentoring

I believe that this is a very fundamental trait that fuels the passion in many different people – something that is essential and close to our individual cores, yet widely shared among people.

The twitter profile of my dear friend Moya Watson contains a phrase that I believe goes back to the same motivational structure: “Bridging the gap between hither and yon.”

I believe it’s what drives the wonderful community fostering work of Marilyn Pratt, who has mentored half the people who are active on SCN, and often spots and then fosters someone’s talent before anybody else, even the mentee, would believe in them. Marilyn has a keen eye for the magic that can unfold from a person when some encouragement and guidance are added.

It’s also what drives some successful executives to generously coach others without asking for reciprocation. I know one person who bills as much for one hour as I make in two months, and he spends a significant amount of time sharing his advice for free and coaching rookies. I believe that he, too, spots something special in those rookies that he wants to see unfold.

Now that I’ve begun to look for that trait in other people, I’m finding it in many shapes and varieties.

So whether it’s connecting people, or bringing ideas and concepts together so that SAP’s product development gets it right, or whether we speak to customers and show them how they can combine software products A, B, and C, which they already have, and create some magic they wouldn’t have thought possible — all those activities go back to the same fundamental motivation and value set: to be able to know the ingredients for magic, and then enable it to happen.

A driver for community engagement

Are you like that? Is this something that fuels your community engagement or volunteer work? Could this make you start your own business, like I did with operatics, or is it the reason you have already launched one? Would you base a major life-changing decision on the urge to be an enabler for magic, because its ingredients are all over the place?

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28 Comments

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  1. Robin van het Hof

    Hi Thorsten,

    Most of what you have written here I can fully relate to, and are what motivates me in my daily job as an independent consultant.

    I find myself in a lot of situations — in a restaurant, in a car, shopping, watching the television, yes, even at work — where I see lots of issues, problems or ways-of-working that can be improved significantly with more or less effort. And since I have a background in mechanical engineering as well as electrical engineering, these improvements I see are not necessarily limited to software and/or processes only.

    Although this perfectly fits my ENTP personality (inventor, visionary), therein also lays my main weak point; I am more of a starter, and not necessarily a finisher when it comes to this constant stream of brain-popping ideas (which is contrary to my contract work, where I’m forced to focus on the current tasks; I’m adamant to finish my job on time with full marks. Being self-employed I simply cannot allow myself to cut corners)

    I have now learnt how to force myself to find that drive to actually ‘finish’ at least some of the gazillion ideas I have, because I know it allows me to be a better consultant, and ultimately helps my business as well.

    I sincerely hope you are more of a finisher than me, and I would love you to see a lot of magic happen!

    I know I can still learn a lot from you, so I hope time allows us to catch up and have a small chat at SAP TechEd Amsterdam!

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    1. Thorsten Franz Post author

      Robin,

      You hit the spot – we have much in common here. I’m an INXP (worst of both worlds: INTP, INFP ;)), and we share the passion for inventing, creating ideas, and generally being in an intuitive, air-head state of mind. This means I’m not much of a finisher either. I can force myself to, but I think I’d rather accept a little more work than I can handle on my own, and bring a great finisher in to work with me. I’ll always try to compose teams so that people complement each other, and hey, I just stumbled upon a reason to be thankful for the fact that there are so many more S than N people. 😉

      Thorsten

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  2. Midhun VP

    Great initiative Thorsten. May innovations come from operatics that solve real world problems. Creativity and innovation are very much in you that lead to a business success. I wish you a lots of success and many satisfied customers.

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  3. nabheet madan

    I can feel its coming straight from the heart….short of words to express also…I can feel MAGIC has already begun….Thorsten wish you all the d best..keep doing this MAGIC.

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    1. Thorsten Franz Post author

      Thanks a lot, Nabheet… It’s always in the eye of the beholder, and the magic is mostly someone else’s, or it happens almost by itself, but it’s great to be able to help it happen every now and then. 🙂

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  4. Moya Watson

    You know that feeling when someone you hold in highest regard calls you out? That’s happened to me more than once because of you tagging me in your posts. Thanks for understanding my twitter bio. I’m puzzled when people think I should change it, as if it’s not markety enough or somehow seen as frivolous – and yet it’s as the root of all I do:

    – make sense out of seemingly dischordant things

    – interpret product functionality straight from engineers to end-users

    – live as a human on planet earth

    … etcetera

    Which is why it’s strange to me that everything you say resonates as strongly with me as a strange and wondrous cocktail – except this one thing:

    > I’m self-confident enough to know that I’m no idiot and the analysis and advice I come up with is not worthless.

    Those of us looking on from the outside may have no doubt that operatics will be a stunning success even if you are placing a large and Vegas-like bet — and yet, I know you to be no gambler.  So how do you get to be self-confident?

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    1. Thorsten Franz Post author

      Dear Moya,

      For a moment here, I actually thought you were asking me why I felt so self-confident that I’m no idiot. Then I realized you actually are. 😉 The answer, to borrow from U2 on their album “Rattle and Hum,” is “Nothing!”

