5 Business Lessons from Star Trek
In the futuristic world of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry and his successors weaved together a series that takes a near utopian look at future humans. But from early episodes like 1969’s “The Trouble With Tribbles” to detailed dives into the fictional Ferengi culture in the 1990s series Deep Space Nine, Star Trek regularly tackles business and commerce related topics and leaves viewers with some useful lessons and takeaways. Here are some useful lessons any business owner can apply from the Star Trek universe.
If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is
In a beloved episode from The Original Series titled The Trouble with Tribbles, salesman Cyrano Jones offers up a Tribble, a cute, furry animal that kind of resembles a guinea pig with no face. Jones was in a hurry to unload the little animal, which purrs when pet, and hands one over to the unsuspecting Lt. Uhura, who brings it onboard the Enterprise.
As the episode title hints at, there is more to the tribble than meets the eye. In addition to making a great name for my dog (I really have a dog named Tribble because he kind of looks like one), tribbles have an insatiable appetite and reproduce faster than rabbits. They ate through an entire shipment of grain on the ship, which was worth a whole lot more than its weight in tribbles. Lesson learned: if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. And that includes free and discounted tribbles.
Big talk isn’t always to be trusted
In Star Trek tradition, there is a race of aliens called the Ferengi, best represented to fans of Deep Space Nine through Quark, the owner of a bar and casino at the distant space station. The Ferengi are a commerce-focused people and live by The Rules of Acquisition created by their leader.
The 5th rule of acquisition says to “Always exaggerate your estimates.” The 10th rule: “Greed is eternal.” We can learn two important lessons from these two rules. First, never trust a Ferengi. But because you are unlikely to encounter one in your business endeavor, you may be better served by the second. Big talk isn’t always to be trusted.
There are 285 Rules of Acquisition according to the show’s lore. And while you could probably figure out rule of acquisition#112 (Never have sex with the boss’ sister) without the Rules, we are not done with them on this list.
Focus on the customer experience
The 194th rule of Acquisition states “it’s always good business to know about new customers before they walk in your door.” In any business, an obsession with the customer and customer service tends to lead to better long-run success. We see this in real life companies in retail (think Amazon) all the way to hospitality (think high-end Las Vegas hotels). Bad customer service doesn’t work. Anticipating your customer needs before they happen does.
Just think about the best and most personalized customer service experiences you’ve had. The ones you remember most probably led to repeat business. Do the same for your customers, and you might find yourself with a customer for life.
Everyone has different needs and values
Early on in the series Voyager, the Federation crew that newly landed in the Delta Quadrant found they had something incredibly valuable on their hands compared to the locals. The Star Trek crew could quickly and easily create water with its high-tech replicators, something the local natives could only dream of. All of a sudden, the Voyager crew had something of value they could use as leverage in its new surroundings.
Another popular phrase that embodies this lesson is that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Take stock of the skills, assets, and abilities you do have and use them to your business’s best advantage. And never underestimate yourself and the value you provide to your customers and clients.
Money isn’t everything
While trade freighters and gold pressed latinum come up again and again in the show, one important concept is the lack of money among those who live in parts of the Federation. In fact, an episode of Deep Space Nine discusses how Federation citizens don’t need money, and it seems like a foreign concept. Jake Sisko, son of the station’s commanding officer, wants to buy a present for his dad but never had any money to buy anything with.
How did he grow up without money? In Gene Roddenberry’s future, basic needs are met by technology. Everything from food to clothing to housing is provided at no cost. The freedom from money allows the show’s characters to focus on what they deem most important in life. Whether that is family or exploring the stars, there’s more to life than money.