One of the unique aspects of FIRST LEGO League is the emphasis on Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition.
With academic subjects we are taught to spend our entire time in school to compete against everyone else for the highest score on the curve. There has been a trend to integrate more teamwork into academic studies, but in the end it is you alone that either get the A or accepted to the college of your choice, not a team. The prestige of a degree strongly correlates to a high rejection rate which just intensifies the competition for the few open spots.
With sports, individuals or teams ruthlessly compete against other individuals or teams in a zero sum game. The more losers we leave in our wake the more prestigious our victory. Popular sports like basketball and football even institutionalize adding insult to injury via ingrained trash talk and showboating. For the entertainment sport of professional wrestling, the verbal trash talk drama is as important if not more so than the physical match.
Strong individual talent and a competitive team spirit are great assets, but they only take you so far. In fact, overdone, they are self limiting and even self-defeating. A talented individual with a “difficult personality” under-utilizes opportunities open to them and/or is often relegated to a cubicle or low-visibility position to minimize the damage a disagreeable personality can do to the team and organization.
A strong team player who can’t see beyond their immediate environment is likely destined to become a follower and simple cog in a bureaucratic machine. Although such a person will have much better prospects than a peer lacking teamwork skills, they will once again be self-limited to working within roles defined for them by others and following orders.
A skill beyond simple individual success and well-defined teamwork is the ability to make connections and friendships with new people and expand one’s social network. Most people are either born with the curiosity, drive and openness to do this naturally or learn it in the course of their careers.
I’ve not seen it formally taught, but it’s easy to observe networking and outreach skills among groups of the extremely successful including: Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, finance deal makers, politicians building a support base and any elite university like Stanford or Harvard MBAs. As any entrepreneur or politician can tell you, a powerful social networks usually trumps everything because from that can arise everything else that paves the way to success: money, talent, sales, partnerships, laws/regulations, etc. As many jailed corrupt Chinese politicians/businessmen can tell you, naked money without powerful networks can ultimately lead to nothing.
In today’s hyper-competitive world, the FLL principles of Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition seem quaint, counterintuitive and even self-defeating. However, judiciously and honestly applied – they are at the heart of the greatest possible personal and professional success and fulfillment.
We are programmed by nature and taught by education and sports that life is a zero-sum game. If someone else wins, we lose. However, to create something far beyond our limited abilities we need to reach out and see others as opportunities, resources and potential allies in overcoming the seemingly impossible, not as competitors or threats. FLL is unique in giving kids the opportunity to experience the power of this insight.