Star Trek, Nonprofits and Philanthropy

22 05 2009

The new Star Trek movie has brought back a lot of memories. I grew up on Star Trek – not just the show, but the idealistic vision of a future in which a United Federation of Planets could boldly go where no one has gone before, seeking out new life forms and new civilizations. Conquest was wrong. Help was right. People got along. 

I recently had a conversation with my son about the original Star Trek, and how it differed from subsequent versions. In the original Star Trek, each show was a parable, a small morality tale, in which we were being taught about right and wrong. True, the writers were sometimes heavy handed with their messages. Nevertheless, through the interplay of the emotional Kirk, the logical Spock, and the pragmatic and sometimes cynical Bones or other characters, we saw different sides and different approaches to the same situation. Usually, the resolution came about through some combination of the first two, aided by the actions or intervention of the other characters.

 I wonder how many nonprofit executives and philanthropists received their initial grounding in the possibilities of a better world through watching Star Trek. Is the idealism that surrounds so much of our work the product not just of faith and parenting, but also those small glimpses into a better world?  Like M&Ms coated in sugar candy, the ideals were coated in action, costumes, and amusing interplay between characters whom we came to know and predict. We thought we were just watching a fun show, but we were being molded.

 In retrospect, I suspect that I was affected by Star Trek; not just by the shows themselves, but by the implicit approval given to those messages by my parents as we watched together.

 So I wonder, how many others in our field received the same messages from Star Trek, and ultimately decided that we can make the world better?




4 responses

22 05 2009

I absolutely agree with you, Susan! I grew up watching reruns of the original series, as well as the subsequent related shows. I remember thinking how wonderful it would be if the peoples of Earth could really put aside their differences and work towards a brighter future for all.

However, I actually consider “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” to be the best of the Trek shows, because it was really the only show to deal in a recurring fashion with how to manage differing personal beliefs and styles of leadership in a work environment. So I think that’s influenced me quite a bit.

22 05 2009

An interesting observation re:DS9. For leadership, yes, I think you’re right. As charismatic as Kirk was, as a manager, I think there was definitely some things lacking. However for the simple morality plays, I think the original was better. Then again, the complexity of the long term story arcs in DS9 were missing in the original, and DS9 therefore did a better job of mapping out the difficulties of managing those differences. Thanks for reading and posting!

6 06 2009
Andrew Brandt

Hi Susan,

I also was always a fan of Star Trek (without the costumes and conventions) and I agree, the morality tales were important (and, yes, sometimes heavy handed, as was some of the acting) in the original series. I think ST-TNG was better at creating value systems that held and evolved over time, particularly in the character of Jean-Luc Picard.

Not only was it the vision of organizational management and creative problem solving , but also leadership technique and style to develop teams. There was a degree of military-think, too. If you stop and think about it, a lot of people (mostly on other ships and planets) died in these conflicts, so it’s not just a utopian vision of the world. (The Borg definitely also are trying to create a perfect world, but with a very different value system.) Negotiation is often portrayed as difficult or ineffective (“resistance is futile”), so selective violent confrontation is often seen as a solution — not a terribly instructive model for nonprofits.

Maybe there’s another article in examining nonprofit Borgs vs. Klingons? Or the use of Borg social networking techniques to create consensus in nonprofits via Twitter? Or the desirability of bending the space-time continuum in setting fundraising priorities? Hmm.


7 06 2009

Hi Andy,

I agree that the TNG focus was more realistic (if one can view SF as realistic) in that it dealt with management issues and creative problem solving. For that matter, there was a lot of Deep Space 9 that would be relevant today, in dealing with hostile nations/civilizations and having to make decisions that may involve killing innocents.

The point about ST-original, was its utopian view of the future, that we could aspire to. Realistic? heck no. Yet like the Garden of Eden or a Messianic Age, it was aspirational.

If you want to write the next post on borg v klingons, then I’d consider posting it here 🙂


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