The Reasonable Person Principle

As readers of this blog are probably noticing, we are trying to keep a mix of technical and non-technical postings related to robotics, our company, and general small business issues.

This week, I’d like to talk about something non-technical, that is very near and dear to me. The Carnegie Mellon Reasonable Person Principle (RPP). The RPP is a set of very basic rules that were originally developed to govern usage of CMU’s computing network, and are as follows (taken from http://www.irc.perl.org/reasonable_person.html):

1. Everyone will be reasonable.
2. Everyone expects everyone else to be reasonable.
3. No one is special.
4. Do not be offended if someone suggests you are not being reasonable.

These four very simple rules apply to all areas of life, including business, and is one of the most valuable lessons I learned in my time at CMU. We try very hard to run Neya by these rules, in how we deal with each other, our customers, and our competitors. Here’s what this means to me.

The easiest case in applying RPP is in dealing with each other within the company. We treat each other with respect. We work as a team. We don’t allow company politics. We try to be as transparent about projects and business operations as possible. This is the normal stuff that all small businesses tend to be good at – especially ones that follow the “no jerk rule” (also known by a different name, but this is a family friendly blog…)

We also apply RPP to our customers. We go in and work to make sure that we and our customers are on the same page and the same team. We assume that they are not out to “get” us. In return, when a customer does ask for something that may go above and beyond, we accomodate it. We’ll go the extra mile to handle customer requests. This actually works really well and builds mutual trust. It’s another thing that small businesses can do that larger organizations may have trouble emulating at times.

The hardest one is applying RPP to competitors. However, I think it’s the most important, especially in a relatively small industry like the robotics community. While we push hard to win projects and proposals, we try hard to do so by promoting our strengths rather than other’s weaknesses. One of the great things about our industry is that sometimes we work on the same team with folks we may compete against in other efforts. That means it’s important to maintain bridges and cordial relationships. In addition, there is fluidity in the robotics job market, just like in any industry. Someone who may have worked for a competing company one day, may be your customer at a new organization. Reputation matters. Being an honest broker matters. Treating people well, and with respect, matters.

So we treat our competitors reasonably. We don’t bad-mouth them to customers. We look for ways to work with them when we can find complimentary strengths. We most especially do not take any joy in their misfortunes. Robotics is a small community, of usually like-minded individuals who have a deep interest in developing innovative technology to help alleviate the dull, dirty, and dangerous work that others do on our behalf. Especially for those of us in DoD Robotics, we are *all* working for not only the taxpayer, but more importantly, our soldiers in the field. I’d rather spend my time fighting our adversaries, than fighting competitors, who, at their core, tend to be very much like us.

The above isn’t meant to be an earth shattering revelation. It’s just a reminder that ultimately we are all on the same side. We need to pay attention to our businesses, and ensure their growth, and develop useful technology. However, it’s in everyone’s interest if we can do it reasonably.

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About the Author

Parag Batavia

Parag Batavia is the founder and president of Neya Systems, LLC. He started Neya in 2009, in order to further robotics R&D efforts, and transition them to commercial and DoD product areas. Parag has a Ph.D. in Robotics from CMU, and an MBA from Drexel. He is married, with two beautiful little girls, and is slowly trying to get back in shape now that he's hit the big 40.