Posted by: rebeccajrobare | August 29, 2017

Refusing the Faustian Bargain: “Hide and Q”

Blog note: That was quite the hiatus! I had a little bit of work, followed hard on by a series of family medical mishaps. And since my kids aren’t yet old enough to watch TV while I get things done. . . (It’s amazing how quickly good intentions around screen time evaporate!) Though one of the boys was riveted by a documentary on Nikola Tesla. . . my suspicion is that the pan-across-the-photographs, Ken-Burns style of program is easier for a baby to look at than a frenetic cartoon. But I digress. On to today’s lesson on leadership.

Mission Summary: Q comes back, kidnaps most of the bridge crew, trades Shakespearean barbs with Picard, and offers Riker the powers of the Q. Riker progresses quickly from refusing to use his new powers to wanting to accept a place in the Q continuum. He offers his friends “gifts” to mark his departure, but each one refuses, and Riker realizes that this is not a path he wants to take. Q departs, apparently snatched away by his angry fellow Q.

Lessons on Leadership: Two moments stand out in Capt. Picard’s handling of this mission. One, when Lt. Yar is returned to the Bridge by herself after having been abducted along with the rest of the bridge crew,  sans Picard, she finds herself in tears at frustration at having an enemy she can’t fight. Her strength and intelligence simply do her no good against an all-powerful and capricious enemy. Picard does not embarrass her for crying, and helps her regain control. Picard consistently has accepted his officers’ emotions as a valuable part of them, never making them feel guilty for having strong emotions and only correcting the actions they may take in the line of duty, particularly in the case where anger or fear may elicit a violent or aggressive response when this is not the best course of action. Certainly in non-Starfleet life, it’s rare to find a leader who can manage emotions and emotionality so deftly in their staff.

Second, near the end of the mission, when Cmdr. Riker intends to leave the Enterprise to join the Q, Picard refuses a gift on his own behalf but allows Riker to offer gifts to others among the crew. Every gift is refused – a Klingon woman for Worf (and I have to wonder about Riker’s judgement, that he thinks a sentient being fit to give, as though she were property! Reviewing this mission, I can only hope that this shows how quickly the power of the Q can corrupt a person’s ethics, and is not emblematic of Riker’s general approach to life, women, or sex); sight for LaForge; a skipped decade for Wesley Crusher, making him instantly a man; and an offer to make Data human. When each colleague has refused, Riker turns to Picard, realizing that Picard knew that this would happen. In the intoxication of his newfound power, Riker has forgotten that the other crew members value who they are now, regardless of loneliness, disability, impatience, or unfulfilled goals. Riker now understands that these are not gifts of beneficence, but tricks that have a string attached. Picard could not have elicited this realization in Riker just by telling him. He knew that Riker needed the experience of being rejected, several times, in order to understand, and he trusted the crew to reject the fulfillment of their fantasies. Whatever Picard’s flaws during some of the other missions we have reviewed, he has a remarkable understanding of his crew’s psychology, and that leads in this mission to a total success.

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Posted by: rebeccajrobare | July 26, 2017

Encountering a Trojan Horse: “The Battle”

Mission Summary: The Ferengi have asked for Captain Picard by name, and Starfleet is happy to welcome this peaceful overture. The commander of the Ferengi ship, DaiMon Bok, has a gift for the Captain: his former ship, the Stargazer, found drifting after having been abandoned by Picard and his crew following a battle in which the Stargazer had destroyed an unidentified vessel that had attacked unprovoked. This ship turns out to have been Ferengi. Bok’s crew is confused; they can understand selling the Stargazer to Picard, but giving it away? It’s just not done.

Picard and the Enterprise crew find the peace offering to be odd, but take the Stargazer in tow, beaming over to check it out. Dr. Crusher accompanies Picard, as she is concerned about headaches he has been having, headaches which appear to have no cause. While packing up possessions from his former cabin on Stargazer, Picard is overcome by pain. He and Crusher beam back to the Enterprise, and Worf follows with Picard’s things.

Crusher is concerned about these causeless headaches, and Counselor Troi also knows that something is up — Picard appears to be having intrusive thoughts, but the thoughts that are intruding are also his own. This is patently an attempt to get Picard to admit to some guilt, as ship’s logs found on the Stargazer include a confession that Picard destroyed a peaceful Ferengi vessel and damaged the Stargazer in an attempt to cover it up. None of the Enterprise crew believe this, and it doesn’t take them long to prove that the confession was falsified.

In the meantime, Picard has ordered the Stargazer released from the tractor beam, allowing her momentum to carry her along beside Enterprise. Once this has been done, he beams over, and is surprised to meet DaiMon Bok on the Stargazer‘s bridge. Bok is equipped with a glowing orb that he  manipulates to increase Picard’s headache and Picard collapses, overcome by the pain. Bok explains that his son was the commander of the vessel Picard had destroyed all those years ago, and he is taking revenge for his son’s death. Bok beams away, leaving the sphere behind.

A similar sphere has been found in Picard’s quarters, hidden among his possessions from the Stargazer. Commander Riker contacts the Ferengi vessel and speaks to the second in command, who identifies the sphere as an illegal thought-controlling device. Riker signals the Stargazer, which is preparing to launch an attack on the Enterprise; at his instruction, Picard destroys the sphere and, once more in command of his own thoughts, aborts the attack. In coda, the Ferengi second tells Riker that he is now in command — he has ordered DaiMon Bok arrested and confined, for the crime of a personal venture with no profit in it.

On Leadership: Another day, another form of mind control. It’s a wonder starships are captained by humans at all, if we are so susceptible to mind control. In just 9 missions since the Enterprise set out with Picard in command, Picard has lost possession of his faculties three times. Once, in response to a sort of contagious illness (“The Naked Now”), once by merger with an energy being (“Lonely Among Us”), and now due to a telepathic weapon.

