Rules are the worst! And rules are the best.
On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek Voyager, False Profits (Season 3, Episode 5). He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Janeway and Kol and Arridor.
Capitalism is EVIL! Except when it isn't, which is a surprising amount of the time. As a counterpoint to the way the Ferengi are portrayed here, I talk about the concept of benevolent of conscious capitalism. I reference these news articles in the podcast:
Harvard Business Review - Companies that Practice “Conscious Capitalism” Perform 10x Better
Forbes - The Rise of Conscious Capitalism
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Welcome! Thanks for joining me today. The only thing better than a well done sequel is one that you weren’t expecting. In this surprise sequel to a Next Generation episode, I am going to talk about how you can use the rules, and sometimes even bend them, when it helps you better achieve your organization’s mission. So let’s get right into it. It’s the 5th episode of the third season of Voyager, False Profits.
Voyager has found evidence of a wormhole that they think might help them get back to the Alpha quadrant more quickly, but it shows up at weird intervals and in inconsistent places. In their investigation, they find life on a planet, but they likely won’t be able to help, they have “a bronze age level of civilization.” 1:01 Now, this is a super important point that is going to weigh on everything that happens from here, not just in the episode, but as I break down what Janeway did right. And what she did wrong.
The Prime Directive has come up quite a few times on tis podcast. Most recently, episode 70 when we watched the first episode of Strange New Worlds. But what we need to know now, is that this rule…no, directive, says that Starfleet cannot interfere with a pre-warp society. And to be crystal clear, this is called the PRIME directive, like general order #1, the first thing you read in the handbook. Ok, we got it? Good.
Tuvok, in his scans, find evidence of a replicator, which should not be happening. This gives Janeway the opening she was hoping for. She sends Chakotay and Paris down to the surface, dressed to look like natives, and has Torres and Kim get to work on figuring out the wormhole.
On the surface, they find what you would expect in a low-tech society…maybe more medieval than bronze age, but what do I know? They hear, repeatedly, of holy figures known as the Sages. They are interacting with people in the marketplace and we learn a little more about these Sages, “The Sages say you tell a lot about someone by their shoes.” 5:53 Hmm. I remember hearing that’s how you can tell how well someone will tip at a restaurant.
The episode slowly narrows down just who these Sages are as the merchants continue sharing these little, catchy capitalist sayings. Very advanced sounding commerce for a bronze-age society. We get one last clue before the big reveal, “You can’t enter the temple without wearing your ears.” 6:43 Starting to piece this together yet?
Torres and Kim have a breakthrough on Voyager and they believe they can polarize an instability in subspace to force the wormhole open. Pretty promising news!
Back on the planet, a gong sounds, and, friends, we’re about to meet the Sages! “Greed is eternal x2” 9:43 Yep! If you’ve been following along, you figured this out just before the big reveal. We’re dealing with two Ferengi!
They are encouraging the native people to turn as much as profit as possible and are using the replicator to ensure they can fulfill an ancient prophecy. The people are desperate to please them but are unhappy.
Chakotay and Paris update the senior staff on what they learned. Tuvok digs into the history files and watches the episode from TNG’s 3rd season, The Price which tells the story of how the Ferengi got here. Also, we all watched that one in the 19th episode of the Starfleet Leadership Academy where I talked about how to behave ethically, even in negotiations.
Tuvok shares that “during a nefarious attempt to steal the wormhole, they were sucked in and stranded.” 14:16 This is right up Janeway’s alley! Her self-righteousness comes into play and she goes about putting together a plan to get them away from the planet. Tuvok disagrees saying this isn’t their problem. The Ferengi aren’t members of the Federation, “nor does the Prime Directive allow us to interfere in this society.” 15:07 Janeway does what Starfleet captains do, and figures out a way around this little hiccup. Tuvok doesn’t disagree, so they get to work.
We get a lot of Kol and Arridor bumbling around and leaning into the comedic side of the Ferengi. Arridor is the brains of the operation and Kol is just kind of along for the ride.
Attempt one to quote, solve this problem, is to beam the two Ferengi to Voyager and lock them up, but Arridor makes the case that they are integral to the society here and that kidnapping them would cause massive cultural damage. Janeway agrees and returns them to the surface.
