3 Things That Star Trek Taught Me About Being Successful

Star Trek vs. Star Wars.

Some people like their science fiction filled with space monks with laser swords fighting the evils of Space Hitler in a mobile James Earl Jones machine.

Me? I like my science fiction based on realism, thank-you-very-much. And few science fiction shows ground themselves in plausible science quite like Star Trek. A great example is in the Star Trek Voyager episode “Threshold”. Lieutenant Tom Paris became the first person to break the Warp Ten barrier, and in doing so he evolved into a giant lizard that couldn’t tolerate water or oxygen and then he proceeded to kidnap Captain Janeway, transporting her to an alien planet, somehow turning her into an evolved lizard thing, and then proceeded to mate and have a bunch of lizard babies…


After Tom Paris breaks the Warp Ten barrier he begins evolving into a lizard thing that for some reason can't tolertate water or oxygen

Tom Paris with the worst case of psoriasis in the history of Starfleet

So yeah, I guess Star Trek is strange too. But all joking aside, I still love Star Trek and there are some legitimate lessons that can be learned and applied to our personal and work lives. Here are just 3 of the things Star Trek taught me about being successful:

1. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – or the one

When the Enterprise was in danger of destruction, Spock entered the radioactive chamber, knowing full-well that he’d die doing so. He entered to fix the ship’s drive so the rest of the crew could escape. In his final breaths, Spock begins to collapse against the chamber wall when he says “Don’t grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh–” to which Kirk finishes the line, “–the needs of the few.”

Now, this might get a bit philosophical, so to help ease you all into it I will sprinkle in pictures of cats and dogs working to help keep your attention.

In social science, there was a study… I’ve already lost you, haven’t I? Look, as promised, here is a picture of a cat office. You’re welcome

Cats working in an office. It's adorable. That is objective fact. Trust me

Their data entry skills are absolutely purr-fect

Okay, seriously, there was a study done that utilized the Prisoner’s Dilemma in regards to whether or not human beings were naturally selfish or cooperative. In a nutshell, here is how the Prisoner’s Dilemma works:

Let’s say that you and a friend are suspected of committing a crime and are being interrogated in individual rooms. Regardless if you’re actually guilty or not, the goal is to do what you can to minimize your time in jail, or avoid it all together. you and your friend are given two options: plead guilty or not guilty. You plead guilty, you get a lesser sentence, but you’ve implicated  your friend in the crime and he’ll receive a much harsher sentence now. However, if you remain silent and your friend pleads guilty, then you’re getting the harsher sentence while your friend gets a lighter one. If you both confess, you just end up implicating each other and you both serve prison sentences.

The dilemma comes in that, had you both just remained silent and cooperated right from the start, you both would have been just fine and, most likely, gotten away with no one serving prison sentences.

Officer Bark-aby Bones watching over his prisoner

Prison is ruff. No bones about it.

Obviously, committing crimes is bad, but the study that put a modified form of the dilemma to work found that when people were willing to put aside their own interests to reach for a common, greater good, they benefited more in the long-term than those who didn’t cooperate. Whether or not we’re genetically or environmentally conditioned to be selfish is still up for debate, as another study showed that Americans are more selfish and self-interested than European countries, but that’s just because we’re awesome and what do they know?

Bringing this all back around, when you’re working for a company, whether you love it or hate it, you are part of a team. And while being a rebel is great, you have to remember that even the most rebellious leaders still had a team with a unified goal. If you’re on a team with no vision for the future,  you’re going to quickly become disinterested in the mission.

Dog with a book in a tie

You’re barking up the wrong tree if you think you’re getting a raise!

This is not an all-or-nothing philosophy. There is nothing wrong with selfishness in moderation. Even if you’re inclined to help others, how can you be of any use to them when you’re not taking care of yourself? At the other end of the spectrum, while independence is a sign of a great leader, the greatest do not (or should not) dominate their team with fear, but instead cultivate an environment which the sentiment is “We’re all in this together.”

When Captain Picard encountered the Borg for the first time (thanks to the near-omnipotent ‘Q’ hurling the Enterprise deep into the Delta Quadrant) Picard wasn’t afraid to admit that he needed Q’s help escaping. “You wanted to frighten us? We’re frightened. You wanted to show us we were inadequate? For the moment, I grant that. You wanted me to say ‘I need you’? I NEED you!”

