July 27, 2021

032: VOY: Message in a Bottle

Your mindset determines your thoughts, which then determine your actions. Just ask The Doctor!

On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek Voyager, Message in a Bottle (Season 4, Episode 14). He will examine the leadership lessons from The Doctor.

Mindsets determine how you see the world around you. Your mindset directly influences your thoughts, and your thoughts determine your actions. The Doctor, as he works with the EMH Mark 2, gives us the opportunity to talk about 4 different mindsets:

  • Abundance vs Scarcity
  • Intentional vs Victim
  • Authentic vs Image
  • Unity vs Detached

In choosing positive and productive mindsets, you can, and will accomplish amazing things, just like the two Emergency Medical Holograms do.

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Welcome, everyone! Thanks for joining me today. In this fun episode of Voyager we see the difference your mindset can make, especially in a crisis situation and we learn the absolute power of believing in others. Let’s dive in to the 14th episode of the 4th season, Message in a Bottle. 


Voyager is one where we always need to do a little table setting before diving into the episode. For this episode, there isn’t much to get caught up on really. Seven of Nine is still not fully trusted by a lot of the crew and B’Elanna Torres is wearing a lab coat for some reason. Well, the reason is because Roxann Dawson was pregnant for much of this season and this was how they covered it up; worked pretty well! 

When Seven came on board, she set up camp in the astrometrics lab, a part of a starship we haven’t really seen much of before but makes incredible sense to have! She’s been using her Borg experience to augment charting, scanning and communications from there since coming on board. And that’s where we pick things up. 

Torres is complaining to Chakotay about Seven. Chakotay tells her to talk to Seven and work it out. He has such a great response, “What do you want me to do?” And then he tells her to find a way to deal with her. 

Now, on the surface, and in my explanation, this sounds like Chakotay is just blowing her off. But we’ve caught this in mid-stream. There is a long standing issue between Torres and Seven since she came on board. And, really, that’s not fair. The issue is Torres, Seven pretty much treats everyone the same, I don’t think she has any problems with Torres specifically. 

But, who hasn’t run into this problem at work before? In any capacity? You and someone else having an issue, or people bringing their conflicts to you. Now, Chakotay is right. The best thing to do in a situation like this is to address the person directly. Not to accuse them, not to tell them they’re doing something wrong. In fact, if you come at them like that, you’ll just escalate the problem. 

The right thing to do here is to coach B’Elanna on how to talk with Seven about this. Encourage empathy and listening as well as communicating how Seven’s actions and language affect her, but in a positive, non-accusatory manner. If he was really on his game, he’d role-play with her! I know, I know…I can hear you now! ‘But, Jeff. I hate role playing with my teams. It’s so embarrassing and feels childish.’ Well, yeah, it can feel like that. But do you know the one, sure-fire way to get better at anything? Practice. 

So, Chakotay plays the role of Seven and they practice. B’Elanna tells him, as her, how her behavior is affecting her. They back-and-forth until she’s more comfortable with how to approach it, and then Chakotay sends her on her way to talk with Seven. Because he’s hitting on all cylinders right now, in our little, imaginary scenario, he asks her to come back afterwards to talk about how it went. 

But that doesn’t happen here, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing because I think something like this has already happened but B’Elanna is still just complaining. 

And complaining can be great - a lot of good can come from it if you follow one, little piece of advice from me: You get to complain. Once. After that, you either do something about it or live with it. 

That one’s free!

And here’s another thought. In our last episode, Elementary, Dear Data, we talked about neurodivergence and how that caused Data to understand the rules of the game differently than Geordi. The same could apply here as well. Neurodivergence, at its simplest refers to having a brain that works differently than a typical brain. Now hear me say this: that is not a bad thing! It is just the way a person’s brain works.

