Dec. 13, 2022

068: TAS: The Infinite Vulcan

IDIC - Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations

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On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek The Animated Series, The Infinite Vulcan (Season 1, Episode 7). He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Kirk, Mr. Scott and Lt. Uhura.

Link to Intent Based Leadership's Competence and Clarity:

IDIC - Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. Jeff explores how diversity, inclusive diversity, is critical in creating empowered and enabled work teams. Competence, Clarity and Trust are also critical, but they need diversity to truly unlock the potential of teams.

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Welcome! Thanks for joining me today. We are learning more and more about diversity. What it is and why it is so important. But Star Trek had an incredible framework for it as far back as 1968. IDIC. Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. I’m going to share this framework and concept and show you how to apply it in your workplace and in your daily actions. And I get to that by sharing the 7th episode of the 1st season of the Animated Series, The Infinite Vulcan.




The Enterprise is approaching a new planet, Phylos. Sulu, Spock and Kirk are on the surface investigating. They find unique plant life…flowers that walk and move! They also locate a small town that has a building generating power. Sulu, a trained botanist, decides to pick up the mobile plant and it stings him! “Ow! Must have been a thorn.” 2:25 They had off towards the building to investigate.


They find a technologically advanced location with force shields and other defenses for the planet and the building, in particular. As they search through it Sulu shockingly drops to the ground. “He’s been poisoned.” 2:56 And out of nowhere, the natives show up. Phylosians. The speaker’s name is Agmar and says it can help. Now this is a moment where they really lean into being a cartoon. “Captain, these beings are botanical.”  And McCoy brilliantly helps us understand what that means, “Intelligent plants??” 3:46


Agmar explains the Phylosians are a peaceful people as they cure Sulu. Humans have been to Phylos before. Agmar says they came a generation ago and brought a disease that nearly wiped them out. That human helped them to cure it, but many Phylosians were lost. “It must have been like a plague.” 5:46 And they are now sterile – a dying race.


Then, out of nowhere, plant-based flying dragons attack! Yep…it is that out of nowhere! Kirk tries to phaser one, but there is a weapons deactivator in effect; phasers won’t work! They swarm everyone, holding them down with their tentacles until Kirk says, “Something tells me we are just a diversion.” 6:29 The vegan dragons fly off with Spock. Agmar says, “The Master has searched many years for a specimen like Spock.” 6:43 Apparently, he is meant to serve a greater cause for their…their master??


Kirk tells Agmar to release Spock but then, remember when I said we were leaning into this being a cartoon? Well, here we go. A super-tall, giant human wearing, I don’t know, toga pants or something, comes out as the Phylosians hail him as Master. “I am Dr Stavos Keniclius 5.” 7:12 He explains Spock is lost to them and tells them to return to the Enterprise and be on their way. So, we get the closest thing they ever say in Star Trek to the old cliché, “Beam us up, Scotty.” 7:44


On the ship they do some research and discover this Kenclius was an evil doctor during the Eugenics Wars. He and his master-race concepts were found to be anti-humanistic and he was banished from Earth. Might explain how he ended up on Phylos. The Eugenics Wars took place on Earth from 1992 to 1996 meaning “He’d be over 250 years old!” 10:21 Kirk pieces together that he has been cloning himself, likely 5 times so far, to continue his work. Scotty and McCoy, in the meantime, are developing a toxin and a delivery device for that toxin they can use to incapacitate the Phylosians and rescue Spock.


They head back down, ready to go! On their way to the main building, they find a hanger full of ships “Looks like they’re going on a trip.” 11:48 They find and capture Agmar. And, I feel like I need to call it out here. It’s not my recap that’s choppy, this episode just weirdly jumps from scene to scene. Not very well edited.


Ok, so they capture Agmar who starts to explain why they took Spock, “The Vulcan-Human blend of wisdom and strength.” 12:48 He is to carry on the Phylosians’ work, finding a way to keep their race alive. Agmar then takes them to Spock. They find him, unconscious and dying. Keniclius comes out and introduces, “Spock 2!” 15:13 Yep…it’s a massive, giant version of Spock. No toga pants, though. Just his uniform. Apparently, they are transferring Spock’s consciousness from normal Spock to Spock 2. Big ‘ol, giant Spock will, apparently, be better than normal Spock for Kenclius. For, well…reasons. I suppose.