2. For the crew of Star Trek, time is relative

You’re in a business meeting making the most elaborate paper airplane ever, not paying attention to the conversation when you suddenly hear the boss say your name. Uh oh! Apparently you’ve been given a new assignment and you need to give the boss a time table of when they can expect it completed. Fear not, for when this situation appears, let us all recall on what our good friend Lieutenant Montgomery “Scotty” Scott would do in this situation: overestimate the time it’d take!

Even if you’ve never watched Star Trek, you’ve probably heard people making quips in a faux Scottish accent about how they “Don’t got tha powa” or “There’s not enough time, Captain!”

Scotty doing what Scotty does best, hanging around drinkin' scotch

“You need the engines WHEN? A’ight, Captain, lemme finish this scotch and I’ll have them up and runnin’ in an hour or five.”

It seemed that any time Kirk asked Scotty for an estimate on when the warp engines or the shields would be back online, Scotty would tell Kirk there wasn’t enough time and then give a rough estimate of how long it’d feasibly take. Yet, in the end, Scotty always pulled through and would get what needed to be done just in time when Kirk needed it the most. Now, Star Trek has plot convenience to explain this, but there is still a life lesson to learn here: if you’re charged with setting up a completion date for an assignment, don’t be afraid to overestimate it.

The extra padding of time that overestimating gives you plenty of wiggle room for getting the task done and will make you look great when you come in ahead of schedule. If something comes up, again, you should have plenty of time to hammer out the kinks. If for whatever reason you’re going to overshoot your projected time table, then you have a reinforcement to explain that is why you require so much time to get the job done. Just don’t be greedy with the times you set. If you overestimate to extremes, your boss is going to start questioning your abilities. And, of course, if you keep overestimating and yet consistently miss your due dates, it might be time to freshen up that resume because you’re going to be beamed to the unemployment office.

3. Boldly go where no one has gone before.

Even if you don’t like science fiction, or for some insane reason you don’t like Star Trek, one of the reasons people watch television, movies, read books, or play games is because of the escapism it provides us. Some of us want to live in a fantasy world filled with magic and whimsy while people such as myself love the idea of setting sail into the endless sea of stars. Whatever themes or media you escape to, the point is you’re going to places you will never, or could never go to.

As I mentioned above, it’s okay to be a bit selfish and indulge, and one thing Star Trek taught me is that you can be part of a team and still have your own path in life and achieve your own dreams. Being part of a team doesn’t have to be a hive-mind like the Borg collective, but a journey which you voyage forth together to accomplish your goals, no matter how varied they may be.

Setting goals helps create adventure in your life by setting a metric which you can measure your abilities and performance without judgment. Top level athletes and successful entrepreneurs set long-term and short-term goals to help motivate them and stay focused on what they require to meet their measurement of success. It also helps organize their time and resources so they can get the most out of their time…and resources…

Your goals need to be realistic in order to work. They must also be achievable, yet challenging and supported with concrete objectives that you must accomplish in order to meet your goal. For example, if you’re setting up a goal for your personal life, you don’t want to say “I will keep the house clean every Saturday.” Instead, make it concrete by saying; “I will do the dishes, take out the trash, mop the kitchen floor, and vacuum every Saturday.” By making your objective concrete you can more easily identify what needs to be done to meet the goal.

Depending on the type of work you do,  your company may already have established goals set for you. if you’re doing assembly work, you probably have a number of units you need to complete within a day. If you’re starting out, they’re (hopefully) understanding that you won’t be at the same standard as the more experienced assembler. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for it though! Set your own personal goal and do as much as you can, establishing your base, and then work up from there. Keep increasing it each day or week and before you know it, you’re not only meeting the company’s expectations, but you’re going to start sailing past them.

These are the voyages…

Star Trek is a great show that has a great outlook on the future of humanity and has plenty of educational moments. Obviously, these are just a few small things I’ve taken from the show, but everyone’s experiences will be different. What are some life lessons you’ve learned from Star Trek or another show/movie/book/game that you enjoy? Whatever it is, leave a comment here or on our Facebook, and until the next blog, live long and prosper.

Trek yourself

Bonus Lesson – Wearing red makes you a target

If you’re aboard Kirk’s Enterprise wearing a red shirt, you’re pretty much dead. True fact: aliens hate red. However, thankfully, on Earth red is a great way to get noticed. The color on the lowest end of the color spectrum makes it the easiest to spot and just on an emotional level red is associated with assertiveness.

The Curse of the Red Shirt

The Curse of the Red Shirt