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Unread 08-19-2009, 09:15 AM
JaneYoung JaneYoung is offline
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What Happens To Your Attitude Towards Gracious Professionalism When You Leave FIRST?

As students, and perhaps mentors, graduate, leave, or move on from FIRST, what happens to your attitude towards Gracious Professionalism? Towards competing like crazy and working together at the same time? Towards building community and partnerships?

The world is out there and reality is out there, too. I think there is plenty of room for GP to be a part of that reality, helping to build a stronger world.

What do you think?

Jane
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Unread 08-19-2009, 10:40 AM
Andrew Schreiber Andrew Schreiber is offline
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Re: What Happens To Your Attitude Towards Gracious Professionalism When You Leave FIR

I would disagree Jane, the real world doesn't care about being GP it cares about being profitable. Being completely blunt about it companies do not sponsor FIRST out of the goodness of their heart, they sponsor FIRST because they get something out of it. Individuals are a different story, some people do it because they want to help. Others do it merely because it is something to keep them from going crazy at work.

My general attitude towards GP was pretty well crushed once I got into the work world. The more I see the more I realize that the world isn't at all like everyone says it is. Professionalism in some work places is a joke at best, I can't tell you how many times I have literally smacked my head against a wall because a customer sends an email,
Quote:
EVERYTHING IS BROKEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!
(by the way, the solution to this problem is usually that THEY did something stupid such as unplug their computer)

I guess what I am trying to say is that FIRST makes us excited to be engineers and get out there and do some good, then the real world gets a hold of us and hits us with the rock of reality until we realized that in the end our life will be an endless series of meetings, changing requirements, changing deadlines, and dealing with our darling customers (since this is the internet and you cannot hear the sarcasm I must assure that it is there, always remember, your customer is an idiot)

It would be great if the real world were more like FIRST, competitors helping each other out, but it won't happen. No, it isn't just unlikely, it plain out WON'T EVER happen. Additionally, if it did happen we, the consumers, would be hurt. Capitalism only works because competition forces companies to innovate and drives prices lower, if companies all work together and help each other they have no reason to innovate or undercut each others prices. The basis of our modern economy is built on cutthroat tactics and being jerks to each other.

Sorry for the rant but frankly students should know that the real world is nothing like FIRST.
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Unread 08-19-2009, 11:22 AM
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Re: What Happens To Your Attitude Towards Gracious Professionalism When You Leave FIR

I treat people the way I wish to be treated for the most part (there are times when a swift kick in the butt is the most effective means to get the job done). I was that way before I joined FIRST. I will be that way when I leave FIRST (if that ever happens). Life isn't just about what you do or don't do or what does or does not happen to you but also how you choose to respond to the things going on around you.
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Unread 08-19-2009, 11:38 AM
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Re: What Happens To Your Attitude Towards Gracious Professionalism When You Leave FIR

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Originally Posted by Andrew Schreiber View Post
I would disagree Jane, the real world doesn't care about being GP it cares about being profitable.
That's not the whole story. There are many examples of companies with "multiple bottom lines" where profit is only one of the goals. Ben & Jerry's comes to mind immediately. There are also many examples of groups being set up to promote cooperation, where profit is an explicit non-goal -- the entire concept of a not-for-profit organization, for example.

Quote:
It would be great if the real world were more like FIRST, competitors helping each other out, but it won't happen. No, it isn't just unlikely, it plain out WON'T EVER happen.
It won't necessarily happen on its own, or due to Adam Smith's "invisible hand". But when people in power have experience with the global optimum that can be achieved when selfish local maxima are recognized as not being the best possible outcome, it can -- and does -- happen.

Quote:
Sorry for the rant but frankly students should know that the real world is nothing like FIRST.
FIRST aims to change that. People tend to act to meet expectations. Telling them it is an impossible target is counterproductive.
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Unread 08-19-2009, 12:19 PM
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Re: What Happens To Your Attitude Towards Gracious Professionalism When You Leave FIR

Boy Andrew, you must have had some bad experiences.

