A Skill Set Called Leadership
Like a lot of other nerdy kids his age, Pausch dreamed of being Captain James T. Kirk, commander of the starship Enterprise. He did not want to be like him: he wanted to be Captain Kirk. The Star Trek hero was the greatest role model for young boys who loved science; and Pausch believes he became a better husband, teacher, and colleague by watching the captain run his ship.
Kirk was not the smartest person on the ship; Mr. Spock, his first officer, was the logical, intelligent one. Dr. McCoy had all the medical knowledge of the universe, and Scotty was able to keep the ship running even in the midst of an alien attack. They needed their captain for one thing: his leadership. Pausch learned from watching Kirk in action.
Kirk knew how to delegate and how to inspire passion in his crew, and he never professed to know more than his subordinates, allowing them to do what they knew best how to do. It was his job to inspire vision and set the tone for every mission and task. On a lighter note, he always looked good and was attractive to women in every galaxy. To a young boy, he was a Greek god.
The coolest thing was all the technology he had. Kirk had a communicator that allowed him to talk to his ship when he was on a planet—now we all have such devices. Several years ago, Pausch received a phone call from an author who was cowriting a book with William Shatner (Captain Kirk). He wanted to talk to Pausch about how the scientific breakthroughs on the television series foreshadowed today’s technological advances. Captain Kirk wanted to visit Pausch’s virtual reality lab at Carnegie Mellon.
Although this was not quite the dream he had as a boy, Pausch considered his dream realized when he met Shatner. Even more amazing than meeting his boyhood idol was considering that his idol was here to see his work! Before he came, Pausch and his students worked feverishly to create a virtual bridge of the Enterprise. When Shatner arrived, he put on the bulky headset and was able to see his starship—complete with sirens. Shatner spent three hours in the lab and asked a lot of questions. Shatner, like Kirk, was not afraid to admit what he did not know, and he did not want to leave until he understood. To Pausch, that is heroic.
During his cancer treatments, Pausch is reminded of a scene in one of the Star Trek movies in which Kirk, as a Starfleet cadet, reprogrammed a simulated training scenario because he did not believe in a no-win scenario. Some of Pausch’s colleagues have shown disdain for his infatuation with Star Trek, but it has served him well. After learning of Pausch’s diagnosis, Shatner sent him a photograph of himself as Kirk with those famous words: “I don’t believe in the no-win scenario.”