The leadership lessons I see here are to have good people, to trust your people, and to foster an environment where your people trust each other. While Picard is being manipulated by a bereaved father with a grudge, his crew are performing to the top level expected of Starfleet officers. They never believe the fabricated confession, and find the proof of the deception handily. Riker never threatens the Ferengi vessel, instead enlisting the help of his counterpart. The best that can be said of Picard is that when Riker contacts him on the Stargazer, he trusts Riker even in the midst of pain and flashback, following Riker’s instructions and thereby freeing himself of the telepathic influence of the orb.

It is interesting to me that starship captains are so vulnerable to outside influences over their minds. Of course, the three situations seen in these early missions are of entirely different origin; a defense against telepathic interference wouldn’t have impacted the other situations in which Picard loses control. Picard’s continued confidence in himself is inspiring. A less experienced commander could be forgiven for feeling uncertain about their own decisions after all this. In so far as we all have moments in which we lose control — mostly due to our own emotions, and not any external influence — we can learn to trust our teammates, and how to recover from these situations with grace.

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | July 20, 2017

Wrestling with the Prime Directive: “Justice”

Mission Summary: The Enterprise is negotiating with a planet to allow the crew to take shore leave. Rubicun III is beautiful, with welcoming natives (the Edo) and no crime. After initial discussions are favorable, Commander Riker takes a larger away team to the planet, including Acting Ensign Wesley Crusher, to evaluate the planet’s suitability for visits by the Enterprise‘s children and families.

At about the time that Lt. Yar discovers why there is no crime on the planet, Wesley, while playing with some local children, trips over a fence and falls into a screened-off plant bed. Immediately, two peacekeepers trot along the path, prepared to execute Wesley on the spot for the crime of disturbing growing plants. Riker, Yar, and Worf manage to forestall the execution, and Wesley is incarcerated pending further discussion of whether it is, in fact, correct to execute a visiting youth for accidental trespass.

In orbit, Picard and Data are confronted with another mystery, that of an orbiting construction that seems to be physically present yet strangely immaterial. An emanation of energy from this object enters data, warns against interference with its “children”, and leaves as mysteriously as it appeared. Aware that Wesley’s fate is contingent upon his proper understanding of this culture, Picard asks one of the Edo’s representatives to beam up to the Enterprise. He shows her the orbiting object out the window and she immediately kneels before it, acknowledging it as god. The being in the orbiter threatens the Enterprise with a collision course if the woman is not immediately returned to the surface, and she is beamed directly from the conference room back to the planet.

The interrelated questions faced by Picard are what to do about Wesley, who is still under threat of execution, and what his responsibility is under the Prime Directive, which prevents him from interfering with events on the planet. In addition, the powerful god of the Edo may act against them, should they attempt to violate their own principles. Dr Crusher pleads with the Captain to prevent Wesley’s execution, which of course he will. Beaming down to the planet, Picard explains the dilemma to the Edo and attempts to leave with Wesley and the rest of the away team; suddenly the transporters are not working. Presuming interference by the orbiting god, Picard explains further that his responsibility to protect the lives of the crew and families under his care are a higher principle than even the Prime Directive. The god allows them to return to the Enterprise, and becomes immaterial once more as they warp away.

On Leadership: I’m afraid I have rather a harsh opinion about this mission, and that is that it was botched from the beginning. If the Edo society is covered under the Prime Directive of noninterference, why was the Enterprise negotiating for shore leave there in the first place? Surely it would have been more appropriate to find another planet, either uninhabited or already warp-capable, for shore leave, even if leave is being recommended on medical grounds. The Edo were peaceful and welcoming, and not distressed by being visited by offworlders with more advanced technology, but I am imagining the Earth being visited by, say, the Vulcans, in advance of Zefram Cochrane’s first warp flight, and I think the Enterprise was very lucky that the Edo were more peaceable, more united as a people, and less suspicious than Terrans of the twenty-first century. Humans would probably have shot the away team on sight, bombed the Enterprise, and then argued about the significance of alien visitors. If the Prime Directive was violated on this mission, surely it was the decision to make contact with the Edo that violated it.

The Edo cannot be held entirely blameless themselves, because death is in no way a proportional punishment for accidentally stepping on some plants and breaking a frame that could be fixed by a couple of hours in a woodshop. All crimes being capital crimes seems to have been an effective deterrent among the Edo, but if a child’s accident while playing constitutes a crime, it’s hard to see why the Edo aren’t all sitting around in terror all the time. The geographic zone in which capital punishment applies changes randomly and constantly, but if only one punishment zone is active at a time, then you could commit any crime you liked simply by playing the odds. (I have to conclude that the Edo lacked probability theory as well as warp theory.) I can’t endorse moral relativism here. The standard of the Federation is that capital punishment is morally wrong; having chosen to interact with the Edo, Picard must defend that moral ground, which he successfully does. Allowing the Edo to live and die by their own rules without interference — the Prime Directive — can only work without contact. Contact itself has to count as interference with a planet’s development. We also have to remember that the Prime Directive applies to technological development, not social or moral development per se. For example, some crimes in the Klingon Empire are punished by death, but the Federation does not refuse contact with them on those grounds. The different moral beliefs of the Federation and the Klingon Empire are allowed to be a point of contention, but not governed by the Prime Directive.

I am very curious to know other people’s thoughts about this mission. If you disagree with my analysis, let me know why!

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | July 6, 2017

The Temptation of Knowledge: “Lonely Among Us”

Mission Summary: The Enterprise passes through a nebula that lights up with strange energy patterns. They don’t have time to investigate, however, because they are transporting two groups of delegates — predator and prey species — to a peace conference. While Lt. Worf is working at a sensor control, he is zapped by blue lightning emanating from the panel. Lt. LaForge calls Dr. Crusher to Engineering; when Worf comes around, he attacks LaForge, Crusher, and another crew member who has come to assist. Crusher sedates him, and Worf is transported to Sickbay.