I’m going to save my examination of Seven for a future episode that’s more focused on her, so here, I’m going to focus on her behavior. She is being bluntly honest, saying exactly what is on her mind and isn’t pausing for the niceties of personal interaction. B’Elanna, maybe understandably, takes offense at this, but she’s only thinking of herself. Imagine that Seven is neurodivergent. Imagine that her brain just works differently. Shouldn’t be hard to imagine, really. In her mind she is being perfectly appropriate. There is a job to do and she is doing it. When communication is a part of that job or task, she communicates only what is strictly necessary. 

So, if B’Elanna follows the advice my version of Chakotay gave her: actively listening with empathy, she would see their interactions from Seven’s point of view and maybe realize that, in her way, Seven is trying to connect with her. But even if she’s not, she’s focused on the task at hand and nothing else. And really, that’s ok. 

Ok, back to the episode. Chakotay meets up with Janeway on his way to astrometrics. Seven has found and tapped into a massive network that stretches across the Delta Quadrant and close into the Alpha. She has located a Federation starship in the Alpha Quadrant that is just barely in range of the network. After a lot of nerd speak about range and bandwidth and signal strength, they determine a comm signal isn’t strong enough to traverse the network, so they decide to send a holographic message, specifically, The Doctor. 

This is a moment where I have to remind myself this is a TV show and they make decisions about how long they spend on different things based on making a watchable TV show, not on demonstrating strong leadership, but, still, there is a strong chance this is a suicide mission for the Doctor! Like, a really good chance this is a one-way trip. Janeway tells him this, he spends about 3 seconds considering it and then agrees. I really wish they would have let Janeway do or say something to inspire him to make that decision. “With any luck…luck??” But, they have all of about 40 seconds to make the call. “Good luck, there’s that word again.” So, he’s good being the hero, and he’s away!

The transmission is successful and he ends up in the sickbay of the USS Prometheus. But, some rough timing. There’s no Starfleet crew on the ship. They’ve all been killed. Romulans boarded and have taken the ship. 

Right off the bat, I love that the Prometheus crew is wearing the new, DS9/First Contact style uniforms. Gives you a feel for the separation between Voyager and the rest of Starfleet.

We meet the Romulans on the bridge and their commander, Rekar looks really familiar. Hmm, I just can’t quite place him. Well, they are intercepted by a Federation ship. They show the Prometheus’s secret that makes it a prototype ship. It has multi-vector assault mode, where it can split into 3 sections and attack as independent units. Pretty cool! 

They attack the ship and one of the Romulans is injured Rekar orders him to sickbay. Oh!! That’s who he is. Of course! I recognize him now. James, Diana’s henchman from V! Duh!

And of course he’s also Joachim from Star Trek 2, Khan’s right-hand man. He was awesome in that role, as he was as James. That led to an appearance for him in TNG’s Symbiosis and here. Not bad!

So, the Romulan comes into sickbay and the Doctor plays the EMH role, “Please state the nature of the medical emergency.” She leaves the injured officer with him and leaves. So he activates the ship’s actual Emergency Medical Hologram and is surprised to not see himself! This is the EMH Mark 2. 

Now, back in Deep Space 9 episode, Doctor Bashir, I presume, which aired about a year before this one, Bashir was up to be the model for the mark 2. Some stuff happened and he was basically disqualified, and, apparently their #2 choice was Andy Dick, because, apparently, he wasn’t doing anything else. 

They really do not hit it off on the right foot at all, “Yes, you’re the mark 1 EMH. The inferior EMH.” The Doctor explains the situation and the Mark 2 starts following protocols, as programmed. He’s starting to panic. “Starfleet security protocol…” But The Doctor is on it! He asks for a situation update and says it’s up to the two of them to take the Prometheus back. The Mark 2 just can’t handle it, though. “We’re EMH’s. What can we do against Romulans?” Again, The Doctor is the picture of confidence and authority. He completely takes charge of the situation. 

Back on Voyager the crew, including Janeway, are composing letters to friends and family back home, just in case. In a cool scene, Neelix is freaking out. He’s trying to cook some new, more Earth-friendly food. He wants to be sure he has marketable job skills when Voyager gets home. But…he still has a way to go. “I’ll use a few less jalapenos.” 

