Star Trek’s Best Captain Never Follows His Most Important Rule

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

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One of the reasons the Star Trek fandom loves Captain Picard so much is that he is a man who lives by certain principles, and part of the fun of watching Picard is seeing this beloved character refuse to budge on things that matter to him. But what if I told you that Picard’s most important rule is only mentioned once and hardly ever put into action? The first season introduces the idea that Picard wants all of his officers to cross-train for other positions, but this plot point never really comes up again.

Lonely Among Us

picard rule

We know about this particular Picard rule thanks to The Next Generation season one episode “Lonely Among Us.” When Geordi LaForge sees Worf ready to help with a tech problem, he asks what we’re all asking: “Why the interest in this…it’s just routine maintenance on the sensor assemblies.” The Klingon replies that Picard “wants his junior officers to learn, learn, learn,” prompting Geordi to respond “not just the junior ones.”

Cross-Training Makes Sense

picard rule

In the moment, this Captain Picard rule makes perfect sense. For one thing, it models the kind of cross-training that is very common in the United States Navy, which Starfleet’s structure is loosely modeled after. For another thing, we have seen many situations where someone has to work outside their specialty (the most infamous example is Counselor Deanna Troi flying the ship into a planet in Generations), so it makes sense that this cross-training is constantly happening.

A Lot Of Department Musical Chairs

star trek geordi

When you rewatch The Next Generation, this Picard rule would seemingly explain how certain promotions happen. For example, Geordi LaForge (who seems all too familiar with this rule when Worf mentions it) goes from flying the ship to serving as the Chief of Engineering, and when Data is believed to be dead in “The Most Toys,” Worf goes from Security to Ops. Even Troi eventually completes training that allows her to go from counseling others to commanding the ship if need be.

We Never See It On The Screen

With all these examples in place, you might conclude that Captain Picard is constantly reinforcing this cross-training rule. Here’s the weird thing, though: audiences almost never get to see such training going on outside “Lonely Among Us.” The very fact that it’s such a surprise when Geordi becomes Chief Engineer and Worf replaces Data is a testament to the fact that we never really get to see these characters training for roles outside their specialty.

Thine Own Self

picard rule

Further muddying the waters is the fact that when we do see cross-training occurring, it seems to be entirely the choice of the characters rather than the effects of Picard’s rule. The most prominent example of this occurs in the episode “Thine Own Self” in which Deanna Troi decides to complete the training that results in her getting promoted to Commander and becoming a bridge officer. It’s a cool development moment for a character often overlooked by the show, but it’s also very clear that Picard played no part in what was ultimately Troi’s decision.

A Union Man

star trek engineer

At the end of the day, the weirdest thing about all of this is that Picard’s rule is something that makes perfect sense but that we never really see onscreen. Think of it like saucer separation in battles: it’s something that is perhaps constantly occurring offscreen but that we never get to see. Now, I’m left with just one unanswered question…how much cross-training Miles O’Brien had to do to go from being a transporter chief to Chief of Operations on Deep Space Nine to being belatedly honored as “the most important person in Starfleet history.”