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10 Business Lessons Learned from Game of Thrones

30th May 2016 Posted by: Francesca Turauskis - Editor

ONCE in a while, there is a television show that reaches across the screen and seeps into culture. When it first aired in 2011, few people will have guessed that Game of Thrones would be such as series. It seemed to be a niche fantasy for fans of dragons, swords fights and ‘white-walker’ zombies. But within a few months, people were talking about the show around water-coolers, dressing up as the characters at Halloween, and quoting the best lines from the best characters.

Game of Thrones is so successful, it is now being used to teach lessons. In 2014, the University of Virginia ran a short summer course, which analysed the successful structure of the books and show. Such analysis is useful and interesting for Literature students, but the show is turning out to be a rather useful teaching tool in other sectors as well. One of the most successful business books of last year was Game of Thrones on Business by Tim Phillips and Rebecca Clare. This book uses various characters, plots and moments from the series to highlight aspects of business and management – and it turns out there are some very good comparisons.

“The mind needs books like the sword needs a whetstone.”

In a world ruled by the strong, Tyrion Lannister has a physical disadvantage. However, by doing his research and knowing things, he makes himself indispensable to those in power.  When you are going into business, it is important to know as much as you can about your team, your rivals and your company. Learn your business, and always search for new knowledge by keeping up to date with competitors and technology.

“Winter is coming.”

The Lord of Winterfell always has one eye on the future, and a business-lord should too. Being prepared for hard times makes it easier when they come, but also makes a business more desirable in the good times. Don’t get too carried away with success. It is also important to know the financial climate when making decisions, from staffing to procurement.  

“I don’t know how to say ‘thank you’ in Dothraki.”

Daenerys’ willingness to learn Dothraki allowed her to turn a bad situation into a powerful political alliance. When working in another country, or with people who speak another language, learn that language, even if it is only the basics. This is becoming more important, as even small businesses now have global ties. On a purely practical level, it makes communication easier. On a social level, it shows respect for your colleagues and they will appreciate the effort.

“A Lannister always pays his debts.”

There will be times in business when you need help. The most obvious debts are the financial ones, but a debt can also be something as seemingly small as an introduction to an important person. Whether it is a loan from the bank or a favour from a business partner, it is important that you pay back your debts as soon as possible.

“The one who passes the sentence should swing the sword.”

In the very first episode, we were introduced to Eddard Stark as a leader we would be happy to follow. This is partly because he made a tough call, followed it through, and then explained the decision to those watching. In business, and especially in management, there will be hard decisions to make. When you make them, it is important that you follow those decisions through yourself. Explaining why a decision has been made can also soften the blow. 

Woman can lead

When less than 5% of Fortune 1000 CEOs are women, it is too easy for some people to slur that women cannot be managers. Business is a highly patriarchal world, not dissimilar to the power imbalance seen in Game of Thrones. Of all the contenders for the Iron Throne in Westeros, Queen Daenerys is undoubtedly one of the better ones, and she doesn’t compromise her femininity to be a good leader.

“A wise young king listens to his councillors and heeds their advice…”

“… and the wisest kings continue to listen to them long afterwards.” It is always important to recognise your limits, and seek wisdom from experts. The Lannister patriarch, Tywin, reinforces this point to his grandson when he becomes king. Even the best of managers can’t be expected to have all the answers, but they can come to a conclusion by listening to all the facts. One reason for Daenerys’ good management skills is her willingness to listen to advisors. She gathers people around her who know the history and the culture of an area better than herself, and uses their knowledge to make the ultimate decision herself.

Always keep your word

It was going well for Robb Stark, the newly crowned King of the North. He had a good following and victories on the battlefield. But when we saw him break a professional alliance by marrying for love rather than politics, we knew it wouldn’t end well. The scene that haunts all Game of Thrones fans also teaches us a very good lesson – a broken promise can be disastrous. The punishment that the Starks received for reneging on a deal was not proportional, but it was not unexpected. In business, if you don’t keep your word, it might be your reputation that is killed.

“Never forget what you are… Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.”

These words from the dwarf Tyrion to the illegitimate child Jon Snow are particularly useful for anyone who may feel like an outsider in their business. It is important to know yourself, never forget it and don’t be ashamed of it. People may try to label you – whether it is based on your age, sex, religion, skin colour – and you can either try and fight this label or accept it.

Play to your strengths

If somebody has dragons, they should use them! When trying to make a name in business, you may be tempted to follow in the steps of those who have already succeeded, but what worked for others may not work for you. Know what you are good at, then show what you are good at. 

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