As The Doctor continues to try to convince the Mark 2 they need to do something, he references one of my favorite books, “We need to turn this ship around.” I call this masterpiece by L David Marquet required reading for anyone that sees themselves as a leader. And, lucky for you, you can find a copy on my Reading List at jeffakin.com!

He comes up with a plan to gas the Romulans and send the Mark 2 into the Jeffries Tube to set it up. Problem is, the controls are on the bridge. So The Doctor heads up there. 

He updates them on the patient from earlier and says he needs to scan them for a virus. He uses the opportunity to try and initiate the ventilation. While he’s doing this, Rekar says he’s made arrangements to hand the ship off to the Tal Shiar! Then he catches The Doctor in his ruse. 

Frustrated serving as the doctor on Voyager, Paris convinces Kim to try and develop his own EMH. Hmm, pretty sure nothing can go wrong there!

While that’s happening, B’Elanna is in astrometrics and confronts Seven. “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” As they start to argue, a signal comes over the relay. It’s an aggressive, armored alien called the hirogen saying the network belongs to them and kicks Voyager off of it! They’ve lost their connection to the Doctor!

And the Doctor could really use that connection right now. Rekar is interrogating him, trying to figure out who he is working with and where they are. The Romulans believe he’s a sabotage agent sent from Starfleet. Just as they’re about to extract his subroutines, the gas hits and they pass out! Mark 2 did it!! “EMH Mark 2 had to improvise.” 

They get on the helm and try to figure out how to operate the ship. As they figure it out, they read 3 Romulan Warbirds are set to intercept with them. 

Seven and Torres reconnect to the network. Janeway attempts to negotiate with the Hirogen but he shuts her down and tries to jam the link. Suddenly, he’s shocked and falls, incapacitated. “I generated a feedback surge.” Seven confirms the network link is stable and Janeway asks to be updated if the Hirogen reach out again. 

Kim gives his EMH a shot. It looks great!! But that’s about it. It can’t handle the data transfer. It’s just not going to work. So, Kim goes to plan B and sends a copy of Grey’s Anatomy to Tom Paris! “I’m downloading Grey’s Anatomy. It’s for you.” 

As the Romulans approach the Prometheus, the Mark 2 and The Doctor are starting to work together. “Already done, shields up!” They try to fool the Romulans, but, shockingly, totally miss the mark. They start firing on the Prometheus. Then, the cavalry arrives, 3 Starfleet vessels enter the fray! They’re saved! Or not. They start firing on the Prometheus thinking it’s been hijacked by Romulans. 

Now they’re trying to figure out tactical as well to defend themselves. Mark 2 leans on a console and that kicks off the multi-vector assault mode. The ship splits apart, destroys one of the Warbirds and the other 2 Romulan ships retreat. “2 holograms alone!” The Starfleet officers beam over and take the EMH’s into their custody.

Shortly after, The Doctor returns. He proudly tells his story to Janeway, Chakotay and Tuvok. And, even better, he “spoke directly with headquarters.” They’re going to contact the crew’s families and will begin working hard to help bring them home. And they sent a message that floors Janeway. “You’re no longer alone.” 

<<Red Alert>>

Star Trek is really good at a lot of things. Comedy isn’t always one of them. But, this episode really hit on the right tone to tell a solid story with some good laughs. 

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I made fun of them casting Andy Dick, but the reality is, he very much wanted to be on Star Trek. I think he and Robert Picardo matched up really well in this. They had really fun back-and-forths, many of which we’ll talk about in the Command Codes, and played off of each other really well. 

Much like we talked about in the 13th episode of the Starfleet Leadership Academy, Homestead, this episode shows the payoff of the development of people on Voyager. In that episode it was Neelix, here, it’s the Doctor. He really shines as a leader and a risk-taker here and that is not at all what we saw back in Caretaker!

