Focus on Passion: 10 Tips for an Engaging Community

Photo by Shel Israel

Photo by Shel Israel

The other day I got interviewed by Shel Israel for his The Living Enterprise (TLE) book. He did a really nice job capturing what I have done in the last years. When we talked for 2.5 hours I thought it was all about the SAP Mentor initiative, not to create a profile of me. He did both SAP’s band of  Mentors first and TLE Notebook: Mark Finnern, the SAP Mentor’s mentor second.

Telling someone your story clarifies your thinking. I don’t remember exactly when, but early on in SDN’s life,  at a time when I could still read every forum post and answered half of them, I realized that it is passion that makes a community come alive.

Passion brings out the best in us. It is contagious. You want to hang around passionate people, want to be part of the excitement. I would start to introduce myself as Mark Finnern the SDN community guy focusing on passion. It was the guiding principle behind many of the decisions we made regarding features and functions on the site as well as the things we did around it.

Here are 10 things I learned on the way to 2 million members on how to bring out passion in your community:

  1. Give people the opportunity to express themselves, to share what they are doing. This is why we allowed blogging for the whole community and not only for SAP employees from day one in 2003.
  2. Thank them personally via email or even better pick up the phone. Comment publicly to their blog/forum post, and mean it.
  3. Recognize the people that are are doing good work. We highlighted them early on with pictures on our home page and a link to their profile, so that people could check out what else they have done. We implemented a point system with ranking that showed the top 3 contributors in every forum and tallied them in the Top Contributor List. It was a daily little motivator: What is my rank and how many more points do I need to be in the top 10? Little friendly competitions developed. That this point system was so successful, that people try to game it is a story for another post.
  4. Listen and act. Early on we created a Suggestions and Comment forum where our community would post improvement ideas discuss them and when possible we would implement their suggestions.
  5. Have a water-cooler forum for people to hang out and talk about more than just business. When you visit SAP’s Walldorf headquarter most of the offices are 4 to 6 people to a room with Kaffeeecken (Coffee Corners) on every floor. Not disturb the roommates of the colleague your are visiting, you always end up in the Coffee Corner to discuss, coordinate and also chat beyond just work. We ended up calling the forum for people to hang out the Coffee Corner.
  6. Have a handful of simple community rules that set the framework for community behavior in our case it is the SCN User Guide. Make these rules known, discuss them openly and be timely in enforcing them. As a rule be wide open for everyone to join, but give your moderators the best tools to easily deal with misbehavior. We never implemented it, but it would be cool to have the opportunity to change a user’s access right to read only for a week. It is like going to jail, getting a cool off period, as one possible ramification for misbehavior. A step before total deletion or guestification as it is called within SCN.
  7. You know you have reached critical mass when your community develops their own lingo.  Welcome and support it, but also be diligent about making the new comers feel welcomed. Give them a chance to get up to speed with the community culture fast by providing FAQs, and even your own urban dictionary. (You search for guestification on Google and the first link is to our SCN Urbaon Dictionary makes me happy)
  8. If you really want your community to gel, you have to bring them together face to face, at least your most passionate community members. For developers, customers or partners working with SAP solutions it is totally cool to walk the halls of  the SAP headquarters. It is like making a pilgrimage to SAP’s Mecca. If at the same time they can learn cool new stuff that SAP is cooking up in their lab and get to know how other folks are solving problems out in the market, then that is a winner event. We created SDN meets Labs. Later it developed into local SAP Inside Tracks happening all over the world organized by passionate community members. Which is another milestone that proofs how engaged your community is. Once they develop their own local events, you have reached advocacy.
  9. SAP TechEd used to be totally focused on training, and people loved it, especially the hands-on sessions. But if you didn’t like your session and walked out, there was nothing else to do, you would wander the empty halls of the convention center totally alone. We changed that by introducing the SDN Clubhouse with couches and the best coffee around. Again a place to come together and get to know each other.
    SAP Mentor Matthias Zeller summed our efforts up nicely. One year we were sitting at the Las Vegas airport after another successful SAP TechEd waiting for our flights, and he turns to me and said: You know, you used to go to TechEd, enjoy some lectures, a couple of hands-on sessions, maybe meet up with some colleagues for drinks in the evening and that was it. Now with the clubhouse, community day and all it is like a family reunion. You have succeeded with your community creation effort if your members experience and embrace it as family.

