To Err is Human


Last week it was the football manager Sam Allardyce. Before that it was Keith Vaz. The list of people who have made mistakes of judgement or else simply acted in a human way, and have paid for it with their jobs, is long. We all know it will get longer.

It was in the reporting of the Allardyce story that we again heard a call that the behaviour of the person holding this office, professionally and personally, must be “whiter than white”. But what does that mean? Are you allowed a single mistake of judgement without losing your whiter than white status? Are you allowed to retain self-interest? Or must you go out into the world Christ-like as the rest of us mere mortals reach for the hem of your cloak?

Let’s agree on some facts shall we? Some people take steps to minimise their tax bill (I’ve done this) if only by paying cash in hand specifically to avoid VAT. Some people take drugs and some have odd sexual preferences. Some people spend time (perhaps on a daily basis) examining legal and other regulatory frameworks and maximising their self or organisational interest without technically failing to comply. Some people are driven in part in their decision making by fears, hopes, insecurities, and their attempts for dominance. Some people speed in their cars. Some people read over other peoples’ shoulders. Some people walk on the grass, others run with scissors and some play with fire.

So my question is, if we agree this happens, how do we get out of a loop in which anybody in a responsible position is ejected from office for displaying one or more of these human traits? Why the mock horror and (surely) artificial sense of outrage when somebody is seen to fall short of the whiter than white test?

One of the reasons that I’m interested in this question is that it extends our usual debates out from what we can do in the workplace and into what we can do in wider society including the media. How do we move, as others in the Future of Work is Human project have called for, to a position in which our humanity is not seen as a problem but as our salvation and strength.

Once we accept that none of us could pass this ridiculous whiter than white test, we can surely shift to a more sophisticated and more human way of thinking about suitability for office and our place in organisations. By deliberately shedding this façade of purity and faux innocence, we can create an environment in which reports of these so called ‘scandals’ have all the impact of a flasher on a nudist beach. It is our first step back to humanity and our first tentative steps to a new Eden.


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