· 2 min read · Features

Now is the opportunity for a cultural clean slate, says former NBA star John Amaechi


The radical changes of the past few months calls for a rejection of the ‘new normal’, according to NBA star John Amaechi.

A psychologist and CEO of consultancy Amaechi Performance Systems, Amaechi’s keynote at the CIPD’s Festival of Work was on the topic of self-directed learning. A concept which, due to both COVID-19 and a recently renewed focus on the Black Lives Matter movement, he said has become the centre of life.

“We've suddenly realised that learning is the route to safety, right? Learning how to use PPE, even learning how to wash our hands. We didn't even know that we didn't know how to wash our hands. And this is the problem with learning. We mostly don't know what we don't know.”

Many, particularly in the HR sector, are hopeful that the current circumstances can catalyse a fundamental shift in the way we work and live. Yet in order to do that, Amaechi said we need to become a “learning culture” that sees this as an opportunity to truly reinvent.

“The new normal is a terrible phrase and you should abandon it. The new normal is about everything being as similar as possible to how it was [...] And I'm telling you right now that we need to move past that if we want a learning culture, if we want to embrace innovation, if we want to have equity. I'm calling for a cultural clean slate,” he said.

Instead of considering how to adapt old system, Amaechis suggested now was a chance for leaders to start over. He added: “Use this as an opportunity to say, “How would we work for the highest performance, the highest productivity, the highest human thriving?”

He also addressed diversity issues of HR and the challenges it is presented with speaking directly on the concept of learning about race.

“I want to do something useful for you in terms of race. I've been on the TV every day talking about this. And you may be tired of talking about this. And if you are I don't mean to be mean, but you're part of the problem. Because the only way that we solve anything, whether it be a strategic goal or otherwise, is to have it continually on the agenda.”

For this, Amaechi outlined his “Anti Racism Quick Wins.”

  1. Stop being surprised - “It wounds my soul to see the surprise on the face of white people because it tells me that for their entire lives, they have been unaware of something that they could have helped stop.”
  2. Understand that being well-meaning is not enough - “Being truly well-meaning means skilling yourself up to a point where you can be useful. That’s what being an ally is.”
  3. Black people aren't your library and they aren't your librarians - “For many of the organisations that you are a part of, there will not be a huge number of black people. And they can't be responsible for stopping the racism that they suffer.”
  4. We've got to stop doing interventions that don't or won't work: stop upskilling minorities - “We need to stop armoring minorities with education and instead de-weaponise the cultures that we oversee. You need to stop looking at this as a deficit model, like people aren't broken [...] And when you do that, you suddenly realise who needs learning.”