b-school, Management, MBA, Personal, Project Management, Thoughts

Kobayashi Maru (a no-win situation)

Star Trek is not the encyclopedia of life. Even though it contains so many interesting ideas about leadership and management, with different styles depending on the series, that is worth knowing about.

One of the scenarios that is a reference in the Star Trek world is the Kobayashi Maru scenario, which is a “lose-lose” or “no-win” scenario. Regardless of what you do, you’re doomed. We can see this kind of scenarios in everyday life: from organisations that have a couple of conflicting objectives to pursue at all costs, pyrrhic victories or military victories that are so costly to win that are not worth-it (ring a bell?), or the kinked curve of demand for oligopolies, that can only begin competing between itselves bearing huge losses. Even the Spanish Inquisition’s confessions were like that: torture until pleaded guilty and then executed: every move made it worse.

Kobayashi Maru

The original Kobayashi Maru scenario was a test for Star Trek commanders. In the simulator they received a distress call: a ship had been stranded on the other side of the border. They were subsequently faced with the decision of whether or not entering into enemy zone, underpowered, to try to rescue the crew of the Kobayashi Maru.

There was no escape, the only option was not to try the rescue.

One briskly student devised a  solution: cheating. Cadet Kirk did in his third attempt. Strangely enough, tweaking the simulator was considered original thinking. Probably that was only because it had not been attempted before. In time Cadet Kirk became the infamous Captain Kirk.

Sometimes, regardless of what you do, defeat is unavoidable.

Yes, I’m exagerating a little, but this has been a hell of a Kobashi Maru week. And to you all there that have Kobayashi Maru weeks once in a while, there’s still a message of hope. The Kobayashi Maru scenario had a meaning and purpose.

Because it wasn’t an intelligence or ability test. It was a character test. How do we face odds and specifically unsurmuntable odds? After all managing death is a way to learn to manage life.

Paraphrasing another Star Trek classic, Mr. Spock, “fear is the mind killer”. Sometimes the worst might simply happen, and what’s important then is how to handle the situation, how to keep your own control and integrity under adverse or inauspicious circumstances.

Making the most out of it. That’s how you learn to be better, and how to bounce back and subdue the next possibly conquerable odd. Don’t let circumstances drag you down, because you need to keep fit for the next, possibly unforseeable, challenge. And it may well be one you can cope with.


5 thoughts on “Kobayashi Maru (a no-win situation)

  1. “Fear is the mind killer” sounds more like Dune. I always loved the story of the Kobayashi Maru scenario, and the idea of the test of character. Many of us are trained for many things, and especially for success, but we are rarely told how we should cope with defeat and failure.

    However, this story always makes me think about the clear anglosaxon cultural background that it implies. For the forthright and honourable star fleet cadets, cheating is not an option, and henceforth, when it happens, it is creative thinking. If cadets had been mediterranean (say Italian, Greek or Spanish), Kobayashi Maru would have been broken long ago 😛

  2. Greetings for your blog, Gabriel, been reading for some time from the shadows. 🙂

    I’ll leave at a side that the Kobayashi Maru test greatly benefits from being purely a fiction exercise (Star Trek based, no less).

    I’m with multimaniaco (hello ^_^) in that south europeans will have cheated as a baseline. But also think that typical spanish management actitude would have been a kirkesque “there is no no-win situation” until the end (the end of their teams, it is). The difference is Kirk is able to change reality’s preconditions in the fiction. The real manager or team leader cannot use plot tricks.

    Many of our managers need character tests and training. It’s no popular thinking on defeat and losing, but it’s in the bad times when someone is really tested.

    btw, that not only means looking with watery eyes but a heroic stance how others die. Means prepare early for failure, real damage control, getting the maximum of what defeat leaves behind, prepare for the post-defeat, etc.

    “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” F.D.Roosevelt.

    Sorry, I know both of you, mmm, fit into “spanish management” (myself been into project managing until earlier this year). I’m just betting you are not “typical” 😛

  3. You are right multi 😉 it is from Frank Herbert’s Dune (a must read and must see too), although Wikipedia says that it was written by Aldous Huxley three years before.

    Spock uses a similar expression, but inverting the causality: “fear is a construct of an undisciplined intellect”. It’s not that it’s killing your mind, but an orderly mind will simply kill it. At least if you follow Surak’s Vulcan philosophy 🙂

    With Surak, the Bene Gesserit and Roosevelt we have a nice triad about fear, don’t we? And the concept of managing defeat or death is sometimes as alien as managing victory and success…

    I must not fear.
    Fear is the mind-killer.
    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
    I will face my fear.
    I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
    And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
    Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
    Only I will remain.

    Yes, merc, I agree completely that you learn on troubled times, but you are learning by doing, because you have no other option than flexing your muscles… do we really draw lessons from those kind of experiences? do we really have the time and will to sit back and reflect from the facts that we have struggled with? does interest outlive necessity? for example, in projects, how many post-mortem meetings do we really have about what went right / wrong and what we learnt from it? Usually it’s like finishing or coping with something and then running like crazy… 😛

    Sitting here, looking at the sea and hearing the neighbours go amok with firecrackers and bangers, I wonder if there is such thing as Spanish Management, and if there is how it must be like… the marks from the sun in my skin following the shape of my tank top I can see (yes, we had a very sunny first day of summer today) but, are those marks also present in the alter ego of Spanish managers… who knows…

    Thanks Merc and Multi for reading and answering. Best regards 😀

  4. Rahul says:

    Great post Gabriel. It’s always a pleasure to read your posts. I am in a Kobayashi Maru period right now and this post provided a lot of inspiration. Will hopefully come out of this pretty soon 🙂

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