Thursday, May 1, 2014

Words and Wisdom...

Many of you have asked me about an article published in E3 that talks about me and other leaders of our company in a callous and unrestrained manner.  Since this is about our work, and today is labor day, I thought it appropriate to say a few words on this matter.

I joined SAP about 12 years ago.  I've spent more than a quarter of my life here, learning from colleagues working in every location and function, but also from our leaders, especially Hasso as well as Henning. I have worked with mostly a new generation of SAP, my friends and colleagues, some also mentioned in the article.  When I first came to SAP, I used to wander the hallways, bridges and corners of our buildings in Walldorf, trying to understand our roots, our fabric, our purpose. During this time, I sought inspiration from one of my favorite books: Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha.  

Siddhartha is an extraordinary combination of the cultures of Germany and my native India, and a deep inspiration to an entire generation of Americans, the very 3 cultures that have shaped who I am.  Towards the end of his book, when the two main characters Siddhartha and Govinda, now old men, speak about wisdom and knowledge, Mr. Hesse wrote something profound in the voice of Siddhartha:

"...Wissen kann man mitteilen, Weisheit aber nicht.  Man kann sie finden, man kann sie leben, man kann von ihr getragen werden, man kann mit ihr Wunder tun, aber sagen und lehren kann man nicht. ...eine Wahrheit läßt sich immer nur aussprechen und in Worte hüllen, wenn sie einseitig ist.  Einseitig ist alles, was mit Gedanken gedacht und mit Worten gesagt werden kann, alles einseitig, alles halb, alles entbehrt der Ganzheit, des Runden, der Einheit."

In English: “Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it. …A truth can only be expressed and enveloped in words if it is one-sided. Everything that is thought and expressed in words is one-sided, only half the truth.”

Our words, including mine here, are at best half-truths to you the reader.  But sometimes words are worse than half-truths, far worse. They are the fabrications of a gossip-monger. This article is one such example, as are others like it lately.  It is without attribution, quotes, or review by the people it speaks about and whose ambitions, motives and inner-most values it describes, without ever having asked them about these, nor understood.  As such, it represents a reality that does not exist, except perhaps in the fanciful imagination of a writer. It is governed by base motivations one can only speculate upon, perhaps under even baser influences. What makes it truly irresponsible is that it is articulated to the world under the guise of a legitimate publication - a gross abuse of journalistic duties.

Our metrics, our means of perceiving reality, are inevitably relative.  Our perspectives, our points of view, shape who we are.  Great collections of diverse points of view create rich syntheses of knowledge that enrich us all.  This, as Hermann Hesse so eloquently articulated, can become the basis for our personal wisdom.  This wisdom is then our connection to an absolute truth.  No matter how long or how short our journeys, how broad or narrow our reach, or how big or small our jobs and titles, our wisdom is uniquely personal to us.  But, perspectives are only valuable when they are honest, and grounded in reality.  Spoken from the heart.  Seen through the eyes of an innocent four year old.  This is what Design Thinking teaches us.  This is what Hasso has taught me.  This is what Einstein discovered.  This is what enlightened the Buddha, and what Herr Hesse invoked in his masterpiece.

Everything else is just talk, words disturbing the air around us, for a short fleeting while...

-- Vishal


johnappleby said...

Sir, it has been an absolute pleasure to work with you over the past years.

The E3 article is a bizarre piece, and one which doesn't understand the personalities and motivations of the people involved - at least not as I have experienced them.

On the other hand, the thing I remember from someone who taught me about media is to always ask "why now?". What was the motivation behind the writer, what was their agenda and their intent? And why did they choose to write the piece now?

Unknown said...

Just reading it now and it is poignant response to gibberish but done in a way of a wise man beyond his years. The article has no meaning, but Vishal your response is timeless and soulful.

Srikanth said...

