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As our winter draws (reluctantly) to a close we plunge once more into a world where winter is coming, and brings with it sex, intrigue, swordfights, skulduggery and dragons. Unless (or possibly even if) you’ve been living on a wi-fi free desert island for the last five years you will realise we are talking about Game of Thrones, season 6 of which reached our screens this month. The programme makers have been teasing us for several months with what we do and don’t know; what may or may not have happened (yes, we’re talking Jon Snow here). One trailer had Bran declaring that ‘they have no idea what is going to happen’, something that over the years has proven true time and again. We knew the programme was fabulous entertainment right from the start of Season 1 but what we didn’t realise until Ned Stark lost his head was that in this series anything can happen. Bad things will happen to good people, heroes will die, villains will prosper and at no point will we feel this world is safe.
Game of Thrones is possibly the most widely discussed programme on television. With only ten episodes per season it is on our screens for little more than two months out of every year, yet the internet is alive year round with articles on the characters, photographic memes and speculation regarding what’s going to happen next. Why has this programme so inspired us? It has to be in the quality of the storytelling. Compelling characters, a mysterious universe that not even the characters who live in it understand (people thought dragons had died out years ago and nobody believed the white walkers were anything but a myth) and events that frequently extend beyond the protagonists’ control have us perpetually on the edge of our seat. Now, what if we could get people this excited about business?
Business is the dynamic force that shapes our economies and our lives. It’s crucial to the survival of western society as we know it. Business is about progress, wealth creation and opportunity. It should be exciting – fun, even – yet it is frequently discussed and taught in dry and theoretical tomes or through the clumsy medium of presentations reliant on screens of charts and bullet lists. You might not remember every single intricate detail of what happened in the last five seasons of Game of Thrones but we bet you could easily give a rundown of the key highlights. But how much of the last business seminar you attended can you remember? How much of it did you go home and relate to your family or discuss with your friends? How many memes did it generate?
So by bringing the worlds of business and Game of Thrones together we hoped that we could imbue business theory with some of the excitement we feel when we watch the series. Once you take away the dragons and swordfights you start to see more similarities than differences. This strange medieval fantasy kingdom may not look a lot like our world but a lot of its essential ingredients – ambition, deceit, bravery, folly, triumph, disaster – feature in many a news story in the business press. Here are just a few key places where Game of Thrones and business touch.
Nice guys finish last: In the Game of Thrones universe it is not sufficient to be morally right like Ned Stark and his family; one must also be a clever – and lucky – player of the game. The same can be said for business: in this high-stakes world success is not granted simply to those with the best ideas, those who entered the market first or even those who put in the most work. Business, like Game of Thrones, is full of surprises and those who make it to the top do so by not only staying one step ahead of the game but learning to control it rather than having the game play them. Lose focus even momentarily and you lose your advantage. This does not mean you have to be an unprincipled swine to get ahead: the dastardly Petyr Baelish is the exemplary game-player but Daenerys too has demonstrated strategic skill while maintaining a strong moral code.
It’s not what you know but who you know: In Game of Thrones that also includes what you know about them, and how you use it. In business it usually means networking rather than blackmail (though of course that’s not unheard of either). Cersei, Lord Varys and Petyr Baelish all operate networks of people to bring them intelligence on other game players and help them leverage their strategic advantage. So vast is Varys’ network in fact that he is nicknamed the Spider. We all know we need to network more but often only think of it when we need something (a recommendation, a job). But networking is a daily business – Ned Stark left it too late to try to cultivate relationships, staying holed up in Winterfell after the war, and look how well that turned out for him.
You know nothing: Well all right, not nothing, but you rarely have all the information and skills you need to succeed entirely solo. Which is why you need to develop a great team around you. Daenerys has many queenly attributes but she could not have got where she is now without Jorah’s strategic advice, Daario’s muscle, Missandei’s cultural knowledge, or her dragons. A weak spot left unguarded provides an advantage for a rival. Which is why truly successful individuals know themselves well enough to pinpoint their weaknesses and take steps to do something about it.
You win or you die: If you want to succeed you have to be prepared to fail too. But that need not mean taking foolish risks, plunging into the unknown and hoping for the best. Instead you need to follow Baelish’s example and learn how to take calculated risks. Petyr Baelish has been the invisible hand, influencing events, even orchestrating the death of John Arryn, which began the war of the five kings. But at no point has he got those hands truly dirty. He’s always kept at a safe remove from the action – we know he was behind Joffrey’s murder but nobody in the world of the programme could connect him to it. His options are still open and he can pull away from a plan at any time. If you are patient and take incremental, small risks you stand a much better chance of achieving your goals than if, like Renly, Robb or Viserys you insist on going in all guns blazing.
