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Kobayashi Maru

“Win-win is a belief in the Third Alternative.  It’s not your way or my way; it’s a better way, a higher way.”

Kobayashi Maru

The Kobayashi Maru is the most notorious training program in Star Trek lore, and only a handful of Starfleet officers have been able to beat this legendary “no win” scenario.  The simulation was designed to test the discipline, character, and command capabilities of Starfleet cadets on the command track.

The Kobayashi Maru plays out as follows: the cadet is in command of a starship that answers the distress call of a civilian freighter stranded in the Neutral Zone.  In order to rescue the freighter, the cadet would have to enter the Neutral Zone and risk triggering hostilities with the Klingon Empire.

Star Trek’s test of character is deemed unwinnable because it’s impossible to save the Kobayashi Maru freighter, leave the Neutral Zone unscathed, and avoid battle with the Klingons.

Of course, winning the Kobayashi Maru isn’t the real test; cadets are being assessed on how they act in an impossible situation.  That hasn’t stopped various Starfleet officers from trying to win with varying degrees of success.

Most famously, James T Kirk is the only Starfleet cadet to have beaten the Kobayashi Maru.  To do so, he simply reprogrammed it so he could succeed.  Although this was a cheat, Kirk was commended for his original thinking.  Justifying his workaround, he stated he did not believe in a no-win scenarios.

In other words, Kirk believed that it was always possible to find a win-win scenario.


Is there really ever a true ‘win-win’ scenario?

You hear it all the time in business and life situations: ”Hey, this is a win-win!” However, if you have to convince someone it is a ‘win-win,’ then it probably isn’t.  And if one party’s definition of a ‘win’ is that someone else loses, then there is no deal to be had, and you will certainly end up with a ‘lose-win’ scenario.

Win-Win in Business

Sports is a zero-sum game – one team wins, and one team loses.  Or there is a tie, but if the number of goals scored for one team equals the number of goals scored against the other team, neither team wins.

Business, however, isn’t a zero-sum game – because a ‘win’ in business isn’t always as clear as the scoreboard when the time expires on the field.

In certain circumstances, there is only so much business to be had.  There is only one pie, and it is only so big.

For example, a manufacturer is letting a contract to buy a fixed amount of materials.  They will award the contract to one or more vendors, but the total amount is fixed.  One vendor could get it all, they win, and everyone else loses.  They could divide the contract, then everyone loses.  Sure, some of the vendors get something, but that is not the same as a win.

Well…not so fast…

How To Get To A Win-Win Mentality.

Here are four scenarios where losing is a win-win.

  1. A successful negotiation is one in which everyone leaves the table believing they’ve done the best they can given the circumstances.  This would be a theoretical win-win.
  1. However, if I lose a deal, I gain time. Time to find another deal.  Maybe a better deal, a deal that gives me more money with less work.  Perhaps a deal where I gain a connection I didn’t have before.
  2. Seeking win-win outcomes even if you do not get what you originally wanted allows you to build positive relationships that you did not have before, whereby you increase trust and respect from those you negotiate with, and allows you to further your overall long-term strategy
  3. Losing a deal could force you to evaluate your expectations and business strategy in light of what you have learned in losing a negotiation.

Business leaders and entrepreneurs need to see negotiations the way James T. Kirk sees the Kobayashi Maru – it is not what it appears.  Just as Kirk could conceive of a way to win, there are always positives to be taken from every negotiating situation.

The Bible

The Bible has some interesting examples of win-win thinking.

In 1 Samuel 25, David had already been anointed as king but was still on the run from the reigning king, Saul.  While a fugitive, David and his men had actually been protecting the flocks of a rich rancher named Nabal.  Since they were working for this man, David’s men thought it appropriate to politely ask if the rich man would be willing to share some food with them.  The rich man, Nabal, rudely refused.

When David heard this, he was angry and gathered the rest of his men to confront Nabal.  The scene was set for a deadly win-lose (or maybe a lose-lose) confrontation (verses 4-13).

But Nabal’s wife, Abigail, intervened and presented a sensible win-win plan.  David’s men and Nabal’s household were both satisfied.

Abigail filled the role of Captain Kirk and refused to see what was transpiring as the only viable outcome.

Business leaders need to open their eyes to the potential of seeing every opportunity as a win-win opportunity.  And, many times, will be avoiding a serious lose-lose situation, just like the one Abigale was presented with.