Scotty and Uhura work hard to transfer ship’s power so they can send a communication to the landing party. When they finally get through, they let them know Kenclius had writings saying he was trying to create a master race to enforce the peace.


On the planet, Kirk tries to reason with Spock 2. “What is the logic in letting a man die?” 17:44 Though maybe they should be asking where the logic is in making giant versions of themselves, but, hey, I didn’t write this one. But, Kenclius says this is the beginning of a master race. I guess being at least 20 feet tall is the first of the requirements for that race.


Kirk also takes on Kenclius, but with a little more information. “All this has been a waste. There has been peace for 100 years.” 19:15 Kenclius has a hard time believing this. We learn that the Phylosians ships that the landing party found earlier, were meant from their predecessors, to invade the galaxy and impose peace. Kenclius talked them out of it, saying they needed the master race to enforce any peace they imposed.


Kirk tries it against both of them. As perfect as Spock may be, his ideology wouldn’t allow him to enforce a peace. This causes a breakdown. Spock 2 hits normal Spock with “The Vulcan Mind Touch.” 21:21 Copying his consciousness to him and saving his life. Spock 2 and Kirk talk Kenclius into using his, and Spock 2’s, expertise to cure and sustain the Phylosians, with them both staying on Phylos until their natural deaths. “To bring life is at least important as bringing peace.” 22:23 Kenclius agrees, so Kirk and crew, along with normal Spock, return to the ship. But not before a really awkward and possibly wildly offensive exchange between Kirk and Sulu about being inscrutable. Yeah. That happens, and ends with Sulu winking at the camera. Weird.


<<Red Alert>>


Taken off the field for the transition from the Original to the Animated Series, Walter Koenig, or Chekov, wrote this episode! Sadly, it was his only contribution to TAS. And the rumors are that the writing process was a nightmare for him. Given the jarring nature of the story flow and some inexplicable plot points, this totally checks out.


Quarks – Ads


As the story goes, Koenig was hired to write the episode, and did. He wanted to talk about cloning and explore the philosophies behind and around it. Which, does, sort of get mentioned in the final version that we get to see. Like, sort of.


But, like happened to a lot of scripts both on the Original Series and the early Next Generation Roddenberry got his hands on it and made him add to and rewrite it countless times. Koenig described it as an unbearable process and actually declined an ask to write more episodes.


But he did get one, fun, little dig in. “He was written by the Retlaw plant.” 4:23 Retlaw backwards is Walter. Eh? See what he did there!


But my big question, and it is big, is why did they have to be giants?? I mean, yeah, this is animated, it’s a cartoon, so go far with it, have fun! But, why?!? Maybe…just maybe, it was all to set up a callback in the Lower Decks second season episode, Kayshon, His Eyes Open. Maybe.


Near the end of the episode, when they realize Keniclius is actually after peace, Kirk says there has been peace for 100 years. Now, to be fair, he could have meant within the Federation itself; like between the Vulcans and Andorians and stuff like that. But, to be ‘that guy’ about this, and acknowledging Discovery creators Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman were 4 and a newborn, respectively, when this episode first aired, the Federation-Klingon War ended just 13 years before this encounter on Phylos.


Ok, done being Mr Pedantic. On to some fun stuff on this one.


Early in the episode, Sulu is interested in the mobile plant life and goes to pick it up. In the first episode of the Original Series that aired, The Man Trap, we learned Sulu was a botanist, so he understands plant life! Still he picks it up and Kirk eggs his on, “We always encourage officers to be friendly with the natives.” 2:06 I’ll bet you do, Captain Kirk!! Seems he and Will Riker really embraced that one!


And in this one we get a little look into McCoy’s family history. “My great-great-granddaddy made this recipe.” 9:35 Did his grandpa work for Monsanto?? Like, did a McCoy come up with RoundUp??


