Recently, I watched the newest Star Trek film—Into Darkness. After having some time to process it, I reflected on a simple message that has been a constant thread in nearly every Star Trek plot line—the battle between the head and heart when it comes to critical decision-making.
Those familiar with Star Trek will recognize that Captain Kirk, the brave risk taker, operates professionally but instinctively and is frequently unable or unwilling to explain his decisions under pressure logically.
In contrast. Mr. Spock, being half Vulcan-half human, personifies common sense and analytical thinking, with a few exceptions.
Where the two of these characters overlap is when the heart—for Spock, his “human” side—overrules everything else.
There is one scene in the movie where Kirk is trying to explain to Spock why he saved him.
Of course, Spock does not understand why the captain would make a decision that defied logic and put so many others in danger. In response, Kirk tells Spock to tap into his human half to try to understand.
It is a touching moment. What Kirk is saying, without actually saying it, is that acting out of love and friendship can defy reason.
There are just some heart-centric decisions that may never make clear sense and in the end it doesn’t matter.
The expression on Spock’s face in this scene reflects his confusion and wonder at such a concept.
Most of us are not like Spock. When it comes to making decisions, we experience inner struggles between our head and heart and gut instincts.
There is more than pure logic required and it can seem like a battle between making the “right” decision and making the “best” decision.
According to personality theory, Carl Jung’s in particular, the way we make decisions is ingrained in us at birth.
We will either rely on facts, logic and analysis (our heads) or we will follow an internal compass that points us toward what “feels” like the best thing to do (our heart).
When we become more aware of our own decision-making preferences we can also see where they are similar or very different to other people’s choices.
The value in this learning is to appreciate our natural strengths and also expand our options by considering a perspective that is not typical for us. When people share a common preference for a certain decision-making style, there will be more understanding and flow.
However, the danger in relying only on the familiar is group-think, where under-developed conclusions are drawn because no one challenges the majority mindset with a differing viewpoint.
There are always situations where people are at odds with how they want decisions to be made.
At times these animated arguments between the head and the heart/gut can create enough tension to completely stall or undermine decisions that absolutely need to be made.
That is not a good situation either.
I’ll summarize with reference to another scene from the Star Trek film.
Captain Kirk’s decision to save Spock put the Starship and the entire crew in danger.
He is disciplined for his actions and severely chastised for ignoring the rules.
When it is pointed out that his (perceived) recklessness could have been disastrous Kirk’s frustration is clear.
He rationalizes his risk taking because the worst did not happen and offers no remorse or apology.
This kind of argument is a common pattern of Kirk’s behaviour that Star Trek fans will recognize.
Kirk consistently operates on gut instinct when the going gets tough; it is Spock’s unfailingly logical character that complements and contrasts his leadership style.
A well-rounded decision-making model draws on the best of both approaches
As the captain, Kirk is responsible for making difficult decisions all the time that affect people and he is expected to do that rationally, ethically and within clear protocols.
However his career success is built on his ability to follow his instincts, make split second decisions and manage risk.
Isn’t that is a common leadership challenge in today’s world too?