Counselor Troi comes to check on the situation as Worf is coming around. She tells him that Crusher will explain what happened, but Crusher instead wanders off in a daze — unseen by Worf and Troi, the same blue lightning that attacked Worf has now entered Dr. Crusher. Crusher visits her quarters, where Wesley is working on warp theory. After listening for a little, showing an unusual level of interest in warp theory, she wanders to the bridge, citing the need to do research when Cpt. Picard questions her presence. While she works at a science terminal, the blue-lightning entity passes out of her and into the computer, where it interferes with the helm and warp drive. It returns to engineering, killing Assistant Chief Engineer Singh, who is trying to fix the drive, and then returns to the bridge, where it takes the opportunity presented when Picard puts his hand on the helm control to enter Picard.

Picard orders the return of the ship to the nebula, despite already being late to deliver the increasingly difficult delegates to their conference. He refuses to explain the order, and claims to be “too busy” to help Riker manage the delegations, leading Riker, Crusher, and the other senior crew members to become concerned about whether he has become unfit to command. Concerned, they request Picard report to Sickbay for medical and psychiatric exams. Picard retorts that he is too busy, and orders instead the examination of the senior crew members. They follow this order, and when Crusher returns the reports to him, he leaves them carelessly on his desk. But she has now figured out what has happened, with help from the hypnosis sessions Troi facilitated with her and Worf to recover their own memories of contact by the electric entity.

The entity has merged itself with Picard, and now that it has been discovered, it announces its intentions to the Bridge as a whole: Picard has agreed to partner with it. In return for taking the entity back to its nebula, the entity will take Picard with it in energy form, to explore the galaxy as a dual being unbound by physical form. Picard has submitted a resignation to Starfleet. The crew attempt to prevent him, but Picard, with the entity in tow, beams out into the cloud.

They search for him, but they are already late, and his resignation has been tendered. Riker reluctantly gives the order to resume course to the peace conference, but something goes wrong. A message comes through on the helm: the letter “P.” Picard, now an energy being himself, has returned to the ship, unable to maintain the merger with the original entity. In desperation they attempt to beam him back using a stored pattern to give physical form to his mind’s energy. The strategy works, and Picard finds himself in the transporter room, confused – he has no memory of what has transpired.

On Leadership: This mission finds the Captain suborned by an energy being, but uniquely, he agrees to its presence because it is able to offer him the thing that no one else can: Pure exploration, unencumbered by the limits of matter. No command decision made during this mission compares against this single, enormous dereliction of duty. This reveals a tremendous amount about Picard. He joined Starfleet to explore the galaxy. While he is an experienced career officer, now in command of an enormous new ship, and fully aware of the responsibilities he has to Starfleet, the Federation, the crew under his command, and their civilian families under his care, he would give it all up for the chance to explore further than Starfleet will ever take him. We see Picard’s ultimate motivation — and it’s pretty noble, in my opinion. Not love, not wealth, not celebrity, but knowledge. More than that, a knowledge he turned down during the prior mission in part because the opportunity for exploration in that case would have put those civilians in danger (see https://rebeccajrobare.com/2017/06/30/where-no-one-has-gone-before/). This time he can act in a way that puts only himself at risk. While distracted from his ordinary work, he announces his intentions and resigns rather than abandoning his crew without a word. Even while acting out of selfishness, Picard manages to be responsible.

This is instructive, because we all have that thing we would quit our day job for. It might be art, travel, study, or love, but we all have something that would drive or inspire us to make a radical change to our life. For many of us, quitting that job would require discussion with spouse or children first (and if not, a serious explanation afterward!), but Picard does not have a spouse or children to consider. He is respected by his crew, with friendships beginning to form as much as is possible for a commanding officer, but he is not close to them in the way of a family, and certainly he can trust that Riker will be a responsible captain until Starfleet assigns another officer to the post.

It doesn’t work out, however, and Picard is lucky in that he is able to return, apparently without consequences. (He says to the Bridge crew that he has submitted his resignation to Starfleet, but as he is able to easily resume his post I suspect that he had set a file to e-mail at a particular time in the near future.) Most of us are not so lucky; when we burn bridges they stay burned. Ultimately Picard is able to walk away from his command, and then walk back, and I have to wonder what Starfleet Command thought when they reviewed this mission recording! Regardless, I think I have to consider the final lesson of this mission to be self-knowledge: what would stir my heart and mind to such an extent that I would walk away from my life as it is? Which aspects of my life would I be willing to give up? (Not my spouse and children — I don’t think that thing exists — but I could imagine, for example, taking my spouse and children to a Mars colony, or adopting a more minimalist lifestyle in exchange for the opportunity to travel the world with them.) That degree of self-knowledge can be useful to us: first, we can structure our lives for the attempt to live as we truly want, and second, we will recognize our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when it comes along.

What would you give up for the thing you want the most?

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | June 30, 2017

“Where No One Has Gone Before”

Mission Summary: An engineer and his assistant come aboard the Enterprise to perform tests on the engines. According to Commander Riker, the equations to be tested appear to be “gibberish”, but two other starships are now able to reach higher speeds after implementing engineer Kosinski’s protocols.

The test propels the Enterprise at such a velocity that they escape the Milky Way entirely and end up in another galaxy. It is an unprecedented opportunity for scientific discovery, but Picard reluctantly orders the ship to return home, as a properly equipped science vessel will surely be sent in their place.

However, instead of returning home, the Enterprise travels even farther, finding itself in a realm where thoughts can influence and even become reality. Kosinski is unable to explain what has happened, but Wesley Crusher calls attention to Kosinski’s assistant, who has collapsed. While traveling, the assistant phased in and out of existence.

In Sickbay, Picard orders that the assistant be revived. The assistant explains that he is a Traveler, from what sounds like a different dimension or plane of reality. His people understand that time, space, and thought are the same, and he is the first of his kind to visit our world, in search of people who may be able to develop this kind of understanding.

Wesley Crusher is one such person, as the Traveler explains privately to Picard. Picard can encourage Wesley in a direction that will lead him to such an understanding — but Wesley must not know that this is what Picard is doing.

With the help of Wesley, and the supporting thoughts of Picard and the crew, the Traveler is able to return the Enterprise to where it is supposed to be. He departs, and Picard appoints Wesley to the rank of Acting Ensign and assigning him to the bridge crew.

