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The Kobayashi Maru


When I was growing up I was a big Star Trek fan. My middle name is Kirk so you can imagine who my favorite character was. But it wasn’t just the people; I loved the gadgets on the show too. The communicators, the food replicators, and even the transporter.

It is amazing how much of the “Sci-Fi” stuff from the late 60’s we now take for granted. My favorite of course is the communicator. (Anyone for a flip phone?) I read that NASA is now actually working on a food replicator for use on long-range missions.

The gadgets aren’t the only thing from the show we can use today. The philosophy of the always knowing Captain Kirk can come in handy today as well.

As a student at Star Fleet Academy young Kirk was faced with the Kobayashi Maru. The Kobayashi Maru offers two solutions to an impossible dilemma, both of which lead to terrible results. It is an un-winnable scenario designed to teach prospective command students that sometimes you simply can’t win.

Kirk became the only cadet at the academy to defeat the Kobayashi Maru because he refused to accept that only two solutions existed. There were in fact, only two, until he “invented” a third.

Throughout the TV series and the 3 movies that followed, Kirk always refused to think in terms of either/or. He always demanded a third option. That philosophy served Kirk well in his fictional life and it can serve us well in our professional lives.

Call it whatever you want, thinking outside the box, green light thinking, whatever you call it the point is the same. In challenging times we cannot be limited to either/or options when both lead to some kind of un-winnable scenario. We must have that third option, even if we have to invent it.

The message of the Kirk’s Kobayashi Maru is clear; we don’t have to accept defeat. There is another way, there is always a third option if we are willing to work hard enough to find it. And yes, sometimes you may have to create a solution that doesn’t seem to be there. When we decide that defeat is unacceptable those unseen options suddenly appear and defeat fades off into the distance. I’m ready to win – Beam me up Scotty!

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