Beating the Kobayashi Maru

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In an earlier post, I described a recent project that I was on as being similar to the Kobayashi Maru; a fictional test in the Star Trek universe. The test is programed to be a no-win situation, designed to test the character of a captain in the face of certain defeat. The project we were on sure felt like a no-win situation, where the only positive outcome was the knowledge that we went above and beyond to deliver the best product that we possibly could, given the conditions.


And that’s the part that hurts. We knew we could have delivered a better product if the business would have adopted our approach. We tried multiple times to convince stakeholders that adopting our approach, and industry standards, would give them all the information that they needed while ensuring that nothing would be left out. The business didn’t listen, and handed down a set of conditions that we knew would not ultimately lead to the best solution. In a way, we were taking the Kobayashi Maru.


Now, I know of one person in the Star Trek universe that has beaten the Kobayashi Maru: Cadet James Tiberius Kirk. In order to do this, he had to cheat by reprograming the test. In the 2009 film Star Trek, Captain Kirk is brought before a disciplinary hearing for cheating on the test. He states that the test itself is a cheat, since there is no possibility of success, and that he doesn’t “believe in the no-win scenario”. Spock then points out that he missed the point of the test entirely, but that’s beside the point.


What I take away from this story is that Kirk knew that if he were to operate within the conditions set upon him, he would certainly fail, so he took it upon himself to change the conditions. He upset some people, was punished, but ultimately won in a so called no-win scenario.


Of course we’re talking about a movie here, and people rarely would dare to do something similar to this in a business setting. I think that they should. If you are given a scenario in which you do not see a successful outcome, should you continue to march toward failure, or do you push harder to change the conditions? If you cannot change the conditions, do you accept the inevitable failure, or do you refuse to continue? It’s a choice that people have to make, which can be hard considering the possible consequences.


But just remember…Kirk eventually became captain.

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