If you've been following my previous posts on whether you should contribute to SCN and how you can contribute to SCN I would hope that by now you have made some sort of commitment to yourself that you will be adding some great content in the very near future. However there's something I haven't discussed yet and that's about how much to contribute.
You might imagine that it's simply a case of contributing as much as you can as often as you can - which is an admirable view to have. However I think it's worth taking a moment to consider just how much you are willing and how much you can afford to share. Giving everything may be the way to go or you might find you want to dial it back a little bit.
Let me explain….
Reasons to limit your contribution
When I began using SCN I was simply using it as a learning resource to research some SAP related topics. As I began to get more involved with the SAP world my decision to give back was straight forward enough but I felt cautious. I was beginning to worry about the negative impacts of what could be "sharing too much".
Now by "too much" I don't mean the sort of over-share you see on platforms like Twitter where some people feel compelled to share what they had for breakfast and that they just bought a loaf of bread. The over-share I'm referring to is the sort where it could potentially result in a negative impact on your position or status. Perhaps a few questions get the point across best?
If you share your knowledge with someone for free are you not giving them free training that allows them to pick up work you could be doing and getting paid for now or in the future? Would you be in effect putting yourself out of a job?
If you freely give away the knowledge and experience you've built-up are you not de-valuing yourself and others like you?
Do you not have a responsibility to your employer to not better enable potential competitors by sharing things you've developed such as good practice and innovative solutions to issues?
Make no mistake everyone of us has something valuable to offer and it seems almost criminal to just give it away. With that in mind it sounds a lot like, just to be on the safe side, everyone should reconsider contributing anything at all to SCN. But is everyone who contributes to SCN just limiting themselves and their organisations? Well judging by the clear success of so many of the more prolific contributors (including SCN's own SAP mentors) the answer is emphatically no. But how can that be?
Well I have a theory and it's related to a business model.
Something I've noticed becoming more prominent over the last few years in start-ups is the use of the model known as Freemium. In essence it is a business model whereby a company gives away a product or service for free. This doesn't sound like the sort of thing any bank manager would give you a start-up loan against and yet for many companies this model has proven to be extremely lucrative.
The truth lies in the counterpart to what is in reality a binary business model. The free product or service is something that people find useful and gives the company a foot in the door that then allows the company to offer an up-sell. This is the Premium part of what is actually a Freemium/Premium model. The Premium service or product offers the customer an additional set of capabilities and features that effectively build upon and supercharge what the user already has. It's much easier to give people something for free, let them adopt it into their everyday use (to the point where they can't imagine managing without it any more) and then show them how much better life could be with the paid for version.
It isn't really a new model, but the digital age has opened a new instant access way to offer this sort of approach and it's thriving.
So how does this relate to our 'how much should I contribute' dilemma? Well let's consider your skills, knowledge and experience as a service that you (and your organisation) can offer. If you give away some of your insights and expertise for free, people will begin to see you as someone they can go to for help and assistance. However to get access to the whole of your skills, knowledge and experience perhaps these people would need to engage you with some sort of incentive (such as paying you). The chances are if you've already shown yourself to be knowledgeable about something and an approachable team player sort of person then they would be far more likely to engage with you than with someone they've zero experience of interacting with.
Hopefully we're all coming back around to the idea of contributing to SCN being a good thing ... though I probably had some of you worried there for a minute didn't I?
So now the question of 'how much to contribute' might seem to be better approached as trying to answer the question of 'where would you draw your "Premium Service" line'?
The 5% Rule
Unfortunately this question is one of the ones where there isn't going to be a one size fits all circumstances and eventualities. There are a number of factors that can be considered and the amount of contribution can even vary over time as personal circumstances change. Even so I thought I'd share how I decided where to draw my line in the hope that maybe it will help you too.
This 'how much to share' dilemma was not new to me. In my personal life I teach martial arts classes. I do this on a voluntary basis and give my time for free. I actually give up many hours each week to teach children and adults how to get themselves out of sticky situations and I feel I'm doing my bit to support my local community. Sound familiar?