The goal of FIRST is to CHANGE the society that we are in. If you thought that when you reached the real world that everything would be roses then we mislead you. What FIRST wants is that you will be prepared and shown a different way to deal with issues and start to implement were you can. Fill the bucket 1 drop at a time. Will it be easy? NOPE!!! Will you get discouraged? YEP!!! Can you make a difference? Well that one is up to you.

As for working together in the real world and showing GP, yes it is there and can be done. With my job I work with different suppliers and different competition. In both cases things that I have learned in FIRST have allowed me to approach things differently and every time I have gotten better results than those that met with confrontation. The end result every time should be that you (your company) look good without tearing the others down. By doing this GP wins out. The result may not be that you win or get your way BUT people see a positive win-win type of person that they will want representing them.
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Unread 08-19-2009, 12:59 PM
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Re: What Happens To Your Attitude Towards Gracious Professionalism When You Leave FIR

I believe the "real world" is roughly 20% more "jadedness-inducing" than you allow it to be. The obvious solution is to only allow the real world to have negative jade induction coefficients.

I will admit that it takes a lot of effort to stay positive, and that I do not always succeed. It is amazing how some people/groups public and private faces differ. However, it is even more amazing and reinvigorating to meet the rare person that is GP without trying to be. I met many people while helping with the new control system that I owe my sanity to.
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Unread 08-19-2009, 01:59 PM
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Re: What Happens To Your Attitude Towards Gracious Professionalism When You Leave FIR

There are days when I come home from work and am absolutely depressed by how jaded, profit-oriented, and sometimes even dishonest life in real world industry can be. Most businesses (but certainly not all, as Alan pointed out) have a single objective - to make money and stay in business.

Still, I have to challenge the assertion that GP and capitalism are mutually exclusive. Indeed, "greedy" local optimization of profit is often detrimental to the long term sustainability of a business. I cite the following experiences I've had working for a large defense contractor:

1. Many (as a matter of fact, almost all) of our projects are orchestrated by teams of multiple different companies working together. Nobody sells a complete fighter jet package to the US Government. One company makes the avionics, one does the fuselage, one does the engine, etc. Simply put, your competitor one week may be your teammate the next. In this way, the real world is much like FIRST. And if your company is a pain in the butt to deal with, word will get around.

2. The Internet, Digg, Reddit, Twitter, Consumerist, etc., are increasing the visibility of corporate actions to ordinary citizens. Every time a large company changes a policy that screws its customers, people now hear about it. Likewise, truly charitable acts by companies get a lot more publicity now than they have in the past.

3. Technology is a *very* competitive field. There are tons of engineers out there, but the very best ones are in high demand. Again, word gets around. Jobs where people work 60 hours a week in meeting rooms, filling out paperwork, and dealing with mind-numbing minutiae won't attract the very best, at least not for long. Google is a good example - through their revolutionary work culture, they have managed to lure talent away from the warehouses filled with cubicles, despite somewhat smaller paychecks.

It sounds like Andrew works at a place that has fallen into the trap of greedy profit mongering over all else. But more and more work places - mine, fortunately, included - have realized that there is so much more. Yes, you will all have to sit through boring meetings, and there are some people at every workplace who are about as un-GP as you can get, but if you are able to see past these things and control the things that you can control (i.e. your own attitude towards work), then most people will find that our world is one that you can live in.
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Unread 08-19-2009, 02:11 PM
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Re: What Happens To Your Attitude Towards Gracious Professionalism When You Leave FIR

Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrew Schreiber View Post
Professionalism in some work places is a joke at best, I can't tell you how many times I have literally smacked my head against a wall because a customer sends an email

...

I guess what I am trying to say is that FIRST makes us excited to be engineers and get out there and do some good, then the real world gets a hold of us and hits us with the rock of reality until we realized that in the end our life will be an endless series of meetings, changing requirements, changing deadlines, and dealing with our darling customers

...
I think this is actually a good example of why gracious professionalism is so important. The way frustrating situations like these are handled can speak volumes about a person, and can have a profound effect on how interactions with said person are handled in the future. If your interactions in "the real world" are always both gracious and professional, you will eventually make a name for yourself as a respectable person who should be treated accordingly. If the people you are interacting with don't catch on and lack professionalism, they will not come to be known as reputable individuals/companies, and this reputation will begin to affect them as well.

