Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 29th 2015 Contents SBG12 ENTREPRENEURSHIP
SUNDAY BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt MARCH 29 • 2015
Science fiction offers an
opportunity to view the
world differently. Sci-fi
books, movies and games
like Star Wars (George
Lucas), The Time
Machine (HG Wells) and
Mass Effect 2 (Bioware)
are some that have changed the way we think
about our assumptions about the world we
I am particularly keen on how the creators
of science fiction pieces use creativity to solve
problems and deal with threats in their dreamed
up world. This can be very helpful in entre-
preneurship as one of the qualities of a suc-
cessful entrepreneur is to be creative and inno-
vative, especially when the odds are against
One of the most remarkable television series
I think is Star Trek and I want to be specific,
the original 1960s TV series. I need to be spe-
cific since this original series has spawned five
more television shows and 12 movies. This is
a huge franchise that many may think started
off as a success but it wasn t so. After 79
shows, Star Trek was cancelled by NBC on
June 3, 1969. Despite its low ratings, it was
hugely popular among a niche audience.
Like many new venture startups, the Star
Trek concept was essentially a flop. Maybe it
was a case of being ahead of its time.
This month, William Shatner (Captain James
Kirk) celebrated his 84th birthday and on Feb-
ruary 27 we learnt of the death of Leonard
Nimoy, the actor who played the character
I reflected on not just the Captain Kirk and
Mr Spock characters, but on how a TV series
way back from the 1960s changed forever how
we view science fiction and space fantasies.
Star Trek had such a great influence not just
on the film industry, but its futuristic outlook
which we now see in the many gadgets we
use. There were many innovations coming out
of Star Trek.
Behind the scenes
While I liked first officer Mr Spock, Captain
Kirk, Dr McCoy (DeForest Kelley), chief engi-
neer Scotty (James Doohan) and the others
on the team, the real hero was not any one
of them. The real creative genius was a man
with a vision to create something different; a
show that would visit other earth-like worlds,
deal with outer world problems that seem very
similar to what were happening here (over
population, discrimination), have a good sto-
ryline and do all of this on a budget. This man
was the creator of Star Trek, the late Gene
During the 1960s, science fiction was not
considered where you would put your studio
eggs. The hits of the day were shows like I
Dream of Jeannie, Bonanza, Flipper, I Love
Lucy and others. There were few science fiction
hits before Star Trek save Twilight Zone, Time
Tunnel, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
Star Trek was breaking new ground and
Roddenberry understood this well.
But how do you convince sceptical television
executives that your proposal for a space fan-
tasy is going to make a profit?
According to William Shatner in his book,
Star Trek Memories, "He (Gene) goes on to
explain that most of Star Trek action will occur
within the parameters of one basic and amor-
tised set , that any special effects created for
the show can be used time and again, making
them more practical and cost effective."
This concept of using fewer resources to
achieve much is the hallmark of successful
entrepreneurship. It is called bootstrapping.
Where no man has gone
There are some really fascinating hi-tech
gadgets that, back in the 60s, looked quite far
off. Roddenberry had to find a 23rd century
way of opening a door and he thought of the
automatic door opener.
I remember attending a Gene Roddenberry
lecture back in the mid 1980s in Florida and
when he was asked by an architect how to
design a door that would open when someone
approached it, he reflected how many times
Captain Kirk and others would bump into a
closed door. The solution, he said, was to have
two guys on the other side of the door and
they would slide it open. Today I think about
Star Trek every time I walk through an auto-
The use of a device called the communicator
takes takes the innovation award.
How do you communicate from the ground
to a spaceship? Roddenberry created this device
which is similar to today s cellphone.
Also one of my favourites is the universal
translator which explains why aliens always
spoke English in the series. Today, we have
voice translators which translate many lan-
And how do you assess someone for sickness
Star Trek introduced the tricoder which Dr
McCoy would use to analyse his patients.
We do not have this device in a mobile form,
but we do have bulky CT and MRI scanners
which can reveal a lot about you.
As far as weapons are concerned, Star Trek
has the phaser which shoots a laser like light
to stun or kill its target. Today, it is reported
that the US military has laser technology to
shoot down airplanes and orbiting spacecraft.
No handheld versions as far as we know.
Star Trek was also different because of its
widespread use of computers.
In the conference room, they would use
computers and the crew would speak to the
Today we have voice recognition and I can
Google any word on my cellphone by voice
Although highly innovative, Star Trek was
not an initial hit.
As an entrepreneur, you might be faced with
a situation that your idea, like Roddenberry s,
might be too far ahead of the market.
When Star Trek was cancelled, an important
event occurred that helped propel the iconic
series. Man landed on the moon on July 1969,
only a few weeks after the series was cancelled.
This may have sparked an interest---and cou-
pled with the fact that Star Trek when into
syndication (reruns)---viewing options were
broader so a greater audience for the show.
Hollywood did not understand the true
magnitude of the Star Trek following. It was
not until 1979 (10 years after the series was
cancelled) that Paramount Studios would
release the first movie. This was only after
science fiction mega films like Close Encounters
of Third Kind and Star Wars.
In the end, Star Trek, despite its weak start
and abrupt cancellations, became immensely
The creative genius of Roddenberry holds
important lessons for entrepreneurs who want
to create novel products and business models.
As Spock would say: live long and prosper!
Sajjad Hamid is an SME consultant.
He can be contacted at:
Innovation model from 1960s
What entrepreneurs can learn from the director of Star Trek
with Sajjad Hamid
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