Now I don't give private classes so my dilemma here is not financial, rather it is about control - but I think there's still a clear parallel.
Much of martial arts is based on control. Control of one's self and also of one's environment. I came to a realisation early on in my teaching that if I ever taught a student who was naturally more talented than me (which I've had the pleasure of doing countless times), and I taught them everything I knew, then I would put myself at a disadvantage should they ever lose control and end up in a violent altercation with me. Whilst this is probably a very small risk, the repercussions would be significant and I decided I needed to address this possibility for my own peace of mind.
My solution was beautifully simple - I adopted a 5% rule. I only ever teach a student 95% of what I know. This leaves me with a very valuable 5% I can draw upon should things ever be against me. Now some students have called me out on this saying that it is unfair; however I do have two further points that I think balance this out and make it really viable for everyone.
The first is that the 5% I keep back is different for each student. This means that when the time comes and I'm no longer teaching people martial arts, the knowledge I've gathered will still be passed on.
The second is that I try to learn new things faster than I teach my most advanced students. This means that I always have something new to teach them. They never reach a knowledge plateau where they feel they have to seek out a new instructor and this also allows me to continue to grow as a martial artist (and instructor).
So as you might expect it was only natural for me to adopt the same sort of rule for my contributions to SCN.
At the moment I don't think that there's any SAP knowledge I have that would be "lost" if I left the SAP world; so the first point probably isn't so relevant for me just yet, but I'm sure it is to countless others. That being said, the second point supports progression and I am learning so much new stuff every day. I figure as long as I don't 'give it away' as fast as I'm learning and discovering it then I have some reasonable chance of maintaining any small competitive edge I might currently have.
As the more mathematically astute of you might have realised by now this approach actually means that a long term side effect of adhering to the 5% rule is that it would actually increase my competitive advantage at an increasing rate. All the time it's 5% of something that will be larger tomorrow than it is today. It drives me to keep on learning and keep on assimilating what I can at even greater rates as my general level of understanding increases. I love it.
The Danger Line
At this point I think I need to pause and put in a small but important caveat. As well as establishing your Freemium/Premium threshold (or 95% : 5% or any other ration) I think it is also sensible to establish an additional line - a danger line.
Elephants and the Internet never forget. Social media allows us to track all of our mistakes as well as our successes. Employers are using social media more and more and I for one want to avoid posting anything that my current or any future employer might deem as 'bad'. Most employers typically have policies that provide guidelines for how staff can use resources such as computers and systems. Many of these policies have now been extended (or even explicitly created) to govern the use of social media. It's certainly worthwhile checking to see if your employer does have anything that may formally limit what you should be contributing. Hopefully they do as this will then give you (at least some) clarity around where the company line is so you can adopt it as your danger line. If your organisation doesn't have one then consider discussing it with your line manager at your next 1-2-1.
Every time I post anything online, be it on SCN or anywhere else, professional or personal, I give it at least one scan through to see if there is anything in the content that could be construed as business sensitive or even just plain unprofessional. This is what qualifies and quantifies my own danger line. If anything crosses it I get a hint of doubt and I then immediately re-word or remove it. No ifs, buts or exceptions. Just gone. Discretion is just as valuable as the information it keeps safe.
Whilst this may just seem like common sense and totally obvious, mistakes do happen, and it would be remiss of me not to mention it at all. Quite simply my 5% rule wouldn't quite work so well for me without this caveat.
So as a rule of thumb I'm happy to share anything up to 95% of what I know; so long as by sharing it, I don't think it will give anyone reason to mistrust or devalue me now or in the future. This approach to sharing also gives me another reason to push my own self-development to try and get ahead on the SAP knowledge curve.
Hopefully you've now got some sort of feel for the sort of level of SCN contribution you're happy with and the sorts of considerations you might need to keep in mind when deciding just how much of your knowledge and experience to share. I'm confident that if you approach it in the right way, contributing to SCN can greatly increase the prospects for you to grow; through self-development, collaboration and exposure to new opportunities.