We created the SAP Mentor initiative to strengthen these family ties. For me this is the next step in the evolution of community engagement a program around your most passionate members. We give them status, recognition, bring them together with our executives and with product managers and developers. We also enable the sharing of their expertise for example with the almost weekly public SAP Mentor Monday webcasts.

Richard Hirsch commented during the SAP Mentor 2009 Higlights webinar that one thing that really keeps us mentors synchronized and engaged is Twitter. The cool thing is, that this synchronization is happening in the open, as all of our tweets are publicly available. Just follow the SAP Mentor twitter list that is following all twittering SAP Mentors and you know what is going on.

Keep an eye on the SAP Mentors, they are some of the smartest, welcoming, genuinely passionate people you ever meet. Please engage with us. The last thing we want to be or appear as is an elite inside club.

10. Was afraid that I wouldn’t have a 10th tip, but here is the last and may be most important one: Be passionate yourself. Easier said then done. I just love to create an environment for other peoplepne. It really makes me happy to see them succeed. A general good rule for life: Find out what makes you come alive and create your life around it. Not that I totally reached that for myself, but feel fortunate to have done my part to create this environment for passion.

We are the Music Makers …

At SAP TechEd in 2008 in Las Vegas we gave all Community Day participants a harmonica. It was as a way to connect with people. I also believe in the following They Might be Giants quote: Music self-played is happiness self-made.

SAP Mentor Chris Solomon took the following footage from me starting the general community day session as well as the group playing and the funny coincidence of the Black Crows later that week playing a mean harmonica too. Way beyond my ability.

I especially like the opening scene with  the quote from Arthur O’Shaughnessy used in the movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory:
We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

I am convinced that everyone has the music maker inside, you just have to nurture it.  I once read, that scientists believe that music and singing developed in parallel to language.

People still sometimes come up to me and tell me how they liked the harmonica. One even said he used it to get TechEd sessions going, when the presenter wasn’t starting on time, he would play some riffs and that would get it done.

New Year’s Plumbing

Where did you spend your New Year’s eve? Oh well, under the sink ;-)

We came home from our trip to a clogged up sink, or we clogged it up by throwing out leftover food.

I tried chemicals first, which wasn’t easy to come by on New Year’s Eve close to midnight.

They didn’t help, so I remembered the time I helped my father working on a sink and I opened the U shaped pipe. It was clean, therefore the problem was further down the line. I fell into bed at 2am with water standing in the sink.

Next morning the water was gone, but only temporarily.

Next I consulted the internet, should have done it from the beginning. Turns out baking soda and vinegar does the job as good as the chemicals, alas two rounds of that combination didn’t help either.

Calling a plumber would have been so much easier, but by now it was personal. How dare this clogged sink being stronger than my amateur plumbing skills honed in my childhood with my father?

Back to the internet, especially help videos. They showed how to use a snake. Got a 25 feet long one at Home Depot. Put it in 20 feet, pulled it out again and still it was clogged.

O.K. I guess it is time for the professional with the 50 feet snake :-(

By that time it was 1.30 on New Year’s day, I didn’t even had real breakfast yet.

Before admitting defeat I did a last ditch attempt and snaked the snake in all the 25 feet. Put my electric drill at the end and turned it a couple of times in both directions. I took the snake out and used my last baking soda/vinegar reserves plus half a gallon of boiling water as the first liquid to come down the drain and to my surprise it didn’t back up anymore :-)

Picture taken by Mark & Marie Finnern.

Health Care Reform we need to start from scratch

Study: Over 2,200 US Veterans Died in 2008 Due to Lack of Health Insurance.

If that isn’t sad enough. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now does an excellent interview with Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, professor of medicine at Harvard University and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program.

Really frustrating facts about the health care reform bill:

  • 500 Billion hand over to the Insurance Companies
  • Public option will not be cheaper and mainly there to take the worst cases off the private insurers
  • We tried this model already 10 years ago in Massachusetts. Premiums didn’t go down.
  • Basis of the Senate bill is a document authored by Elizabeth Fowler, who’s a former vice president of Wellpoint, the nation’s largest private insurance company
  • Insurers and Pharma happy with the bill

She suggests to start from scratch and I agree.

