Why I didn’t get a 4.0 in College (The first time anyway)

My undergrad GPA was 3.97.  In all off my classes but one I earned an “A”.  I steered clear of the dreaded (by me) “A-“.  However, ultimately, I got one non-“A” grade — a “B-” in International Marketing.

I am proud of this “B-” for a variety of reasons.  But let me first tell you quick story…

I signed up for International Marketing because it satisfied two university pre-requisites 1) Multi-cultural. 2) Global.  Two birds, one stone.  It also looked to be an easy “A”.  Finally, it seem like a class that would have a good percentage of female students. Hey, a lonely engineer can and should play the odds!

Anyhow, things went well at first.  I was invited to several study groups, and I picked one based on the attractiveness and relative intelligence of the students.  I finished midterms with a solid A.

Everything seemed fine until the final exam.  The professor said that the final exam would be take-home, open-book, and open-note.  It would be graded on a curve.

I took my test home and started answering it.  It was a difficult and unusual test.  Questions like “The 5th P of marketing is _________” and “The example of _________ in Japan shows how the supply/demand curve can be invalid.”  I soon got contacts and calls from my teammates and classmates asking to “share answers.”  I refused.  They were baffled and said, “everyone is doing it, why shouldn’t you?”  I said, “I don’t cheat.” Some looked at me as if I had the plague.  I suppose they feared I would rat them out.  I did neither.  I did not cheat, and I did not rat.

I got a “D” on my final exam and initially a “C” for the course.  I went to the professor and complained that the 5th P was distribution AKA place, and so on.  He agreed to change my grade to “B-” because of my previous grades and my demonstration of knowledge.  As I said, I did not rat out my fellow students who had cheated.

It is ironic, perhaps, that I got a B- on an easy class.  International Marketing was not nearly as hard as Solid-State Physics 2. Believe me!  How does the barrier voltage of a PN junction respond to an increase of 10 degrees Kelvin? List the factors that determine your decision.  That is HARD.  What if the n-type doping is increased 10X?  That is relatively HARD.

I could have cheated and gotten an A, but I would not have earned an A. I probably could have ratted out those who I knew had cheated and also gotten an A — but that is simply not my style.  I got a “B-“, but I did it my way!

That was not the only take home exam in my undergrad.  All the rest were in engineering courses… and I was never asked to cheat.  I think that speaks to the psychology of most engineers. We, in general, do not lie, cheat, or steal.  That does not mean that there are not exceptions.  It only means that I have seen few.

What is the moral of my short tale? 1) Professors — Don’t give take-home tests. 2) When in doubt, trust Engineers. 3) Don’t cheat.  You will sleep easier.

What does this have to do with entrepreneurship?  A lot!  You WILL be faced with moral dilemma on a regular basis and you will feel like the fate of your business is on the line.  And it may well be. It is tough– tougher than I ever imagined. I have stretched the truth, and I have regretted it.  But I have also told the truth when I made a mistake on an Excel spreadsheet that it is very unlikely anyone would have noticed.  I have said “I made a mistake, attached to this email is the correction, I apologize for the oversight.”  And, OH!, the relief in hearing back from my client: “Thanks for pointing that out.  We appreciate your diligence.”  [These are not exact quotes, but they are my best recollection.]

I have learned, contrary to popular belief, that honesty can and does work. Further, to err is human. If you admit (your own personal) human error, the “good guys” will appreciate the candor. If you get significant backlash to admitting error, you are probably working with the wrong people.

I have learned to sculpt and even, sometimes, bend the truth.  However, the truth remains intact. Wordsmithing is necessary and important. Retaining personal integrity is even more important. Admitting and correcting mistakes is the best course of action — the sooner the better.  Just ask GM!

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