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“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
-- Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, 1971

We are now at the very beginning of a new era for the SAP Community Network. SCN is not in itself new, but on several past occasions it has been made anew, always with some teething issues, but ultimately to a better result. We are on the cusp of just such a change once again.

There will be teething issues. It will not go smoothly. There will be learning curves. Not everyone will be happy.

Some old-timers and experts will pine for the way things used to be, blithely overlooking the many issues of the old platform. Newcomers will embrace the new paradigm and wonder what all the fuss is about. They will see it with fresh eyes, unjaded from all our past experience.

But among those old-timers and experts, there will also be those who approach the new SCN as if coming to it for the first time, seeing not roadblocks but possibilities. They will see challenges as opportunities, and instead of trying to wrangle the platform into behaving as of old, they will reformulate themselves to a new way of working. They will work with the new ideas instead of against them.

“Be willing to not be an expert. Be willing to not know.”
-- Blanche Hartman, 2001

It is not just SCN that is starting a new paradigm; it is much of the SAP ecosystem. Anyone who has seen any marketing material of the past few years, or attended any conference or event, or read any of the many blogs and articles published here and in other spaces, cannot fail to have noticed SAP’s massive effort to remake themselves and to remake their software, their platform, into something new. HANA, we are told, is a new way of housing and serving up the data that lies at the center of all our operations. Fiori, we are given to understand, is a new way to access that data, throwing off the old mainframe approach of SAPGUI and embracing a simpler, more task-centric experience.

Many of us with a couple decades of traditional SAP experience find ourselves wondering just what our place is in this new ecosystem. Do we even have a place? Will we be made obsolete? Or can we adapt with the times, reshape and remake our careers to remain relevant?

What does it even mean, to remain relevant? Should that be our goal?

“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.”
-- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1890

We attained our experience, our expertise, through our willingness to take some risks, to make mistakes, to fall down and then get back up, to learn and try again, and again, and again, until we succeeded. And when we succeeded, we either sat back and coasted on the result of that success, or we took new risks, made new mistakes, and then succeeded again.

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
-- Michael Jordan, 1998

It is not our goal just to remain relevant. I can achieve that simply by telling my employer there is no need to upgrade, no need to change anything, we can go on as we always have. That is something, I should add, that some in my organization’s leadership would no doubt love to hear. Then I could continue comfortably on, until retirement, doing exactly what I have been doing, never challenged by having to learn something new.

I would be doing my employer, and myself, a great disservice, of course. It might work for a while, but before too long we would both find ourselves left behind, poorly positioned to respond to the demands of new realities that await us.

I can bravely attempt to learn the new technologies, and apply my decades of experience to them, shoehorning them into old processes, encumbering them with old mindsets. This might work, but at the end of the day, after much time, effort, and expense, it’s not clear that we would be much better off. If a transport approval, or a purchase order, still takes twenty steps to complete, a pretty user interface doesn’t make it more efficient.

“As an expert, you’ve already got it figured out, so you don’t need to pay attention to what’s happening. Pity.”
-- Blanche Hartman, 2001

The reason companies implement SAP, or at least the reason they should do so, is to embrace more efficient and effective operational practices that are embodied in the software. All too often, of course, that isn’t what actually happens. The new software is in place, heavily customized to operate in the old way, perhaps even to look just like the old software. This is the result of the application of too much expert’s mind.

We should approach changes in our careers the way companies should approach changes in ERP software: not just to put a pretty new interface on an old way of doing business, but instead to radically change the way we do business. We should approach change without the preconceptions of our past experience. We should approach change as beginners.

“In the beginner’s mind there is no thought, ‘I have attained something….’ When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something.”
-- Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, 1971

In the early days of Amazon, Jeff Bezos spent a lot of time driving packages to the post office. He quickly realized that they needed to become a logistics company, but they knew nothing about logistics, so they hired experts to tutor them in logistics. Then ten years later, when Amazon was preparing to launch the Kindle, they had to learn the hardware business, which was completely new to them. Today, Bezos is a new pioneer in the space industry, with long-range plans for the colonization of Mars. That’s a long way from the upstart online retailer of books from twenty years ago.

This is the embodiment of a willingness to take risks, to venture into new territory, to accept that one can be an expert and a beginner at the same time. It applies equally to Fortune 500 corporations and to individuals like you and me.

You are an expert. You are a beginner. Success is learning how to be both.

“Why a four year old child could understand this. Run out and get me a four year old child, I can’t make head or tail out of it.”
-- Groucho Marx, Duck Soup, 1933

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