On Leadership: The previous missions we’ve reviewed have mostly had to do with encountering “new life;” even the “Naked Now” mission was driven by the encounter with what was essentially a new disease. Although the Traveler is from a species unknown to the Federation, the Enterprise‘s problem on this mission largely results from finding itself in a new kind of place.

Captain Picard shows remarkable displays of leadership twice during this mission. First, he orders the Enterprise to return to their home galaxy instead of exploring the new one, and second, he trusts the Traveler to return them there after finding his ship in a realm where reality can be manipulated by thought.

When finding his ship in a new galaxy entirely, Picard, as we have seen on previous occasions, asks his senior officers for their opinions. Data says that the new galaxy, and their current location close to a protostar, where a star is forming, is an unprecedented opportunity for discovery. “Spoken like a true Starfleet graduate,” Picard commends him. It is clear from Picard’s expression and tone of voice that he regrets the decision he is making, but against his own wishes he orders the ship to return. This kind of exploration is better done with a ship that is equipped and crewed differently, and I would think — while ignorant of the specific Starfleet and Federation protocols that apply here — that such a ship would not include civilians and families, given the inherent danger involved. I call Picard’s leadership here remarkable because he is putting the safety of his ship and crew ahead of the exploration and discovery that are his primary mission, and against his own desires. In my opinion, it’s also in keeping with the scientific importance of what is happening: if Kosinski has done what he, at this point in the mission, thinks he has, it is replicable, but needs to be tested under more controlled conditions and understood in order for another ship to travel such vast distances predictably. They also do not know, at this juncture, whether they can return, or even contact their home galaxy. Scientific exploration that would never get back to Starfleet to be disseminated would be useless.

Trusting the Traveler to undo what he has inadvertently done is a leap of faith on Picard’s part. It is the only solution that will allow them to reach home at all; but trusting an unknown being who has erred in bringing them to this place at all seems like a frightening responsibility. The risk does pay off; and perhaps the risk of everyone on the ship dying in an accident is preferable to the risk of everyone on the ship eventually dying of old age if they do nothing. Either way, Picard, of course, is responsible.

Other things of note in this episode: Wesley is the first to notice that the Traveler is responsible for what is happening to the Enterprise, but because of his age and because he is not a member of the crew, Riker and Picard at first do not listen to him. The Captain and Commander have a different level of trust with their fellow Starfleet officers than they do with anyone else, and Wesley’s inclusion as an acting ensign at the end of the mission is in some ways an acknowledgement of this, that he is trustworthy and capable. (It also, not incidentally brings him more firmly under Picard’s authority!) This is an object lesson in leadership: Listen even to people you think you don’t need to listen to, people who are not directly under your leadership. Had Wesley been heard out immediately, the Enterprise would not have traveled to the realm of thought.

Finally, I find it interesting that one of the tenets we have previously observed in Captain Picard’s actions — trust your people to to their jobs — backfires here.  Kosinski’s equations are nonsense, as Commander Riker says, but Picard allows Kosinksi to continue, trusting that because his previous results are good he must know what he is doing. This is another caution, then. The Captain surely can’t be an expert in everything, but it would be wise to listen when someone on your team tells you that the proposed solution doesn’t make sense!

What are your thoughts about this very unusual mission, and how Picard led his crew?

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | June 13, 2017

An Old Civilization: “The Last Outpost”

Mission Summary: The Enterprise pursues a Ferengi vessel that has stolen a piece of technology from a Federation world. As they approach an uninhabited planet, the ship becomes caught in a force field that begins to slowly drain its power. Believing that the Ferengi possess a technology that threatens all the lives on board, Picard prepares to surrender. However, the Ferengi offer to surrender to him. Picard agrees to accept their surrender, and demands visual contact with the Ferengi commander. This is Starfleet’s first look at this species. When the Ferengi realize that the Enterprise is not the source of the disabling force field, Picard suggests that the two crews partner to figure out a way to restore their ships. An away team beams down, only to be separated by whatever energy is disrupting power to the Enterprise. They are attacked by the Ferengi party. Riker, LaForge, Yar, Worf, and Data find each other amid the planet’s strange, misty landscape while fighting off attacks. Then a voice demands an explanation for their presence: A holographic portal, remnant of the civilization whose outpost this planet was, appears to challenge them for their entry into the “Empire.” With difficulty, Riker and Data convince the portal that the Empire it served was destroyed by a supernova 600,000 years before. It is impressed with the Starfleet officers, asking Riker to tell it more about Sun Tzu, and dismissive of the Ferengi, who have shown themselves to be greedy, violent, sexist, and deceptive by Federation standards. The portal releases the ships, the Enterprise recovers the stolen property, and they and the Ferengi go their separate ways.

On Leadership: There are a number of interesting moments during this odd mission. Five in particular stand out for what they tell us about leadership; one of these belongs to Riker, rather than to Picard.

First, Picard allows the Ferengi to believe that the Enterprise has disabled their ship. I find this an interesting choice because in most circumstances we look to leaders for honesty and transparency, even in conflict. Picard seems to make this decision for a couple of reasons. First, he is mindful of two goals. One is to free the Enterprise and save her crew and civilians, but the second is his original mission to recover the stolen device. Allowing the Ferengi to continue under a misapprehension is an understandable decision if it provides some kind of advantage in accomplishing one or both of these goals. In this case, retrieving what the Ferengi have stolen may be possible if the Ferengi believe that returning it will free their ship. Second, Picard does not represent to the Ferengi that he has disabled their ship; he merely allows them to continue believing that he has when they jump to that conclusion — the same conclusion he had jumped to. Picard is merely faster to realize he is wrong. He is taking advantage of their assumptions, rather than lying. In any case, this tactic backfires; the Ferengi are mad at this deception, and it could be concluded that it is why they immediately attack the away team on the planet under the assumption that, having been deceived once, they are being deceived again.

