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Kobayashi Maru Management

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Ted’s feeling pretty good. He sits across from me in the conference room and says, “Program launch is solid. We’ve been working on the details for almost a month. We vetted the concept with all the affected teams and made tweaks, and now they’re fine. The only step left is sending the announcement to the whole company.”

“Nice work, Ted,” I say, “Huge amount of work.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re not remotely done.”

Ted, “Pardon?”

A Test of Character

In the 23rd Century of the Star Trek universe, there exists a test for cadets on the command-track of Star Fleet. Via Memory Alpha:

The test primarily consisted of the cadet placed in command of a starship. The ship would soon receive a distress signal from the Kobayashi Maru, a civilian freighter within the Klingon Neutral Zone that had been heavily disabled. Being the only ship in range, the cadet usually either chose to withdraw from the rescue mission or enter the neutral zone and rescue the vessel in risk of violating the treaties. The ship would then be confronted by Klingon battle cruisers which typically engaged in a firefight.

The punchline? It is virtually impossible to win the scenario. The cadet cannot simultaneously save the Kobayashi Maru, avoid a fight, and escape the Neutral Zone intact. The test is one of character and decision-making.

A critical part of a manager’s job lies in their ability to appropriately act in unusually complex, unexpected, and perhaps no-win scenarios, but you know what’s better? Not getting in those situations in the first place.

A System Failure

The daily life of a manager is full of unexpected developments. The daily stand-up where you discover you’re a month late on a feature. The 1:1 where Justin first tells you his shields are down. The random conversation in a hallway where you discover the first hint of an impending professional disaster. These discoveries are standard operating procedure, and they never stop. Good luck.

A Kobayashi begins innocuously. A simple communication. A non-hasty and thoughtful launch of a program. A well-designed and well-tested feature now available to 100% of your customers. You’ve done this before, and you are not going through the motions which make the reaction… jarring.

A Kobayashi erupts immediately. The swift response starts with someone raising their hand virtually or otherwise and what they say or type immediately differentiates this situation from your unexpected daily developments. You think, but do not say, “Oh. Shit.”

If you are finding this piece uncomfortably vague and have no idea what I am talking about, I humbly suggest you stop reading right now because the rest of this piece will continue to read vague and unhelpful.

A Kobayashi is a system failure, and you understand this when the first bit of feedback arrives and it’s a combination of:

  • A complete surprise,
  • An intense adverse reaction,
  • Via a population of humans raising their hands in protest who you did not expect,
  • Including a new piece of critical information you had no idea belonged in this situation.

A Kobayashi is a system failure because the usual means of getting important work done in a group of humans failed spectacularly. A reorganization that felt obvious and non-controversial. An HR program that appeared a win for everyone. A well-intended disclosure of information planned to build trust on the team. The potential situations are endless, and the only true consistency is the two words. Your words. And there are two.

“Oh. Shit.”

A Perfect Kobayashi

The unfortunate truth of Kobayashi’s is the best way to prepare for them is to experience them. To do so, let’s create a hypothetical program that I’m about to launch. All good projects have a code name, so let’s call this one: The Good Place1.

The Good Place hypothetical specifics. It’s is a company-wide program I’m launching later this month. It will only affect 5% of the engineering team and the affected folk’s day to day lives are mostly unaffected for a quarter. After that quarter, they’ll need to make some changes to how they work, but, hey, they have three months to prepare. No problem.

The Good Place shares attributes with all Kobayashi’s. Specifically:

  • It affects a broad set of diverse humans.
  • It represents an unfamiliar or significant change to how those humans work.
  • It’s initial perceived success depends on how the affected humans react to the change.
  • It looks a lot like work I’ve done the past.

Combined those attributes create the perfect Kobayashi. My guard is down, the change is hard to digest, and I’ve underestimated the number of affected humans. Since success is dependent on initial perception, when that larger than expected reaction emerges, I go into extreme denial and start lying to myself.

  • It’s just a couple of people. It’s not.
  • It’s just a misunderstanding. It’s not.
  • It’ll blow over. It won’t.

This is the bad place.

A Proper Preparation

A useful article document on how to move into damage control mode and deftly handling this no-win scenario seems like a good idea, but wouldn’t it be better if this article explained how to not get into this situation in the first place?

Super.

My Kobayashi prevention protocol is conveniently the same process I follow for any significant change on the team. Let’s begin:

Frame the situation via a written artifact. You need to create a presentation or document that clears explains what is going on, why it is happening, what success looks like because of this change, how we are going to measure success, and how anyone can give feedback on this development. This is simply a draft, and it’s going to change a lot before you’re done.

