Michael J. Swart

May 14, 2012

Lessons From Geordi La Forge

Filed under: Data Cartoons,Miscelleaneous SQL,SQLServerPedia Syndication,Tongue In Cheek — Michael J. Swart @ 11:56 am

I’ve been rewatching Star Trek again, I find I relate most to Geordi La Forge. He’s a technical guy. He wears the yellow shirt of engineering instead of the red shirt of command.

So I was inspired to write this light hearted post. I usually find non-technical posts a little wishy-washy (No offense to you Seth-Godin-types). But I liked the way this drawing turned out and I had to use it somehow right?

Picture of Geordi Laforge captioned W W G L F D

You may have already seen articles or websites elsewhere that detail a comparison between Star Trek operations and company operations. Well here’s another one. For the moment we’ll sidestep the lessons learned from Picard (on how to be a inspiring leader) and go straight to Geordi. Here are the lessons:

Make Everyone Believe You Can Do Anything …

Here’s how Geordi’s typically responds to requests from the captain:

Can you fix the neutrino flux generator? ==> either "I can fix that captain. Estimated time two minutes." or "Sorry captain, The flux couplers aren't in phase."

Did you see what he did there? It’s not a choice between “I can” or “I can’t”. It’s also not a choice between “it’s possible” or “it’s impossible”. If Geordi can accomplish a task, he essentially takes the credit with “I can do this”. If he can’t accomplish the task, then his words imply “It can’t be done.” He never implies that his skills are lacking. So are Geordi’s skills ever lacking? No:

… And Then Make Sure They’re Right …

Even when the pressure’s on and someone calls your bluff. There’s a persistence that can pay off:
RIKER: Gentlemen, we’re giving you an assignment. The one thing we don’t want to hear is that it’s impossible.
PICARD: I need the transporters to function, despite the hyperonic radiation.
LA FORGE: Yeah, but that’s imp… Yes, sir.

and then later:
LA FORGE: Captain – we can do it. We can modify the transporters. It’ll take fifteen years and a research team of a hundred…

Most impossible things are actually just really really difficult. For example, recently I asked a question on stackexchange about avoiding downtime during a migration. The first feedback I got was the comment “I don’t think [the downtime] can be avoided” which got a couple up-votes. But it turns out there was a way; it just took a lot of effort (I blogged about that effort in this series). It’s the yellow shirt’s job to explain the “how” and “what” so that the red shirts can make informed choices.

Later on in another episode:
LA FORGE: Ferengi codes are damn near impossible to break.
PICARD: Gentlemen, I have the utmost confidence in your ability to perform… the impossible.

See! It paid off. But it’s easy for me to give advice that boils down to “be able to do anything” it’s another thing to make it so. How do you get great at what you do?

… By Being Awesome

Easier said than done right?

So Geordi’s got skills, and he uses those skills to build a great career for himself. But where did he get those skills? I figure you can become great at something in a number of ways:

  • Be talented at it (you can’t change you, but you can change fields)
  • Hard work. There’s no getting by without hard work. Imagine you’re on vacation sitting on a beach. You’re looking at the hut next to you and see some guy in a chair reading SQL Server Pro on his iPad. You just can’t compete with that guy. I’m not suggesting you read trade magazines on holiday, but are you in a field where you might want to?

It boils down to finding your passion. And I hope you’ve found yours. Geordi is a guy whose passionate about the latest thing in his field. It almost seems like he cares about it more than job security:

PICARD: Warp without warp drive.
RIKER: They’re gonna put you out of a job, Geordi.
LA FORGE: I hope so, Commander.

Antilessons From Geordi

But I like my role models the same way I like a buffet. I pick and choose the good lessons and leave the rest behind. Here’s a Geordi “lesson” that didn’t make the cut:

LA FORGE: I don’t know, Data, my gut tells me we ought to be listening to what this guy’s trying to tell us.
DATA: Your gut?
LA FORGE: It’s just a… a feeling, you know, an instinct. Intuition.
DATA: But those qualities would interfere with rational judgment, would they not?
LA FORGE: You’re right, sometimes they do.
DATA: Then… why not rely strictly on the facts?
LA FORGE: Because you just can’t rely on the plain and simple facts. Sometimes they lie.