Attempt number two is a little more fun. “Not the Grand Nagus, the Grand Proxy.” 23:11 Yep! They Ferengi’d up Neelix, gave him a crash course in their culture and sent him in! He says they’re going back home and this planet will be coming under the Grand Nagus’s purview. This is the best I’ve seen Neelix! He’s in it and is doing great! Honestly, maybe too great, really. Kol and Arridor are backed into a corner and decide their only option is to “kill the messenger.” 29:02
While they try to do this…with swords, for some reason…Neelix comes clean with the truth. He tells them everything. They send him back to Voyager, and we’re back to square one.
Attempt number three comes by happenstance. They run into a poet that they heard from before when he shared the story of the sages. Chakotay gets him to share the end of the poem which sets up the situation where the Sages leave the planet. So, they lean in. Still in the his Ferengi get-up, Neelix shifts gears, gets in the town square and proclaims, “I am the Holy Pilgrim.” 34:48 here to lead the Sages back into the sky. The people immediately get on board! “I have prayed for this day to come.” 36:09
So they beam them back up and start for the wormhole that appears to be open and working well. But, Voyager’s crack security team falls to two bumbling Ferengi. They steal a shuttle and try to get back to the planet. Voyager uses a tractor beam to try and bring them back, which messes up the wormhole. “It’s destabilizing the wormhole.” 43:20 The shuttle gets sucked, likely headed back to the Alpha Quadrant, but shrinking it down so it’s useless to Voyager.
The planet is saved, we think, and Voyager is right back where they started. Janeway sends them back on their way, “Mr Paris, set a course of the Alpha Quadrant.” 44:47 and we’re right back where we started.
Oh, I love, love, love the idea for this episode! It is so great that they made a direct sequel to an early TNG episode. That’s not a thing that happened too often back when each series was trying to stand on its own. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to its potential, in my opinion. But, it still had some fantastic moments and some really cool, kind of behind-the-scenes stories.
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This was, by no means a bad episode. In fact, it was a lot of fun! I think what hurt it is that they tried to go all in on the comedy side of the Ferengi when they had this incredible story about the impact of cultural interference and maybe even a commentary on modern forms of capitalism – more on that in the Command Codes.
But instead of that, we got the Abbott and Costello version of them making jokes like, “No more quadruple lobe rubs,” 19:05 and generally being comic book style villains.
What was cool, is that this picked up a dropped thread from TNG that totally checks out. In The Price, Kol and Arridor get greedy and end up lost in what was the first mention of the Delta Quadrant. And that was the end of their story. Like, we all just accepted that two people were stranded across the galaxy in a shuttle with limited oxygen and it was kind of a punchline.
Well, jokes on the poor people of this planet! An almost ridiculous set of coincidences, between them showing up and the long-standing tradition waiting for the Sages, they end up under the despotic, money grubbing rule of two incompetent Ferengi. Cool continuity on this one.
In the recap, I said I really liked Neelix as a Ferengi! Ethan Phillips really got into that role despite, according to some production notes, having the flu and running a pretty high fever. Luckily for him, this character wasn’t all new to him. Phillips also played a Ferengi in the 3rd season TNG episode Menage a Troi, and would go on to play one in the first season Enterprise episode Acquisition which we watched in the 39th episode of this podcast.
All in all this was a fun episode of Voyager if you aren’t expecting them to tackle any of the big topics or issues that are laid right put in front of you. Personally, I would have loved a sequel to this one, maybe in another series, when we can see the impacts of the Sage’s time on this planet, and how leaving them without a clear line of government succession left them.
Hmm. How very TOS of them. You know, where they completely shake up a society and then just take off. Lower Decks has revisited some of these planets…maybe this one is coming up.
I’ve worked as a manager in three consecutive decades. I have some thoughts. One of the big ones is that I cannot stand rules! All the bureaucracy and policy and stuff that you have to do a certain way. I also absolutely love rules! I am so thankful they help ensure things are done a certain way and to a certain level of quality.
You see how difficult this job can be, yeah?
We are going to talk about the value of rules, but also how to look at, well, bending them when you need to. I’m also going to talk about providing motivation for people and will compare it to a few martial arts. Yeah…whole new meaning to green belt in the professional world maybe. But first, I’m going to step out of my comfort zone and we’re going to talk about some of the different flavors of capitalism.
