Catch 22 and The Kobayashi Maru

The term Catch 22 is broadly used to describe a tricky problem or a no win, or even an absurd situation. You have a couple of choices for solving a problem but neither of them actually solve it and likely make the problem worse.

If you were, or are, a fan of the Star Trek television series or movies then you know that The Kobayashi Maru is a training exercise designed to test the character of Starfleet Academy cadets in a no-win scenario. It’s a Catch 22 on steroids. 

With the Kobayashi Maru cadets were put in a situation where they had two options and neither of them were good. But the test required that they select one the two available options. When they picked one they discovered just how bad their choices were. Both choices resulted in the loss of their ship and the entire crew. 

No cadet had ever “survived” the Kobayashi Maru until James T. Kirk arrived at Starfleet Academy. He was given the same two terrible choices and told he must pick one. Yet both his ship and crew came through intact. 

So how did this Kirk guy do it? Well when presented with two horrible options he declined to pick either one. He manufactured a third. 

All the other cadets stayed within the guidelines given to them, even knowing the likely outcome. Kirk refused to be limited to choices that would lead to his destruction. So he created a third option, seemingly out of thin air. 

Some people would say he cheated. Some would say he was very creative. I would say he merely broke the rule that needed to be broken in order to survive. 

Many of the things we take for granted today were at one time thought impossible. The people who overcame the impossible didn’t do it with conventional wisdom. They didn’t do it by applying the same limited thinking that made whatever it was impossible in the first place. They also didn’t meekly follow every direction that was given. 

They took a risk by breaking a rule or two that apparently didn’t need to be a rule to begin with. They colored outside the lines a bit to determine what was possible. They pushed the widely accepted limits.

People don’t often create new things with old thinking. People don’t change their lives and the lives of others by doing what they have always done. No one overcomes the impossible by asking for permission to do it. 

When they run out of options they do what James T. Kirk did, they manufacture another option. 

They don’t quit and they don’t accept options that will lead to failure. They beat the Kobayashi Maru. 

Can you beat it too?

The High Cost of Low Action

Few things grow as effortlessly as a problem ignored. Yet many times that’s just what less experienced leaders do, they ignore problems. Truth be told, very experienced leaders have been known to make this mistake as well.

 

It’s an easy trap to fall into.They tell themselves “It’s not so bad” and delude themselves with the hope that their circumstances will somehow just get better over time and things will “work themselves out.” They come up with poor excuses for why staying with the status quo is a good option; why playing it safe and not putting themselves at risk of failing or looking foolish is “plausible.”  

 

In reality, things that aren’t working out well now only tend to get worse over time, not better, and issues that remain unaddressed tend to grow larger, not smaller.

 

Some people won’t even admit the problem exists in the first place. Others “decide” the problem isn’t their fault or was caused by someone else thereby relieving themselves of any responsibility to deal with it. 

 

Doing nothing is easier, faster and cheaper….at least until the bill comes due. 

 

And it always comes due.

 

Authentic Leaders and successful people in general deal with problems as quickly as possible. Yes, sometimes they will live with it a bit but that’s only because they need to know a problem in order to solve it. 

 

If you want a greater level of success in your life and a lower amount of stress then deal with the problem the moment you have identified it. By “identify” I mean really identify, the number one reason most people fail at problem solving is that they deal with symptoms of the problem and never actually the root cause. 

 

One of my favorite stories is the one about the CEO of a dog food company who while speaking to his entire sales organization began his presentation by asking, “Who is the best dog food company in the world?” “WE ARE” shouted his charged up sales team. The CEO then asked, “Who makes the best dog food in the world?” “WE DO” his team answered in unison. Next he asked, “What dog food company has the best, most committed sales force in the industry?” With their loudest answer of all his team shouted, “IT’S US!”

 

Finally the CEO asks, “Well, then, why aren’t we selling more dog food?” Upon asking that question a silence fell over the room, it lasted for what seemed like an eternity until one brave salesperson responded with a hushed reply. He simply said, “The dogs don’t like it.”

 

Now, how many companies do you think would have doubled their marketing efforts, maybe replaced their sales force or perhaps even lowered their price, all in the attempt to deal with the “problem” of low sales? 

 

That’s an example of dealing with symptoms of a problem rather than the actual problem. I would however give those companies some credit, they at least tried to deal with the problem. 

 

Problems seldom if ever go away by ignoring them. It almost always costs more in the long run to dismiss problems than it does to deal with them quickly. Low action problem solving is the shortest path to high cost problems.


Authentic Leaders don’t dodge problems, they deal with them….are you ready to Lead Today?

Do You Have a Problem?

“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.” – Albert Ellis

The title of this post is a fair question…do you have a problem… because sometimes a problem really isn’t a problem.

Determining whether or not you really have a problem is the first step in problem solving. Trying to solve a problem that isn’t really a problem is a huge cause of unnecessary stress. It also prevents us from using our resources to solve real problems which in turn causes more stress.

Before you try to solve a problem you need to ask yourself if it is indeed a problem. Ask yourself if “this” will matter in 5 years, 5 months, or even 5 minutes. What will the consequences be if you do nothing. It is vital that you don’t lie to yourself when answering these questions. Many real problems are allowed to grow simply because someone lied to themselves about the seriousness of the problem. 

It’s poor leadership to try solving problems that don’t exist but ignoring problems that do exist is leadership at it’s worst. 

When determining whether or not you have a real problem consider the words my dad has frequently shared with me: Never make a mountain out of a molehill.

If you’ve decided that you have a real problem then stop fighting it. Just accept it. In Dale Carnegie’s great book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” he says one way to eliminate stress is to accept our problem and the worst outcome that it can produce. He also adds that once you have accepted the worst you should try to improve upon it. 

When you try to improve upon the worst never forget to ask for help. It’s unlikely that you’re the first person to have this problem so ask around. Ask what other people have done in similar situations. Ask what worked and what didn’t. When trying to solve problems there is no requirement that you go it alone so do what successful problem solvers do… ask for help.

Don’t waste your energy complaining about what is. Invest your energy and resources searching for solutions. Complaining about a problem does not solve it, criticizing the source of the problem does not make the problem go away. So focus on solutions and make your efforts count.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. The problem may be too big to solve all at once so break it into pieces if that makes it more manageable. Sometimes solving part of a problem makes the overall solution come into view. Few problems were created in a day so don’t feel a need to “fix” a problem all at once. 

Virtually every problem brings with it the opportunity to learn and grow. You have the choice to look at problems as a negative or as an opportunity for self-improvement. 

Be aware, if you choose to look at every problem as a negative you may have a much bigger problem than you think.