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Three Communication Lessons from Star Trek The Next Generation in the time of COVID-19


A few years back, I penned a blog on how Star Trek taught me everything I need to know about marketing. It ended up being one of our top performing blog posts ever. As this crisis started, I had just re-ventured into watching the Next Generation. I will be honest, TNG was never my favorite Trek series — it seemed too goodie-goodie and well meaning. But with 30 years under its belt, the show has a modern, hopeful feeling that seems to shine when things seem bleak.

As I watch this classic show in the context of COVID-19, I find that it has a lot to say to each us. I say this, because the crew of the Enterprise faced a new crisis in each episode. And often had to confront the unknown, as we do now.

The world of TNG, unlike the shows that followed, was close to utopia. Hunger and poverty had ceased to exist. Racial hatred and intolerance were gone from humanity. And yes, the cast seems too clean cut — but it all gave us hope. Hope that we could have good leaders, hope that we could treat each other better, hope that we could one day live up to our potential. Engage!

"Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra”

I learned a lot from Season 5’s Darmok - one of the best from the show. There are parallels to the Gorn episode of TOS - but the plot is more human. In it, the Tamarians and the Federation have been unable to communicate — as the Tamarians’ language is a series of references to a mythical past. To explain, a desperate Tamarian captain maroons himself and Picard in a hostile world-and hopes their trials will help them understand each other. It works, and Picard figures out the Tamarians’ language, but in the process the Tamarian captain is killed.

In a sense, we are facing an unknown challenge today— and there is no playbook or Rosetta Stone to guide us. Much of what we face and must confront is new to us. And our mutual struggle will bind us all together, or as the Tamarians put it "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.”

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It took Picard’s courage to explore an unknown situation, and listen to someone until he was able to understand what got him through. But it was his empathy. Listening, sharing and empathy are the keys to overcoming and communicating in the new normal — "Temba, his arms wide.”



"The Inner Light”

I learned a human lesson from "The Inner Light” about how new realities can change us. In the episode, an ancient alien probe takes over Picard’s mind — making him experience the life of an inventor on a now-dead planet. He grows old, and thrives as the planet is slowly slipping towards its destruction— in what seems to him to be years. It was a dying civilization’s way to be remembered. And it speaks to mourning and memory. Right now, so many people are in mourning. We have lost so much — our jobs, our schooling, our way of life. Mourning is a needed step to move forward, but if we fight it — we shift to anger and blame. We cannot expect people not to mourn, from the handshake to cutting government spending — things shifted fast — and to accept the “new normal,” we need to spend the proper time remembering what was. Oddly, Picard is far from upset after the ordeal — and cognizant of what he gained in the experience.

“Seize the time…. Live now! Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.”

“Yesterday’s Enterprise”

An all-around great episode, and it teaches a simple lesson - the communication choices we make today can have consequences tomorrow— good or bad. In this epode, the Enterprise C is sent forward in time during a battle with the Romulans. It encounters the Enterprise D, and changes the timeline. Gone is the warm and fuzzy Federation, replaced by a war-like Starfleet locked in a deadly war against the Klingon Empire. Because the Enterprise C was not destroyed defending a Klingon world against the Romulans, the Federation and the Klingons never made peace. And now the Federation is facing defeat. Picard realizes the timeline has changed, and he is forced to send the older Enterprise back to her destruction to save the future. In communicating, we sometimes need to be honest, see the truth and make the difficult calls. As in any crisis, it helped to get it all out-and be prepared to look forward, not in the moment. Communicating in a crisis is like ripping off the Band-Aid, it hurts, but then it is off. The sooner we deal with the issues of today, we can get on with tomorrow.

“Let's make sure history never forgets the name ... Enterprise.”


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