Second, when Data briefs the officers on the civilization to which the planet had once belonged, he is seen fidgeting with a finger trap, and gets stuck in it. Picard commands Data to “get unstuck,” but when Data cannot see the way to release himself, Picard frees him from the toy. This meeting is interesting because Picard offers no objection to Data’s absent fidgeting until it distracts him from his task at hand, and because once aware of Data’s problem, it is Picard who provides a solution to it. In my opinion, this is good management, on both counts, allowing a secondary activity if attention is not distracted from the primary focus and providing solutions to any issues that arise in order to return to that focus. As Data has a greater attentional capacity than any human (as we will learn during a later mission), using the finger trap during the briefing may be analogous to the use of a fidget toy by a businessperson with an attentional disorder; use of the toy paradoxically allows for greater attention to be paid to the task at hand. We can also note here that the crew members in the briefing are giving their full attention to the meeting content. They are not reading their e-mail or doing other work.

Third, while the away team are on the planet and out of contact with the Enterprise, the crew are essentially huddled together for warmth as their oxygen slowly runs out. Picard visits a lounge where Dr. Crusher is distributing blankets. She reveals to him that her son Wesley is in their quarters; she gave him a sedative. He is sleeping through this crisis. Picard tells her that her son “deserves to face death like a man.” Putting aside Crusher’s response to this remark, it is interesting because it reveals both Picard’s attitude toward death, and his increasingly paternal feelings toward Wesley. The idea that “men” face death head on is not uncommon in our culture, and from a leadership perspective, any challenge or desperate situation can only be faced if it is to be resolved. In this case, Picard can do no more to resolve the situation, but he still feels responsible for facing the death that is about to be visited upon all the lives aboard his vessel.

Fourth, Riker displays solid leadership while on the planet. He answers the portal’s challenge with precepts from The Art of War, and denies the Ferengi lies calmly and not defensively. He also restrains Lt. Yar from excess violence against the Ferengi when they remark that allowing “a female” to go clothed in public is an invitation for another man to undress her.

Finally, once they have recovered the stolen technology and are preparing to allow the Ferengi to go on their way, Riker suggests beaming to them a crate of Data’s finger traps. Picard permits this trolling. It’s a very interesting response. It smacks of revenge — “you caused us this trouble, so we will cause some for you” — but the finger trap is essentially harmless (a person could be cut out of it with a scissor if they really couldn’t get free). It’s fundamentally a prank, but do Starfleet captains really prank the crews of opposing vessels? I admit to feeling ambivalent toward this action. I don’t wish to accuse Capt. Picard of a misstep, but it seems like an action that could backfire for Starfleet or the Federation, if the Ferengi consider it a Trojan Horse and an act of war.

What are your opinions about sending finger traps to the Ferengi, or other acts or failures of leadership during this mission?

 

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | June 7, 2017

A New Civilization: “Code of Honor”

Blog Note: When fans of Sherlock Holmes gather, they often “play the Game” — their discussions occur under the premise that Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson were real people, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was Watson’s literary agent. I am playing a similar Game here, and writing these posts as though I were studying the records of Starfleet missions that had actually occurred. Therefore, I am refraining from talking about these episodes in terms of story structure, character development, multiculturalism as practiced in the 1990s, and other aspects of Star Trek that can be considered only through viewing it as a television show, which must necessarily be bound to the time in which it was made, to the words and intentions of its producers, writers, and actors, and to the culture that created it. This is therefore a game of make-believe, and I hope you will enjoy pretending along with me.

Mission Summary: Picard has been ordered to obtain a supply of desperately needed vaccine from a non-Federation planet whose dominant culture has strict gender roles and a strict code of honor that dictate its members’ lives and actions. The planet’s representative, Lutan, is accompanied to the Enterprise by an honor guard and his Second, Hagon. Lutan directs his Second to give a sample of the vaccine to Captain Picard; Lt. Yar attempts to receive it in keeping with her role as Security Chief, to inspect the sample in case of an attempt to harm Picard. When Hagon tries to push past her, she throws him — harmlessly — to the floor, impressing and intriguing Lutan. Following an initial discussion regarding how the vaccine is to be obtained by the Enterprise, Lutan requests a demonstration of the Holodeck’s capability for martial arts training. Yar obliges, demonstrating her aikido program to the visitors. Lutan and Hagon then return to their planet, kidnapping Yar as they beam out. After a day of refusing to respond to hails and a show of force from the Enterprise (a display of photon torpedoes exploding above the planet’s surface), Picard is invited to beam down to the planet and negotiate for both the vaccine, and the return of his lieutenant. Riker objects to the Captain risking his safety, harking back to his initial interview with Picard during the Farpoint mission. However, the code of honor followed by the planet’s inhabitants renders Picard safe as a guest, with Lutan honor-bound to die before allowing harm to befall a visiting leader. No other member of the crew would be assured such safety. Picard beams down, and asks for Yar to be released. Lutan announces a banquet to be held that evening; if Picard requests Yar’s return publicly, she will be returned. They accede, but that evening are surprised when Lutan responds to Picard’s request by announcing his desire to make Yar his “First One” — his wife, the owner of the lands he rules. Lutan’s existing First One, Yareena, objects (as Lutan knew she would) and challenges Yar to fight to the death for the position. After discussion among the crew and with Yareena and Lutan, it becomes clear that the fight is the only way that the Enterprise will be able to get the vaccine; Dr. Crusher has been unable to synthesize it. Yar agrees to the fight — Picard agrees to the fight — and Yar wins, killing Yareena with a weapon like a spiked gauntlet coated with a fast-acting poison. The victory does not come before Hagon cries out to Yareena, wishing for her to be careful. As Yareena dies, Yar has them both beamed to the Enterprise, where Dr. Crusher revives Yareena. Confronted with his formerly-dead First One, Lutan is shocked to realize that she is now his former First One as well, with Yareena’s death having broken their agreement as well as fulfilled the terms of the vaccine negotiation. Yareena as landowner selects Hagon to be her First One, and ruler, with Lutan accepted into Hagon’s former place as Second. The Enterprise then proceeds to the plague-stricken planet carrying the promised vaccine.

On Leadership: This mission presents a number of leadership challenges to Captain Picard, including a Prime Directive-bound encounter with a civilization that has the only source of a needed medicinal substance; the kidnapping and threatened death of a crew member; and the manipulation of both his people and Picard’s by the representative of the aforementioned civilization.

