Could robotics’ kids could teach adults some ‘Gracious Professionalism’?

Newsflash: Not all kids are staring at their phones.

Ever walked into a mall and thought the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, watching teenagers ‘socialize?’

I had the opportunity to see another side of kids and technology, at a robotics tournament yesterday. The event is part of the FIRST Lego League events, that challenges young kids to put their minds to robotics. (There are a series of such events going on across the country over the next few weeks.)

Salt River Elementary School, Robotics - Gracious Professionalism

It’s a different lens. You get to peer into the future, watching a bunch of 12-year olds get themselves in and out of a sticky situation, and employ communication skills we wish some grown-ups had. You see them go through all stages: panic, disagreement, leadership and teamwork. When things go awry, they often problem-solve and improvise on the spot. (And there’s not an App in sight!) And best of all, they celebrate each other’s success –even competitors at the next table.

If only Congress would work like this, I thought.

And then it dawned on me. These kids will be the ones on Capitol Hill, someday. Or running our institutions, setting our agendas…

The FIRST Lego League requires that we adults promote what it calls ‘gracious professionalism’ in our teams. (The term was coined by Dr. Woodie Flowers, a professor at MIT), because that is how the grown-up world works. But the reality is, such a brand of professionalism in many facets of business and governance is more the exception than the rule. It’s a winner-takes-all world, we are often reminded.

But here at the FLL level, we teach our students to consider failure as a wonderful learning opportunity, and to not be obsessed by trophies. One of the core values they must exhibit is enlightening:

“What we discover is more important that what we win.”

Then, at the end of the day, the results show up on the large screen. Your heart sinks as you see the wide gap between the team that has mastered every mission, and those that had epic failures as their bot went off track, and wrecked their team’s chance of making it to the State tournament. But they quickly get over that and enjoy the moment.

They’re our gracious professionals in the making. 

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