Capitalism. Every person has a reaction when they hear that word. Some love it, a lot hate it and most don’t really understand it. What we do know, and I hope we can agree on, is that capitalism is an economic system that prioritizes profit and, in theory, depends on market conditions to influence what those profits look like. Now, there are pre and post grad degrees on the countless shades of complexity and nuance that I just plopped down in a few words, but this is not an economics podcast. It’s a leadership podcast, so I want to introduce an idea that can influence the way you choose to lead.
This episode perfectly captures what we can call the evils of capitalism. The classes that exist and the growing rifts between them. Many work and few truly realize the benefits of that work. And who better than the Ferengi, who have turned capitalism into an ecclesiastical endeavor, to show this.
We see Kol and Arridor living the high life. Bossing people around and lording their perceived superiority over everyone. The Voyager crew is lightning fast when it comes to passing judgement on this setup. “It’s disgusting, they live in a palace while others barely have roofs over their heads.” 13:24 And yeah, that is disgusting.
Does this conjure up some real-life images for you? Are there at least a few names that come to mind? There sure are for me, and some that I have seen first-hand.
In my mind, there is no question that capitalism can be bent for ill intent; for selfish gain. I think that was basically the entire premise of the old Captain Planet cartoon. But does that mean capitalism is evil? That only evil people profit from, well, profit?
Not at all. I want to play a short clip for you, not quite a minute, that introduces the idea of conscience capitalism, or benevolent capitalism. Both of these terms have been kind of co-opted by companies, so I use them only because I don’t have a better term, but the idea and concept remains the same.
Companies that practice this type of capitalism are absolutely, 100% profit motivated. Don’t think they are not. The difference, though, is that they are purpose driven. So, more traditional company is profit motivated and profit driven while a conscience or benevolent capitalist company is profit motivated and purpose driven.
What this would mean, for me, for example, is that my company is working to generate profit, but our purpose is to better the lives of the people we work with; our team. So my primary decision making is based on the people on my team and, at most informed by profitability.
The really cool thing about this is that companies that have followed this model have performed astonishingly well! As of mid-2022 some of these companies include Costco and Trader Joe’s. Costco values its employees and while other retailers tend to keep wages tight and low, they offer enviable wages, benefits and even generous retirement options. Trader Joe’s does the same.
According to a 2013 Harvard Business Review article, linked in the show notes, many publicly traded, consciously capitalist companies outperformed the S&P 500 by a significant factor. This is backed up in a 2019 Forbes article, also linked in the show notes, that highlights the work Patagonia has done and how they have profited from their work.
Again, I am not an economist, but this moment in this episode caused me to reflect on how we can do better. If you aren’t in a position to alter the course of your company, imagine what you can do for your team, or even your co-workers. How can you connect to a purpose beyond profits that, almost ironically, will drive both performance and profits and all while improving the people and the world around us?
Focusing on the people that do the work is fantastic way to provide motivation. Now, let me dispel a huge myth right here and right now. You cannot motivate your team. In fact, you cannot motivate anyone. Motivation comes from within. A person either chooses to be motivated or not. But what you can do is create and environment and culture that is motivating; that encourages people to choose to be motivated. You can even work with them, one-on-one or in small teams to create that. But please, please, please don’t think you can motivate someone. You’re just setting yourself for disappointment.
So, Jeff, if I can’t motivate people, how do I create an environment that lets people choose to be motivated? Ah, I’m so glad you asked! There are so many ways to do this. The most basic, fundamental thing is to treat everyone you work with, with dignity and respect. You can offer challenging and rewarding jobs, you can focus on growth and development, and there are countless other pieces of advice out there to achieve this. But I want to introduce one you likely aren’t going to find on a duckduckgo or google search. Well, you might, but it’ll point back to starfleetleadership.academy. And this is the concept of creating a motivating environment and workplace through martial arts.
Now, I’m not talking about tae kwon do kicking people in the face, or even Worf’s Klingon tai chi we saw in the 52nd episode of the Starfleet Leadership Academy TNG: Man of the People. No, I’m talking about the concepts in martial arts like judo and aikido. These are unique martial arts that emphasize momentum and efficiency of motion. When many people think of martial arts they think of what we see in Cobra Kai or Bloodsport, and while they’re right, those martial arts are aggressive, focusing on attack and winning. Other martial arts, like aikido, specifically, focus on using other’s momentum and not necessarily winning the fight, but avoiding it all together.
