What I Learned About Small Business from a Ferengi BartenderTim Kinnard
When I was a kid, one of my favorite shows on TV was “Star Trek.”
It didn’t matter what series it was, I loved them all—The Next Generation—Deep Space Nine—Voyager—I even enjoyed the old Original Series from the 1960s with Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest.
Until I went off to College and found slightly more important things to occupy my time, I was a big fan. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I wasn’t just a fan, I was an all-out Trekkie with the whole VHS movie collection, action figures, board games, and tech manuals. Yes, I was that kid who studied how transporters theoretically worked.
On a few occasions, my mom was gracious enough to drive me and some of my friends to a few Conventions whenever they came to Little Rock. I had the chance to meet William Shatner (Captain Kirk), Marina Sirtis (Counselor Troy), Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar), and probably a few others. I tell you, I was a total geek!
Since childhood, I’ve become a lot more cynical of shows like Star Trek, Star Wars, and other science fiction genres. That’s probably due to several different reasons. One of the things that started bothering me as I grew up (including as a Christian), is all the secular ethics and humanist ideology that’s woven into the Star Trek franchise. I won’t go into all of that, but there’s plenty to take issue with. For the most part, though, I have good memories from watching the show, if for no other reason than it was an entertaining story. It was also a thought-provoking story that challenged me to think.
For example, one of the things that got me thinking was the show’s apparent critique of ideas like capitalism and free enterprise, in which wealth and progress are the right of private owners to pursue at their own risk and their own reward. In the Star Trek universe, that’s all considered obsolete to the morally-superior, socially-evolved “Federation” that’s achieved a post-scarcity world in which you can replicate whatever you need, making the need for money no longer an issue. In the words of Captain Picard,
“The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.”
That statement reflects the view of most of, if not all, the protagonist Star Fleet heroes.
In contrast to that, however, are societies not yet as evolved. There are alien races that still have a long way to go to reach the Federation’s progressive standard, such as the ultra-capitalist “Ferengi.” The Ferengi are the big eared, big nosed caricature (much like the Dwarves of Middle Earth) that represent the classic Jewish, money-loving, wealth-building stereotype.
If you’ve ever watched Star Trek, you know the Ferengi are the ones depicted as constantly chasing after the Almighty Dollar, or the Almighty bar of gold pressed latinum. They’re also often depicted as disparaging of women and ruled by an antiquated list of 285 commandments, or “Rules of Acquisition,” directing them in how to achieve the goal of their greed and self-interest. Again, that’s an apparent parody of Judaism with its own 613 Commands of the Torah, and the Bible’s alleged views of racial elitism and male chauvinism.
I find it interesting how the show’s creators evidently saw a cross-over between capitalism and Judeo-Christian beliefs, but I also think their caricature is totally unfair. Granted, if a caricature is meant to be an exaggeration of how things are in their extreme, I admit, there is a danger for the capitalist business owner, or the Bible touting disciple, to become like the Ferengi.
But listen, like the Pharisees of the Bible or the Tycoons on Wall Street, while we want to be careful not to become radical versions, I think there’s plenty to admire in the fundamentals that such groups live by. Even in the loathed Ferengi, I personally have found a lot to admire. You’ve got to peel back plenty of layers and discard all the ways they get it wrong, but foundationally, I think I’m actually a Ferengi at heart. What do I mean by that?
Well, for starters, I’m on board with the idea of personal responsibility, taking risk, and making a living for yourself in the universe. I don’t buy in to the socialist thinking of the Federation that places the expectation on the whole society to put food on my table. No, I place the expectation on my own shoulders to put food on my table. Sure, there’s got to be some mutual dependence on society, but that can’t be a total dependence on society. Personal responsibility is a good thing.
With that in mind, I actually have more respect for characters like Quark, who is the Ferengi Bartender on the Deep Space Nine series, who manages his own accounts and serves real food to his customers, than I have respect for all the lemmings in matching uniforms who are stuck eating artificial food and must rely on Chief O’Brian to keep the replicator going.
I can appreciate Quark’s entrepreneurial, self-reliant spirit.
I also happen to have a lot of respect for the Ferengi idea that husbands and fathers are naturally positioned to provide for their families in the workplace, and that wives and mothers are naturally positioned to manage the home.
Again, using the Quark character as an example, I that it’s great that he’s committed to supporting his mother back home with the proceeds he makes from his bar. That happens to be one of the sub-plots of the show. Quark loves his “Moogie,” as he calls his mom, and would rather he work than her, so that she is free to focus on the home.
Obviously, I’m against the extreme of such thinking in which women are denied the right to work altogether and are viewed simply as men’s servants both in the kitchen and the bedroom. I’m also opposed to the belief that men have no responsibility on the domestic side of life in caring for the kids, or in keeping up with general house chores.
But, offering no apology, I am a complementarian in regard to my belief that men and women are different, and are gifted in different ways, and are responsible to different degrees. That’s not to say our ladies shouldn’t be working, but it is to say I think our guys should be putting on “the pants,” rolling up their sleeves, and getting to work all the more as the primary bread winner for their families. Whether that’s working for someone else, or being self-employed, I think young men especially need to hear the call to turn off their star ship video games, come out from their parent’s basements, and strike out in life and start making a living.
The other thing I’ll say about my respect for Ferengi characters like Quark is their commitment to a set of established “values.” If you watch the show, you’ll hear Quark constantly quoting his memorized Rules of Acquisition as a way of guiding all of his business decisions. The way he runs his bar is anything but careless. Rather, every strip of latinum is managed, and every business opportunity is approached, by a prescribed set up principals. Again, he’s always quoting these things. Here are some of my favorite:
- #3—“Never pay more for an acquisition than you have to.”
- #8—“Small print leads to large risk. ”
- #19—“Satisfaction is not guaranteed. ”
- #57—“Good customers are as rare as latinum—treasure them. ”
- #141—“Only fools pay retail. ”
- #194—“It’s always good business to know about new customers before they walk in the door. ”
- #214—“Never begin a negotiation on an empty stomach. ”
- #218—“Always know what you’re buying. ”
In my opinion, all of that is good business advice. Now, to be fair (and any real Star Trek fan will be quick to point out), there are plenty of other Rules of Acquisition that I didn’t list that are totally inappropriate and anything but good advice. But, hopefully, you see the point I’m trying to make. Making decisions is a lot easier when you have something guiding you.
I think every business owner would do well to have a list of Core Values that governs it. Rather than just operating aimlessly in whatever industry, it’s a good thing to have some direction. Personally, I think the Bible provides a wonderful set of values to live by. Just be sure you’re following those as God intended, and not some radical version of it.
As someone who’s started his own small business with the homestead, I am trying to be “a good Ferengi” in how I take responsibility for our work, how my wife and I complement each other in that work, and how we try to honor our own guiding principles in Scripture.
In that way, I tip my hat to Quark, the bartender on Star Trek. And if visiting his bar, I’d order a non-replicated sandwich and commend him for his efforts as a small business owner. I’d then give him the Gospel and share with him the good news that a more rewarding Master to serve isn’t latinum, but the Lord, and a more rewarding motive to live by isn’t greed, but to be gracious to others. Perhaps, in time, assuming he was willing to get rid of his gambling table and put more clothes on his Dabo girls, I might even offer to make him a homestead partner.