Modern Agile’s Make People Awesome — “What’s wrong with being ordinary?”

Why the need to be awesome?


I like the Modern Agile principle “Make People Awesome”. Others don’t. With this article I aim to give a viewpoint what could be behind the resentment against the word “Awesome”.

A case against the word “awesome”

Let’s start with a few generalizations. Generalizations apply to a lot of people, but obviously every individual is unique and generalizations may not apply to many individuals of a group. Why do I use them then? Well they can help make my point clear about how “awesome” can be perceived.

I am Dutch. The Dutch are Calvinist people. With this I don’t mean the major branch of Protestantism, although that is heavily related to it. I mean Calvinist behavior:

  • acting modestly
  • being restrained in expressing emotions
  • being very direct
  • downplay wealth
  • frown upon those who flaunt their success
  • rigidity in principles
  • have a strong work ethic
  • sobriety

We Dutch have an expression: “Just act normal, that’s crazy enough”.

Typical Dutch way for a family to go shopping

If you translate this to daily live, then you’d notice that many Dutch are almost feeling embarrassed when someone thanks them for doing a great job, because “what I did was nothing special”. The Dutch are very ambitious and achieve amazing things, but these achievements are downplayed as well.

It doesn’t mean that the Dutch aren’t happy. On the contrary. They are the 6th happiest nation in the world according to the World Hapiness Report. Only the Scandinavian countries and Switzerland score higher. I’m no expert, but I believe that those countries also don’t have the most outgoing people in the world :-)

But let’s go back to the Dutch. If you’d tell a Dutch person that you want “Make People Awesome” there’s a fair chance that he or she would be unimpressed. The statement would totally fall flat. You can expect the same response from Modern Agile’s Dutch translation: “Maak Mensen Geweldig”, which by the way is a great translation of the English original.

The case for the phrase “Make People Awesome”

Still I like the word awesome. Why? Let’s look at what Modern Agile means with it:

“In modern agile we ask how we can make people in our ecosystem awesome.” —

The term ‘people’ is about everyone in the ecosystem. Think about:

  • Users: where you aim to achieve that users are not only using your product, but that they are proud to be using it.
  • Salespeople: being able to take pride of the products you can sell and the service that the company can deliver towards the clients.
  • Coworkers: being able to help your colleague in such a way that it brings a smile on his or her face (thanks Gunnar R. Fischer for the inspiration). Empowering your coworkers.
  • Managers: enabling an effective organization that flourishes with happy staff.

What other word would be better? Many have been suggested, notably in the following twitter thread (which is a great read with insights from many Agile thought leaders):

While the focus started on the word ‘make’, there were also many suggestions for ‘awesome’ (or the combination):

  • support people
  • enable people to do magnificent things
  • enable excellence
  • build up others
  • provide a wealth of opportunity for professional growth
  • help people shine

They are all not as strong as “Make People Awesome”. People came with all kinds of suggestions, but none of them beat the original.

Now back to my illustration of how ‘Awesome’ is perceived by the Dutch. Everything I wrote about them doesn’t rule out feeling awesome. And awesome is not the same as extravagant. It is to aspire and achieve great things for the whole ecosystem. And this is a notion that a lot of Dutch can relate to. This is why I think that the objections that come from some Dutch friends are not very convincing.

“Make People Awesome” is spot-on.

Did you like the article? Then it would be awesome if you’d clap 👏🏻. I am also very keen to learn what you think about this topic.

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