Once you start seeing similarities between Game of Thrones and business it is hard to stop. Next time you have to give a business seminar why not throw in a few examples – it’s almost certain to get you more notice than yet another pie chart, spreadsheet or bullet list.
Game of Thrones on Business by Tim Phillips and Rebecca Clare is available to buy. To be in with a chance to win a free copy, tweet us your top business tip from the show to @Infinite_Ideas
We have just had to endure another stomach-turning electoral contest in which fear, venom, character assassination, unfunded promises and unproven assertions wrestled with each other and which those we collectively abhorred the least eventually won. Thank God we endure it for only six weeks in five years, yet it does us immense damage and sours the public mood. Rarely, if ever, has politics been so bereft of ideas, so sterile in its jousting, so destructive in its name-calling, so locked into rival ideologies that its partisans can no longer think, much less create.
Yet there is another movement afoot, one that is growing at astonishing speed, faster even than the digital revolution. Computer power has been credited with doubling in size every eighteen months but crowdfunding, sometimes called peer-to-peer lending is doubling every three months. But are we comparing like with like? Surely crowdfunding is just one additional way of getting investment funds, a way suited to smaller, maverick projects and can not even lay claim to political significance. We hope to show that it could change capitalism profoundly; it may not be overtly political but it has social and political repercussions of a very meaningful kind.
Crowdfunding is for the moment confined to the Internet. It uses various platforms, such as Kickstarter and Crowd Cube, to put ideas before a ‘crowd’ of on-line investors. A project is described and a request for enough capital is communicated. The crowd either meets the minimum capital needed to launch the project or it does not (money for under-subscribed projects is never collected). About one third of all projects are fully funded and go forward. Those receiving insufficient backing may have failed in any case and it is better for everyone that little loss was incurred at this early stage. However, a project may be relaunched in the future with a revised prospectus. We believe it is a matter of time before this development is picked up by mass media with millions of viewers and becomes a variety of Reality TV with totals raised broadcast during the programme, and with the whole culture celebrating innovation as a way of life. Commercial TV could find a new source of revenue by taking 5% of the total raised.
So let us compare the ‘democracy’ of our electoral process with the democratic potentials of crowdfunding. How do these contrast?
|Electoral process||Crowdfunding process|
|The first-past-the-post system gives big advantages to the majority parties at the expense of all minority interests, e.g. it takes 3.9 million UKIP voters to elect one solitary MP.||Most funds go to small minorities, enabling them to nurture new ideas that go viral on the Internet, with the potential to change everything through daring novelties and life-changing creativity.|
|One party wins and another loses nearly everything in a zero-sum game wherein gains and losses cancel each other out and power is wrested away from opponents in life-shattering ways.||All parties win where the project succeeds, entrepreneurs, investors employees, customers and the community. Ideas have been transformed into new realities beneficial to their instigators and the crowd of enthusiastic supporters and cheerleaders.|
|The game is to achieve power over people, get the electorate to buy your promises, attack and rubbish your opponents and consign them to opposition benches.||The game is to achieve power through people, use their funds to keep your promises and realize the ideals in your prospectus with their money and their moral support. You seek to convert all those involved to your viewpoint.|
|The system is fiercely and relentlessly adversarial. We are right and our opponents wrong, foolish, dangerous and destructive. The least feared and hated party wins. The Devil vies with the Deep Blue Sea.||The system is cooperative and co-creative with investors as midwives of procreation and with only projects that are truly needed receiving funds. Investors are seeking to improve their society, and where they succeed they profit.|
|The system requires millions of pounds to operate large organizations. This puts the electoral systems at the mercy of rich donors who buy access and expect a return for their money.||The system operates by funding thousands of good ideas and small organizations. Funding goes not to power but to potential, to the idea whose time has come, to those with dreams to realize.|
|Large amounts of money from very few people buys continued dominance and conformity to what rich people demand.||Small amount of money from a wide variety of people, fund a very diverse range of new ideas, which change us radically.|
|Large investment portfolios tend to the lowest risk possible and to markets where prices can be administered by market domination.||Small investment portfolios can afford to stake less but risk much more on changing society for the better. Dramatic success is possible.|
|The viewpoint in almost entirely quantitative. Everyone wants just one thing and the answer is more.||The viewpoint is almost entirely qualitative. Everyone wants to help their society but in different ways.|
|The attitude to minorities is that now they have been beaten, they should yield to majority control. They are losers and should be marginalized.||The attitude to minorities is that they are a potentially creative resource and come up with ideas the majority would never hazard. Diversity is infinitely precious.|
