The Kobayashi Maru — No-Win Scenario.

How To Deal With Impossibilities.

Photo by Kamaji Ogino from Pexels

What is in a word? To a writer, it is many things. It is the secret ingredient to good expressions and stories. It is just like a filter that refines a product to have the desired feel, touch, or look. Whenever I come across a new word, I must find out its meaning before I proceed with whatever I was doing. I handle it like that troubling Candy Crush level that one needs to win before proceeding to the next.

I came across the term Kobayashi Maru in 2016 in a Tv series, Quantico. The Badass Alex Parrish managed to beat a training pattern that no one else in the team had won. The gist of the exercise was for all the new FBI recruits to fail so that they could learn a valuable lesson. There was no possible way to win the challenge using the conventional ways and cues given by the trainers. Alex had to step out of the picture and view it from the trainer’s perspective.

Some research into the term and I established that it is a Star Trek Franchise household name. A no-win situation has been presented to various commanders of the Enterprise; a space shuttle used in Star Trek movies. In the training exercise the commanders and their teams of cadets must break a peace treaty with a hostile rival to save Kobayashi Maru, a civilian ship in distress.

The commander’s dilemma is either to save fellow trainees aboard the Starship Enterprise and consequently loose the Kobayashi Maru, or risk the lives of the cadets to save 300 civilians people in the other ship (Quite an explanation — Guess you might need to watch the scene here).

Now, here’s the catch; there is no way to save the Kobayashi Maru. If the commander of the Enterprise decides to enter the neutral zone, his ship will be blown up by a hostile Klingon army; thereby killing him and the other trainees. Thus, Kobayashi Maru’s systems will continue to fail and lead to the probable deaths of all the 300 civilians in it.

This test in the Starfleet cadet training is meant to determine the character of the participants in a no-win scenario rather than their expertise — No matter how experienced one is, there is no way to save passengers aboard the space shuttle in distress, which narrows it to the type of decision the commander makes.

The human life is just like war. We face thousands of battles throughout life. Most are manageable while others are outrightly beyond our abilities. The power to identify no-win scenarios makes a great difference just as in Star Trek’s Kobayashi Maru scenes.

A No-Win Situation Is A Possibility

Star Trek II — The Wrath of Khan starts with a Kobayashi Maru scenario. As planned the Enterprise is blown up by the Klingons when it enters the neutral zone despite all the efforts by the commander and her crew members to fight back.

After the test, the head of the training exercise, admiral, talks to the ship’s commander. Among the rhetoric is the assertion that a no-win scenario is a possibility in any war. The sentiment takes the commander aback as she and her entire cadet team did not anticipate it. The crew members thought that their training was sufficient to get them through the situation not knowing that they were set up to ‘die’.

What they failed to consider is the possibility that they would be unable to save the Kobayashi Maru and all of them would die in the process.

The possibility of complete failure brushes arms with every person each day. Even during a job interview where you do your best and hope that the panel calls you for a follow-up and eventually hires you. I recently read of a certain media company that advertised for a job opening. About 400 candidates went and interviewed for the job. However, the employer had already pre-determined who would get the job. In fact, she was moving stoically among the applicants, intoxicated and spewing fumes of whisky as she laughed at their misery. You can imagine how hopeful the 400 guys were. They gave their best answers, displayed the best combination of facial expressions, and handled themselves with decorum not knowing that it was a no-win case for them.

It could be that project that you are doing. You have devoted all your time, energy, and resources but still it does not yield the expected outcomes. Maybe its time you stepped back and re-evaluated the options. There may be better ways of achieving your results without using the conventional means that you’ve been applying all along. If it really is a no-win situation, then you will keep working on it till kingdom come, unless you recognize this and move on swiftly to other possible projects.

Still, it could be that relationship that you been watering for a long time. You try everything under the sun to please someone but things are not getting better. The truth is that if that other person has decided that it won’t work with you, trust me it won’t. Even if you buy the latest Kama sutra edition, immerse yourself in yoga or even donate a kidney to the partner, it is a Kobayashi Maru and you are set up for failure.

Whenever we establish that we are in a no-win situation, we should not struggle or try to force things because it will only drain us and leave us feeling hopeless. It is important to let impossibilities be and refocus our energy on other opportunities. The only guy that thrives in impossible missions is Tom Cruise as we all know.

Loss is Imminent

The basic human reaction to a problem is to minimize loss and damages, and in extension, maximize the level of gratification that comes with success. Evidently, a no-win scenario presents no benefits and promises pain to some extent.

In the Star Trek movies, the commanders and cadets are trained to fight to death in their quest to save lives. Their motivation towards war is comparable to the United States’ Airforce Motto which is Fly-Fight-Win. Therefore, it is only right that the trainees will want to save the Kobayashi Maru. If they breach the neutral zone, they must fight the Klingons who are in a familiar turf. If they retreat, they’ll have given up the lives of the civilians aboard the ship in distress. Either way, lives will be lost.

Realistically, loss is part of life and we should all anticipate it in the different forms it manifests. Some situations are completely beyond our comprehension or reach and we just have to watch helplessly as they unfold. Therefore, Understanding the imminence of loss helps us generate a befitting response and accept impossible situations more swiftly than when failure catches us flatfooted.

How We Deal With Loss Is As Important as How We Deal With Success

The statement is an adaptation from the Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan movie. In the Kobayashi Maru situation, the cadets fail to save the 300 civilians and their ship is also brought down by the Klingons. The Admiral in charge of Cadet training talks to the Enterprise’s commander telling her that how people deal with death is as important as how they deal with life.

Similarly, how we deal with failure should be as important as how we handle success. This means that we should push to achieve the anticipated results but at the same time understand that we may lose. It Thus, success and failure are equal partners that should meet our embrace as they come. The gist is to know what to do with each.

This famous quote by Ziad K. Abdelnour, renowned economist and author of Economic Warfare and Start-up Saboteurs, sums up how important the two sides of the coin are;

It intimates that while we experience both success and failure, even the former may be harmful if it causes us to drop our guard and forget about the numerous possibilities of the latter as it lurks in the shadows.

In retrospect, the idea is not to give up but be wary of situations. We should be able to dissect matters and look at them in different perspectives to map out impossible scenarios, which we can then wiggle out with the minimal loss to us. We should understand that some situations do not text our capabilities but our character, and in that, our ability take failure as it comes while we retain our sanity.

Thus, the Kobayashi Maru scenes in Star Trek show us that we should adopt a survival package that takes both success and failure in stride. This way, we will be able forge forward and milk as much life from our existence as possible.

I write about Communications, Social behavior, Psychology, and occasionally, on random subjects.