Awesome is Dead: Disrupt HR NYC - 5 Minute Speech

Awesome is Dead: Disrupt HR NYC - 5 Minute Speech

People cannot really be awesome, be amazing, or be wonderful on command, and yet, we often we ask them to be. We put these words into our core values and in our marketing but it’s really hard to “be awesome.” It’s just not a directive anyone can follow with any consistency. But when you ask your team to “be decent to others.” well, that’s when the magic happens.

In May I did a 5-minute speech for Disrupt HR NYC called “Awesome is Dead.” It was really fun and also a great challenge since the slides move automatically every 15 seconds and you have a mere 5 minutes to illuminate your point. It was intense! Take a look at the video below and I’ve included the full speech as well. Enjoy!

Awesome is Dead.

Dearly beloved, we’re here to mourn the death of a dear old friend; that’s right, Awesome is dead. Awesome kicked the bucket from relentless overuse, and from being so darned self-centered. 

Awesome was so narcissistic that he began to think that he was a state of mind, that being awesome was a daily goal and so easy to achieve. And that’s when he took a turn for the worse. Awesome had become so pervasive in our world that anything less than awesome was pretty, well, un-awesome. There was a chasm between awesome-full and awesome-less. And our friend Awesome reached his untimely death falling into that chasm. Poor fella.

You see, friends, Awesome was confused. He saw himself as a goal, as a destination, as a state of being. And that is wrong. One cannot “be awesome”. 

 Try it yourself: turn to your neighbor and for the next 5 seconds try and “be awesome” to someone around you. Ready? Set. Go! 5. 4. 3. 2. 1….How’d that go? Not so easy, right? 

Truth is awesome is so over! Awesome is not a destination, it is not an action, it is not a state of being. It is really hard to be awesome, amazing or extraordinary. As we’ve just demonstrated. And yet so many businesses ask their teams to be some version of awesome, amazingly incredible or extraordinary.


Be remarkable: not so easy! Be Excellent: um, I’m not sure what you mean…. Be Extraordinary: like, extra ordinary? 


You see, awesome is like beauty: awesome is in the eye of the beholder. It’s a feeling. A result. Awesome is a perception. You can state that something is awesome or that someone made you feel awesome but it not a goal or a destination. And this is what makes it so hard to embody: it is not an actionable command. 


So many businesses strive to be “incredible,” “world class,” or “amazing,” but this is hard for employees to comprehend. These exceptional states are impossible to achieve. Just what is “incredible” anyway? 


But I have discovered the new awesome. The new incredible. And it’s right in front of us all.  It’s decency. No not “decent” but human decency. Decency is an action, a state of mind, a mission, a quest. To be a decent human being you have to show humanity, concern and care for others. This is the gateway to awesome. 

It is important to understand what true decency is. Recently we have come to equate “decent” with “average,” “standard,” or “okay,” but it actually means much more. To be decent is not about exhibiting average behavior. In fact, the word decent contains the values of being “good, kind, obliging, or generous.” Indeed, these are the hallmarks of amazing awesomeness!


Examples of decency happen all the time: the server running after a customer who has left a credit card behind, a doorman helping a woman get her shopping bags in her car, airline personnel calling for a wheelchair for an older passenger. All acts of decency that read as “incredibly awesome.” The key to showing decency is that it must be authentic and true to that particular moment. Not every older person requires a wheelchair and not every woman is a damsel in distress. And because decency is in public it is essential to building a strong company culture. 


One of the key aspects of a decent act is that it is unexpected; if you seek something in return then it’s a transaction. But when you are acting from a place of kindness and it is unexpected, then this is what makes the decent action truly extra-ordinary.


I know from my years working in hospitality that human decency is where the money is. And here’s the best part: it’s pretty easy to ask your teams to “be decent to others” or to “show human decency to strangers”. It’s an expression of our humanity and it is the tie that binds us to one another. The truth is, being decent is the gateway to being awesome. To making an impression on someone else’s life. To making it better for them. To making a memory and fortifying your company culture. 


Awesome is about me, it’s selfish. But decency is about you. Deploy decency as a value, as a motivator, as a principle. Decency is hardly “average;” in fact, it’s the most awesome thing we’ve got. 


Presented on May 15th as part of the Disrupt HR NYC meeting.

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