I don’t buy it. I get what he’s trying to say and the sentiment is correct, but the point of view is wrong. Facts don’t lie by definition. When Geordi says that facts lie sometimes, I would say instead that the facts are incomplete, or an assumption has been made incorrectly.

Once I was asked by a developer why his code was throwing the error message:

Table ‘noidentity’ does not have the identity property. Cannot perform SET operation.

even though the table in question was showing that it did have an identity column.

I said show me. And he did. And was it the same table? It was. And was it the same database? Yes. Are you sure? Of course. Can you show me the connection string? Hang on a second…. ohhhh. (Omitted in this mini-dialogue is  about 15 minutes of head-scratching on both our parts).

Yes, sometimes the facts lie… but only when they’re not facts.

More Geordi Lessons in The Comments

I’ve put a few more of my favorites in the comment section of this post. Do you have any favorite Geordi lessons (or Star Trek lessons in general)?

8 Comments »

  1. WESLEY: He wants the impossible!
    LA FORGE: That’s the short definition of ‘captain’.

    Comment by Michael J. Swart — May 14, 2012 @ 11:56 am

  2. LA FORGE: Yeah, well, I told the Captain I’d have this analysis done in an hour.
    SCOTTY: How long will it really take?
    LA FORGE: An hour!
    SCOTTY: Oh, you didn’t tell him how long it would *really* take, did ya?
    LA FORGE: Well, of course I did.
    SCOTTY: Oh, laddie. You’ve got a lot to learn if you want people to think of you as a miracle worker.

    Comment by Michael J. Swart — May 14, 2012 @ 11:56 am

  3. The Scotty & LaForge dialogue was some of my favorite. My second favorite quote from that is http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0708764/quotes?qt=qt0349438

    Comment by Chuck Rummel — May 14, 2012 @ 3:14 pm

  4. Excellent Chuck, In that Geordi says something like “We can’t do that, the spec says the tank can’t handle the pressure”. Scotty basically says “Forget it, I wrote the spec, it’ll work”.

    A real life (SQL!) example is blogged by Paul Randal here: here. In it, Paul talks about some threshold specified in Microsoft documentation and how to take that number with a grain of salt because Microsoft needed a number for the docs and he gave them a reasonable threshold (if a bit arbitrary).

    Comment by Michael J. Swart — May 14, 2012 @ 3:20 pm

  5. Love this line.
    “If Geordi can accomplish a task, he essentially takes the credit with “I can do this.” If he can’t accomplish the task, then his words imply “It can’t be done.” He never implies that his skills are lacking.”
    I’m implementing this into my life motto: If I can’t do it, it can’t be done.

    Comment by Elise — May 16, 2012 @ 11:13 am

  6. [...] Lessons From Geordi La Forge - A wishy-washy post then from Michael J. Swart (Blog|Twitter) this week. [...]

    Pingback by Something for the Weekend - SQL Server Links 18/05/12 — May 18, 2012 @ 8:17 am

  7. Oh my God, I just came across the best Star Trek quote ever for this post:

    CAPT. KIRK: Another technical journal, Scotty?
    SCOTT: Aye.
    CAPT. KIRK: Don’t you ever relax?
    SCOTT: I am relaxing.

    and then later

    CAPT. KIRK: All right, Scotty. Dismissed. Oh… Scotty, you’re restricted to quarters until further notice.
    SCOTT: Yes, sir. Thank you, sir! That’ll give me a chance to catch up on my technical journals!

    I don’t know how I missed these quotes when I first wrote the article.

    Comment by Michael J. Swart — May 29, 2013 @ 10:27 am

  8. [...] year, I wrote the article Lessons From Geordi Laforge and I had a ton of fun doing it. So I’m writing a bit of a follow-up article for another [...]

    Pingback by Lessons From Sherlock Holmes | Michael J. Swart — July 29, 2013 @ 11:42 pm

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