Dear Vishal, They say that unjust criticism is often a disguised compliment. Your response to the article is profound and filled with wisdom. Thank you for intellectually renewing SAP and all the leadership. You have been a true inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Hello to everyone in the global SAP Community. I am editor-in-chief at the E-3 Magazine published in Germany, Austria and Switzerland ( There are many rumours about an article that describes the current situation within SAP. The focus of the article lies on Jim Hageman Snabe and Bill McDermott. In respect to Vishal Sikka he is a follower of Shai Agassi and an idea of Hasso Plattner. There is nothing wrong with Vishal Sikka but SAP is a German based company. All innovation is coming out of “old Europe” – even Hana was invented in Europe: originally SanssouciDB in Potsdam at the Hasso Plattner Institut (HPI). Every part of the article ( is based on the opinion within the German speaking SAP-Community. Maybe we should visit each other to learn from each other. Jim Hagemann Snabe has learned German to understand the roots of SAP. Many comments in the SAP-R/3-Abap-Code are still written in German. Even Vishal Sikka mentions in his blog a German author (Hermann Hesse). Now all executives at SAP are working in Walldorf, Germany – expect CEO Bill McDermott and board member Rob Enslin. Maybe we should talk about the importance of being a board member of a German based DAX company. I am not sure if Vishal Sikka was realising this part of his duties. Global is great and important but you should never forget where your roots are. The roots of SAP are in “old Europe”.

Peter M. Färbinger,

TwitofGoodTimes said...

Hi Vishal, Touching base with you after ages. Sameer Khera, from Rosary, Vadodara. Inbox me your mail id at

Abadila said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abadila said...

Vishal, you have the wisdom and wordds! Thank you for all.. We learned a lot with you, you gave us the cofidence in the SAP future!
This poem is for you (i know that it's one of your favorites; and for you and your impact Stanley Kunitz reads his poem "The Layers":
" “Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes."

Yes, you have been a true inspiration.


Unknown said...

Amazing words...the way you mix philosophy with software development is beyond words...
Pls mention the word "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam" to E-3...

Stefan Schaffer said...

Dear Mr. Färbinger,

I read your article before the news of Vishal's departure broke and must say that I already then strongly disagreed with your view.

I am a German who worked for SAP in Walldorf and in the US and would consider myself strongly rooted in Europe. On a personal level, it is important that we understand our roots and cultural background, because without understanding our own background and its influence on us, we cannot develop the cultural sensitivity required to be a good citizen of an increasingly globalizing world. However, if we cannot detach ourselves from our roots, we will always stay in the same place.

A long time ago, SAP expanded beyond its former home markets of Germany and Europe. New people from places all over the world joined, adding their perspectives, based on their experience, their cultural background, their roots, if you want so. And SAP would by far not have been as successful without the contribution of these people. And if SAP had not detached itself from its German roots, growing new roots all over the world, it probably would not exist anymore. There is no room for a large software company that defines itself as Germany-based company - and I am glad about it.

I accept, that you may have a different viewpoint on this topic. However, starting this discussion taking Bill McDermott and Vishal Sikka as examples is just off base. For the last decades, both of them constantly traveled the world and met more people from more countries than 99.99% of the rest of us. Vishal even spanned his life across two continents, combining viewpoints from two entirely different cultures. There are not many people with a higher degree of cultural sensitivity then both of them. Vishal never lived in Germany. So what. Germany is not the center of the world - not even the world of SAP.

It is the role of the press to be critical and stretching criticism a bit too far sometimes is probably a side effect that is hard to prevent. But please criticise people for what they do, not for who they are.

Best regards
Stefan Schaffer

Anonymous said...

Hi Sir, Just wanted to say thank you for everything. Your keynotes are so simple that even a lay man can understand technology. I am not sure how much you agree with Herr. Peter Färbinger's statement "Global is great and important but you should never forget where your roots are.The roots of SAP are in “old Europe”. Everyone is worried about their own roots however it seems as a "human being" we all have a common root. Its not India, its not germany its not europe. It's वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् !

Unknown said...

Thanks for everything Sir, Your resignation Shakes such a good company like SAP and me as well.

I came to know that your next plan is to be CEO of Infosys and BOOM! BOOM! the techno world.

All the best & Cheers!!!

Unknown said...