The Prime Directive forbids Picard from acting too directly against the cultural mores of the planet’s inhabitants; more than that, their status as the only source of a plague-stopping vaccine means that they must be handled in a way that obtains the vaccine. It means a delicate negotiation, one that cannot simply be abandoned when Yar is kidnapped. Throughout the mission, Picard turns to Troi, Data, and Riker for cultural analysis and expertise. This is an example of an important component of leadership. Picard does not know everything about Lutan’s culture, nor does the crew expect him to. Instead, he asks for expertise and listens to the recommendations of those experts. Leadership Principle: Call upon experts, and trust their expertise.

When Picard and his crew members visit the planet seeking Yar’s return, they must cope with Lutan’s unexpected declaration and Yareena’s resultant challenge. True to her nature and her calling as Security Chief, Yar is willing to fight, confident in her ability to defeat Yareena. It is Picard who hesitates, refusing to put a crew member’s life at unnecessary risk. Leadership Principle: Value the lives of the people you are responsible for. However, when it becomes clear that this is the only way to get the vaccine, and that Lutan has been manipulating all of them, Picard allows Yar to accept the challenge, trusting in her ability to win. Leadership Principle: Be willing to take risks when they are necessary — with the agreement of the people you are risking. Key in Picard’s willingness to make this decision is the revelation that Lutan has been manipulating the situation, intending to dispose of Yareena but trusting to Yar’s lack of desire to become his First One. Picard learns this by having a private conversation with Lutan. Leadership Principle: Listen to what people want. It’s key that what Lutan reveals to Picard as his desire is different from his stated intention. Lutan is attracted to Yar, but knows she is unlikely to find him more irresistible than her Starfleet career. But what he cannot say to Yareena, Hagon, or Yar he can say to a man he considers to be of similar status to him — a leader of people. Once Picard knows what Lutan wants, he knows it is important that Lutan not get what amounts to the murder of his wife for his own gain. Picard and his crew find a way of fulfilling the code of honor requiring the fight to the death, while keeping Yareena in her position as landowner and obtaining the all-important vaccine. Leadership Principle: Uphold your own ethical principles. Picard resolves the situation by obtaining the much-needed vaccine, keeping Lieutenant Yar alive and in her position, refusing to collaborate in the murder of a planetary leader’s wife, and refusing the (manipulative, abusive) leader from his position, all while maintaining the Prime Directive. The four leadership principles outline above are key to the successful resolution of this complex and unusual situation.

Do you agree with my analysis? What are your thoughts about Picard’s leadership in this situation — and how it contrasts to Lutan’s?

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | May 30, 2017

Losing Control: “The Naked Now”

Mission Summary: The Enterprise is en route to the rescue of a science vessel that has been observing the collapse of a star. The vessel has been sending strange messages – the captain asks whether they have brought any good-looking men as Enterprise attempts to get more information about the crisis. Then they hear the sound of an emergency hatch opening, and the crew are blown out into space. The investigation reveals that the science vessel’s crew had a sort of infection causing them to behave as though severely intoxicated, and now the crew of the Enterprise are suffering from the same. Even Data is affected as the crew lose control, culminating in a race to move the ship out of the way of a chunk of the collapsed star. 

On Leadership: This second mission is a challenge to study because leadership requires a certain degree of control – over oneself, if not over others. Indeed, Captain Picard is famed within Starfleet for his high degree of self-control. This mission is therefore an exercise in what happens when a leader’s self-control is threatened. 

Picard is one of the later victims of the infection. He begins to express the attraction he has for Dr. Beverly Crusher, following her expression of attraction for him. To the credit of them both, they maintain focus on their tasks, with Picard continuing to command an increasingly unreliable crew and Crusher developing a cure. 

Crusher’s teenage son Wesley, himself infected, uses a library of recordings of Picard’s voice to call the Chief Engineer away from her post, and talk the also-infected Assistant Chief Engineer into allowing him into Engineering. Wesley uses a tabletop tractor/repulsor beam he has built to prevent the Chief Engineer from returning to her station, and takes control of the ship. This presents a challenge to the increasingly impaired Picard, who has expressed discomfort with the presence of children on his ship and has forbidden Wesley from coming onto the Bridge. Picard tries to convince Wesley to allow the Chief back to her post and to return control of the ship to the Bridge. Ultimately he is unsuccessful; resolution of the crisis is only possible because Dr. Crusher succeeds in synthesizing a cure. 

This mission is a challenge for the student of leadership. Even Picard and his most reliable crew members are impacted by the intoxicating infection. And Picard’s best effort to maintain control over his ship are unsuccessful. I believe the best lessons taught by Captain Picard’s leadership on this mission are

Maintain your focus, even when it is difficult

and

Keep trying new solutions in the face of defeat.

Thoughts/comments on this episode and/or my conclusions?

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | May 23, 2017

Taking Command: “Encounter at Farpoint”

Blog update: The nanny started today, so maybe I can get on to a schedule?

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Summary: Captain Picard has just taken command of the Enterprise. Prior to leaving the known galaxy, the Enterprise heads to Farpoint Station, to pick up additional crew members and to evaluate the station’s suitability for Starfleet needs. En route, they encounter an immensely powerful being known as “Q” who puts them on trial as representatives of humanity. Q decides to let them complete their task at Farpoint – if they succeed on his terms, he will allow them to continue their exploratory mission. When a ship appears, fires on the Old City of the Bandi, planet’s native people, and abducts the station administrator, the crew realize that there’s more to Farpoint than just a mystery. They beam over to the new ship, rescue the administrator from torture, and realize that this ship, too, is on a rescue mission — and it isn’t merely a ship. The Bandi people have been stealing the energy of a spacefaring creature for the station. The Enterprise uses its phasers to deliver a gentle pulse of energy to the creature, giving it enough energy to return to space. The “ship” that attacked the city and kidnapped the administrator is this creature’s mate, and the two (helpfully color-coded pink and blue) fly off together, with Counselor Troi reporting on their feelings of “great joy and gratitude.” Q admits that they did the right thing, and disappears, ominously hinting that he might return. The Enterprise embarks on its ongoing mission to explore the galaxy.

