Season 1, episode 2, “The Naked Now”
Lesson: Bad shit happens when people get hammered at company parties
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.
The Enterprise stumbles upon a ship on which everyone has frozen to death because a virus effectively made them drunk, and they then thought it was a good idea to crack a window into open space. Which is cold. Then La Forge brings the same virus onto the enterprise, and pretty much everyone succumbs to the intoxication effect and starts acting wasted. Chaos ensues and they almost get sucked into an exploding star, but in what seems to be a metaphor for high-functioning alcoholicism, teen Mensa member Wesley Crusher repulsor-beams them to safety just as his mom finds the cure.
This episode wasn’t very deep. The previous ship’s crew got de facto drunk, apparently had some orgies, and all died when one of them made a dumb decision. The Enterprise crew almost met the same fate. The common denominator? Intoxication. It’s like word got around that a previous startup imploded because of a blowout party where everything went wrong, and a later startup comes along and thinks they can handle their alcohol…except they can’t. Except maybe Wesley.
I’m not saying anything profound here, but bad things happen when people get hammered at company parties. Just look at all the #MeToo stories. The things I’ve seen across many companies in only a few years as a VC would shock you. I saw minor incidents when I worked in startups myself, but it’s a micro versus macro view. Although most issues were likely simmering before employees added alcohol to the mix, it’s like throwing fuel on the fire.
The one piece of advice I’d give founders if they want to minimize physical assault and sexual harassment risks in their companies (other than the obvious basics of having a clear policy against it with a reporting and action processes for when something happens, employee training on the policy, and a culture of not hiring or tolerating abusers…but again, you’d be shocked at how many companies don’t have even these), is to have dry offices and events. But since we’re all adults and that will never happen, moderation is what matters. Encourage and reward looking out for people and cutting off those who are approaching their limits. And beware of people like Wesley who appear fairly normal but are stealthily wasted.
To the founders reading this: you set the tone for everyone else’s behavior at events with alcohol, so it’s incumbent upon you to keep your shit together. Your employees will be watching you to get a sense of what’s acceptable. If you’re doing a company lunch offsite and you order a drink, get ready for lots of people to order drinks. If you get a second, so will they. If happy hour is over but you want to keep the party going so you exclaim that everyone is going to Centerfold’s, or streaking through the quad to the gymnasium, most people will follow you. They want to hang out with you and they get a kick out of seeing you outside the work environment, yes, but you’re also their boss and there’s a sense of duty entangled in all this. Picard got a little tipsy in this episode, but he and Riker — the top two in command hierarchy — were the most restrained.
Doctor Crusher: It is definitely like alcohol intoxication. The same lack of good judgment. For example, right now, I find you extremely, extremely… Of course, we haven’t time for that sort of thing.
Capt. Picard: What sort of thing?
Doctor Crusher: Oh, God, would I love to show you.
In normal doses, alcohol is a tool for getting to know people in a short time frame. That’s why we drink — it lowers inhibitions and encourages bonding. It was a useful vehicle in this episode to show us the human, imperfect side of these characters, who we’re just starting to learn about. Nothing better than a few drinks to force someone’s true nature to come out. For example, it’s only two episodes in and we already know that Data is, uh…fully functional in every way, AND programmed in multiple techniques. But too much is like blowing the hatch off the spacecraft.
Next up: my post on season 1, episode 3: “Code of Honor.”