Wow - if Peter Farbinger's views on "old Europe" are indicative of the opinions of even a minority of SAP's German employees, I would not like to be an Israeli working for SAP. Or any race, other than German, working there. No wonder you left Vishal.

This type of Nationalism was very wrong in the past. It has absolutely no place in the modern world.


SK said...

"Sincerity is the way of Heaven. The attainment of sincerity is
the way of men. He who possesses sincerity is he who, without an
effort, hits what is right, and apprehends, without the exercise of
thought;-he is the sage who naturally and easily embodies the right
way. He who attains to sincerity is he who chooses what is good, and
firmly holds it fast."

-Confucius,THE DOCTRINE OF THE MEAN, 500 BC (translated by James Legge [1893])

Ginsights said...

Mr Färbinger,
Claiming that Hana was invented anywhere shows a lack of understanding of technological development. I have been able to observe that from my position, building and teaching database technology and knowledge bases at Stanford. Hector Garcia-Molina (born in Mexico) published on the topic in 1992. In-memory databases were already developed by Marie-Anne Neimat (born in Egypt) at HPlabs in the 1990's, then spun out as the TimesTen Co, in 1996. It's now part of Oracle.
SAP acquired a Korean startup, with a functioning in-meory database, developed by Prof. Sang-Cha of the Korean National University in Seoul several years
ago. I (born in Italy) also presented my work on IP management at HPI in Berlin in 2004.
And the technology that enables in-memory databases today, large memories. is being developed world-wide.

The point is simply that successful products in industry don't derive from an invention in one country, but from the integration of concepts from many countries and diverse people. Being xenopohobic won't help German industry.

Markus said...

Dear Mr. Sikka, Dear Mr. Schaffer,

I sympathize with your views. As far I could see from my professional career, the role of SAP's German roots is a discussion with a history of at least 10 years. I heard the same story during the time when I worked at SAP and Shai Agassi tried to move SAP into a future direction.
For Germany this is not without risk. It is embarrassing to see such discussion in German companies, especially when they are acting globally.
With no doubt, it is necessary for every company with global markest to open up the internal culture, to think global and on the other hand act towards the needs and cultures of different regions in the world. It is wise to embrace these regional cultures into the companies DNA, to be prepared and able to understand these different markets. It’s out of the question that especially German high tech companies need the brains, intellect and engagement of non-German employees, whether they work in the “German head quarter” or in subsidiaries of their home countries.
Just to give an example: German industry fears an imbalance between the demand for MINT* professionals and the number of job candidates in the German market. A movement (industry, politics,…) can be observed to act on this and fill the gap by reaching out to candidates beyond the German boundaries. On the other hand many of these global acting companies insist fluent German language skill from these candidates. This is a huge obstacle and therefore contradictory and not target-oriented. I am working now for Bombardier Transportation with the head quarter in Berlin. We are hiring candidates from all over the world and speaking German is a nice to have but not a must. It works and the company is happy to have more than 30% very engaged foreign employees at the head quarter in Berlin.
I would love to see such openness on a broad scale in Germany.
Markus Wissing
*German: mathematics, computer science, science and technology)

Anil said...

Dear Vishal,

You are BEST of BEST, SAP HANA is your little girl, you are father of in-memory technology.


Unknown said...

Hi Vishal -

This article from you not only contains wisdom words but also few emotional words. E3 article was no doubt pin-pointing you and your skills but your response never simplified their concerns or did any good to you and your technical community. Your presence in SAP not only drives innovation but makes this great product truly global. We have seen companies like google and facebook coming from nowhere and become IT giants. SAP cannot do this without an Innovator who thinks and dreams like American. We will miss you in SAP.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
VishalS said...

Dear Vishal
This is an amazing article that you have written. I have always liked timelessness to timely. The timely fades soon. The timelessness as the name says stand the test. Joyful to read this blog.
Best wishes.

tujesalam said...

All the best Vishal on becoming new CEO of Infosys - An infoscion

HH said...

Dear Vishal,

First congratulations to your new role as CEO of Infosys! This is great news and I am glad you found such a good place for you.

