Jan. 10, 2023

070: SNW: Strange New Worlds

External vs Internal Motivation


On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek Strange New Worlds, Strange New Worlds (Season 1, Episode 1). He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Pike.


What motivates you? are you motivated by external things or internal?


When you are motivated externally, you will often lack confidence and feel threatened. People that are internally motivated are able to be truly authentic in their roles and actively seek the best possible outcomes for their teams. In this episode, Jeff examines Anson Mount's Captain Christopher Pike and how his internal motivation enables him to exude leadership.


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Transcript

Welcome! Thanks for joining me today. Authenticity, trust, and inclusion. Three of most important traits and actions you, as a leader, can develop and demonstrate. In an episode that I feel is a long time coming, I’m going to share how you can bring each of these into your day-to-day to help your teams do amazing work. And I get to this by sharing the first episode of the first season of Strange New Worlds, Strange New Worlds.

 

<<Transporter>>

 

We are back to classic, galivanting around the galaxy Star Trek! “Space. The Final Frontier…” 6:55 Or are we?

 

We’re in Bear Creek, Montana. It’s snowy, there are big ‘ol windmills and a gorgeous cabin. We meet Captain Christopher Pike as he’s whipping up an incredible looking breakfast. Remember this moment when we get deeper into this series. He’s not what you’d expect in the lead Captain of a Star Trek show. He’s scruffy, with unkempt hair and a burly beard. He’s entertaining a friend – what is pretty clear to be a romantic interest. “More coffee, Captain Batel. Please, Captain Pike.” 2:26 As they enjoy breakfast, his communicator keeps beeping but he’s ignoring it. Batel is trying to get him to an answer a simple question. Will he report to the Enterprise for duty or is he done? He dodges the question, which, appears to be par for the course.

 

Ok, some backstory here. In the second season of Discovery, Pike came on board as temporary Captain of that ship. In that season we got to know him, as well as his first officer from the Enterprise, Number One, or Una, and a young Lieutenant Spock; Michael Burnham’s stepbrother. Lots of stuff happened in that season that, ultimately leads to this exact episode, which we’ll get to in a bit, but in that season, Pike had an encounter with a time crystal where he saw his own demise. So now he lives in an existential crisis where he knows how he’ll die, and he’s having a tough time dealing with that. Thus pancakes and coffee in Bear Creek, Montana.

 

Back to it. Pike is riding his horse through the snow of Bear Creek. A very William Shatner thing to do. A Starfleet shuttle chases him down and Admiral April gives it to him pretty straight. He’s been trying to reach him because his first officer, Una, was given an assignment and it did not go well. “First contact is just a dream. Until it isn’t.” 1:13 He tells Pike it’s time to put up or shut up. Enterprise leaves space dock at 1800 hours and he says, “You can quit when you get home. But get on that ship. That’s an order.” 6:31

 

Pike is putting his crew together, many of them are out on assignment or shore leave while the Enterprise is docked. He calls Spock, who is spending some time with his fiancée, T’Pring. “Spock, are you naked? No, he was about to be.” 11:49 Despite being a special night, he agrees to report to the ship.

 

We get the requisite, Star Trek flyover of the Strange New Worlds design of the Enterprise. It looks great, but not quite what it was…or, will be. Pike is cleaned up as well. Clean shaven and incredible hair! We meet some of the crew, “Lt. La’An Noonien-Singh,” 14:47 Lt. Ortegas at the helm, “Cadet Uhura,” 15:17 and a hint of two to come, a chief Engineer and “Lieutenant Kirk, who you requested.” 13:51 Hmmm. In the first episode and we’re already gonna bring in Kirk. I don’t know… Well, regardless of what I think, they’re off. Headed to Una’s ship’s last known location, Kiley 279.

