Besides the obvious – sex and violence sell – what business lessons can Game of Thrones (GOT) teach us? The simple answer is probably – nothing new. But the show does a great job to remind us a lot about success and survival in the seven-kingdoms-like wilderness that is the business world. Before I go further, I should, of course, clarify that I am in no way condoning sex and violence in business. My point, though, is that there are a few business takeaways to be gleaned from the bare bones that remain after you take away the nudity (which has decreased significantly with each season) and the gory graphic violence (which, of course, has been ratcheted over the seasons). These, in my opinion, are the four (I know four is an unusual number, I couldn’t think of a 5th one) key takeaways.
1. Have integrity
In the business world, as in the Seven Kingdoms, integrity rules. Although a handful of vile characters have lasted until the final season, only the few characters with integrity (this, of course, is subjective) - Jon Snow, Daenerys, Tyrion, Brienne of Tarth, Samwell Tarly, to name a few – have survived the ruthless wanton killing-off of main characters that has become the show’s trademark. Although a few ‘honourable’ characters were killed off, some dying because of their integrity – the Stark family - Ned, Rob (and his wife) – that seems to serve only as the exceptions that prove the rule.
As a business owner, entrepreneur or leader, having integrity is akin to having a strong brand. It is not unusual that the integrity of a brand is closely tied to the personal integrity of its owner, although this, of course, is not always the case. In business, as in Game of Thrones, a brand that is built on integrity will keep your business alive longer in a seemingly unforgiving world hell-bent on guillotining all the main characters.
2. Build partnerships
In Game of Thrones, a house without the support of other houses perish. Staying in one’s castle is dependent on allegiances. Winning wars is predicated in allegiances. A queen, king, or lord is only as strong as the alliances they forge. The same can be said about business. You are as good as the people you partner with or the people you employ. In Game of Thrones, alliances are forged at the back of careful calculation of risk and reward. Nobody likes to back a losing side. For other houses to swear allegiance, they have to believe in the cause or the strength of the leader. In business, people follow leaders they believe in, leaders who demonstrate the utmost strength and determination. As a leader or entrepreneur, you must show your unflinching commitment to the cause (the business) and unwavering determination to win and succeed. You don’t need to win right away. It’s all about promise. Many on Game of Thrones followed Daenerys not because she had won but because she was fearless and displayed an unshakable determination to win.
3. Invest in strategy
On the Game of Thrones, we have been treated to many scenes of men and women moving massive chess-like pieces on big tables, like the Kasparovs of the game of war. The show is, to a large extent, a game of strategy, and of course, violence – but mostly strategy and war. Business is an endless cycle of ‘war’ and strategy should form the core of what you do regardless of the line of business you are in. You may not have a GOT-style ‘Small Council’ or the impressive war table like the one in Dragonstone, but you must spend time regularly on your strategic ‘war-table’ taking a bird’s eye view of your entire business/enterprise, learning what and how your competition is doing, and coming up with clever ways outmanoeuvre them. There is no substitute. If you do very little or no strategic planning, you will walk into an ‘ambush’ that will lead to the demise of your business.
4. Invest in knowledge
With Sam now studying to be a Maester in the citadel, there is hope that he will play a vital role in the fight against the white walkers and the dead. Every one of the seven kingdoms has a Maester who studies for many years and then provide counsel to the lords and kings. Tyrion Lannister survives primarily on his wit, intelligence, and knowledge. There is little doubt the old adage that ‘knowledge is power’ holds true in the GOT. It also holds true in business. Knowledge is one of if not the most important assets. You must invest in developing and conserving the collective knowledge of your company as much as you invest in making profits and reducing costs – especially now more than ever. The term ‘knowledge economy’ could not be a more accurate characterisation of the world of business today.
And, when it comes to knowledge – the more diverse, the better. Make it a priority to build institutional knowledge that goes beyond your product, service, industry, market, or sector.