Voyager has a lot of enemies as it travels through the Delta Quadrant. There’s the Kazon, the Borg, the Vidiians and more. This episode introduces one of my favorites, The Hirogen. They are serious business and will be an ongoing concern for awhile and that kicks off right after this episode. But, seriously, how was everyone ok with Seven just knocking that guy out? B’Elanna was all about it! “Not bad.” 

Now the Harry Kim and Tom Paris EMH replacement thing was kind of, well, dumb. Tom’s just manipulating Kim to get his way and Kim’s a holographic expert now?? Like, for an ensign this guy sure seems to be the expert at a lot of things. They could have dropped this nonsense and added a little more to the scene when Janeway was telling The Doctor about his mission, you think? 

<<Command Codes>>

In our last episode, Elementary, Dear Data, Doctor Pulaski taught us so much, and now The Doctor gets to do the same. We’re going to compare his mindset to that of the Mark 2 and talk about what that means to you and then we’re going to look at how he helped the Mark 2 become more than he ever thought he could be. 

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What is your mindset? Have you been asked this before? Have you thought about it before? A mindset is how you see and interpret the world around you. It’s the basis of assumptions you make about situations, people and other things. It defines what you expect to happen in any given situation. 

I like to keep things simple – it’s one of the reasons I love the band KISS! But, I think of mindsets as an either/or. Now, they are absolutely not really this binary and simple, but this helps me visualize and understand them. I hope it does the same for you. 

So, as an example you can either have a scarcity mindset – there’s only so much ice cream in the freezer – or an abundance mindset – isn’t it great I can just get more ice cream from the store. 

So you can imagine a group of friends eating ice cream and the different thoughts running through their heads as they enjoy it, and how those thoughts, which are the product of their mindset, could influence their actions. The friend with a scarcity mindset may try to hoard the ice cream; eating as much as they possibly can while the friend with the abundance mindset can luxuriate in the divine embrace of salted peanut butter and chocolate chips. 

Let’s look at this same mindset dichotomy in a work-related scenario. Sales. How many of you work in sales? Well, if you have a job and are paid to do it, I’d argue you’re in sales whether you think you are or not. We’re all selling something! As engineers you’re selling your designs, as project managers you’re selling your schedules and resource asks, as leaders, as leaders we’re selling ideas. 

That aside, though, if you work in sales you have likely come across a situation where a customer has needs beyond what you are selling. In the best of situations, they need something else your organization offers so you can smoothly cross-sell them everything they need and everyone is happy. But what if that’s not the case. What if what they need is offered by an entirely different vertical, or, worse…a competitor. But, are you here to make a quick sale and move on, or so you want to actually help this customer solve their problems?

A salesperson with a scarcity mindset would sell what they could and leave the customer needing more. Maybe, if they had the leverage, in the meantime they’d go acquire that other thing so they could sell it too! This person is concerned with getting the biggest piece of pie they can. 

But someone with an abundance mindset would just help the customer out. “I’m sorry we could only handle X and Y for you, but I want to connect you with this company over here that can take care of Z.” This person understands that the pie can get really big and everyone can have a piece. In fact, if everyone works together, they can grow the pie and all have a small piece that, ultimately, is bigger than the piece they would have gotten had they just made the sale and ran. 

Now that’s one example of a mindset. There are countless others. I want to share just 3 more with you:
Intentional vs Victim
Authentic vs Image 
And Unity vs Detached 

These are what they sound like. Are you intentional in what you do and believe you have control or at least agency in what happens to you, or do you believe it just happens? It’s like Tommy Lasorda said, “There are three types of baseball players — those who make it happen, those who watch it happen and those who wonder what just happened.” That’s based on Nicholas Murray Butler’s original quote. But here, a person with an intentional mindset makes things happen while a victim mindset wonders what just happened and believes there’s nothing they did and nothing they can do to change it.

An authentic mindset is focused truth, transparency and integrity while an image mindset worries about how something might make them look. A person with a unity mindset sees themselves in others and understands life’s connections while a person with a detached mindset is worried only about themselves and focuses on the divisions between people. 