All in all, this was an interesting idea for an episode. I’d sure like to see Koenig’s early drafts and see where he saw it going. Sadly, this one was Roddenberry’d, and we got the confusing mess we just sat through.


<<Command Codes>>


Diversity. If you have stepped out into open air even one time in the past 30 years, you have heard about it. But do you really understand it? Is it anything more to you than a checkbox on a job application or a metric on some corporate dashboard? For the flaws Gene Roddenberry had managing writers and behaving appropriately in the workplace, he absolutely had vision. He introduced a topic than came up in this episode back in 1968. IDIC, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. I’m going to talk about this groundbreaking concept, at least for the late ‘60’s and what it means for you and your workplace.


Before that, though, I talk quite a bit about empowered and enabled work teams. Here, we get to see what a very effective, empowered work group looks like and I will talk through what it takes for you, as a leader, to help make that happen.


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An empowered and enabled work team, or an intact work group, or a self-directed team. They have a lot of different names but, at their core, they are the same thing. A group of people that know what is expected of them, know how to do it, and they do it. They don’t rely on a supervisor or even a lead to tell them what to do. They understand the constraints, like policies and the rules, and how to work within them. Frankly, it should be the goal of every single team in a workplace.


But let’s break down what happened in the scene here. Kirk, Spock and Sulu are on the planet’s surface, under a protective force shield so standard communications won’t reach them. They have learned new information about Keniclius that they believe is mission critical, that it can save their lives. The first indication we get that this is an empowered work team is when Scotty decides to redirect all ship’s power, except environmental controls, to forming the communications beam. This is a great example of how to share potential solutions. First of all, technically, it should work, right? Like, more power should be enough to get through the shield, at least, based on my understanding of Trek tech… Second, he has already weighed the potential consequences and has an idea of how to mitigate them. He keeps the life-sustaining systems online, focuses the rest.


Now, to be honest, this action isn’t unique to empowered work teams. Ideas like this come up all the time. The first signal this is something special is that Scotty actually says it out loud. In a traditional, more command-and-control environment, most people would have the thought, keep it themselves and then complain to others in the break room. But, in that traditional environment, if that idea was spoken, one of three things would happen: it would get shut down, it would happen exactly as Scotty voiced it, or it would get sent off to some committee or workgroup for consideration.


Hitting a nerve for you there? I know it does for me!


But this is Kirk’s Enterprise. It is full of competent people, with clarity in what the mission is, that are empowered and enabled to work to achieve that mission. So what happens, is Uhura questions his order. On the bridge. In front of everyone. “Mr Scott, you’re risking a drain!” And it’s ok!! In fact, it’s more than ok, it’s expected! And, ultimately, leads to a safer, more controlled approach to the solution.


She points out that they will burn out their dilithium crystals if they do this for too long and recommends putting a time constraint on it. They talk through the idea, out loud and in front of everyone, total transparency and no personal ego attached. Uhura never questioned Scotty – she wanted to improve upon the idea, the solution. And that’s what they did. They implemented it, got the message delivered and helped resolve the crisis on the planet. A key thing here is that they didn’t have to ask for permission. They talked through it, agreed and did it. Zero bureaucracy.


In your workplace, when a problem or a challenge comes up, does it look like this did, on the Enterprise, or does it look more command-and-control? When someone has an idea, or you have an idea, is it shared or kept quiet? If it’s shared, what happens to it? Does it go to committee hell? Is it ignored? Or, honestly the worst outcome, does a manager just grab it and tell people to do it? While there are degrees of being empowered, it’s not just a binary, you are or you aren’t, but the key and important part of it is that public discourse. Having ideas questioned and talked through to find the best possible approach. I absolutely loved how publicly Scotty and Uhura talked through this and how they had zero ego attached to it. It was just about solving the problem.


To make this happen, to achieve truly empowered work teams and people, there are three things you, as the leader, need to focus on: competence, clarity and trust. L. David Marquet and his team at Intent Based Leadership break this down so well. I’ll link a great video on this in the show notes.