Reading you blogpost and all the stuff around your departure is painful, especially when one has been in and in between these grindstones of this unhealthy debates before.

But what really annoys me is that E-3 is here considered a "serious" newspaper/media!? As long as I was in charge for SAP's worldwide communications I successfully refused to see and treat them as a "serious newspaper, media or journalists", because they are not. They were paid by SAP's competitors and partners and some SAP entities in Walldorf in Marketing and Service and Support. No reader pays for reading their stuff! The German SAP User Group even ordered them to withdraw their DSAG Logo from the E-3 brochures. So the question for me is, who benefitted from this story and I would be very surprised if you wouldn't find the very same people among those who granted them interviews or bought expensive space for advertisement.

But this is nothing for you to worry about anymore :-)

Good luck and all the best for your future

Herbert (Heitmann)

Unknown said...

…A truth can only be expressed and enveloped in words if it is one-sided. Everything that is thought and expressed in words is one-sided, only half the truth.”

I am trying to understand why and just posting some thoughts as they occur (if they don’t make sense please ignore).
The speaker of the so called "truth" is speaking from his memory which is accumulated knowledge/experience which is saying the so called truth. Thus each speaker has his own truth and thus since no two persons have identical knowledge/experience every so called truth is unique but for anything to be true it must be conform to the definition of truth which we believe is universal but which itself is an individual/personal understanding of the definition and thus the definition itself doesn’t probably convey the same perception to all.
Then when we agree on something, we only superficially agree since deep down each one’s understanding has a different flavor driven by his personal experience/knowledge. So the only way to understand identically is to understand from emptiness since knowledge will disallow deeper understanding because knowledge fixes facts and neural circuits, to understand completely one must question the existing knowledge and then one can see that once you are empty you perceive the whole meaning and not try to fit what your hear into your personal framework of knowledge.
When knowledge is kept in abeyance that state is timeless since time itself may be a creation of man. Like Einstein probably meant (in my silly words) if I travel directly away from the source of light at the speed of light, to the stationary observer who watches me the light will never reach me thus assuming no knowledge of clocks/fixed time there is no time increment for the mover in the eyes of the observer because the observer sees the light and thus his time is moving (if we define time as periodically seeing a flash of light emitted by a source at the same frequency), thus to this observer the mover is not aging also because when a neuron fires in the mover’s brain by the time the electric current takes to reach the other end to complete the circuit the mover has moved (in the view of the observer) and thus if he is travelling at close to the speed of light his thinking will be much slower (of course assuming that the mover is moving in same direction away from the current source), correspondingly all activities will slow down/stop. So the observer’s truth is that the mover is aging much slower but the mover’s truth is not the same if he doesn’t know that he is actually travelling close to the speed of light he will believe everything is normal as it was when he was stationary. Of course Einstein said that the clocks machinery will also slow down at close to speed of light on account of the same reason above.
I often question did time come first or did thought and since thought requires memory/knowledge to apply that itself is time (past knowledge to future application, past to future is time) thus thought is time and vice versa and there may-be no difference between the two
Thus everything is observer/time dependent and the observer is nothing but an image projected by his memory/knowledge (which are time) from where he thinks (I think therefore I am), thus the observer is a creation of thought since knowledge tells us that we are different entities. The truth might well be that this differentiation is an illusion/time and that observation of illusion-ness/going beyond time is probably from pure emptiness/meditation since to see the operation of time one has to go outside it to see it.

Unknown said...

Dear Vishal,
Congratulations & All The Very Best for your next endeavour with Infosys !! I am sure Infosys will scale great heights with your brilliance & able guidance !!

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I asked all of my known's all got regret. Infy kept us on hold for 2 months. They say that there is no requirement so they cancelled the whole process. I mean what the hell is this Infy doesn't even know its requirements? company holding fake offcampus drives??

This whole infosys experience has been a sheer disappointment and its just not me. There are many many many applicants hoping over the same agenda. This procrastinated rejection has been a devastating boulder in our career.

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