What can the Real Estate Industry Learn from FIRST Robotics?

by Kevin Hawkins on April 20, 2016

Robots are crobotool. High school students building 120-pound robots in just six weeks to compete in sporting-like competition with and against other robots is cooler. Being a mentor for a local FIRST Robotics team, Spartronics Team 4915 of Bainbridge Island, Washington since it’s inception three years ago is the coolest, most rewarding, non-profit volunteering experience I have ever had.

I have learned so much, and it got me to thinking about a couple of concepts that define FIRST and how it relates to what I do.

So what could the real estate industry learn from FIRST Robotics?

First About FIRST

25 years ago, Dean Kamen, an inventor extraordinaire, and MIT Mechanical Engineering Professor Dr. Woodie Flowers, created FIRST Robotics. They wanted to find a way to transform our culture from celebrating our sports and entertainment stars, to creating a world where students dream to become science and technology leaders. FIRST – or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology – offers robotics programs for grades K-12.

The top tier – FIRST Robotics Competition or FRC – is comprised of high school-aged teams who compete head to head on a special playing field with robots they have designed, built, and programmed. The game that is played changes every year and combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology and why it is called the “Sport for the Mind.”

More than 3,000 FRC teams, 75,000 students, 19,000 mentors in 24 countries all start their robot build on the same day in early January and must finish and “bag” their robot on the same day, six weeks later. The kickoff day for the “build season” unveils the game to be played each year.

This year’s game is called Stronghold, and consists of two Alliances: a red Alliance and a blue Alliance. Each Alliance consists of three teams, randomly selected for the initial matches. Each team has four players (coach, driver, shooter, and human player) and their robot, which is custom designed and built. No two robots are ever the same.

Cooperating and Competing

Unique to FIRST Robotics is a philosophy and culture that may sound very familiar to real estate agents. Real estate sales may be the only business where your competitor is also your collaborator, and the person you are competing against also may be responsible for your next paycheck.

In FIRST, this concept is called Coopertition®. The idea is that teams can and should help and cooperate with each other even as they compete. What real estate can learn from FIRST is its charge to students and mentors to display “unqualified kindness and respect in the face of fierce competition.”

Coopertition means managing and being managed. It means competing always, but assisting and enabling others when you can.

How this manifests itself in FIRST has been life changing for many involved, including me. One example: This year, our robotics team was recently chosen at a District Event for Quarterfinal matches by the top-seeded Alliance. Unfortunately, we experienced a flurry of issues with our robot throughout the competition and during a Finals match, our robot broke down as our voltage regulator module or VRM had failed. While we were trying to install a replacement VRM in our robot, two students from another Seattle area team, CyberKnights 4911, came to us with their spare VRM (and PDP), asking if we need parts or help putting them together: They were our opponents in the finals, which our Alliance would win.

I would tell my family at dinner that the relationship between our two teams is like two brothers who play for different football teams, yet when we meet on the field and play against each other, we both want to win badly, so we compete to our highest potential. This pushes the both of us to be better and the best win is when we both are playing at our full capability.

But at the end of the day, regardless of who won and who lost, we can go home, sit down and have dinner together, just like family should.

Gracious Professionalism

The second cultural concept from FIRST to consider is something that Dr. Woodie Flowers coined: Gracious Professionalism. This is also at the core of Coopertition.

As FIRST defines it, “Gracious Professionalism is a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community. With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process. They avoid treating anyone like losers. No chest thumping tough talk, but no sticky-sweet platitudes either. Knowledge, competition, and empathy are comfortably blended. In the long run, Gracious Professionalism is part of pursuing a meaningful life. One can add to society and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing one has acted with integrity and sensitivity.”

What can real estate learn?

FIRST core principals – Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition – if practiced universally, would take the real estate sales profession to a whole new level. Imagine an industry as competitive as ever – which means providing the best customer service ever – yet built on kindness and respect “comfortably blended” with both knowledge and empathy.

I know this concept is too much to hope for in Presidential candidates, but couldn’t everyone in real estate benefit from those two core principals of FIRST Robotics?

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