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