Star Trek — Good Scaffolding, Bad Scaffolding, and Knowing it When You See It.

Seceshriver (1)

Secesh River, Secesh Roadless Area, Payette National Forest, Idaho

As I discussed in the previous post, v-Meme Scaffolding is important — without it, we open our organizations and our messages to corruption — some of it virtual, some of it quite real.

It might be helpful to understand an example that, over time, have been highly resonant  of both well-scaffolded messages, as well as organizations.  One of my favorites is the original series of Star Trek.  Almost everyone can recognize the four characters below:

Slide03Bridge Crew of the Starship Enterprise, from the Star Trek, the Original Series

For those that forget, we’ve got Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and Commander Scott.  No question that these four are a high performance, if not just a little sexist team.  Lieutenant Uhura at least made it on the bridge — a major first — but she was sentenced to answer the phone.

Still the personalities, and their different levels of empathetic interaction, are highly instructive on how they were effective.  Consider the basic plot of the show — the Enterprise is thrust into a situation where there are major metacognitive unknowns — whether it was an unknown alien civilization, or trouble with Tribbles.  There were always Survival-level stakes — the Enterprise was in constant jeopardy of being destroyed.  Yet time and again, this integrative v-Meme team would think their way through the situations, and largely remain friends.

How did that work?  First off, we have Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott, head of engineering.  Even though he had an informal nickname — ‘Scotty’ — he was pure Authoritarian.  The Captain was the captain — I have yet to find a single instance where Scotty calls Kirk ‘Jim’.  He’s two v-Memes removed from Captain Kirk, and when the Captain tells Scotty to turn the Warp Drive past maximum, Scotty might say “I don’t know how much longer she can take it, Cap’n!” — but he turns up the dial anyway.  He follows orders.

Next up the v-Meme ladder is Mr. Spock.  A Vulcan, and the chief science officer, he is the master of logical, algorithmic thinking.  He is famous, of course, for mastering his emotions, and viewing this as a pathway to superior status.  Yet time and again, algorithmic thinking, while leading to reliable results, fails the validity test.  The one answer he comes up with might be part of the solution — but not all of it.

For that, we need the more complex, empathetic profile of Captain James T. Kirk.  Ever the integrative, multiple-solution, performance-based thinker, he’s not afraid to assert his authority in times of crisis.  But he also demonstrates a broad range of both emotional empathy, as well as rational empathy.  His ability to trade places with the alien mind enables him to very accurately guess what his adversaries are going to do — and saves the Enterprise from getting blown up on numerous occasions.

Finally there is Dr. McCoy, the deeply empathetic communitarian.  McCoy often speaks as the voice and liaison of those lower in the service hierarchy than any of the bridge officers, and is prone to using a combination of humor and grumpiness — emotional affect — to convey his points.  As a doctor, he processes data for diagnoses of difficult problems.  But he also takes his role in promoting psychological well-being very seriously — and demonstrates a deep sense of emotional empathy.

One of the easiest ways I’ve noticed to diagnose the v-Memes operative in any work environment is how people use titles, as well as the degree of dependence.  Star Trek is no exception.  Scotty NEVER calls Captain Kirk by his first name — typical of a true authoritarian.  Spock mixes it up — calling him Jim in more relaxed situations, as well as Captain when the phasers are firing.  McCoy is famous for almost always calling Captain Kirk by his first name.  Note that this would be extremely consistent with their representative v-Memes.

Additionally, v-Meme conflicts are also well-represented with the characters.  McCoy and Spock are often in conflict — rules vs. exceptions for individuals.  McCoy basically never talks to Scotty — the 3 v-Meme gap would mean they would have a hard time understanding each other anyway.  Captain Kirk sits in the middle of all of them.  Yet even the two level v-Meme difference between Kirk and Scotty pops up every now and again.  In the famous episode ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’ — Scotty and the engineering crew end up getting into a bar fight with some Klingons on a space station.  When interrogated about the brawl, Kirk asks what happened to get things started.  Scotty then goes on to explain that the Klingons had called Kirk many names — but Scotty told the Captain he had specific orders to not get into a fight from him.  So he let it pass.  It was only when the Klingons started insulting the U.S.S. Enterprise — the core sense of Scotty’s identity — that the fists flew.

The original Star Trek premise also promised its viewers a much more egalitarian, evolved, self-aware world — truly embodying the Global Holistic v-Meme.  What is interesting is that after the series ended, a fan community sprouted up, complete with costumes, and Trekkie conventions.  William Shatner even made a movie about it — called Get A Life!  What’s fascinating is that Shatner starts out being very cynical about all the folks participating — but is won over when he recognizes and realizes the higher ideals that this group of geeks are attempting to embody.

I doubt Shatner or the most of the Trekkies have ever thought much about empathetic development.  But it is fascinating that when people come together, under a set of higher guiding principles that everyone has to follow in order to be part of a larger group, that beautiful things can happen.  Even if they involve adults playing dress-up.

Takeaway:  Balanced Teams have balanced v-Memes — and real leaders use this stuff to understand both strengths and weaknesses of how individuals in their organizations work — and process knowledge.  The Original Series Star Trek is a great example that’s easily recognizable of v-Memes on display — and who you want to do what.

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