Star Trek's Healthy Individualism Lesson and Aligning Personal Goals with Organizational Goals
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By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University
I was watching an episode of Star Trek: Voyager where the character “7 of 9” was introduced to three individuals from her past. At one time, all four had been part of the alien Borg collective, but there was a piece of information missing from their joint memory.
If you follow this series, you know that “7 of 9” values the progress she’s made developing her individualism after her life in the Borg. In this particular episode, she must reconnect with the three individuals to resolve an issue from their collective past.
Her new family, the Voyager crew members, recognize that reconnecting may have adverse effects on her. They encourage her to make “the right decision from two bad choices.”
She elects to temporarily sacrifice her individualism to reconnect with her former peers, so they can jointly resolve the unanswered question about their lives. What is revealed during their reconnection results in a painful resolution.
Star Trek Characters Faced Painful Choice about Individualism
We learn that “7 of 9” experienced a traumatic event that left her afraid of dying alone. As a result, she chose to force the other three to “re-assimilate as one” to deal with her fear. However, her decision adversely affected her peers.
For them to experience individualism again, they would have to accept the fact that they had a short time to live. But they will live longer if they return to the Borg collective. They elect to regain their individualism and have a shorter life.
This episode inspired me to write about how to maintain individualism within an organized environment. All too often, we find ourselves in a situation where we feel we have to sacrifice our individual goals in business. But I believe we should not have to make that sacrifice.
Diversity Doesn’t Mean Sacrifice of Individualism
Diversity never means that the majority assimilates the minority. Instead, the goal is to bring everyone together to celebrate how their differences are the group’s strength.
We want people to be who they are. Then, they feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts on how they can contribute to the success of an organization.
Research generated from a variety of fields predicts that important benefits accrue from demographic diversity. In an organization, members of different identity groups bring an increased variance in perspectives and approaches to work.
We Need to Encourage Individual Growth and Self-Actualization
As change agents, we should encourage individual growth so people can step into what psychologist Abraham Maslow called self-actualization. Referring to Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs,” British psychologist Saul McLeod writes: “Growth needs do not stem from a lack of something, but rather from a desire to grow as a person. Once these growth needs have been reasonably satisfied, one may be able to reach the highest level called self-actualization.”
Maslow believed that human motivation is based on people seeking fulfillment and change through personal growth. Self-actualized people are those who are fulfilled and living a “contented” life.
According to Maslow, self-actualization occurs when people have worked through their “deficit” areas and resolved issues that may cause them to be stuck in life. Instead of focusing on psychopathology and what goes wrong with people, Maslow formulated a more positive account of human behavior that focused on what goes right. He was interested in human potential and how we fulfill that potential.
Maslow’s Five-Stage Model with Self-Actualization Creates Productive Employees
Maslow created a five-stage model with self-actualization as the final destination. He believed that individuals must resolve lower-level needs before they can go on to the next level. Human motivation is based on people seeking fulfillment and change through personal growth.
Things that concern us are arranged in a hierarchical order. For example, you may want to further your education to have better career choices. However, that dream will take a back seat to your need to find a job that will pay the bills.
People cannot be productive if they are not whole. Unlike “7 of 9,” humans do not become whole by connecting with other individuals when they have unresolved issues.
“Unfulfilled” individuals who still need to develop can adversely affect the development of the other individuals with whom they attempt to connect. That can short-circuit organizational success, because there are some “weak links” who are not operating efficiently.
What Do Organizations Mean for You?
Some of us have to rethink our talent management skills. I have seen some of my peers hire job candidates based on how their perceived skill sets on their resumes could benefit the organization. We ask questions like “Where did you go to school? What did you study? Tell me about your past successes.”
What’s wrong with that? People are not experts because they have studied a discipline; they have only started the process of becoming well versed in a certain area.
It is your responsibility to determine if they are proficient enough to make an immediate contribution in the area where you desire to see change. Past successes do not always predict future achievements. Remember, your competition is not waiting for you to come up to speed.
Therefore, establish a strategic plan for both the individual and the organization that makes sense for the short- and long-term future success of the team. There may be a need to make adjustments along the way and the newly hired employee may not be in it for the long run. Personal goals can change over time. That’s okay.
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About the Author
Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.
Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.