On Leadership: Captain Picard is getting to know his ship and crew, some of whom he is meeting for the first time. At several points, Picard acts to balance out the excesses of his crew members. In particular, both Yar, as security chief, and Worf, as tactical officer, are inclined to be decisive and aggressive, both toward Q and toward the space jellyfish in its guise as attacking ship. Picard listens to their concerns, and while he doesn’t follow their recommendations, he takes them seriously and also explains to them his reasoning about why he doesn’t want to attack. In two cases, he presents his thinking and lets Yar and Worf come to the same conclusion as he does. I observe a few things here:

  • Listen to your people – understand they are doing the job you gave them.
  • When possible, tell them why you are making decisions in a certain way.
  • Coach them to make better recommendations of their own.

In particular, by presenting his reasoning and letting Yar and Worf draw conclusions, Picard is encouraging a growth mindset in his officers. Not only are they fulfilling a specific role, they are also learning to think more thoroughly about the situations they will encounter as bridge crew. Picard even encourages Worf in learning; when Worf says that he will learn to do better, Picard says that there will be plenty of opportunity for learning on their mission.

When Q confronts the Enterprise, Picard surrenders to him instead of fighting. As he points out to Yar, they know they can’t succeed against such overwhelming power. Picard never looks at this surrender as a failure, however, but takes it more as an opportunity for dialogue. So I take from this

  • Sometimes you have to give up something in order to get what you need

When Q transports Picard, Yar, Troi, and Data to a courtroom where he is the judge, Picard and his crew make it clear that Picard gives the orders; the crew members do not take orders from any one else. When Q gives an order, Picard instructs his team to obey, or not. Therefore,

  • Don’t let anyone else tell your people what to do; their instructions come from you and no one else, even if what you tell them is to follow someone else’s instruction.

Also during this court, Q assures Picard that he will not harm the crew — and then allows Yar to be frozen by one of the courtroom guards. Picard has Data replay exactly what Q had said, and Q acknowledges this and unfreezes Yar. I find this particularly interesting, as in the work world someone is always trying to change expectations or requirements, and the advice is often to document exactly what is agreed upon so that it can’t change by inches.

  • Document expectations and requirements – of all parties.

Following this encounter, Picard and his team are returned to the Enterprise, and they rendezvous with the new first officer, Commander Riker, at Farpoint Station. Riker is brought up to speed on the encounter with Q, has a conversation with Picard in which Picard tests him, asking if Riker will violate regulations to allow Picard to beam into a dangerous situation. Riker’s answer (“No”) appears to satisfy Picard. My lesson here is

  • Know your people’s jobs, and let them do them — a related point to (1) above.

Finally, in the conclusion of this mission, Picard chooses to consider multiple motivations for the attack on the Bandi city and selects the possibility that best explains the ship/jellyfish’s actions, rather than assuming that an attack means hostility. He also uses the empathic knowledge Troi receives as valid information about the creature and its behavior. My last two points are therefore

  • Think about all the possible reasons for someone’s behavior, even the reasons they won’t or can’t tell you.
  • Emotions matter; they will influence the actions of the person you’re working with/against.

The successful conclusion of the Farpoint mission results in the embarkation of the Enterprise on its ongoing exploration of the galaxy under Captain Picard’s able leadership.

What do you think about the leadership Picard displays during this mission? Do you agree or disagree with any of my conclusions? What lessons have I missed?

 

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | May 3, 2017

Learning to Lead the Starfleet Way

In which I discuss why I am taking this class.

 

I was always a Mr. Spock kind of girl.

 

In my usual backwards fashion, the first original series Star Trek I remember being truly compelled by is a scene towards the end of Star Trek VI. In the DVD commentary the mind-meld between Captain Spock and Lieutenant Valeris is described as “erotic.” This is a serious under-description. A mind-meld without permission is akin to rape, and I hesitate to describe such a scenario using any terms that make it sound appealing. However, this is a scene about betrayal and loss in which each character feels bereft and alone despite a profound intimacy which is outside human experience entirely, and is therefore only available in science fiction. Mr. Spock sets aside this deeply personal pain in favor of the many lives that will be preserved because of the knowledge he will gain; he sets aside Valeris’s pain and violation for the same reason. Acting in this scene, Leonard Nimoy and Kim Cattrall convey a remarkable depth of feeling in very few words; even though I was a little girl seeing this scene — Wikipedia tells me the film was released in 1991, and I came across my father watching it on HBO, probably in 1992 or -3, when I was ten or eleven — I was aware that Spock knew how much pain this would cause Valeris, and how he was going to invade her mind anyway, and correspondingly aware that Valeris knew how much pain would be inflicted, and that she was going to deny him the knowledge any other way — that while Spock has no thought of revenge here, Valeris in a sense daring him — I have what you need, how much are you willing to hurt me to get it?.  The violation is not erotic, but the unspoken interplay of self- and other-knowledge, the trade of power, and the mutual resistance and submission has something in common with some BDSM scenes. I sat down and watched the last half hour or so of the movie. I was not ignorant of Star Trek before this; I was raised in a Trekkie household and I knew who these characters were. But I had never paid attention in the same way before. I was hooked.

 

It was hard for an eleven-year-old girl to get hooked on something like Star Trek in 1992. Of course my family were devotees of TNG, but TOS was very sparse – later in the ‘90s, there was a fan-favorites marathon about once a year, and one summer one of the networks showed episodes on weekday evenings – but this was long before streaming access to episodes. It would be several more years before I got an Internet connection, and while AOL’s Star Trek chat room became my internet home, there was not a lot of opportunity for me to explore that world as fully as I would have liked.

