My word of the year 2021: Potential
This blog is going to be a bit different from my usual blogs. I want to share some thoughts that are going through my mind as I sit at the fireside reminiscing about this year that’s almost over.
The main topic I’m thinking about is potential.
Potential? What about it?
I think that there’s something almost magical about potential.
How potential sleeps in all of us and is sometimes woken by the most unlikely occurrence, like a conversation with a coworker or a sentence read on a billboard just passing by .
How even software can have potential that might be overlooked for the longest time, until someone discovers it, realizes the probable impact and takes the necessary steps to make reality out of an idea.
How realizing that your idea might actually work and then pursuing that idea and how unlocking the potential takes perseverance, strength, and time.
What fascinates me about this concept are several topics:
- the difficulty of developing an idea when our days are full of meetings and workload is high
- the small distinction between unrealized and realized potential that makes a huge difference
- the strength and decision making power it takes to make a dream reality
I’d like to “have a look over the rim of the plate”, as we say in Germany, and share with you some ideas about this topic today.
Too many ideas – too little time. Really?
Over 100,000 people work at SAP. They all have great ideas for our software, probably more than one per day. Even if it’s just one a day, and everyone would pursue this idea only once a month, that would be 1.2M ideas each year!
Isn’t that an amazing amount of ideas to draw from? Shouldn’t we spend more of our time analyzing our ideas and checking if they might be the next big thing? This is what other companies have been doing (successfully) for quite a while. I’m not saying 20% works for everyone, but it can be used as an inspiration.
With the sheer amount of ideas that are generated each day, some are going to be outside the box, some will be thinking around corners and some about enlarging the scope of what we thought was possible so far.
I believe that if you also give people the room and time to explore their ideas, then we have a chance to be truly innovative. To come up with radical new ideas to disrupt the market and provide answers to questions we didn’t even know we were asking.
- providing music as a stream instead of on CDs, or
- using a shared ride instead of a Taxi, or
- even ordering your favourite food on a smartphone instead of going to a restaurant.
So instead of letting the repeated mantra of “I don’t have time to be innovative” become normality, I think we need to enhance the existing environment where it is possible and desired for people to develop their own ideas even more. We need to take those ideas seriously, like we already do with customer influence requests in the Customer Influence Portal.
I’m sure the next year and the following ones will bring many remarkable innovations for our solution, having evolved out of our swarm intelligence.
Unrealized potential = lost opportunity
What if the five founders of SAP had not come together and created the leading software company we know today?
What if the female mathematicians at NASA had never taken the opportunity to show their calculations and help get people on the moon?
What if Charles Babbage (whom most people have never heard of) had not spent 40 years on developing the first computer even before electricity was a thing?
Of course there are many stories like this, which make you realize how fragile the whole process from idea to realization is. Many things can go wrong, and probably do go wrong all the time – think of all these ideas which never make it to become reality!
But with each great idea that doesn’t make it, we lose the opportunity to do better. To be better people, develop better software and become a better company.
So just doing the math – the more ideas come up, the greater the chance to find that one life changing one and (very important!) to be able to realize it. I think there is so much potential in each of us and we should spend much more time realizing that potential than talking about how we missed this or that chance.
Try again. Try harder.
I think it’s worth it. And the difference between unrealized and realized potential means to the world.
Nobody said it was easy
Surely you know that saying – “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.” As with all proverbs, there is some truth to it.
It’s hard to think of new ideas, and it’s hard to be sure about their merit. Also it’s difficult to follow through with an idea, to convince others about its awesomeness, and to bring it to its full potential. We have to incorporate feedback from others, maybe make room for new perspectives, and what comes out in the end might not be what we had in mind when we started.
But I do believe that although this process of realization of potential requires strength and endurance, it’s worth it. In the context of SAP Enable Now, it could be that feeling of seeing a feature go live that was an idea in someone’s head just a couple of weeks ago. And then seeing the customers eyes light up – that feeling is worth all the hardship.
Of course we have to consider failure. It’s always a part of progress, and not every idea will make it to the product. In fact, there will be many more ideas not making it than making it. But as I wrote further up, the greater the pool, the more probably the success.
Looking beyond the next release
In this industry, our year is divided into before and after the next release. I think at this time of the year (and maybe beyond) it’s worth taking a step back and looking beyond the next release.
It’s time to become aware of all that slumbering potential which is out there, and providing the environment for this potential to be realized even if that process is hard.
I want to finish with a quote that puts my thoughts into much more eloquent words.
“With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.”
Have a happy holiday season and take care,