I like to focus on these 4, because it keeps it simple. You can easily add your own variations and complexity to this model as long as you keep in mind one important thing: these mindsets are a choice. Whether you are consciously making the choice, or you’ve made it so much it’s subconscious, you decide what your mindset is. 

Now in our time on the Prometheus, we see mindsets in action. The Doctor is coming from a place of abundance, intention, authenticity and unity while the Mark 2 starts off doubting himself. He’s coming from a place of scarcity and being a victim. “There are so many Romulans. You have to think on your feet.” 

The Doctor, though, is amazing here. He’s sharing stories of taking on the Borg, of piloting shuttlecraft, even if it was in a holodeck, and even telling stories of his, well, physical and intimate relationships he’s had. His mindset is what steers the EMH’s to solve the problem. Without his influence, the Mark 2 would have deactivated and just waited the whole thing out; would have ended up wondering what happened. 

As the episode continues, though, he begins choosing to wear a different mindset. He changes his thinking. We’ll talk about what encouraged that here in a minute. But he chose to change. It wasn’t easy, but he did it. 

The two takeaways on this one are that your mindset determines your thoughts which then determine your actions. And, your mindset is a choice. Be aware of your mindset and intentionally choose to come from a place of abundance, intention, authenticity and unity. If the Mark 2 can do it, so can you!

But what encouraged the Mark 2 to change his mindsets? His thinking and his actions? The Doctor did. And he encouraged it by believing the Mark 2 could be more than he thought he could be. 

If you’re a manager, or a coach or a teacher or a trainer or a mentor or even just someone that other look up to, you must understand how powerful this is. The Doctor shifted the Mark 2’s mindsets in a relatively short amount of time by completely believing in him. 

The Mark 2 immediately tried to slip out of doing anything to help. He assumed he couldn’t do any of the things the Doctor was talking about. Two EMH’s retaking the ship? No way!! Based on his programming, and this is a big thing too, based on his programming, he was right. At this point, he has no reason to believe he is capable of any of these things. 

But the Doctor. The Doctor never doubts him, not even for a second. He’s not trying to convince him to re-take the ship, he’s just going into the plans to do it! That belief allowed the Mark 2 to exceed his programming and do more than he ever thought possible. 

And, even more points for The Doctor, he knew this was a stretch for him but only acknowledged it in a positive way. “Transferring power now. Good work, Mark 2!” 41:10-ish. He focused on the wins and the positives instead of trying to convince him of his plan or berating him for not doing something.

Now, imagine what this looks like in your workplace; even in your family! Imagine that your supervisor completely, unquestioningly believes in you. Imagine your partner or spouse fully believes in you! Now you’re invincible!! That belief gives you the superpower to achieve anything, and you do that by intentionally choosing your mindset every day. Every interaction. Every email. Every time. 

Take it one step further. Imagine your team. Now imagine them after you believe in them. Believe in them without doubt and without question! If your supervisor believing in you gave you superpowers, imagine what it will do for your team!

This is the real deal! Choosing your mindset and creating environments where your teams and the people around you are intentionally choosing their mindsets…this is where the magic happens!
<<Hailing Frequencies>>

Guess what? I want to hear your thoughts on mindsets! Oh, and even more than that, I want to hear about the impacts belief has on you, your teams and your family! 

Reach out on Twitter: @ SFLA podcast or anywhere across social media, @jefftakin Jeff, t as in Transmission, a k i n. And come share your thoughts in the Starfleet Leadership Academy podcast group on Facebook. The link is in the show notes. 

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

The 14th episode of the 4th season of Deep Space 9, Return to Grace. Hey, that’s the same as this episode – a mini-trip through the halfway point of 4th seasons! This is a great episode that adds so much complexity to Kira and Dukat’s relationship.

I appreciate everything you all do to support the Starfleet Leadership Academy. I’d like to ask you to leave a review wherever you’re listening. Leave a review, take a screenshot and share it with me and I’ll give you a shoutout on a future episode.  

Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!