 

Enter the Trek novel. Our library had several, and I’m fairly certain I read them all. This did not compare to being taken by my grandfather to the Barnes & Noble on Central Ave in Westchester Co., NY. We had nothing like it in my small hometown; to me a bookstore of that size seemed like paradise. I gravitated toward the science fiction section – it would still be years before YA ballooned to its current volume, and by the time I was twelve I was mostly reading in the genres of adult fiction due to paucity of options – and of course, I found the Trek novels. Better still, one of my favorite authors – Diane Duane’s first Young Wizards book was in my library’s juvenile section, her second in the tiny YA area – had written two of them! (She’s still writing these wonderful stories, and I’m still reading them, but I digress.) My grandfather bought them both for me, when I said I couldn’t decide which one I wanted. I still love them both, and I am in fact on my second copy of My Enemy, My Ally, but the one I want to tell you about is The Wounded Sky.

 

In this novel, a device, developed by alien physicist K’tl’k, that is installed in the Enterprise in order to carry it across the great distances involved in inter-galactic travel. The “creative physics” involved in this form of transport tears a hole in the fabric of space time, and the next-door universe begins leaking in to our own. This new universe lacks entropy, and therefore time, and if the Enterprise can’t repair the damage, everything in both universes will be destroyed. Traveling to the heart of the singularity, the lack of entropy causes the crew to appear to each other as their truest inner selves. Spock is described in terms of curiosity and loyalty, of deep feelings that are mastered relentlessly, of spending his life in the cause of scientific discovery and of giving those discoveries away.

 

I wanted to be Mr. Spock when I grew up.

 

Curiosity I was already good at. Mastering one’s emotions? I was told frequently as a child that I was “too sensitive;” mastering that sounded pretty good. And loyalty to a leader and burning oneself up in a cause, especially the cause of science – oh, how I wanted that. In many ways I still do.

 

But.

 

Loyalty only works as a life strategy if you find someone or something worth being that loyal to. I failed to find a Captain Kirk; and in the meantime I stayed loyal to an academic advisor – there I went, pursuing science – beyond the point where he, experiencing the onset of dementia, became emotionally abusive. In the process, I neglected my emotional life, eventually needing medication, therapy, and a brief hospitalization, because of the depression that is a not-unpredictable consequence of high stress, social isolation, and emotional abuse. (I am six years out from finishing my PhD, and still healing; I expect to spend ten years fixing the damage that ten years of graduate school did to my psyche, and the rest of my life fixing all the damage that life has inflicted before and since, as ongoing psychological medicine is a much sounder strategy than driving myself into a collapse every decade or so.) Science itself turns out to be a field as touched by politics and money as any other, and I eventually moved out of academic science, though I continued – continue – to admire Mr. Spock and have been known to ask myself, “What would Spock do?” when facing a difficult situation at work.

 

Then I had a dream.

 

I perceived myself to be about 17 in this dream; certainly I felt myself to be young and subject to teaching. The teacher in my dream was cast as Patrick Stewart; I suppose you could argue for an X-Men connection, but I don’t have the same emotional connection with X-Men as I do with Star Trek, and anyway, it’s my dream. Also, I had been watching some TNG in the evening, about 20 minutes’ worth.

 

Dream-Picard was teaching me something. There was a sportive element to it, like open-air swimming in some sort of suspension frame, or aerial Pilates, if there is such a thing. There may be something significant in the fact that I was learning something physical, as such things tend to be difficult for me relative to subjects that can be learned through reading and writing, and with the chronic physical illness that is the other legacy of toxic stress, I find myself missing more sessions than I like of any workouts or personal training I am attempting. In any case, I was honored and anxious by being picked out/accepted to learn this art, and dream-Picard in fact sought out an additional teacher for me. This teacher came in all obsequious and honored, that he was asked to teach by the great dream-Picard, but he was for some reason offended by me, or at the least, disappointed that I was to be his pupil, and not dream-Picard himself. He stormed off, and dream-Picard said, never mind, he would teach me himself.

 

Two things here seem to resonate with me. The first is disappointment. And I think this will be familiar to many with depression and perhaps other illnesses – I am convinced, or at the least, always suspicious, that I am a disappointment. I expect that I am a disappointment to my parents (who as far as I know have never given me reason to think this; I believe it to be a tendency endogenous to my makeup). I spent about six years convinced, with evidence, that I was a disappointment to my advisor, and as one’s advisor is more or less the sole gatekeeper of one’s academic future, this made me feel like I was a disappointment both to myself and to the entirety of SCIENCE as well. In work situations to this day, I generally worry about disappointing my boss, and can find corrections hard to take if my feelings of disappointing get in front of the need to do the work, and the fact that my boss ultimately bears the responsibility for the work I put out in to the company. (I worry much less about disappointment when I am among equals; it’s almost absent from my relationship with my husband, and he and I have learned to communicate well about what’s left, along with our other foibles.) The thing that is strikingly clear about this dream situation, though, is that while the prospective teacher was disappointed by me, I hadn’t done anything. The disappointment was all his own, and based on his unrealistic expectations of the situation, compounded by his own arrogance.

 

To put it short, I was not responsible for his disappointment. He was.

 

The second is that, I think I have something to learn from Captain Picard. Picard is a great leader, and I’ve been thinking more about wanting to learn leadership skills. There’s a certain amount of that curriculum that could have been available to me in various forms at my last job, but the corporate leadership curriculum seems unsatisfying to me. It is by turns too touchy-feely and too coldly corporate; it’s either consoling me for not being a manager yet or assuming that I am one, or at the least, want to be one. But ST:TNG will provide me with seven seasons of leadership lessons, neatly packaged. And it seems to be that what I have been trying to learn from Star Trek, from Mr. Spock, for more than twenty years is how to be a follower. I do that pretty well, when I have someone worth following. But I don’t always have someone worth following, and when it comes to my career, my ambitions are really not defined by the corporate ladder, and when it comes to my personal life, I take a peer-partnership model anyway as it suits me and my husband and my metamour. (Though it occurs to me my husband is one of the very few people I know worthy of loyalty like Mr. Spock’s…)

 

So I’ve really written three pages to say that I’m going to be embarking on a TNG rewatch specifically looking to learn leadership skills from Captain Picard. You are invited to follow my curriculum. Class is better with classmates, don’t you think?

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