Season 1, episode 1, “Encounter at Farpoint”
Lesson: Bring on a good COO to complement the CEO early on
This post is part of my ongoing quest to watch every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and pull one startup, entrepreneurship, tech, or investing lesson from each.
This 90-minute kickoff to TNG had a lot going on — jellyfish in love? Q, perhaps the greatest cosplayer in the universe? — but within the first five minutes I spotted my takeaway. Captain Picard has just started as Captain of the USS Enterprise on its first mission, and he comments to the rest of the bridge crew that he still needs to bring on his Commander, Riker.
Let’s state the obvious: the Enterprise is a startup, the crew are the employees, the bridge crew are the executive team, and despite having cutting-edge tech as a resource all around them, they’re going to get into continual crises. It’s like Picard is the CEO, it’s day one on the job, and he’s already hiring.
There’s some initial tension between them, particularly because 1, the Crushers have some reverence for Picard because he was the one to bring Mr. Crusher’s body home many years ago, and you get the sense that Riker feels the pressure to live up to that example, and 2; Picard puts Riker through this bizarre, awkward quasi-interview even though he already has the job. Picard makes a show of ordering Riker to manually dock the ship (even though there’s auto-docking), then grills him about the chain of command, including following orders that could endanger the Captain’s life (Riker says he wouldn’t follow an order like that).
Finally Picard seems like he’s done with the hazing and opens up, admitting that he’s bad with kids and needs Riker to prevent him from “making an ass of myself with children” who are on the ship. Even though it’s so early into the show, it’s evident that Picard has a cold, closed-off demeanor, whereas Riker is painted as more human and empathetic (e.g., his clearly emotional reuniting with Deanna Troi).
So yes, there are larger plot points about the entire human race being on trial for a history of savagery, plus those cosmic jellyfish, but I felt like the episode centered on the hesitant connection between Picard and Riker. It’s also the focus of the last lines of the episode, where they sit at the bridge and have the following conversation:
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Some problem, Riker?
Commander William T. Riker: Just hoping this isn’t the usual way our missions will go, sir.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Oh, no, Number One. I’m sure most will be much more interesting. — Let’s see what’s out there. Engage!
Beverly Crusher comments at one point in this episode that “great explorers are often lonely,” which is a good metaphor for being a CEO. It’s lonely at the top. You’re making all the hard decisions, bearing the brunt of things going wrong, and are often left with no one to open up to. But having a trustworthy number two with complementary skills can save you from yourself. This is a pretty trite takeaway but hey, I don’t know these people yet and I never promised all of these would be good 🤷🏻♀️
Welp, one episode down; only 175 left to go.
Next up: read my post on season 1, episode 2: “The Naked Now.”