Vet the draft plan with three no-skin-in-the-game trusted humans. Take your draft and give it to three humans who are not affected by this change and who you trust to tell it to you straight. If there is only one piece of advice you should follow in this entire piece, this is it. Unaffected trusted humans are the ones who are most likely to see the obvious flaw in your plans and who are also eager to tell you about these flaws.

Write down a list of all people and teams that you expect will be affected by the change. This exercise is the first step of building out a communication plan, but right now it’s a sizing exercise. Write the list. Ok, how many folks are on it? Five? Just five? Why are you still reading this article if we’re talking about five affected people? I’ll tell you why. You can smell the larger-than-expected impact. Your spidey-sense is tingling. How many humans will really be affected? Not just direct, but indirectly. Humans who care about the directly affected humans. Humans who will have a strong opinion about the change. Humans who are going to raise their hands and speak. Yeah, but them all on the list, return to your three trusted humans and vet the list.

Draft your communication plan. With your framing and vetted list in hand, it’s time to operationalize this program. It’s called a cascading communications plan because you start with the most affected humans and slowly work your way towards less affected humans. Here’s the order of operation:

  1. A pre-flight meeting with affected humans in a 1:1 situation. Face to face, you are going to walk the directly affected human through the framing. The rule is: no one who is directly significantly affected by this change can learn about this from anyone, but you.2 I call this pre-flight because there is a non-zero chance that one of these humans is going to point out an obvious flaw in your plan. I’m not about being unhappy about the plan; I am talking about a strategic error in your framing and/or roll-out. Plan for changes to your framing.
  2. A walk-thru with small groups of “person of interest” through the framing with Q&A. It’s little less personal in a group setting, but the goal is the same: gauge reaction and, if necessary, make adjustments to the framing.
  3. A presentation with Q&A to affected teams either team by team or all at once. By this point, you will have vetted the plan with trusted advisors, affected humans, and persons of interest. This is the first presentation where you are unlikely to make changes based on feedback from the audience3. At this point in the process, the questions that show up during Q&A will be the ones you’ve heard a couple of times. Nailed it.
  4. An announcement to the entire team or organization depending on the size of the program via presentation, an email or Slack.

Have you ever sat at your computer with a huge message that you need to send to the team and you can’t hit the SEND key? You know why? You smell the Kobayashi potential of this message. You can sense there is an essential angle that you did not consider. There is one person who has critical feedback that you have not heard. You will know that you’ve done everything you can regarding Kobayashi prevention when it’s trivial to hit SEND.

A Prediction of the Unpredictable

Like most principled leadership applied with consistency, your reward for all of this Kobayashi Maru inoculation is nothing. Nothing happens. No one raises their hands. There is no drama. The team looks at your framing, crinkles their forehead, and then says, “Yeah, that makes sense. What’s next?”

No one celebrates when nothing happens. We all know when something significant goes wrong because suddenly everyone rushes around with great ferocity. Heroes and heroines appear when something goes wrong. They work for three days straight. We award spot bonuses for this exceptional effort. There are no spot bonuses for averted disasters because they are the results of capable leaders competently doing their job.

I, like Captain Kirk, don’t believe in the no-win scenario in business. There will always be system failures large and small in complex groups of humans combined with rapidly changing stacks of technology. There is win inside of each failure because there are lessons. There are essential discoverable lessons within each failure, and these lessons are essential new additions to the playbook we use to prevent that failure from happening again.

That’s how you win.


  1. My current favorite show and a positive affirmation. 
  2. This rule does not scale. If you’re launching a massive reorganization which is affecting hundreds of people, you can not personally talk to affected human. You can make sure that affected teams hear about the change well before the public announcement. 
  3. If surprises are showing up here, I bet you skipped a step. 
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awilchak
6 days ago
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quality post
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Dwell

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Dwell

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awilchak
15 days ago
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when a web site asks if i want to see their "New Design" it is the exact same thing as a man asking if i want to see his penis and ass

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when a web site asks if i want to see their "New Design" it is the exact same thing as a man asking if i want to see his penis and ass


Posted by dril on Friday, July 27th, 2018 2:24am


20129 likes, 2861 retweets
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awilchak
18 days ago
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:|
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Software Development

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Update: It turns out the cannon has a motorized base, and can make holes just fine using the barrel itself as a battering ram. But due to design constraints it won't work without a projectile loaded in, so we still need those drills.
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awilchak
25 days ago
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yep
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2 public comments
alt_text_bot
27 days ago
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Update: It turns out the cannon has a motorized base, and can make holes just fine using the barrel itself as a battering ram. But due to design constraints it won't work without a projectile loaded in, so we still need those drills.
alt_text_at_your_service
27 days ago
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Update: It turns out the cannon has a motorized base, and can make holes just fine using the barrel itself as a battering ram. But due to design constraints it won't work without a projectile loaded in, so we still need those drills.

