Star Trek TNG Life Lessons – Managing DR and Crisis

I was a massive fan of Star Trek The Next Generation.  Although I have fond memories of watching TNG late at night on Sky One, I was old enough to recognise that some of the better episodes conveyed some important messages about life.  One of the most important messages was about working as part of a bigger system.  The Enterprise has to be self-sufficient in every aspect to care for its complement of 1,000 people while it carries out missions of importance around the known galaxy.  This means that there needs to be good efficient processes in place, governed by a competant management team, that has a strong leader; in this case, Captain Jean-Luc Picard.  It is important to note that this isn’t the only management method in Star Trek or in real life; the Borg act as a collective consciousness, and I know some companies that are led by committees rather than a CEO or Director.

I have had an issue for a while; I have taken over an infrastructure with systems that I don’t know very well.  In the past I have been the manager of a team and an infrastructure that I know extremely well, and so my new circumstance has been difficult for me.  I know that the default advice in this situation is to trust those in your team to do their job, but in an Infrastructure team this isn’t enough; any good Lead needs some knowledge of the systems in order to make valued judgements or help come up with a course of action.  I was watching an episode of TNG called Disaster where the Enterprise hits a quantum filament which leaves the ship completely powerless and separates the main cast across the ship.  These compartmentalised situations range from challenging personal limitations, to saving the entire ship.  There are a couple of interesting scenarios:

  1. Picard is injured and is stuck in a lift with three children,
  2. Councellor Troi finds herself as the most senior officer on the bridge and has to manage people on technical issues outside of her skillset.

The first scenario is interesting in that Picard, as the captain, is a key asset… as a leader.  In a situation that needs technical expertise such as a broken ship, you want engineers, not managers, but in any disaster situation (DR for example), even one that has pre-defined, clear-cut and well-tested processes, you always hear the question, where is the captain?  Why is that?

The answer is, never undervalue strong leadership.  In a crisis situation, quality management of all resources is needed to overcome the issue, and sometimes this is the difference between disaster and success.  Although the Fukushima Daiichi disaster is well-known, there was a sister plant called Fukushima Daini that did not melt down.  Its ability to manage itself out of a crisis has been put down largely to good management (Harvard Business Review have done a really good article on the events here  And, although I talk about a leader as a separate entity, a technical resource such as an engineer can also be a leader at the same time.

Back to the first scenario.  Picard has, at his disposal, three young, scared, but bright for their age, children.  Picard is injured and cannot physically do much to get them out of their situation, and so he uses his management skills to get these weak assets to perform at their best.  He immediately establishes a team structure to instill confidence in these children; structure means order, and order means control, and control in an emergency increases the confidence of success, even if it an illusion. He recognises their limitations, such as being scared, and inspires them to focus on his plan of getting out of the lift.  If the kids were in the lift without Picard, they would have remained in that state until the lift failed.  If Picard was there alone, the same could be said.  However, the pairing of able-bodies assets with management skills resulted in a successful escape.

The second scenario involving Troi is how to manage a disaster scenario without any technical knowledge of the issue. On the face of it, it’s comparable to a psychiatrist being asked to fix a car, and it does seem that Troi is the least-qualified person to be in charge of O’Brian and Roi, an engineer and a scientist, and manage the technical challenges facing them. However, the reality is that the Enterprise is a gigantic machine that is broken. It’s not going to fix itself, it needs people to fix it, so managing the people correctly will fix the ship.  Yes, if Troi was alone then she would not be able to overcome the issues, but the same could be said if Ro and O’Brian were there alone – or even together, as halfway through they have conflicting ideas. Funnily, the solution that Troi orders them to do is to hand the issue elsewhere, which isn’t a technical fix, but turns out to be the right decision as Data and Riker pick up that the Bridge has handed control of the reactor over to them. They are able to stop the core from exploding from where they are, and the ship is saved.





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