      In fact, I am often tormented by self-doubt in all shapes, but firstly, I know a strong position and a rock-solid argument when I see one. Secondly, I have the ability to empathize, to leave my own vantage point and see the world through the eyes of others, and that allows me to see the pain points that are out there and the value I can provide.

      So I’ve got reason and empathy on my side, what more do I need? My most important “true north”, is, thirdly, my intuition, which reveals to me that which is in the wind, and shows me the point where parallels converge beyond the horizon, and which gives me the most powerful sensation of true and false, or deep and bland. I know I can trust my intuition here. It takes into account far more facts and details than any amount of conscious reasoning ever could.

      No bet is ever safe unless it’s rigged, but I’ve been dealt a spectacular deck of cards, every mental instance confirms this, and that makes me rest assured that I’m on the right track.

      Best,

      Thorsten

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    2. Thorsten Franz Post author

      P.S.: I love the image of the strange and wondrous cocktail. After having tasted some strange and wondrous ones, I know exactly what you mean.

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  5. Marilyn Pratt

    Thorsten, like Moya, I’m very privledged to be “called out”.

    “Bridging the gap between hither and yon” – yes a beautifully captured and noted by-line  from  Moya Watson  who we both greatly admire.

    I read something really powerful today (in another context) and it seems so applicable to the magic to overcome fear and the ability to be a catalyst that Thorsten so eloquently describes.  It relates to that bridging activity in Moya’s twitter profile.

    The following are some thoughts a friend sent me today:  trails (pathways) are made by the act of walking and many of us travel along the grooves of our own repeated actions.  Veering from our self-made paths becomes arduous and a little frightening because we’ve worn them so deeply.  It does take courage but also practice and hard work to “give up” unproductive ways of working/being/choosing.

    Moya asks how one gets to be self-confident.  The answer is simple: practice and hard work and veering off a well-worn path of doing what we’ve done repeatedly and recognizing that it doesn’t always serve us.   I believe being someone lacking confidence is uncomfortably comfortable for many of us.  We choose not to be confident because it is our well-worn path.  Practicing exiting that comfortable and familiar timid trail empowers us to confidently create bold new ones.

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    1. Thorsten Franz Post author

      Dear Marilyn,

      Thanks a lot. I have really struggled with Moya’s question about self-confidence and given two answers (a self-confident one and a less self-confident one in private), and your suggestion sheds yet more light on the matter. My personal story contains that element of recent hard and persistent work (losing 40 kg), and of course that laid a solid foundation of confidence in my ability to achieve a goal I’ve set for myself. I guess there are so many answers because there are so many nuances to the word self-confidence: confidence in the ability to achieve, feeling of self-worth, and, for the more externally oriented, the belief in the belief of others in you.

      Thanks for platforms that allow me to communicate and exchange ideas and insight with great people as the ones who are assembled in this comment section. 🙂

      Thorsten

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      1. Moya Watson

        Coupled with the comfort-zone theme, on the one hand it might seem obvious why losing weight would be hard (working out on it is HARD!) but a hidden reason might be it’s too comfortable in the middle of that weight – and it would be uncomfortable/unknown to change. You changed your entire *person* when you did this, Thorsten.  I find the same things struggling with depression: when I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, sometimes it’s easier just to stay in the tunnel.  I know it like a blanket pulled over my claustrophobic head.

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        1. Thorsten Franz Post author

          Very good. That could very well be. The most difficult part about it was before the first workout: arriving at the decision to do it. There’s a reason I’ve never had a failed dieting attempt: I found it so difficult to even take on that task that I didn’t even dare to try before March 2012.

          This was very much like quitting smoking 10 years earlier, which was also a mostly mental battle: When the battle has been won, the decision to quit is made, and then the rest is execution, which is not to be downplayed but not to be falsely seen as the whole thing either.

          In other words: When you stand up to fight, you’ve already almost won. I can imagine it would be similar with depression.

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  6. Jelena Perfiljeva

    Thorsten, thanks for the blog and kudos for not using it as a marketing plug for your company (oh, wait – it doesn’t have a web page yet?! 🙂 ), although this would be totally appropriate.

    Another related quote I’ve stumbled upon recently (attributed to different people): “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good”. Obviously it applies to women as well. 🙂

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    1. Thorsten Franz Post author

      Jelena,

      Thanks for your kind comment. Even at the end of an insanely busy day, I want to respond right away, because that quote resonates so strongly with me. It’s actually something I remind myself of frequently: “Are you as kind as you ought to be to people from whom you can expect absolutely nothing, and are you as kind and open as you ought to be to the people who wield power over you?” I try hard not to suck up to bosses too much and not to talk down to others too much either.

