A little under a year ago I joined the world of SAP. I've been working in IT for some time now in a wide variety of roles, but it is only relatively recently that I've entered into the mysterious and at times daunting world of SAP. Whilst I have experienced and helpful colleagues I can call upon for assistance they are not my only source of the latest SAP related information.
The SAP Community Network (SCN) is something I actually came across whilst preparing for my original interview and has been on my browser bookmarks list ever since. Quite honestly it's a gem of a resource for anyone involved with SAP and I try to set aside a bit of time each day to at least have a read through some of the ever growing repository of information.
If you're reading this I'd probably be wasting my time if I tried to explain to you why it's so useful. However some people only really use a fraction of SCN. They only consume the content.
This is the first of a short series of posts where I'm going to explore the experience of contributing to SCN and to kick things off I'm going to take a look at the question "should I contribute to SCN?"
The question is one that I'm guessing many (but not all) of the users of SCN have already answered for themselves and it was something I asked myself very early on when I started actively using it. But it's also a question that can be reviewed. It maybe the reasons you had yesterday do not apply today.
When I made my decision, I actually began by flipping the question around and asking myself why I shouldn't contribute to SCN. What were the things that would stop me being able to contribute?
1) I don't have enough time
The first reason I came up with was time. Time is a very precious commodity in my life. It's finite, non-transferable and there are big demands on it. I don't want to waste the time I do have, so if I'm to spend some of my time contributing to SCN I want to see some sort of return on my investment.
2) I don't know anything worth sharing
The second reason I came up with was that I don't want to look like an idiot. I know I'm new to this particular field and I know I don't have all the answers. There are lots of other people out there with more experience and who are contributing really good content. If I get involved will I give people bad information? Will I look like someone who doesn't know what he's talking about? Will this reflect badly on me (and anyone associated with me)? Is my reputation going to suffer?
To be honest, when I thought about these two points I almost decided on the spot not to contribute and not to bother to considering any of the potential benefits. After all it would take some seriously good points to counter these impediments. Yet here I am spending my precious time writing a blog post that the entire planet could disagree with. Why?
Well I did of course look at what incentives there were to contributing to SCN. The idea being that maybe these could be balanced out against the barriers. Here's what I came up with.
Just like the stock market, reputation can go down as well as up, but SCN has a very positive approach to reputation. Beyond the fact that they actually use a contribution rewards system called 'reputation', the community as I've seen it is universally supportive of it's members and there is a general vibe of encouragement. I wouldn't go as far as to say chastisement and snarky comments never occur (there is a system to report such things in place after all), but they are relatively rare and the moderators I think are swift to act.
I think SCN has a maturity that has developed over the years to a level where it is a safe environment for even the newest member to contribute to the best of their own ability without fear of reprisal from their peers or looking foolish. That being said if you are someone who tries to bluff your way through life I'd recommend a more open and honest approach to your contributions on SCN.
SCN is at it's core a Social Network (it's even in the term - S-o-C-ial N-etwork). It's a system designed to ease the way we interact with each other over large distances and allows us to draw upon the collective knowledge and experience of a vast array of people. If you don't contribute then the network is at least partially closed to you.
If you just lurk in the background not really interacting with anyone you're not going to have the best possible experience. If it helps, think about SCN as a party. Would you want to be at a party not knowing or talking to anyone or would you in fact have a better time talking to people, making new friends and generally sharing thoughts and opinions with them?
Social networks are also believed to be integral to the way we'll be working in the not too distant future (if not now). The workforce entering the market today don't remember a time before the Internet. In a few more years they won't remember a time before Facebook. They're always connected and appear to interact with one another seamlessly using social networks. The best way that you're going to have of communicating with this new wave of digital natives is to connect yourself (not quite like in the Matrix just yet) into social networks that are in the domain in which you want to operate - for SAP that's SCN.
If you don't adapt and embrace these cultural changes, then you risk some element of obsolescence. Nobody wants that. Nobody wants to be thought of as obsolete and nobody wants someone else to be obsolete when they could potentially be someone they could learn a lot from.
Everyone has a set of skills. They develop with practice and experience and they atrophy if they are not used. SCN provides an opportunity to hone existing skills and develop new ones.
Writing for the various parts of SCN tend to require a different approach to writing an e-mail, project document or report. Choosing the right words and style can often times be difficult as you don't know exactly who your audience will be. But the more you write the better you get - or at least that's the theory.
Even connecting and interacting with people in a virtual community like SCN can develop new skills. Whilst messaging someone might be like instant messaging or e-mailing (more familiar communications mediums for most), initial contact online is an entirely different experience and skill to meeting someone in person.
So where did that leave me?
I've been blogging and using social networks for quite a few years now and so the skills side of things wasn't as big of a selling point as it might have been. The reputation and networking aspect however were very compelling. The chance to connect and build relationships with more people translates to me quite simply as more opportunity. If I'm stuck on something I have a bigger group to 'crowd-source' a question to. Some people may even begin to value my opinion and experience more such that it leads to new business opportunities.
The opportunity to make a fool of myself is one that I've always found a little unsettling. I choose my words very carefully and try to provide as honest an answer as I can. If I don't know for sure and I'm having a guess I'll say so. Sometimes I'm right and sometimes I'm wrong. In either case I think the majority of people can appreciate that I'm trying to be helpful and that I'm being open about my level of certainty.
I'm also a great believer in the idea that you learn more from your mistakes than your successes. If you get everything right first time every time, then you've nothing to push for and aspire to. A few mistakes here and there can push you to greater achievements. Invention, experimentation and innovation all rely on attempting something new.
In terms of my time, that's the stickiest point. It's the one I struggle with most often and I'm guessing is the one that is the tipping point for most SCN users considering contributing.
For me, weighing up the incentives against the barriers pushed me into becoming a contributor. However this may not always be the case. Depending upon how much time I have available in the future I may tip back into being a lurker. Whatever my role, as long as I'm working on SAP and as long as SCN exists I'll be around here somewhere.
So what factors have been critical to you making your decision about whether or not to contribute to SCN? Has anything I've discussed changed your mind?
If you're still on the fence, then I'd say that you should give it a go - you might get more than you bargained for.
Here are some links to some additional material I found useful in writing this post.
- Top Five Reasons to Join the SAP Community Network - Gail Moody-Byrd
- Generation Y - Wikipedia
- [Video] SAP Community Network: Why Join? It's Simple.... - SAP
- 5 Reasons why you should consider blogging - Bostjan Spetic
- [Video] First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy - Derek Sivers