I am still fairly young, so I am often initially greeted by disbelief and disdain from people in "the real world". I am organizing MIT's Career Fair, which entails a lot of interactions with companies in the business world, so this has come up a lot recently. Student-run career fairs, especially of the size of MIT's Career Fair, are virtually nonexistent, so people tend not to take us seriously at first. Coupled with the anonymity of the internet, I get a lot of demands, complaints, and reactions with an attitude along the lines of "pfft, you're 18, I've been working in HR since before you were born, what could you possibly know?"

I get dozens of emails daily from people who seem to be unable to read, count, follow basic instructions, or work with standard modern office technology, and it is incredibly frustrating. Sometimes I feel like tearing my hair out, but I always reply politely and professionally and help people work through the issues they've encountered. After seeing my responses and demeanor, the attitude of the other party towards me typically changes to be much more respectful, which helps our interactions significantly. Similarly, when company representatives initially treat me with respect and understanding, I am much more likely to grant them favors. It works the other way, too- most companies do not turn a blind eye towards blatantly rude and unprofessional staff. We worked with a VP of HR earlier this summer who constantly acted childish and unprofessional, so we eventually moved our negotiations directly to the CEO. When he found out about her behavior through some of her emails and phone calls, she was fired.

I think most people do care about gracious professionalism in the workplace, though they may not call it by that name. It is a valuable force which can lead to better interactions and relationships with partners and competitors alike, and most people do seem to recognize that, at least in my experience.

Jane, thank you for another interesting topic to reflect on.
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Unread 08-19-2009, 04:02 PM
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Re: What Happens To Your Attitude Towards Gracious Professionalism When You Leave FIR

Just follow the mantra of the future.

"Be excellent to everyone"

There's a reason the future depicted in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure is a nice place. I have found in my life that if you treat people with respect, they will be more likely to respect you and help you. There's a reason customer service reps speak calmly and call you m'am and sir on the phone; they want to do thier job the best they can.

Act with respect toward everyone in your goings on, even if others do not do the same. At the very least, I've found that most people are very uncomfortable being agressive to a laid-back person.
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Unread 08-19-2009, 05:09 PM
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Re: What Happens To Your Attitude Towards Gracious Professionalism When You Leave FIR

I'd estimate that 90% of what I do is not gracious at all, but rather more awkward than anything. Got a puppy in June ... I had an idea but really didn't understand what I was getting into, and still haven't had a full night's sleep since I got him. Started a new project in January ... it's been one tumble after another at work and it's a miracle I've even solved a single problem. I'm starting my Master's degree in 2 weeks, yet have no clue how I'm going to manage it all. So I've been many things this year, but gracious hasn't been at the forefront. It's been downright awkward, hard, and confusing at points. Professionalism occurs only when necessary (I'm a pretty mellow guy...).

It is the other 10% of the time that things truly shine, and is when I've learned to embrace the one quote I'll never forget: "You cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created it". In the real world it seems that companies who forget that eventually go under; go figure they also usually lack any sort of public grace or professionalism. Just stay out of the way so you don't get dragged down too.
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Unread 08-19-2009, 05:09 PM
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Re: What Happens To Your Attitude Towards Gracious Professionalism When You Leave FIR

Quote:
Originally Posted by JaneYoung View Post
As students, and perhaps mentors, graduate, leave, or move on from FIRST, what happens to your attitude towards Gracious Professionalism? Towards competing like crazy and working together at the same time? Towards building community and partnerships?

The world is out there and reality is out there, too. I think there is plenty of room for GP to be a part of that reality, helping to build a stronger world.

What do you think?

Jane

I think that this is exactly what we're all supposed to be doing. If we aren't producing students and adults who have the courage to live the ideals set forth by our founders in the larger world, then we have failed. No matter how cool the robots are.

