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  • Writer's pictureFernando Olivo

Kobayashi Maru Mindset

Yes, yes, yes. I am a geek. But that’s not a new thing. I still remember that Sunday evening when I was seven years old, and I watched with my dad “The Wrath of Khan.” The words of James T. Kirk defined a way of living for me “I don’t believe in the no-win scenario.”


What is the Kobayashi Maru?

In the most up-to-date version, the Kobayashi Maru is a training simulation in which a cadet encounters a civilian ship in distress. To save the civilians, the cadet would need to enter the Neutral Zone, violating the treaty. Honoring the treaty means leaving the disabled freighter and its occupants in the Neutral Zone, at the mercy of the Klingons (the enemy). As the simulation is set up, entering the Neutral Zone to save the civilians also results in Klingons attacking and boarding the ship which the cadet is commanding. This is a no-win- scenario where the cadet must face the fear of an imminent defeat.


One of a hundred and forty-six other things

While some will dive into the ethical premise of changing the conditions of a situation, it has been for me the principle of always thinking out of the box. Sometimes the way how a situation is framed makes us feel that there is no way out. Reality is different and even by redefining the way how we approach the rules a winning scenario becomes possible.


My father is a lawyer, and we all know how good lawyers are at finding different approaches to the interpretation of the law. Maybe that is why my fascination with Harvey Specter (from Suits, the American drama). One of my favorite quotes from him is this one:


“Harvey: What are your choices when someone puts a gun to your head?

Mike: What are you talking about? You do what they say or they shoot you.

Harvey: WRONG. You take the gun, or you pull out a bigger one. Or, you call their bluff. Or, you do any one of a hundred and forty-six other things.”


This is indeed the Kobayashi Maru mindset. The clear conclusion is that there are always other paths to walk even in the worst possible situation. That no matter how big the gun to your head is, there are always other choices.


The How-To Guide

Encountering a challenging scenario akin to the Kobayashi Maru in the professional world presents a unique opportunity for growth and development. Often, we find ourselves facing what appears to be an unwinnable situation. Here are some key points to consider when confronted with such challenges:


  1. Cultivate a Growth Mindset: The initial step is to adopt a growth mindset and view the situation as a chance to learn and acquire new skills. Embracing the challenges instead of perceiving them as insurmountable obstacles is essential. Developing the necessary and tailored skills is crucial to finding solutions effectively.

  2. Unleash Creativity: Think beyond conventional boundaries and explore unconventional solutions. By seeking alternative approaches or strategies, you pave the way for a more favorable outcome.

  3. Effective Decision-Making: Evaluate all available options and their potential consequences. Prioritize your goals and values to make the best decision based on the information at hand. It is imperative to ensure you have sufficient and relevant information, as this scenario resembles "The Art of War," where acquiring comprehensive information is paramount.

  4. Collaboration: Seek input from others and leverage their expertise. Collaborative problem-solving can generate fresh perspectives and significantly increase the likelihood of finding a viable solution. Sometimes, the most innovative solutions come from those who have already overcome similar challenges.

  5. Adaptability: Remain open to adjusting your approach as new information emerges or circumstances change. Flexibility and adaptability are indispensable when navigating complex situations.

  6. Ethical Considerations: Reflect on the ethical implications of your choices. Strive to maintain your integrity and uphold professional values, even when confronted with difficult decisions.


Ultimately, the essence of the Kobayashi Maru lies not in merely seeking outright victory but rather in demonstrating resilience, ethical decision-making, and the ability to handle challenging situations with grace and composure. Each of us serves as the captain of our own destiny.

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