Black Forest winter can come. New bird feeder installed at my mom’s.

I was visiting my mother in the Black Forest and helped get her garden winter ready. After two gratifying and exhausting conferences there is nothing better than spending some time in the fresh air getting dirty in the garden. Highly recommended. Cutting the lawn I can do without though.

I also installed a bird feeder and tweeted about it. Richard Hirsch asked whether I created it. I once built a bird feeder as a school project a very long time ago. Nowadays you get these at the local store for 10 bucks, although without a stand. That price point takes a bit the wind out of doing these kind of projects, which is sad.

My solution for the missing stand was to buy a big stake and ram it into the ground, secure the bird feeder with a screw and a washer. It wasn’t easy, as I didn’t have a lot of room for the screw driver, but at the end it worked and I am really happy about it.

First fall winds already came through and It is stable.

Picture taken by Mark & Marie Finnern.

Make Some Music. It Makes You Happy!

A couple of weeks back I stumbled upon this little video of Bobby McFerrin bringing the audience to sing the pentatonic scale while he is improvising on top of it.

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

His last sentence is the eye opener: No matter where in the world I do that, they all get it as in they all can do it. — We all can do it. Music is the universal language of the world.

The downside of having developed devices that give us musical perfection at our fingertips is, that we know how music pieces sound when the best are playing it. The knowledge of perfection makes it endlessly hard for us to pick up an instrument or even just sing beyond the four walls of our bathroom. You have to put some effort in, before you even can play a little tune and it sounds horrible and you know it.


My favorite quote by They Might be Giants: Music self played is happiness self made. It is wonderfully true for me and as this example shows I think for everybody. You play an instrument or sing and your whole body resonates, relaxes and makes you happy. Try it.

My father learned how to play the Accordion when he was 65 without any prior music teaching. I so wish I had a recording of it. When he did I picked it up too and one of the greatest moments was, playing together with him.

Bonus link: 10 Geeky Instruments

Pet Peeves going up in flames

Balsaman was bringing Burningman back to size and smiles at Baker Beach in San Francisco yesterday.

I envision that Burningman many years ago had a similar feeling when they were still doing it in San Francisco.

Best quote of the evening by one of the organizers: Only in San Francisco so many people come together around such a stupid idea.

My friends Sophia and John aka Ray got an art grant of $2 for their Temple of Pet Peeves.

You write down your peeves and drop them in the temple to be burned later that evening. It was quite the flame and a relief of seeing them going up in flames. More pictures at Flickr.

Picture taken by Mark & Marie Finnern.

Have you encouraged and read to your child today?

Ira Glass and his This American Life team have done it again. This weeks stories about going big, brought me to tears of joy when I heard the one about the Harlem Children Zone:

Act One. Harlem Renaissance.

Paul Tough reports on the Harlem Children’s Zone, and its CEO and president, Geoffrey Canada. Among the project’s many facets is Baby College, an 8-week program where young parents and parents-to-be learn how to help their children get the education they need to be successful. Tough’s just-published book about Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem’s Children Zone is called Whatever It Takes. You can see a slideshow of more photographs from the project here. (30 and 1⁄2 minutes)

It is amazing what they are able to do with these kids by catching them early. 8 weeks program with the parents to teach them to encourage their children and give them greater verbal skills by reading to them every night, with amazing results:

If you’re looking for the third-graders who are below grade level in math, you’ll have to go to another school

This past spring, 100 percent of the third-graders at HCZ Promise Academy II scored at or above grade level in the statewide math tests.  A few blocks away, 97 percent of the Promise Academy I third-graders were at or above grade level.

Many of these children have been in HCZ programs from the time their parents were in The Baby College, which highlights the effectiveness of our comprehensive model of supporting children.

Finally a way to break the poverty cycle. Obama and his administration has earmarked 10 Million dollars to expand this program to 20 other cities. Very sweet.

Bobby McFerrin Demos Connecting Power of Music

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

Super beautiful demonstration of the Pentatonic Scale by Bobby McFerrin. His last comment is especially interesting, that wherever in the world he tries this, the audience is able to sing the pentatonic scale and follow his improvisations. Remindes me of Joachim Ernst Behrend’s book Nada Brahma: The World Is Sound. Music is the great connector. Let’s make more of it.