Andrew, you are right. That's why we must produce the folks who will act with grace and integrity, despite the total lack of it in others. If we don't send forward the folks who are courageous enough to do the right thing in the face of adversity, perhaps no one else will.

my .02.
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Unread 08-19-2009, 08:05 PM
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Re: What Happens To Your Attitude Towards Gracious Professionalism When You Leave FIR

It's easy to think FIRST simply teaches Gracious Professionalism. However, I think it is important to recognize that FIRST has gone out of its way to design a competition that Rewards GP. FIRST introduced alliances so that even if you happen to care a lot about winning, it's still in your best interest to help others. FIRST has made clear to everyone that its highest honor goes to the team that most effectively spreads interest in math and science in its community. FIRST has created a situation where the incentives of the competition align with the ideals of GP. I think this is the difference many try to grapple with when they leave FIRST and go into the real world. Society at large does not reward GP-like behavior as much, and sometimes, it can feel like a burden. The incentives to get ahead may not align with their idealism.
FIRST definitely has a positive influence on nearly all who are involved. It does a great deal to help kids see the value in maintaining your integrity. However, if you really want to talk seriously about changing the world, you can't avoid considering what incentives the system provides. Some may be able to maintain GP in an apparent zero-sum environment, but many will not. We are all human after all.
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Unread 08-19-2009, 08:30 PM
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Re: What Happens To Your Attitude Towards Gracious Professionalism When You Leave FIR

Okay, my turn to ramble. Seriously though, I believe this story is worth the read to anyone that is interested in exploring the ideas of this thread.

I have been in the customer service business for 4 years as a cashier and 2 years as a tutor. This is not engineering. I know that. But I deal with the same type of customers as everyone else. I have people who want to take their dog in the grocery store, the person that can't read a sign, and others that simply like to be rude to the cashier.

I have grown a reputation at the store over the years. I have customers that specifically come through my line. I am also the cashier that the managers like to send annoying customers to. Because I am good with them. I am always polite and respectful to the customer. I make polite conversation and always make sure I charge the fair price. If I know a way they can save some money, I suggest it and even run to switch their items. I make sure every customer that needs help to their car gets it. And always make sure the carryout(some may know them as bag boys) is doing their job properly. I would like to believe I have worked every day at that store graciously and with utmost professionalism. The customers know this and are always sure to tell me that they appreciate it. The other day I had a customer call the store to compliment my work. I have 7 days left at that work. And I'm going to really miss the place. I can honestly say every memory I have of the place is positive and I wish I could work there for years to come.

The moral of this story: A healthy respect for the customer, dedication to your job, and a positive outlook can make even the most trivial and monotonous job into a wonderful experience.
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Unread 08-19-2009, 09:24 PM
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Re: What Happens To Your Attitude Towards Gracious Professionalism When You Leave FIR

Andrew is right, competition is the lubrication that keeps our economy and industries moving forward. If you remove this lubrication, the system will seize up and become stagnant. Do competitive practices in the business world preclude graciously professional behaviour? In my mind absolutely not. A few years ago I had the opportunity to listen to FIRST Chairman John Abele give a speech to a group of corporate executives on the topic of competitive business practices. John said: (I'm paraphrasing this from memory) "There are two ways to compete in this world, you can drag your competitors down, or you can rise above them. Which is better for the world in the long run?". It is this attitude that I carry with me in my dealings in the work world. I am always going to be a ferocious competitor, but that doesn't mean I'm going to behave in shady or underhanded manners. I make it my mission to always aim to rise above competitors as opposed to partaking in acts that are not gracious or professional in an effort to drag my competitors down. It may sound trite, but I know that at the end of the day I sleep better knowing that I've maintained my integrity.

In my mind John Abele is the best role model we have in FIRST. He has proven that being successful in the ultra-competive business world and being a gracious professional are not mutually exclusive. If we each took a page out of his book, we could go a long way in making the world a more palatable, yet a still progressive and productive place.
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Unread 08-19-2009, 10:08 PM
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Re: What Happens To Your Attitude Towards Gracious Professionalism When You Leave FIR

Being fresh out of FIRST, I feel that GP has helped me a lot since I got to college. In interviews I always try to stress the concept and how I can use it to my advantage while doing the job. I personally say that this has helped me get two small jobs on campus: dorm desk attendant, and dodge ball ref.
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