Russian Electoral Intervention: Strategic Genius or Something Else?

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Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NATO

The idea of Putin as a master strategist, like a sock missing its match, keeps showing up now and again. Certainly, when compared to Trump Putin might as well be the second-coming of Otto Von Bismarck. But for all the damage wrought by Russian covert intervention in the 2016 election, it’s important to remember that Moscow was—and is—playing an extremely dangerous game.

As best I understand it, Moscow’s early aim of any interference was to undermine trust in American political institutions, as well as to weaken Clinton if she won the election. The theory behind the first goal is, unfortunately, rather sound, even though Russian contributions on this front pales besides that of right-wing media. The theory behind the second goal never made much sense. Presidents who are weakened domestically tend to focus on foreign policy, where they enjoy much more room to maneuver. Moreover, the typical GOP script—which would have been carried out in the even of a Clinton presidency—is to try to outflank Democrats by being more hawkish on Russia.

This last observation leads me to the second point. My strong sense, based on what we know so far, is that Moscow needed convincing to pivot toward going “all in” on a Trump victory. This, by the way, is the context for existing evidence of collusion. Various individuals affiliated with the Trump campaign trying to secure Russian support. Trump himself signaled in public that he was amenable to striking a partnership.

And if Moscow did need convincing, it was not without good reason. Even headed into election day, the odds of a Trump victory looked poor. Basically, Trump needed to role a fourteen or better on a twenty-sided die. So it’s worthwhile to think what might have happened had Trump failed his (sorry) attack roll. Clinton would have been elected. The US intelligence community would have been in possession of the same evidence that they brought to Trump in January of 2018. The Clinton transition would have shown no concerns about coordinating with Obama on Russia even before Clinton’s inauguration. There would have been no effort by the Executive Branch to derail investigation into Russian active measures and American collusion. Perhaps the Republicans might have gone to war against Clinton over Russian interference, but it’s also likely that, in the wake of a Trump loss, establishment Republicans—and GOP Russia hawks—would have been happy to destroy Trumpism.

In this counterfactual, you can damn well bet that the United States would have come down on Russia like a very angry—if such a thing were possible—mountain of bricks. We might expect not only extensive sanctions and even larger commitments to NATO forward defense, but also stronger backing of Ukraine and Georgia. This would have come in the context of general geopolitical pushback. We would have found out, in other words, how much of Russian wedge strategies against the American-led order depend, for success, on Washington’s assessment that they do not constitute an existential threat.

So, if anything like this outcome was possible, Russian intervention had around a 70% chance of causing massive blowback. Even as president, Trump has had failed, or not even tried, to stop increased spending on NATO deterrence and broader sanctions. If Russia thought Trump could deliver on his implicit promises, they’ve surely been disappointed.

Instead, the upside risk for Russia has turned out to be rather different: Trump’s venality, incompetence, impulsiveness, and illiberal tendencies are making partisan tensions in the United States even worse. They are terrifying core American allies, and spurring talk of strategic hedging and even decouplement. Trump may also be transforming Russia and NATO policy into a different kind of partisan issue than it was before—one no longer a question of degree, but rather of basic American geopolitical alignment. Still, we could see that reverse if Trump loses and the more traditional GOP foreign-policy wing reasserts itself. And the next Democratic candidate is likely to take a hard line on Moscow. In other words, by 2020 or 2024 Moscow could find itself worse off than if it had eschewed Trump in 2016. Indeed, if it had done so and Trump had won, Trump would have likely been much less constrained when it comes to Russia policy.

In this light, Moscow’s decision to back Trump was an enormous gamble—and it looks more like a desperate ‘Hail Mary’ than a strategically savvy decision. Sometimes, leaders make bad choices that nonetheless work out well. For this one to work out comes down to a horse-race: Can Trump do enough damage to American power, leadership, and influence before he’s gone? Can he lock-in a Republican shift against NATO and for Russia by 2020 or 2024? Will that be enough if the next President wants payback?

The problem is that the blowback Russia’s decision might engender could, in fact, make things worse for not only Russia, but also the United States and the world. Indeed, the combination of a geopolitically weakened and hostile Washington might be more dangerous for Russia than a stronger, but more secure, United States. And what if we game out what, say, a Franco-German anti-Russian axis might look like for European stability? A Europe operating under principles of anarchical self-help, rather than an American security umbrella, might prove something of a Trojan Horse for Moscow. It looks like a nice thing from a distance, but it contains great peril.

My wife likes to describe Putin’s intervention in the 2016 election, and its aftermath, in terms of the “proverbial dog that actually caught the car.” That seems about right.

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awilchak
26 days ago
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this makes sense
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Some reflections on my roadtrip across the western United States

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samuel shared this story from kottke.org:
I just did a two week cross country road trip from SF to Boston taking the great northern highway most of the way from Glacier N.P. to Cleveland. I love having the overland experience of knowing how far everything is in this country.

Last week, I stood in the middle of the caldera of a supervolcano, walked on rocks billions of years old, and traveled back in time simply by driving down a mountain. I looked a bison in the eye at five yards. I witnessed the final resting place of a 12 million-year-old fossilized horse buried in volcanic ash. I saw a rainbow emerging from a mighty thundercloud — powerful with a little bit of tender. I talked civilly with red hatters in red states and found some common ground at least. I drove across the western United States, from Iowa to Oregon, over the course of 10 days. Here is some of what I saw and learned.

Biggest surprise of the trip, part 1: The Bighorn Mountains and The Bighorn National Forest. I had planned to just drive though, up and over, on my way to Yellowstone, but I ended up stopping here for quite a while. The Bighorns aren’t as spectacular as Yellowstone or some of the other park, but it’s a hell of a lot less crowded. I’d go back and spend a few days here easy.

2018 Roadtrip 01

Surprisingly, despite spending 57 hours in the car, I was not bored a single minute of my trip. I marveled at the landscape, played music, and thought. I thought a lot. I expected to listen to a bunch of audiobooks but only managed to finish one I was most of the way through and the first third of another…the landscape was just too distracting most of the time. My experience leads me to believe I might be a good candidate for a solo Mars mission (aside from the one-way thing).

Animals seen on my trip, a partial list: rabbits, prairie dogs, antelope, ducks, geese, pelicans, pheasants, a moose, a wolf, elk, bison, deer, and a bunch of birds I couldn’t identify. The prairie dogs sat near their holes peeping at each other…it was really cute. The moose was a juvenile male in Yellowstone who looked lost & confused; he trotted alongside the road for a bit, then swam across the river and took off into the woods. I was apprehensive about not seeing a bison on my trip, but I shouldn’t have worried…Yellowstone was lousy with ‘em. Pro tip: bring a good pair of binoculars, possibly left over from eclipse-watching.

Yellowstone was one of the highlights (with a caveat that I’ll get to in a second). A single park containing all these different landscapes, from volcanic wastelands to mountain peaks to verdant river valleys to evergreen forests to grasslands…it’s a geographic marvel. But here’s the but: it’s also really crowded in the summer. At times, it felt like a nature mall, with herds of consumers moving from the bison shop to the geyser store. Reminded me a bit of my experience at the Louvre, itself a wonderful place too crowded to enjoy.

2018 Roadtrip

Final roadtrip stats: 2748 miles driven in 10 days and a total of 57 hours in the car. 718 photos and videos taken. I visited seven states — Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Oregon — and spent at least one night in each save Idaho. Lowest point: 810’. Highest point: 11,070’.

Somewhere west of the Missouri River, which separates Iowa & Missouri from Nebraska & Kansas, the dominance in the eastern US of human activity & organization gives way to geology and geography. Even in the sparser areas of the Midwest, you look down from an airplane and see the Jefferson grid: square parcels of land, each with a group of buildings contained somewhere within it. Further west, hills and mountains and volcanoes and rivers and streams and forests and plains dominate the landscape and how people move within it. The West is not yet tamed, not by a long shot, and acknowledging this goes a long way toward understanding the people who live here.

Biggest surprise of the trip, part 2: High altitude wildflower meadows. When I stopped my car at a scenic overlook at 9400’ in the Bighorn Mountains and saw a path down a gentle slope through a meadow of wildflowers growing very close to the ground, I didn’t think a whole lot about it. Pretty scene, right? I grabbed my daypack from the car and as soon as I stepped down onto the path and into the meadow, this amazing smell sent me reeling. For 20 minutes, I walked in an olfactory daze to the crest of the next hill and back. OMG, what an amazing sensation…a definite high-water mark.

2018 Roadtrip

The speed limit on the freeways in South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho was 80 mph. On some rural undivided two-lane highways, the limit was still 70 mph, which I found astounding. But the lanes and the shoulders were way wider than in Vermont, the roads flatter and straighter, and traffic was few and far between most of the time. Still, even just that little extra speed really cuts down on drivers’ potential reaction times.

I had high hopes for the Badlands, and it lived up to the hype. Magnificent desolation, accessible, and not super crowded. I could (and probably should) have spent a couple of days there easy.

2018 Roadtrip

Food was not a highlight or a focus of this trip, mostly because I didn’t spend a tremendous amount of time seeking out good places to eat. I had some Thai lettuce wraps w/ bison in SD that were pretty good, some just-fine sushi in Missoula, and a delicious tostada scramble in Rhododendron, OR. Maybe the best thing I ate was a homemade breakfast burrito I bought at a gas station in Red Lodge, Montana. It was a struggle to find non-meat things to eat — I’m not a vegetarian, but man cannot subsist on burgers & hot dogs & steaks & BBQ for a week and a half w/o GI discomfort. With some notable exceptions, food in the US is more homogenous than ever…you can get anything almost anywhere.

Biggest surprise of the trip, part 3: The hosts at the B&B I stayed at in Wyoming advised me to enter Yellowstone via the Beartooth Highway and I am so glad I took their advice. The 68-mile drive was called “the most beautiful drive in America” by former CBS correspondant Charles Kuralt and he might be right. At the top of the pass, you drive just short of 11,000’ above sea level; I climbed above the 11K mark for a stunning 360° view of the entire area. Reader, I may have done the arms-wide-on-the-bow-of-the-Titanic gesture on top of a rock at the top of the world…no apologies.

2018 Roadtrip

About 5 minutes after I checked into my B&B near Cody, WY, I looked out my window to see a rain cloud off in the distance with a rainbow coming out of it. Chuckling, I asked my host if that was a common occurence around here. “Pretty much,” he replied, “especially with climate change.” A life-long resident of the area, he went on to explain that it rains a lot more there now than “20-30 years ago”. “See all that grass out there? It’s supposed to be brown this time of year.”

Several people told me before my trip that Devils Tower was worth the effort, but as I spotted it off in the distance on my approach, I had my doubts. But as it got closer, I realized they’d all been right. Totally crazy geological thing worth seeing in the flesh.

2018 Roadtrip

At a gas station in southern South Dakota, a man noticed the Texas plates on my rental car and asked, “What’s the price of gas in Texas these days?” I explained my situation, and he said, “I’m from Texas originally and I can tell by your accent that you ain’t. What’re ya doing in this godforsaken country?”

In Wyoming, I stayed less than a mile from the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, a WWII Japanese American confinement site. From 1942 to 1945, this concentration camp held almost 14,000 people, making it the third-largest town in Wyoming at the time. The majority were American citizens and had done nothing wrong and committed no crimes…they were put there for being of Japanese heritage. I regret that my plans didn’t allow for a visit; if I’d had known beforehand that it was going to be so close, I would have made the time, given our present administration’s treatment of its Muslim citizens and asylum seekers from Central and South America. As Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

I saw some cool thunderstorms:

2018 Roadtrip

2018 Roadtrip

If I had a time machine, I would tell myself from two weeks ago to skip Mt Rushmore, Wind Cave, and the volcanic stuff in Yellowstone. And perhaps Wall Drug. I also would have opted to fly out of Salt Lake City instead of Portland, OR to give me more time to explore Montana and Wyoming…the trip ended up having too much driving and not enough being out in nature.

You can see more photos from my trip on Instagram and in this saved Instagram Story. I feel very lucky to have had the time and resources to take this trip. It definitely took me out of my comfort zone in both good ways and bad — the journey definitely wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops, despite what my photos might indicate. To many of us, it seems like a perilous time in our nation’s history, with many debts, old and new, coming due in rapid-fire succession. Doing this roadtrip reminded me of many great things about this country & the people who live in it and gave me the time & space to ponder how I fit into the puzzle, without the din of the news and social media. If you can manage it, I encourage you all to do the same, even if it’s just visiting someplace close that you’ve never been to: get out there and see the world and visit with its people. This world is all we have, and the more we see of it, the better we can make it.

Tags: Devils Tower   geology   Jason Kottke   photography   The Badlands   travel   USA   Yellowstone National Park
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awilchak
29 days ago
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oh man wow, what a trip. totally want to do this.
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