Sunday, July 10, 2011

"Scotty, I need warp speed in three minutes or we're all dead!"

I loved Star Trek. The original TV series, the new series, and all of the Star Trek movies. A few years ago while in San Diego, my son Robert spotted a Star Trek expo and we spent hours checking out all of the props and stuff from the shows and the movies.

When I think of the message over the intercom from Captain Kirk to his Senior Engineer "Scotty, I need warp speed in three minutes or we're all dead!" I think of business communications.

How clear, how succinct, how perfect a message. If the ship’s engine is not repaired – if they don’t have warp drive repaired and properly working in less than three minutes, they are all going to be blown up by a ticking time bomb. They will all be dead.

There was no return message from Scotty back to the Captain: “wait, ....what???” There was no, “but Captain, I don’t understand your message, what do you mean?”

There it was – you have three minutes – 180 seconds - to get all of our mutual asses the heck outta here. No need for a long-winded banter, back and forth with the Captain. If we are not (all of us) far, far away from “here” - very soon – we are all doomed.

"Scotty, I need warp speed in three minutes or we're all dead!"

I love the simplicity of this message. There is no time for back and forth over the ship’s intercom. There is no time for delay caused by needless clarification, or for debating the physics of “warp drive”. You have 180 seconds, that’s it - use them wisely.

Scotty was a great one for doubting his own abilities. "She kinna take any more, Captain." "If I give her inny more she'll blow!" But he managed to fix things despite himself.

And this wasn't just a matter of convenient plotting, of the cavalry arriving in the nick of time to save the day. Scotty's ability to solve problems was a result of Gene Roddenberry's building into his creation the idea that solving problems and fixing things are what people do and that problems are a part of life so we need to be prepared to deal with them. Roddenberry believed in Murphy's Law. And he created a future in which everybody believed in it too and ordered their lives and designed their machines accordingly.

In episode after episode, the Enterprise would seem to be damaged beyond all saving, and yet Scotty, or Spock, or Kirk, would come up with a fix, seemingly out of thin air. But Roddenberry's Enterprise had been designed with the idea that it would break down. That everything that could go wrong would go wrong at some point. So every piece of equipment on the Enterprise had a back-up system or a manual override. The back-ups had back-ups, and those back-ups had back-ups. And when all the back-ups had failed, everything could still be operated by hand.

The people – the crew (the staff) – would be the heroes who would save the day, when the technology failed.

I run a company (to some degree) the way that a captain runs a ship. I am responsible for our company’s direction, our success or our failure. But the real “heroes” of MTP are the staff and back-office people that can take the orders, and just flat out “get it done” without the needless debate.

“I need this package in Cleveland by 8:00am tomorrow or we are all dead!” (i.e., we lose the deal).

“I need this website fixed today, or we are all dead!” (i.e., the client will cancel their account with MTP).

“I need the bugs in this software fixed by end of business today or we are all dead! (i.e., the server will need to be rebooted over the weekend).

MTP is very fortunate indeed to have some Chief Engineers like Mr. Scott on-board.

Do you have a “Montgomery Scott” at your company?

Live long and prosper......

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