 

En route, Spock meets with Pike in his quarters. They talk about the existential crisis Pike is in. We see the close and respectful relationship they have, which will come to fruition in an Original Series episode. Pike shares what has been hanging on him. “How will it live in me? Too cautious, not cautious enough?” 19:32 Spock encourages him to seek out the good in knowing what he knows, and use to help him be who he is meant to be, “The Captain.” 19:59

 

First contact with a planet happens when they have achieved warp drive. The Federation believes, at that point, they are at a place technologically, and likely as a society, to enter the galactic stage. Una, and her small crew, were making first contact with the people of Kiley 279 because they detected a warp signature. Pretty standard practice. But, when the Enterprise gets there, “These people aren’t showing signs of being ready. At least a century behind.” 21:42 Uh oh! This is supported when the planet detects them and launches ancient weapons at them. Spock analyzes the warp signature from the planet and, “based on these readings, they’ve built a warp bomb.” 22:44 Going from bad to worse!

 

Kiley 279 is at war, and it is bad. “Protests carried on through the night.” 28:10 Spock shares that, while this is the first time a species has developed warp technology as a weapon before propulsion, it’s not impossible. But the rest of their tech is equivalent to 21st century Earth, so they are invoking General Order 1 which we know as the Prime Directive. Non-interference. So, to mount a rescue, they talk to Dr. M’Benga the Chief Medical Officer and Nurse Chapel. Chapel is on a civilian exchange and is prepared to genetically alter the away team to look like the people on the planet. Because of Spock being half-human and half-vulcan, she’s not super confident the disguise will last as long as it will for Pike and La’an.

 

They beam down and locate the facility the warp bomb is in and where Una and her team are likely being held. Tense moment as Spock’s disguise begins to fail, but some creative transporter magic and they all get through security ok. Aside from the alien appearance of the people, this looks like Earth today, in 2022. A very familiar vibe.

 

Once through security, they have free reign of the facility. They get down to where Una and her team are being held. But, Spock’s disguise is becoming more and more unstable. They free the team and it turns out La’an and Una go way back! “You two know each other?” 34:55

 

On the way out, Una, Number One, explains what happens. Now, I’m going to dance around details here because, at the time of this recording, we haven’t finished the second season of Discovery yet, but this scenario is the direct result of what happened in that finale. Discovery did some stuff and it was within just one light year of Kiley 279, so they picked the whole thing up with their telescopes. “Between Kelpian and Klingon ships there must have been a hundred warp signs.” 36:29 From that, they reverse engineered their way to warp. Pike feels the weight of responsibility just as they get to a point Enterprise can beam them out. “If we leave now, every death that follows is on our hands.” 37:18 So he sends everyone except for him and Spock back the ship.

 

They get captured on their escape just as Spock’s disguise fully fails. So Pike says the only thing he can, “Take me to your leader.” 38:15 And they do exactly that. We meet an almost Hunger Games style president. Pike tries to explain their mistake but the president does not hear him. “This is our opportunity to end that conflict. Through mass murder?” 38:55 And she responds in basically the worst way possible. “Whoever has the biggest stick wins.” 39:28 So Pike obliges. He calls the Enterprise into low orbit basically showing that he has the biggest stick. This brings the leaders of the warring factions together to talk. A reporter says it’s the first time in a century they’ve even been in the same room with each other. Pike and Spock return to Enterprise to determine next steps.

 

In the discussion we learn more about La’an and what will be a recurring theme in the season. Her family were abducted by the Gorn and left on a breeding planet for them, used for food or breeding sacks. She was able to escape, as a young child and was eventually picked up by Una. “She’s the reason I joined Starfleet.” 48:04

 

Pike decides to address the leaders on the planet. They are facing each other, arguing and he beams in right between them, interrupting in the unassuming way we are coming to expect from him. “Hi. Sorry to interrupt.” 42:45 He launches into an impassioned speech sharing the part of Earth’s history that coincides with this society now. He says he’s showing them their future so they can make a choice to act differently. “Our conflict also started with protests, then a civil war and eventually World War 3.” 43:50 He then offers for them to join the Federation – which is pretty weird given what we learn, especially in TNG about what all that takes, but still, it’s a powerful moment. We get a short montage of people studying science and looking at Starfleet ships and stuff. Apparently Pike changed their minds and helped them avert their crisis.

