If you’re a Trekkie, you probably already know about how Captain James T. Kirk famously beat the Kobayashi Maru–a training exercise designed to test Starfleet officers in no-win scenarios. But for the uninitiated, how did Captain Kirk win an unwinnable test?
Well, for starters you may want to look at his character psychology. At his core, he is someone who leads his crew to “explore new worlds, where no man has gone before.” He became Starfleet’s youngest captain after receiving command of the USS Enterprise.
People often praise Kirk for his strong leadership skills. He always pushes his crew beyond the limit. Instead of being jealous of other people’s success, he chooses to help others, even if it is detrimental to himself. As seen in Star Trek Generations, his main goal in life is to make a difference.
If you’re familiar with The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, then all the dots may be connecting for you. In the book, Covey outlines the abundant mindset and how it can be used to cultivate success. In short, if you believe that there are enough resources to share with others, then you have already succeeded. People with an abundant mindset reject zero sum games—like the Kobayashi Maru—and celebrate the successes of others, rather than feeling threatened by them.
Check out the ways Kirk embodies Covey’s principles and consider how you can apply them to your everyday business decisions.
Kirk Thinks Outside the Box
People with an abundant mindset always think outside the box. This is exactly what Captain Kirk did when he faced the Kobayashi Maru. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, the Kobayashi Maru is an unbeatable training exercise. It’s a no-win scenario. Starfleet uses it to test how potential captains deal with death and loss.
As revealed in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Kirk reprograms the simulator so that the rescue mission is possible. He reprograms the Klingons to be afraid of him. Kirk later states that he doesn’t believe in a no-win scenario. Starfleet awards him for his original thinking. Fans often note that Kirk has an unorthodox approach to problem solving—he thinks outside the box.
Kirk thought that the test was fundamentally unfair, so he decided to de-rig the system. If Kirk had not reprogrammed the simulator, then he would have lost against the Kobayashi Maru, which he saw as the test cheating. The structure of the test itself was a problem for him to solve.
Although it is not particularly shameful to lose the test, winning is what helped Kirk get ahead at Starfleet. It’s what makes him exceptional in the eyes of his superiors.
Since he rejects the impossibility of the test from the beginning, he is using an abundant mindset.
Kirk Is Highly Effective
You don’t have to be an expert on Stephen Covey’s habits to see that Kirk is a highly effective person. This also makes him a more interesting character. Viewers would rather watch a protagonist who actively goes after what he or she wants, not someone who sits around and does nothing.
This is something to consider in life; would you rather be a protagonist who earnestly seeks success, or someone who does nothing to get ahead?
The first three habits center around independence, or mastery of working with yourself.
- be proactive
- begin with the end in mind
- put first things first
Kirk was proactive, not reactive, in his decision to reprogram the Kobayashi Maru. He saw the end result of the test long before he started—and he envisioned himself succeeding. Without this, he could not have worked toward the result he wanted. Finally, he set his priorities straight. He knew that leadership begins with a personal vision.
Covey even states, “If habit 2 advises that you are the programmer, then habit 3 advises: write the program. Become a leader!”
These are the exact steps that Kirk took.
Have you mastered working with yourself? If not, revisit the first three habits and consider where you can better yourself as an independent worker and problem solver. Watch how this changes the ways in which you handle obstacles within your business.
The next three habits tackle interdependence, or mastering working with others.
4. think win-win
5. seek first to understand, then to be understood,
Thinking win-win is the essential tenet of the abundant mindset that helped Kirk be so successful. Rather than viewing everything as an opportunity for competition, he recognizes opportunities for cooperation.
Kirk is an empathetic character who seeks to genuinely listen to and understands his crew. This compels them to have an open mind when listening to him. Kirk isn’t a leader who barks orders.
Finally, he promotes synergy by knowing how to best use the strengths and weaknesses of his crew in order to achieve success. The crew of the USS Enterprise uses teamwork to reach goals that none of them could have reached alone.
Is your crew in tip-top shape? Maybe you need to adjust your leadership style or lean into the abundant mindset. When you know how to get the most out of your staff, you create a foundation for entrepreneurial success.
Covey’s final habit proclaims continual improvement, whether in the self or when working with others. Kirk doesn’t ever settle for less, or become too comfortable with his success. The captain is also in good physical health, which is another part of this final step.
You should take these cues to think longterm when it comes to your business. In order to lead a company effectively you’ll need to be there for the long haul. Never quit taking care of yourself and pushing for personal innovation.
Are you someone who wants to get ahead in business? Maybe you’ve just started your own small business, or maybe you’ve been stuck in the same place in a larger company for longer than you’d like.
No matter who you are, you’ve faced up against your own Kobayashi Maru. Whether it’s deciding to let an employee go or acing a job interview, we’ve all tackled challenges in our careers.
Remember that Kirk lost the Kobayashi Maru test twice before he won it on his third try, so it’s alright if you stumble a few times. People with an abundant mindset resist being hard on themselves, so keep in mind that it’s okay to lose. Just be sure to learn all you can from each experience—and maybe take some tips from Captain Kirk as you navigate your business.
Do you have any favorite Captain Kirk moments? How do you think we can all learn from him? Comment below!