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All people are awesome. Always. #sgza

Danie Roux gave the opening keynote at Scrum Gathering South Africa 2016 (#SGZA). You can listen to the talk here:

He said:

All people are always awesome. In all ways. And Always

One of the turning points for me as a coach was a session with Lyssa Adkins when I realized I thought there were problem people and then that I was wrong. All people are good, they behave how the do because of the system they exist in. Since understanding that, my world as a coach and manager has changed completely, and for the better.


So when Danie mentioned this I retweeted it enthusiastically. I was surprised to be challenged on twitter for this. Upon reflection I remembered myself as a manager many years ago. I did not believe this then. And so of course there are people who don’t believe this now.

Perhaps this is you, perhaps you feel that if you adopt this point of view you might be taken advantage of…

I have been taken advantage of. As far as I can tell, so far in 41 years, it’s been by less than 10 people.

  • I was mugged when I was 16 by 2 guys who pretended to be friendly, until they pulled a gun.
  • I lived with a compulsive liar when I was in my 20s who stole from me repeatedly and then disappeared. I had to report my housemate to the police.
  • I was distracted by someone at my front door a few years ago asking for work or food long enough that his partner could break into the back of my house and steal my laptop and cellphone.
  • I’ve been scammed on gumtree into giving away a MacBook Air with a fake bank deposit notification.
  • I’ve been verbally abused by someone and called a racist because I didn’t fall for the gumtree scam a second time.

You would think after this I would stop believing that all people are awesome. Let me tell you a story.

I grew up in South Africa, during apartheid. I have British (white) parents, and we moved to South Africa in 1976. Yes the year of the Soweto riots. I have a vivid memory of being about 10 years old (1985) and living in Pretoria.

We lived 1 block from our school, so my brother and I used to walk to school. We could go either way around the block, left or right. It was about the same distance. But going one way went past a bus stop, which back then was mostly filled with black people. I remember it was close to 16 June (which used to be called Soweto day after the riots that happened on that day in 1976). Someone at school told me that on Soweto day, every black person in South Africa had to kill a white person. I was young and naive, but I wasn’t stupid. I did the maths. I knew there South Africa was about 80% black. So if this happened even once, there would be no white people left. It was clearly a myth. Still, I didn’t walk past the bus stop for about a month!

Now as an adult I am embarrassed by this story. How could I possibly believe it was true? I resent that it made me fear black people I didn’t even know for weeks.

This is exactly why I love Danie’s quote. I don’t care if I am naive. I don’t care about the 10 people who have taken advantage of me in 40 years. Instead I care that even if you have a different race, religion, gender, financial circumstance, sexual orientation, political point of view I can believe that you are awesome, and find a reason to connect and share common ground.

What do you believe?

2 thoughts on “All people are awesome. Always. #sgza”

  1. As one of those who reacted.

    Your arguments support a statement that we should realise many people are a victim of a system or systems and are capable of acting differently. In the main that is incontroversial but it is not universal. For some the constraint is chemical/biological or so social entrained as to be unrecoverable. Some despite many advantages become the opposite of awesome. If you want a paired example think of Trump appointing Palin to Interior which if true will have an existential impact on the planet. They are. It awesome more evil and, as we have known through history they have to be opposed.

    That point aside the quote reflects a deeply problematic aspect of much OD practice in seeking to manage on the baisis of the exceptional rather than the average. Too many issues to expand there but ironically it has resulted in some of the worst actual practice and impact.

    1. As a manager I find I have done less damage by assuming people are awesome and giving them the benefit of the doubt, than assuming they are evil/bad/lazy, and acting accordingly (I.e. Not trusting them). Can you give an example where a manager who does this results in a bad outcome?

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