These three things are not sequential; it’s not doing one and then the others. You have to do all of these things. It’s an equilateral triangle. You must develop competence in your team; they have to know how to do their jobs. We see this in the episode in that both Scotty, the engineer, and Uhura, the communications officer, know the ship’s systems and their interoperability. You can develop competence through training, education, experience, exams, scenarios, short-interval coaching and on and on.


Clarity is about information. What is the mission? What can we do, what can’t we do? What are the rules? The two keys to providing clarity, as a leader, are to provide information, not instructions, and to always think out loud. As a leader, when you talk, people listen, do talk through your thoughts! This provides clarity through your thought processes and through the information provided.


And the big one. The one I talk about in detail in a lot of episodes but specifically the 49th episode of the Starfleet Leadership Academy, Discovery’s Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad. Trust. You can have the most competent team ever formed with crystal clear clarity, but if you don’t trust those people, you will add bureaucracy. You will be a micromanager. In fact, the natural result of a lack of trust is micromanagement.


These are the things to work on. Build competence, provide clarity and trust your team. Once you have done this, you will have wildly empowered work teams that will absolutely do amazing things.


And to ensure those empowered work teams are most effective, and come up with the greatest possible ideas, you also need the people on those teams to be diverse and to be fully included. From here, I’m going to talk about diversity, but I want to be very clear. Diversity without inclusion is worthless. It’s actually worse than worthless. It is a detriment to you, your teams and your organization. Diversity without inclusion leads to tokenism at best, and outright discrimination to the worst.


In Star Trek, one of the ways they flesh this out is the concept of IDIC, or I D I C. This was first introduced in the 3rd season of the original series episode Is There No Truth in Beauty. That’s the one that introduced the Medusans, a race whose appearance is so incomprehensible to humanity that it causes insanity to even look at them. In the episode, we are introduced to the symbol that shows up in a number of Trek episodes involving Vulcans from this point further and Spock talks about the concept.


But in this episode, they assume we know a little about it already, since this came after the Original Series. Kirk uses it to show Keniclius that Spock would reject being some kind of master race. “Vulcan symbol known as Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.” 20:24


So, what is IDIC? The symbol itself, and its description, provide a great definition. It is made up of a circle, a triangle and a jewel. The triangle and the circle are two different shapes, made of different materials, and have different textures. They represent any two diverse things which come together to create truth or beauty, represented by the jewel in the center. That’s beautiful. The concept goes on to say that purpose, meaning and beauty are only achieved through our differences. There was a commercial from a few years ago that illustrated this perfectly! A skilled pianist played one of Beethoven’s most popular pieces, Moonlight Sonata, on a normal piano, and then on a piano with each key tuned to the same note. That is IDIC! That is the beauty that comes from differences. Note that the pianist was competent, clearly. Had clarity, he knew exactly which piece to play and how to perform it. And was trusted; he was on stage all by himself. So even with the three aspects that create an empowered work team, he couldn’t create the beauty that was the goal of the piece. He needed differences to make that happen. He needed diversity.


These are the things you need for your teams. Competence, clarity, trust and diversity. Diversity of thought, of experience, of education. Let’s reimagine the back-and-forth between Scotty and Uhura if they had the same education, experience and thought processes. Scotty would have offered his idea and Uhura would have agreed with it and executed. A few moments later, they would have burned through their dilithium and would have been stranded at Phylos. No good! Instead, even between just two people, we had multiple dimensions of diversity, or intersectionalities, that led to looking at the problem and the solution differently. It led to a better outcome.


Think about this when forming teams. A group of similar people will drain all the dilithium. While a team built on the concept of IDIC will most often solve your problem and do it in a creative and effective way!


<<Hailing Frequencies>>


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You can send it to me on Twitter: @ SFLA podcast and most other social media, @jefftakin Jeff, t as in toga pants, a k i n.


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


It’s the 24th episode of the 4th season of The Next Generation, The Mind’s Eye. It’s the Zoolander episode of TNG! The Romulans capture Geordi LaForge and condition him to assassinate some big shot Klingon. This is an action-packed episode focusing on LaForge and an early installment of the Chief O’Brien must suffer trope that we see so often in Deep Space 9. This will be a fun one.


Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!



Link to Competence and Clarity: