Pulaski shows us the value of failing; and maybe sets up Data's Kobayashi Maru
On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek The Next Generation, Elementary, Dear Data (Season 2, Episode 3). He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Picard and Dr. Pulaski.
Pulaski lays out the lesson in this one: "Where’s the value in winning a battle there’s no chance of losing?"
Data and Geordi also give us an enviable glimpse into relationships with people that are neurodivergent.
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Welcome, everyone! Thanks for joining me today. Once again, Dr Pulaski shines through for us. We’ll talk about her thoughts on failure as a teacher and we’ll also ask the age-old question; did Picard mess this one up? Let’s do it as we dive into the 3rd episode of TNG’s 2nd season, “It’s elementary, my dear Data.”
The base reason for this entire episode is that, well, space travel can be boring sometimes. As viewers, we see snippets of the whole life of these characters and what this episode shows us is what they do in their free time.
The Enterprise arrived at its rendezvous 3 days early; they’re going to be meeting up with the USS Victory, a Constellation Class starship that Geordi LaForge was assigned to as an Ensign. As a gift to his former commanding officer, Geordi has put together a replica model of the HMS Victory from the early 19th century. After showing that off to Data, he has a surprise for him too. They’re going to the holodeck to play along with some Sherlock Holmes, “He can be reached at 221b Baker St!”
A holodeck adventure! What could go wrong? Right…? Well, let’s see!
Data is impressed with the holodeck’s reproduction of the setting. He takes Geordi on a short tour of all the trinkets and books in the room they start off in. He’s like me walking through the Star Trek exhibit at the Experience Music Project in Seattle!! “He purchased this for 55 schillings.”
We get a glimpse into Data’s passion for music, and his ability to throw himself into a character based on the data he’s consumed. “Data, how you can play it like that?” Data’s desire to be a creative is an ongoing theme through TNG and these are some early seeds for that development.
As they’re playing along and having a good time, Inspector Lestrade and a partner come to the door. The inspector describes a crime that was perpetrated against his partner. Data walks up, reaches into the ‘victim’s’ coat pocket and solves the crime. Just like that. As he’s explaining, “Computer, freeze program,” Geordi shuts it down and walks out. He says playing Sherlock Holmes with Data is like playing Knights of the Old Republic with someone that’s beaten it 19 times already. No mystery, no surprise, no fun. Just jump to the ‘cool part’ and skip out on the work that, according to Geordi, “No mystery, no game, no game, no fun.”
Doctor Pulaski overhears and chimes in. We’ve only watched one episode with Pulaski in it and haven’t touched on her, well, I guess I can say aversion to Data. She sees him as nothing more than a computer and a tool to be used where the rest of the crew see him as one of them. She says, “asking Data to do this is like asking a computer not to compute.” She goes on to say, “Where’s the value in winning a battle you can’t possibly lose?”
And then we hit it! We hit on what might be one of life’s biggest and most valuable lessons, “Are you saying there’s value in losing? Yes.” We’re going to talk a lot about this when we get to the Command Codes, but what she does after this is great too. She challenges Data to solve a Holmes mystery he hasn’t already read, that he doesn’t already have the solution for. And, she’s willing to put her theory to the test; she believes, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that Data is not capable of deductive reasoning on his own, that he can only recite, memorize and learn by rote. So Geordi and Data have the computer write a mystery in the Holmes Style and the three of them head into the holodeck to see how Data does as Sherlock Holmes. “You are invited to be a witness. I wouldn’t miss it.”
Seems AI writing is still flawed in the 24th century. Data solves the mystery after just a few minutes because the Computer basically took aspects of a few Holmes stories and hodge-podged them together. Data picked up on the queues, put the pieces together and solved the crime.
Pulaski cries “fraud!” “All the inspiration of Holmes is not possible for our friend.” Geordi isn’t going to be deterred, though, and Data is eager to prove his ability, so Geordi goes for it, “In the Holmesian style, create an opponent with the ability to defeat him.” It’s the holodeck, what could go wrong??
Well, in an unintentionally hilarious cut, we go straight to Worf and Riker on the bridge who see, “An odd surge of power, sir.” And then we cut back to the holodeck. The game, as they say, is afoot!
The trio strolls through London innocently looking about. We see Professor Moriarty standing in an alley who says, “I feel like a new man.” And then does the unthinkable. He calls for the Arch, and it appears! For those that don’t constantly consume Star Trek, like I do, saying Arch on the holodeck causes the doorway to appear so you can interface with the computer. And, yeah, that means Moriarty has access to the ship’s Computer. Looks like we’ve got our opponent!
As the trio are strolling about, Pulaski is abducted! Geordi thinks she’s playing a joke on them, but Data, examining the footprints in the dirt, is able to see that 2 men snatched her. He then gives very specific details about the people based on the movements he can see in the footprints. Some great, deductive reasoning! Geordi smiles, he’s into it!!
Data is rocking this! He’s explaining his reasoning to Geordi who is struggling to follow. So Data drops character and walks him through it, but falls right back into character as he wraps it up. “Well, not that simple.” Brent Spiner must have had a blast with this episode!
After a long pursuit, they end up in Moriarty’s lab. And he’s been smartened up to the whole gimmick! “Holmes but not Holmes.” He hands Data a drawing and he storms away, exiting the holodeck. He tries to shut down the program but cannot. He’s freaked out, nothing that is going on here should be happening or even be possible. On their way to inform Picard and the senior crew, Data shares the drawing with Geordi; Moriarty drew the Enterprise! “What about the doctor? She is in grave danger.”
Worf, Troi and Riker join Picard, Geordi and Data in the Observation Lounge. They realize that Geordi’s instructions to create an opponent that could defeat Data, and not just Sherlock Holmes, is what caused all of this. What’s more, Troi senses a “unifying force or single consciousness” that suggests Moriarty has become sentient! The ship starts rocking! Looks like Moriarty can physically control the ship!! Picard decides to accompany Geordi and Data back to the holodeck with Worf and security prepared to come in if needed.
In his lab, Moriarty is visiting with Pulaski. She is supremely confident that this is all a holodeck program and that she’s safe…until he calls for the Arch again. She asks to leave and invites him to join her, which is brilliant! What you and I know, that he might not, is that if he steps out of the holodeck, he’ll disappear; he needs the emitters to exist. But he declines, and explains Pulaski is bait for “Jean-Luc Picard.”
In top hat and tuxedo, Picard joins Data in London. They note the holographic images are changing, they’re more realistic and dangerous. Moriarty is altering the program himself.
They make their way to the lab and are greeted by an expecting Moriarty and an uncomfortable Pulaski, “Are you alright? Yes, except for the crumpets.” Moriarty shows that he controls the ship and that while he is civilized, he is still dangerous. They attempt to run the program to its conclusion, hopefully ending the program, by admitting defeat. But Moriarty doesn’t accept and the program persists. He lays out more threats so Picard just agrees with him and gets to the heart of the matter, “Yes you can, what do you want?” This is an incredible technique that Chris Voss talks about in his book, Never Split the Difference. Instead or arguing points that don’t really matter, just give them to your opponent and get to what matters. You can find Voss’s book, and other great reads at my Reading list at jeffakin.com.
Moriarty says he wants to continue to exist; he wants to live! Picard explains that this is possible, kind of. Technology just isn’t to a point where he can exist anywhere outside of the holodeck. They dive into a philosophical discussion, “I think, therefore I am,” that does quite a bit to shift Picard’s thinking. He makes a compelling case that he is alive and conscious. But he acknowledges the technological barriers, and they find common ground. “I do not want to die. I do not want to kill you.”
This common ground does what common ground allows: a mutually beneficial solution or, in this case, compromise. Moriarty gives up control of the ship. Then they agree to store his consciousness in the Enterprise’s memory banks until there is a way to bring him back. Pulaski says it may be quite a long time until the technology exists but he shows his admiration and respect for her by saying, “I’ll still fill you with crumpets.” Picard then saves his program and ends the program.
Back in Engineering, Picard checks out Geordi’s model of the Victory. They talk about the ship and the situation; Geordi is blaming himself for the danger the ship was in. Picard sets him at ease “everything is in order.” as the Victory arrives for the rendezvous.
This episode has some pretty serious holes in it, but, all in all, is a lot of fun!
Hi there, cadets! In our last episode where we watched Discovery’s Choose Your Pain, we talked about the incredible performance review that Saru set up for himself. Well, I created a tool to help you do the same thing for yourself. For your free copy of this tool, visit jeffakin.com and join our mailing list. You’ll get access to a copy you can download for yourself and for your team. Just visit jeffakin.com and join the mailing list. Thanks!
I kind of hated that Picard had to swoop in and save the day at the end, and there wasn’t really any resolution to Pulaski’s accusations that Data wasn’t capable of solving a unique mystery.
Aside from that, we learned a lot about the holodeck technology itself “this is no larger than the holodeck.” and how it’s similar to the tech behind transporters. This is also the tech behind replicators, so, I really hope scientists today are hyper-focused on figuring that out!
The acting was great. Spiner’s Holmes was a little over the top, but that’s totally what it should have been given the context; they even addressed that when LaForge was like, “Holmes really talked like that?” But his ability to slide between Holmes and Data was near-perfect and really added to the reality of the situations. Like, if you were there, and everything was going south, you’d probably drop out of character too, until you couldn’t because you might be giving too much away.
Now, I haven’t watched any of new Sherlock Holmes stuff that’s been out there, like Robert Downey Jr’s, Johnny Lee Miller’s or even Khan’s, I mean Benedict Cumberbatch’s but, I’d be hard pressed to see a better Moriarty than Daniel Davis gave us. I believed every single thing he did and word he said. When he told Pulaski he was to be feared, it was bone chilling! His has got to be one of the top guest appearances in Star Trek!
And even though we only get a few minutes of Pulaski in this one, I think she is amazing! We will absolutely get some episodes with her where her attitude towards Data gets way past uncomfortable all the way to inappropriate, but we just see hints in this one. But her cool confidence, her ability to play along and to challenge assumptions and the status quo without being, well, a jerk about it, are fantastic!
This episode also demonstrated a concept that may have been well ahead of its time, and that’s how it can be difficult for a person that is neurodivergent to conform to the unwritten rules of society or the workplace.
See, in the beginning of the episode, Geordi is frustrated and angry with Data because he just solved the mystery. The back and forth between them about it is so telling! “So I should have taken longer?”
Data isn’t wrong; the point of the game was to solve the mystery, but Geordi wasn’t wrong either! To a person that is a strictly literal thinker, like Data, or some people on the autism spectrum, this is wildly confusing!
I recently attended APSE’s National Conference. APSE is the Association of People Supporting Employment First; a group in the United States focused on facilitating the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace and community. There was a presentation by a speaker I have seen before and always learn from, Bev Harp from the University of Kentucky Human Development Institute. The presentation was about The Secret Rulebook and unspoken expectations at work. She uses the example of a two-headed llama. One head is told to go solve the mystery while the other head is told to take time to problem solve and enjoy the process. To a person that is neurotypical or whose neurodivergence works differently, they can look at that as an AND statement: solve the mystery AND take your time to problem solve and enjoy the process. To many people that are neurodivergent, it’s an EITHER/OR statement, either solve the mystery, OR take your time.
This little scene beautifully demonstrated this was of thinking. The takeaway for us is that we interact with people that struggle with their inner two-headed llama all the time, they just work really hard to cover it up. So, try to be more patient and understanding. Like, have the discussion Geordi did with Data, but don’t blow up and storm out of the room.
And if you have a chance to hear Bev speak, please do! I am not doing her justice here and hers is a message we can all benefit from!
I think I’ve shared that I’ve kind of avoided the first 2 seasons of TNG for a lot of years. One of my complaints was Pulaski. Watching this show when it was first airing, she just never clicked for me, but watching now with a more critical eye, so far I am a huge fan.
This episode was focused on the mystery put in front of Data and kept us in the moment almost the entire time. But the lessons we learn from Picard and Pulaski here are great. Pulaski talks about the value of losing and failure, while Picard misses out on an opportunity for development and growth, but did he miss it because missing it was the right thing to do?
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Pulaski just nails it in this episode. She asked, where’s the value in winning a battle there’s no chance of losing, and that is brilliant. How do you look at failure? Specifically, how do you look at your own failure and how do you look at the failures of your team?
You should look at them the same. Your failure isn’t any less or good or bad than failures of your team, and vice-versa. I’ve learned, in talking with other leaders that there is a sort of toxic self-accountability out there. It might be ok for your team to fail or your colleagues, but you hold yourself to a higher standard and just can’t tolerate personal failures.
News flash! You are not holding yourself to a higher standard, you’re needlessly beating yourself up and holding yourself back from growing and developing.
Let’s reset a little bit here. I’ve made a huge assumption that we all look at failure, in the macro sense, the same way. That it is a good thing. Right? I mean, Pulaski just out and says it! “We learn more from a failure or a mistake than success.”
Failure is a step towards success. And more than that, failing means you’re trying things that are new, or are outside of your comfort zone, and that’s awesome! There are so many incredible quotes, from so many incredibly successful people about failure that you’ve got to believe there’s something to them! Robert F Kennedy said Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly. Gena Showalter, Giving up is the only sure way to fail. Thomas Edison’s famous, I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. And what might be my favorite, which I believe is from Andy Warhol: if you’re not failing, you’re not trying.
But, if failure is so great, why do go to such lengths to avoid it? Or, worse, cover it up??
I’ve spoken about the big accounting IT upgrade I was a part of a few years ago. Oof, that project did not go well in so many ways. But what is still amazing to me is that our top leadership truly believed everything was going great. That’s when I realized I worked in a culture of never-fail. My teams were in the thick of it and it was a dumpster fire, but the project leadership would spin the failures into success, but not in a good way! Like, a good way would have been to say something like, ‘we’re falling behind on our project schedule because we can’t get enough people to dedicate enough time to testing the system.’ Instead, they’d say, ‘things are going great. People are spending a lot of time testing, more than we planned, but we’re making sure the system is ready for anything.’ The reality was the testing needed about 12 full time people dedicated to it, and we had 4.
When I had this realization and brought it up with my leadership, they were able to reflect on other projects and saw that this had always been the case. Even when things were falling apart, they had been made to believe all was good. A never-fail culture leads to poorly executed projects, low quality work products and disengaged employees. Period.
Instead, everyone needs to embrace failure! Failure is so valuable and amazing if you learn from it. Failing and giving up is true failure. Failing, and doing the same thing again but expecting a different result, well, there’s a definition for that too. But failing, learning from that failure and changing your approach, that’s how you do amazing things!
But Jeff, you say! I run a nuclear power plant and failure there means the prologue to Fallout 3! Ok, yeah, there are absolutely things in which we cannot fail, but those are very rare. Here’s an exercise I want you to do. In fact, here’s your homework. Do this exercise and then share your ah-ha’s in the Starfleet Leadership Academy Facebook group. This exercise completely transformed the management culture of one of my teams, and I want to hear if it can do the same for you. Plus, others in the group will learn so much from what you learn too!
Ok, here’s the exercise. List 3 categories: Critical, Urgent and Routine. And then think of all the things that happen in your office, program, area or organization depending on your span of control. Place those tasks or things in the appropriate category. Critical means you need to respond right now, immediately or catastrophic things could happen. Urgent means you need to take action or respond within like 12 hours or a few days. And routine is what it sounds like, things you can respond to within a few days or a week.
Can I give away a little bit of the ending on this for you? I’ve been able to go through this exercise with a number of organizations in the private, public and non-profit sectors and almost all of them had one thing on common. Nothing was critical. Let me say that again: NOTHING was critical.
Now, if you’re the nuclear power plant person I mentioned, or you work in healthcare, disaster response, infrastructure or public safety, yes, absolutely there are critical items. There are certainly sectors and industries that have critical response needs, but none of them would surprise you.
The other thing this exercise assumes is that you are brutally honest with yourself and your team. Is that thing really critical? Is it? Like, if you waited 4 hours to respond would anyone die, would any critical information be compromised – and not just at risk of being compromised but actually be compromised? If you are brutally honest, you will find that almost nothing is critical.
And that doesn’t mean it isn’t important! Your work can absolutely be important but not necessarily critical in this exercise. Just because something is put in a category other than critical, that does not mean it is not important. That has to be clear. It just means you have some time before you need to respond to it.
And what that enables is pretty powerful. Once you know something is urgent or most things are routine, failure is totally ok. You or your team or organization can fail, fix the problem and learn from it, ultimately becoming more powerful than you can possibly imagine.
So do the exercise. This should not be easy! There should be some heated discussion and there should be some times you need to check your ego. But once you do it, you’ll see that it is ok to encourage failure.
So let’s look back at that toxic self-awareness I brought up earlier. The world is catching on with this whole failure thing. Finally. So a lot of leaders and managers are, at best encouraging failure, and, close to worst, tolerating it. Yes, there are still some that punish failure and well, if you are one of those or know one, I’d ask you to invite them to listen to the Starfleet Leadership Academy. Or introduce them to me! I’d love to find out why they think failure’s a bad thing that should have negative consequences!
But, people that are on the spectrum from encouraging to tolerating, maybe of them still won’t accept their personal failures. They hold it against themselves thinking this is a way to encourage their development, thinking they are holding themselves to a higher standard. If this is you, STOP! Knock it off! You are actively depriving yourself of the ability to grow and develop. You know what I do when I fail? I breathe. Because I always fail, so it keeps me alive! Haha
But seriously, when I fail, personally, I take a breath. And then I look at what happened, maybe I reach out to people I trust and talk through it with them. This approach, by the way, is exactly how you should handle failures on your team too. But we look at what went well and what didn’t. Where did I say the wrong thing to the wrong person, or when did I send the wrong info? Ask these questions and again, be brutally honest with yourself. Remember, you’re not beating yourself up, you’re reflecting honestly on what happened so you can change your approach.
A lot of people find success and value in journaling through this process; writing down the good and the bad and identifying what to continue doing and what to try differently. If that’s not your jam, that’s cool too; find what works for you, but, whatever you do, embrace failure as an essential step towards growth and success.
And speaking of failure, oh, Jean-Luc…what were you doing?? Data and Geordi came to you looking for guidance and help. Instead, you swooped in and saved the day yourself! And quite masterfully, really. I loved how he used Chris Voss’s technique of agreeing with Moriarty so they could focus on a solution.
But, was this a missed opportunity? Could he have coached Data on how to deal with Moriarty? Could they at least have brought Geordi along so he could have learned too?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Picard made the right choice here. Now, a leader should use every possible opportunity to let someone else be the one to save the day. They should be behind them, supporting and coaching them. The tools and experience Data could have gained from this are massive! But, I think the stakes were too high.
Earlier, we talked about the critical, urgent and routine exercise. Well, on top of those are wildly unexpected and critical. These are the things that come up that your training doesn’t really cover, that your day-to-day doesn’t necessarily prepare you for. And, the price of failure is catastrophe. While he didn’t outright say it, it was implied Moriarty could have destroyed Enterprise killing everyone on board. In those situations, the leaders that are right for the job need to step in and that’s what Picard did.
But let’s add 7 minutes to the episode if we could. In fact, we could pull out the scene of the murder victim that Data determines isn’t part of his case, and that I totally skipped over in the recap because it didn’t really add much other than another example of Data using deductive reasoning; which they never revisted with Pulaski anyway, so there was really no reason for it. So let’s drop that scene and add a few minutes to the end, just for our benefit.
Picard and Data are in his ready room. Data is standing, because, well, because he’s Data. Picard, sitting at his terminal with half-drunk glass of earl gray tea, not so hot anymore, is questioning Data. “Did you see how I asked him open-ended questions about his motivations?” “Yes, I did.” “Why do you think I did that?”
Walk through and review the incident with Data so he can still learn from it. So, ideally, Data is doing the negotiation with Picard having prepped and coached him. That’s where the most learning would happen. Next is what we’re describing here. Letting Picard, who is perfectly suited for this situation, solve the problem but the recapping it with Data. To really be sure he’s learning, though, Picard can’t lecture. He asks open-ended questions about what Data observed so he can walk himself through the thought processes. Picard can then add insights or describe what he was thinking in a moment to build on Data’s understanding.
The next level down in learning is what we saw. Picard saves the day and Data watches, no follow up. And the worst situation would have been for Picard to have gone in by himself and just handled it. So I’m going to assume the after action meeting occurred and Data has learned quite a bit from this experience.
Point being, though, if possible, you should coach and prep others to stand in and solve problems. This not only teaches them invaluable lessons, but also builds their confidence, so when they don’t have someone to prep them or coach them, they’re good to go. Or, better yet, they’re prepping and coaching someone else to do it!
Just imagine your whole team, trained, equipped and experience to handle any problem that comes your way. You’d be invincible! And all you have to do is empower and enable others to save the day.
You’ve got your homework. Categorize your work tasks into critical, urgent or routine and share your learnings in our facebook group, the link is in the show notes.
And you can always reach out on the socials. We’re on Twitter: @ SFLA podcast and you can follow me on all the social media, @jefftakin Jeff, t as in Tea and Crumpets, a k i n.
Computer, what are we going to watch next time….
Heading to the 4th season of Voyager, episode 14, Message in a Bottle. We meet the, um, controversial EMH Mark 2 in one Star Trek’s attempts at a comedic episode. I’m looking forward to it!
Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!
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