      Interestingly, part of my reasoning is that by sucking up to a boss or (potential) customer, pretending to find their jokes especially funny, etc., I would not only hurt my own dignity but also betray them as humans, and somehow that would make me feel even worse. Conversely, treating others and oneself with a certain measure of dignity/honest/respect to them as humans is an instant recipe for feeling good, even if it doesn’t get me the brownie point. 😉

      Best,

      Thorsten

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      1. Andy Silvey

        Hi Thorsten,

        interesting thought provoking blog, regarding this thread of the discussion, it is always useful for us all to remember and say to ourselves,

             nobody is above you

             nobody is beneath you

        All the best with everything you have going on,

        Andy.

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  7. Marcia Walker

    Thorsten:  Another blogging masterpiece.  Very eloquent and heartfelt.  I, too, love to crystallize magic, and to mentor others.  Recently I am learning a new skill, though – which is VERY hard for me: I am waiting to be asked.  When a (very wise) mentor suggested this approach to me, I gasped in shock – but I *want* to help everyone!  I want to help them NOW!  I want to OFFER! She pointed out, though – as you mentioned – that often the gifts I’ve offered have ended up in the “metaphporical dumpster”.  If I wait until somebody asks, then that usually means they are ready to receive whatever the gift might be.  I’ve had some beautiful experiences as a result – helping a close friend market her business, mentoring another who is starting a small school.  It’s very gratifying.

    And on the flip side, that means I am also getting better at asking, myself.  I think many of us on SCN love helping, and are simply waiting to be asked.  Which means that someone has to do the asking.  It can be humbling, and make us feel vulnerable, to ask for help.  I’m learning that it is also the glue that holds a community together – asking for help when needed, offering it when requested.

    (And since we’re doing “callouts” here, I’d like to publicly thank Marilyn Pratt for asking me to help her with #FailFaire. She didn’t know that she made that request the very day that I had been advised to wait until someone asked before offering my help – and then to accept the offer!  Which I did, and much growth and fun ensued….)

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    1. Thorsten Franz Post author

      Dear Marcia,

      Thanks a lot for your kind words. A compliment from you about writing is a special thing. 🙂 Your advice to wait until asked is great – I have experienced this but I hadn’t thought about it and I hadn’t understood it as a general principle. Of course you’re right! This reminds me also of how I’m learning, as an newly-hatched entrepreneur, to put a price tag on things I used to give away for free. At first it felt awkward, like an indecent proposal or trying to take advantage of people. After a short time, I became more comfortable with it because I understood that I can exchange value for value and still “pay it forward” in many ways. By letting people ask, in a way you, too, put a price tag on the help you provide, and that causes everyone to be on the same page about the value of your help. Very healthy!

      Thorsten

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      1. Robin van het Hof

        Wow… let me share you something.

        I have just bookmarked this blog — not only using the SCN bookmark function, but in my browser and Evernote as well — and I assure you I seldomly bookmark anything!

        The sole reason being, this blog in general, but especially the sum of all comments it has sparked, have suddenly given me this ‘aha-erlebnis’ (or, and I had to Google for a translation, ‘Eureka-effect’) of what I can improve upon personally in order for me to be a better consultant to my clients.

        Actually, it has made such an effect I can safely call this a turning point moment for myself, my business and my personal life…

        I want to thank each and everyone who has commented on this blog so far, and you Thorsten Franz in particular for writing this catalyst blog. You guys (M/F) have no idea what you have sparked within me!

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          1. Robin van het Hof

            Thank you Moya, you are exactly right!

            Coincidentally, I feel this image summarizes both Thorsten’s topic as well as the comfort-zone theme perfectly:

            /wp-content/uploads/2013/11/how_to_expand_my_comfort_zone_312790.jpg

            edit: resized image to fit frame

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    2. Mark Finnern

      Reminds me of the old saying: “When the student is ready the teacher will come.”

      Amazing people are able to tune into where you are and only share their thoughts/suggestions when asked. Very interesting concept, Mark.     

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      1. Marcia Walker

        Mark:  Yes, I have been really struggling with this.  My nature is to jump in and try to fix a problem as soon as I see it – I was somehow taught that this was the ‘right’ thing to do.  So when my mentor suggested I wait until asked, I took a look at some past experiences.  And sure enough, most of the time when someone asked for my help before I stepped in, things went very well.  However, when I offered help that was not requested, people often resented it, and saw my offer as interference (and then I would get upset, that they didn’t appreciate the gift that they never asked for!).

        At the same time, I was disappointed that more people did NOT ask for help, when I wanted to help them.  And a different mentor – from years ago – said, “Well, how often do YOU ask for help?”  And I recognized he had a point.  I can hardly be disappointed that people won’t behave a certain way, when I  don’t behave that way.  I’ve learned that people are often thrilled to be asked for help – it makes them feel needed, and valuable, and appreciated.  Which of course they are.

        In fact, Thorsten’s post has inspired a blog I’ll work on this week, and post when the time feels right.  Thank you, Thorsten!

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