 

Back on Starbase 1, we find out there was a price to pay for this, though. “Getting the high court not to throw you in jail took a lot of pull.” 46:37 Admiral April says the Council Is doubling down on General Order 1, renaming it the Prime Directive. Pike agrees to stay on board the Enterprise, wrapping up the personal journey at the beginning of the episode. And, while we’re wrapping stuff up, remember back when I said Pike requested Kirk to be on the ship? Well, he shows up. “Chris. Samuel Kirk.” 50:21 Oh, thank goodness! It’s not Jim. It’s his brother, and it’s a kinda cool callback…or forward. We first met Sam Kirk in the TOS episode Operation – Annihilate. The one with the plastic toy vomit things that flew through the air.

 

In classic Star Trek fashion, Pike speaks to the assembled crew before heading out on their great mission of exploration. “Let’s take her out, Lt. Ortegas. Hit it.” 51:06

 

<<Red Alert>>

 

Arguably a favorite, if not the favorite of the Star Trek coming out now, while I record this, Strange New Worlds, for many, is the series many of us had been waiting for ever since Discovery was first announced back in 2015. And, in a recurring theme through Star Trek’s history, exists because the fans demanded it.

 

This was an exciting introduction to a new series and crew and, possibly, the most visually stunning first episode of the franchise to date. It is not without its controversy, though, even among those that see it as a welcomed return to the form of TOS and TNG.

 

Quarks – Ads

 

The first season of Discovery ends with us seeing the USS Enterprise. It was pretty exciting. The second season starts with Captain Pike of the Enterprise coming on board to take temporary command of Discovery. This was, in my opinion, a bit of fan service that lined up the Michael Burnham and Spock connections and let us see Pike in action. But, they were awesome!! Anson Mount as Pike and Ethan Peck as Spock garnered so much support from the fan base, Paramount basically had no choice but to spin a series off for them.

 

But, wow, what a huge challenge! One of the things early Discovery had working against it was that its timeline butts up against the established stories in the Original Series. Now, at the end of the second season they Treknobabbled their way out of that conundrum, but it was a real thing. Strange New Worlds takes that issue and ramps it up to eleven! Now, we’re even closer to the Original series timeline, we’re on the same starship and we’re working with established characters! I mean, Spock and Uhura are main characters in BOTH series!

 

And as if those weren’t strong enough handcuffs, add in the established stories of Pike. Up until Discovery, and not counting the Kelvinverse movies, we’ve seen this dude two times. Once in The Cage, the original pilot for Star Trek and again in The Menagerie which was basically a repackaging of The Cage. So, for them to squeeze this series into a super tight set of restrictions is either super brave…or super dumb. And time will tell which.

 

Either way, this series is another triumph of the fandom. Back in late ’67, early ’68 NBC decided to cancel Star Trek after its 2nd season. Let me take a moment and explain what a huge deal that would have been. Back then, in order to crack into the money printing machine of syndication, you needed at least 3 seasons worth of episodes. Star Trek became huge in syndication. I am talking, right now, at this second, and you are listening to me because there were three seasons of the Original Series. But, if they were going to cancel it, how did it get a third season? Bjo Trimble, that’s how. She helped lead a letter writing to campaign that convinced NBC to renew the show for its third season.

 

Another, similar example of this was Star Trek Enterprise. As I discussed in the 63rd episode of the Starfleet Leadership Academy, Enterprise: The Xindi, the show was in trouble. In fact, it was going to get canceled at the end of its third season. The fans marched once again! Another letter writing campaign granted it a 4th season.

 

And that’s kinda sort of what happened here. We got Pike, Spock and Number One in Discovery and basically demanded more from them, and Paramount listened. This series is the direct result of fans making it so!

 

Now, the episode itself. I feel like this did a decent job of transitioning us from Discovery Pike to Strange New Worlds Pike and creating the world we’ll live in here. We met a bunch of the characters, but not all, and, in what feels like a breath of fresh air, it is clearly a single episode with its own story to tell. And it picked a pretty controversial one! I mean, basically holding a mirror up to a post-2020, American society and telling us that if we don’t change our way we’ll kick off a civil war that will lead to World War 3. And if that weren’t on the nose enough, it even used footage from the January 6th insurrection to show the beginning of America’s second civil war.

 

Wow. Not pulling any punches at all. As much of an echo of classic Trek this series appears to be, it is tackling the heavy issues just like the other modern Trek series are.

 

I liked almost every new character. I’m excited to learn more about Uhura and how she became who we have come to know. Dr. M’Benga seems awesome! We met him in the 35th episode of the podcast, TOS’s A Private Little War. But I am not too high on La’an so far. There’s a character type that I just don’t get into and that’s the one that has experienced so much pain it means nothing to them now. Oooh, look how macho I am and how tough I am. “No sedatives.” 26:09 Really?? This took minutes out of the episode and all it did was make me not like her. It’s like when dude from the Steven Segal classic, Under Siege 2 sprayed pepper spray in his mouth to intimidate people. Ugh.

 

I’m all in for this series, though. I’m excited to finally get to watch it as part of the Starfleet Leadership Academy and I’m looking forward to watching the rest with you.

 

<<Command Codes>>

 

When I watched this episode to prep to record, my first thought was, I’ll just play literally everything Pike says because he’s perfect. I mean, watching him in action in this episode is like watching Neil Peart perform Der Trommler. A master of their craft at their peak.

 

But for this episode, we can group his excellence together into two categories. He understands teamwork and how to get the most out of a team, he implicitly trusts his team and, through that, is able to be truly authentic in a way that that puts everyone at ease and ensures they feel like they belong. I’m going to share how he does these things and how you can do the same.

 

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When Pike first meets the President, who has accepted violence as just the way things work, he drops a piece of wisdom on us that I couldn’t leave alone. “Negotiation, Debate. These are the way to lasting peace.” 39:01 In a theme I’ll talk about more here shortly, Pike is telling us that it’s not about being right, it’s about finding the most right solution. In a more traditional, command and control style workplace, bosses tell people what to do and punish them when they don’t do it or don’t do it well enough. In a more modern trust, coach and inspire environment, you negotiate, debate, and listen. It’s not tell and do, it’s discuss and hear. Pike presents this as a means for peace. I present this as a way to be an effective leader.

 

You have the end goal in mind but engage your team on the best way to get there. It’s not up to you to decide how they do a thing. In fact, you should be asking them before you even start imagining how it can be done! Bring the team together, facilitate discussion, negotiate with them and help them negotiate with each other. You will end up with processes and decisions that they like, support and own, and, that are more effective. You may not be able to broker world peace on your own, but you can follow Pike’s advice to bring ownership, satisfaction and harmony to your teams.

 

Now, let’s talk about Pike. What makes this guy exude leadership the way he does? An easy answer would be confidence. But confidence, unchecked turns into arrogance, and that’s not what I saw in Pike. Maybe it’s that he’s cool and informal. This might be closer, but we see some that with Archer in Enterprise too, and he comes across as a total bro, mostly because he’s only cool to a couple of people. Pike is cool to everyone.

 

I think this is the thing. Pike is comfortable with who he is and in his skills and abilities. He’s authentic. Now that’s something we hear A LOT these days, right? Be authentic. But what does it really mean? It’s honestly very simple. Just be you. Don’t be the character in the onboarding video for your company, or pretend to be some type of person you’re not. Just be you. And that’s what Pike does. The Pike we see making pancakes is the same Pike we see addressing the assembly down on the planet. The guy who says, “We’re a little early so I hope we didn’t catch anyone with your pants down.” 16:18 is the same guy that holds up Earth’s apocalypse as a cautionary tale.

 

So let’s break this down. This is more than Pike just being informal and loose. It’s what’s behind that that makes it work, as well as how he uses it. Behind his approachable style is confidence. He knows his job and knows he’s good at it. He isn’t seeking validation of his abilities. And coupled with that, is that he knows he has earned his position. He doesn’t feel threatened and isn’t always trying to prove himself to others.

 

Notice the theme here. The difference between a calm, cool approach like Pike’s, and a toxic, bro-attitude like Archer’s is the need for external validation. For someone else to know that you did a good job. Or for someone else to confirm that you are in the right role. Pike’s validation comes from within. This goes back to the 59th episode of the podcast, DS9’s The House of Quark where I talked about the concept of Be, Do, Have. Pike focuses on the Be – what and who he is, where someone like Archer focuses on the Do – what actions he can be observed doing. One depends on others, the other depends on yourself, and, to be very plain about it, you should always rely on yourself. What you get when that happens is Pike.

 

I know I’m bagging on Archer pretty hard here, and if this is the first time you’re listening to this podcast, you should know, that so far I am not a fan of his leadership. But if you think I’m wrong, please let me know! @SFLApodcast on twitter.

 

One of the big observable behaviors of Pike’s that proves this is the fact he does not care what a person’s job or rank is. He’s cool to them regardless. “Just don’t lose my socks, Mr. Kyle.” 27:23 Kyle is just the transporter guy and he’s making sure he knows that his job matters and that he, Captain Pike, knows who he is. That is HUGE! That is what inclusion looks like!

 

When you create an environment where people feel included, like Pike has, they are more likely to share their ideas and, really, perform to their potential. Think about it, how hard are you going to work when the boss is being cool to other people but just treating you like the rank and file? Compare that to Pike treating everyone on the ship as equals and making them feel like their work matters. Yeah, you’re going to work a lot harder in the Pike environment.

 

But the other side to that, beyond him just being cool, is that he implicitly trusts his team to do their best and to offer ideas. This stems from his internal confidence in his abilities and his role. He’s not threatened by other people’s ideas, in fact, he’s so wide open to them because he knows that they know their jobs and he trusts there are bringing their A game. We see this in action when they first get to the planet. “Recommend we go to red alert. Go to red alert.” 22:32 He hears them out and does not hesitate. You say we need to do a thing, we do the thing.

 

I have worked with too many people in leadership positions that feel like they have to be the ones with the ideas. That they have to be right and one step ahead. They feel that way because they are validated externally, by people seeing them knowing the answers. For someone like Pike that is validated internally, he just wants the best possible outcome and knows that he is working with smart and capable people. He gets his satisfaction by accomplishing the mission, keeping everyone safe, and, I am assuming, building the confidence and skillsets of the people he works with.

 

Now that need to be right that a lot of leaders have. That might be one of the most limiting approaches and mindsets I can think of. I’ve shared before that I have managed in a union shop before. If you have never managed in this environment, just know that there is, put simply, an additional rulebook to play by. You have your company’s policies and the legal stuff you normally have to do, and then there are the requirements spelled out in the collective bargaining agreement. Some of those requirements are almost always how discipline is handled.

 

In this shop I supervised in, this was about 15 years ago at the time of this recording, management’s interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement moved us away from the intent of any discipline, which should always be to teach and improve, to a check-the-box of mentality of just making sure we said the things we needed to say. Ideally, if someone wasn’t performing well, you’d talk to them, show them where they needed to improve and work together to come up with a plan to do better; an interactive, collaborative endeavor. That’s not what we did. We would write a rather formal letter, tell the person they were blowing it and then force them to sign the letter, NOT saying they understand or agree or anything like that. No, just saying we told them and that we gave them the letter. This approach was built for the arbitration or lawsuit when we fired them so we could show, ‘hey…we told them what they had to do and what would happen if they didn’t do it.’

 

That approach and mindset is total top-down, command and control, I’m right and you are wrong thinking. Organizations that behave that way do not care about performance or the people that work there. Like I said, poor performance, or other mistakes, should be talked about collaboratively.

 

In this episode, La’an has some secrets and they affect the mission. She has a previous relationship with Una and trauma around her childhood when she and her family were held by the Gorn. Near the end, she finally does the right thing and brings it to Pike. Now, she should have shared all of this from go – it would have had an impact on the mission. Pike likely would not have taken her on the away mission, for example. But she does come forward with it. Had Pike worked for the people I did back 15 years ago, he would have ripped into her, told her what she did wrong and followed it up with a sternly worded letter. Instead, because he actually wants people to improve and wants the best for everyone he works with, it goes down like this, “I should have told you, sir. Tell me now.” 47:33

 

Wow. How amazing is this? Instead of insisting on being right, and flexing his authority, he just creates space for her to be heard. That doesn’t mean she gets a free pass, right? Like, I think a lot of leaders are hesitant to do this because they think it’s just letting people behave how they want to. But he still lays down how he expects her to communicate moving forward and he’s demonstrated that it is ok to bring things to him. In fact, I guess this does offer a free pass; a free pass to come to Pike with her mistakes and for advice instead of actively trying to hide them from him. Seems like a pretty great deal.

 

When he’s talking about how things need to be moving forward, he also lays out the overriding philosophy of effective teamwork. “There’s more to serving Starfleet than individual excellence. Teamwork is our strength.” 48:28 Again, we come back to external vs internal motivation and validation. La’an is driven to be a top performer and, partially because of that, overlooks the needs of the team. It’s this mindset that drives her to skip the pain killers when Nurse Chapel makes them look like the aliens. ‘Look how tough I am!’ instead of focusing on the mission and the needs of the team.

 

What Pike knows is that developing each individual to be their best and then focusing them on the team and the team’s goals is what makes an organization great. Like, it doesn’t matter how tough or smart or good someone like La’an is if she’s not working to make the team win. Everyone wins, or no one wins and Pike’s role is ensuring everyone is ready to help make the entire team win.

 

When I started this section I said that Pike really did two things. He built strong teams and led in a way that made people feel included and trusted. But, now that we’ve talked through this, I think what he really does is shift people’s need for external validation to an intrinsic, internal validation, and not just individually, but for the team. Each person is internally validated with a focus, provided by the leader, to the team, which is internally validated for the great work it does.

 

When you can build this, as Pike has, your team will perform at the level we see the Enterprise operate at in this episode. No drive for individual recognition, but a welcoming, trusting and inclusive environment where the team is confident in its abilities, know that it is in the right role, and operates at galaxy-class levels.

 

<<Hailing Frequencies>>

 

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Don’t miss out on the added info and cool things I share. Click the link in the show notes or visit starfleetleadership.academy to join today. And, you’ll get a cool thing I put together based on Saru’s leadership assessment he did on himself in the Discovery episode, Choose Your Pain.

 

And I’d love to connect with you on Twitter or Mastodon: @ SFLA podcast and you can follow me on most all the social media, @jefftakin Jeff, t as in 279, a k i n.

 

Computer, what are we going to watch next time….

 

The 23rd episode of the 2nd season of Deep Space 9, Crossover. This is DS9’s first foray into the Mirror Universe and the second time the franchise has ventured there. This one is a lot of fun! The Mirror Universe was introduced in the Original Series and then just kind of left there. This is nearly 100 years later, and we get to see the lasting effects of that encounter. I can’t wait to watch it with you!

 

Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!