“What on earth have I done?”
Exactly my thought after hanging up the phone in the summer of 2017. I had just agreed to be the keynote speaker at the Mastering SAP Financials conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. I’d been to five continents, but not Africa. I’d implemented SAP solutions in over 55 countries, but this felt like a horse of a different color. Have you ever been completely excited for something, and simultaneously terrified?
“What on earth am I going to talk about?” A thought I would go on to have for months. I really, really hate preachy presentations that give fluffball advice that isn’t worth two plug nickels. I’d rather get some ideas to consider, and information to give me new perspectives. I like being the horse – its fine to lead me to water, but please don’t shove my face in it trying to make me drink!
During my day job, I implement SAP systems in Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, and Treasury. I knew that the latest in banking technology would not have my audience riveted, nor would it be memorable (sorry to my banking friends – you know I love you, but let’s face it – most people think we are boring). The usual standbys in my industry were also out – Cloud, HANA, IOT, and you name it buzzword technology bingo. The focus of this conference was maximizing what you already have, while considering the future. I had to think differently and bridge the gap between entertaining and informative.
My internal panic meter rose as the time steadily ticked away and I couldn’t come up with it. What a horrible time for creativity block. In those moments, the doubts creep in. But I stuck it out. And then the idea came, courtesy of a friend’s speech in Toastmaster’s one Friday morning. He had brilliantly used storytelling to convey a message. This is something I have done, but had never considered for my keynote. My imagination saw the presentation theme right before my eyes, and I took a risk.
In front of a Finance and IT audience, I decided to use a fairy tale to communicate my ideas for practical change. It was all change that I am living everyday on my projects. From the trenches – from someone that has been implementing for many years and felt all these challenges. My presentation began like this:
Once upon an SAP implementation, in a magical kingdom far, far away…. The farmers, villagers, shopkeepers, and royal SAP management team faced many challenges. They felt more and more isolated, yet they struggled along using old tools and processes over and over and over again. The threats to their way of life multiplied rapidly. Dragons and other fairy tale creatures flew in from every direction, saying things like, “My data is ugly,” “We don’t have enough people or time,” “Custom, Custom, Custom.” They finally found themselves asking “Does anyone around here speak dragon?”
The fairy tale creatures are running the kingdom – wreaking havoc with our story. Do any of you have trolls in your organization? You know, the ones that say “We have always done things like this. We won’t change, no no no no no!” as they wave their clubs around. Let’s face it, sometimes we are the trolls!
And for those at home – yes, I did this entire thing complete with voices. I wanted this to be a speech to remember. And from the audience laughter and engagement afterwards, I knew I hit the mark. My favorite feedback was seeing people from the same company exchange knowing looks when I speak- they know exactly what I am talking about. It is my gauge to know it’s real and that I am not being a fluffball. So what did I talk about? In short, Agile Management, Design Thinking Experiments, and Creating a Continuous Learning Culture. But, like all I things I talk about, it wasn’t the standard boilerplate. You’ll have to let me know if you want to hear more.
I leave you with one thought to consider today – we all have a little bit of an inner troll. Where are you being a troll in your life that requires some re-examination? In other words, where are YOU the troll under your bridge?