In the 34th episode of podcast, we watched Code of Honor. Yeah. That happened. Shockingly, there were a lot of great takeaways in that one. Totally worth listening to the podcast episode, but I’d avoid the TNG episode myself. But in that episode, Tasha Yar was demonstrating Aikido which allowed to talk about the concept of ma’ai, which is creating space. In aikido, the various kata, or forms, are often known as arts. Many of the arts conclude with the aikidoka creating ma’ai, or space, between them and the opponent, the intent of which is to either avoid the fight or be able to beat feet if the other person isn’t so keen on stepping down.
Now, what does any of this have to do with motivation? Everything. Think about the conversations you have about motivation. They are about offering something, setting a goal, bringing people together. They are you going into the environment and putting something in it – being a benevolent aggressor. You are the Johnny Lawrence of the workplace. In a good way!
Instead, follow the aikido model, or, what we’re about to call the Janeway model. Observe what the team is doing and then play along. Lean into it. Use their momentum and help speed it along.
In this episode, the senior officers need to figure out a way to motivate Kol and Arridor to leave this planet. Their first attempt, basically kidnapping them, falls apart. They were the aggressor. They attacked. But when they regrouped, Janeway got wise and understood she needed to use their momentum. This is brilliant. It goes, “What motivates a Ferengi? We have to out Ferengi them.” 22:07 This acknowledges who the Ferengi are, what their beliefs and values are, and simply moves with them.
To use another analogy, they became leaves on the river instead of the stone. One flows with the water and the other breaks the water apart.
For you to do this, you have to understand and use some of the concepts I talk about frequently: gemba walks, talking to the people you work with, understanding the demands of the work; stuff like that. When you do these things, you’ll understand what kind of impact a Proxy for the Grand Nagus will have on them.
But once you know what is important to them, what they value, you don’t interrupt what they are doing, you don’t add a whole layer of tracking or anything like that. You simply go with the flow, be a leaf on the river, and provide the thing they needed anyway.
This is a little challenging to dive into an example here, so I’m going to ask you to do that! Over on my website, starfleetleadership.academy, in the bottom right is this little button with a microphone on it. That lets you leave me an audio message, like a voicemail. I would love for you to leave a message about how you just went with the flow in order to create a motivating environment and workplace. Leave that message, and I’ll play it here on a future episode, as long as it’s appropriate and the sound quality is decent.
That’s kind a jerk thing to do, yeah? Put out a call to action like that and then say I might play it if some things happen with it. Like, why don’t I just commit to pulling the audio down and dropping into the podcast? Well, a few reasons. First, someone may decide to use what Spock called colorful metaphors and that would be no good for anyone. Or someone may talk into their phone the way my mom used to use a speakerphone – with her mouth right up on the mic so it just sounds like a garbled garbage disposal. I don’t want you to have to decipher that. I guess what I’m saying is that even in low stakes situations like this, rules play a role.
This episode hinged on Janeway making a decision on what to do about Kol and Arridor. It became immediately apparent that the Prime Directive said to pretend they never saw anything and keep on moving. But Janeway couldn’t let that happen. The Federation exists to bring people together, safely, and in ways, to stop the exploitation of people. So, yes, rules are important. They are necessary. But sometimes they get in the way of actually achieving your mission. Or if you’re a conscience capitalist, your purpose.
Janeway logics her way to getting around the Prime Directive. They talk about the negotiations the Federation hosted on the Enterprise and the exploration they did to verify the value of the wormhole, which led her to figuring out “So one could say the Federation is responsible for them being here.” 15:26
This is so brilliant. You see, rules are meant to help you achieve your goals and the mission of your organization in a way that ensures ethical behavior and that things are done in a way consistent with your desired culture. Traditional thinking, command and control style management would tell you that management exists to enforce the rules. I say that that is ridiculous and insulting to every person you work with. I have never worked anywhere where within the first few days of working there they didn’t either give me a handbook with all the rules, or plop me in front of some onboarding video and then make me sign off that I knew all the stuff now. People know the rules! And if they don’t, they know where to find them.
I say that management exists for what Janeway does here. To help identify those times when a rule is actually getting in the way of ethical behavior, or the culture, or the mission of the organization. Then they help logic the team’s way around the rule to ensure they can do the right thing, the right way, that just might not be quite what the rule said.
Now, next level management is where you are preparing your teams to do this on their own. They can do this when you are crystal clear about what needs to get done and even more clear on what the culture is you are fostering. When you do that, you will see your teams coming to you with ideas like this, or maybe even just executing them. We see this with the Ferengi here. Way back in the TNG episode, The Price, it’s made pretty clear that these are low-level guys. But in their situation, they are clear on what needs to get done – profit, and they are clear on their culture – by any means necessary. So they set to logic’ing their way to a pretty wide open approach to their problem. “There’s a rule for every situation…when no appropriate rule applies, make one up.” 27:45 AND 28:38
General Douglas MacArthur famously said, Rules are meant to be broken, and are, too often, for the lazy to hide behind. We all know the first part of this one, but tend to forget the last part, which is too bad, because it’s exactly what I’m saying here. Blind adherence to rules is lazy! And, worse, it’s poor management and terrible leadership.
The 14th Dalai Lama has a great take on this as well. He said, Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them effectively. This is beautiful. A version of this has been attributed to Pablo Picasso where he said you can break them like an artist. Either is true. A hallmark of a strong leader is one that has the courage, and the ability to work around, bending and manipulating, like an artist, the rules.
But, please do not hear me say this means rules are meaningless and should be ignored. The vast majority of the time things should be business as usual where the rules are followed and leaned upon. But that doesn’t mean they are static. When I was growing up, I remember my grandparents had these old timey etiquette books. They were fascinating. They ranged from how to address someone with respect to what a woman should wear at a specific time day depending on who – and how – she was entertaining. As kids, we had a good laugh at them. But the thing is, these were real. Like, if a woman wore the wrong thing at the wrong time, accusations of being hysterical could lead to public shaming, barbaric medical practices and even lobotomies. Like, these were serious, serious rules.
But rules change, and as a leader you should always be reviewing your workplace rules to ensure they are still appropriate. I have shared a work experience with you a number of times now, where I was brought into an organization to help its culture after its former leadership was removed under accusations of harassment, discrimination, nepotism, and, well, just being bully bosses. One of the keys to successfully changing the culture there was reviewing all the rules, written and unwritten, and changing them as needed. HR for this company encouraged managers to use a welcome letter when onboarding new people to the team. A document that laid out all the workplace culture stuff people should be aware of. Some of the verbiage is pretty boilerplate stuff, like building security and information security practices. Other language was suggestive in how to communicate and interact with the team, like when to use email vs an IM or stuff like that. And some was aspirational, like encouraging people to participate in wellness activities and other extra-curriculars.
The prior leadership took this a step further. The defined what could and could not be eaten at a desk. I remember they defined eating a meal as any food that required utensils. Wow…they’ve never seen me eat! And they had a lot of other really draconian stuff in there. Their welcome letter was 18-pages long. 18 pages!! I rewrote it and I think it’s 3 pages now. Got rid all of all that awful stuff. Since I rewrote it initially, I think it’s been rewritten 3 more times just based on our evolving culture and learning how to be better.
So don’t be lazy, like General MacArthur describes. Be an artist, like Picasso describes, or, maybe even better, be a Janeway. Know your culture, know your purpose, and artfully and effectively lead the way through and around the rules to achieve those.
I’m serious about wanting to hear your stories about creating a motivational environment, especially if you just went with the flow, like in Aikido, as opposed to stepping in and changing things like in tae kwon do. I want to hear about you being a leaf on the river instead of the stone.
You do this by visiting starfleetleadership.academy, and clicking the microphone looking button on the bottom right of the page. That lets you leave me an audio message, like a voicemail. I cannot wait to include your story in a future episode.
And you can also share your story on social media! I’m on Twitter: @ SFLA podcast and you can get me on most all the social media, @jefftakin Jeff, t as in tractor beam, a k i n.
Computer, what are we going to watch next time…
This had better not be another 5th episode from a third season. Oh, nope! The 17th episode of the second season of Enterprise, Canamar. The only thing I remember about this one is the incredible guest star, Mark Rolston. We talked about him in the 40th episode of the Starfleet Leadership Academy where he played the villain in TNG’s Eye of the Beholder, and you can also hear me talk about him on my Babylon 5 podcast, Babylon 5: For the First Time, in the 21st episode where Brent Allen and I watch The Quality of Mercy. Rolston plays an excellent, and super believable villain and I’m excited to see how he challenges Archer in this one.
Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!