|The whole purpose of politics is to realize your own economic self-interest and asserting these aggressively is enough to win.||The whole purpose of crowdfunding is to realize meaningful ideals by offering these to the public for sharing with you.|
|Ideological politics is sterile because everything within one polarized extreme has been tried and one is not allowed to borrow from the rival viewpoint. It is off limits.||Crowdfunding is an industry espousing radical ideas and hence borrows the vehicle, private enterprise, from the Right while the ideals are largely from the Left. Any new political idea is a hybrid of Right and Left.|
|The argument is about redistribution and the power of government. Can it confiscate what others have made? What will this do to enterprise and motivation?||The argument is about pre-distribution. Might companies who promise their crowds to be fair, to promote women, to pay good wages, train their people, and be sustainable, gain better access to crowdfunding?|
|Competition is the life-blood of both politics and business. We we all want more and some of this must be taken from our weaker brethren.||Diversity is the life-blood of both politics and business. Where we are sufficiently different invidious distinctions vanish and nearly all can succeed on their own terms.|
What is unique about crowdfunding is that it starts even before a product or service has been made or any unit of currency spent. It is an idea, an abstraction and a value in our mind’s eye. We can share it with others, discuss within the ‘crowd’ what sort of world we want, producing any number of wealth development and satisfactions. It is a potential rebirth of the Puritan ethic insofar as it begins with the reason for our being and what we should do on earth and whom we should serve with the one life we have. It is the potential sheet anchor of the Innovative Society. Members of parliament have powers to help redesign capitalism as a beneficial force in our nation and insist that it builds industries which engage and develop us all. Where every organization performs before an appreciative crowd the world is changed.
Charles Hampden-Turner and Fons Trompenaars are the authors of Nine visions of capitalism (with Tom Cummings). It will be published on 7th September 2015. To preorder, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find out more about Charles Hampden-Turner and Fons Tromenaars, and their company, please click here.
In a recent BuzzFeed interview David Cameron was asked which Game of Thrones character he identified most with. His answer was Ned Stark. Now we suspect one reason for this might be that Dave has very little knowledge of Game of Thrones but is vaguely aware of the events of season 1 and recognises Ned Stark as he’s played by Sean Bean, who was well known before the series. In a world where to get the popular vote you have to show interest in what the people are interested in, especially if you know you’re seen as a bit of an elitist, telling us that you don’t really watch Game of Thrones isn’t a viable answer (even though it’d be preferable for the Prime Minister to know less about Game of Thrones and more about the situation in Syria or Ukraine).
Had Cameron had a greater knowledge of Game of Thrones he might have seen that Ned Stark is possibly not the best answer for the leader of the country to give. Ned is of course honourable, noble and a man of action. But he is not a man of thought, tending to rush into the fray without properly weighing up a situation (Petyr Baelish wryly notes the Stark family characteristics of ‘quick tempers and slow minds’), nor is he politically adept. Having helped Robert Baratheon win his rebellion Ned retreats to Winterfell but this means that when, years later, he has to venture to King’s Landing as Robert’s new Hand he has no political alliances to call upon. Lacking anybody he can truly trust it’s little wonder he blunders so gravely that he finds his neck on Ilyn Payne’s block.
So if Ned Stark was the wrong answer for the Prime Minister to give, what might have been the right one?
Tywin Lannister – clever, masterly in strategy, great in a crisis
Well we can see why DC would have wanted to avoid this one really. Brutal and patrician, Tywin represents the side of the Tories that Cameron would like us to forget. The kind of ruler who gets his henchmen to burn farms and villages in order to root out wrongdoers and show the small folk what it means to cross him is not really the ruler a privileged member of the ruling class wants to identify with. Shame really since Tywin has many qualities to recommend him. He has a brilliant mind and can play most situations to his advantage. When others might worry about how their actions will be perceived Tywin looks only to what is best for the advancement of the Lannister family, which is great if you’re on his side and deadly if you’re not. His ability to make decisions quickly and stick to them means he is great in times of crisis. His major flaw, arguably the one that got him killed, is a lack of empathy. While he’s great at playing political games he’s unable to recognise when people don’t play the game, when they react emotionally rather than acting strategically. Because of this Tyrion surprised him twice, first by demanding a trial by combat and second by doing the unthinkable and letting his arrows fly.
Mance Rayder – man of the people who united disparate tribes in a common goal
Now this would have made a much better answer. Instead of identifying himself with a member of any ruling elite Cameron could have positioned himself as a plain-speaking ruler who’s truly democratic and loved by his followers (though perhaps that’s more in the realms of fantasy than Game of Thrones itself). The Free Folk laugh at folk on the southern side of the wall for bending the knee to those whose rule is inherited rather than earned. Instead they follow a king who has proved himself worthy of the title. He’s as clever as Tywin, managing to unite more than 100 warring clans simply by making them see that something bigger and more important than their petty squabbles is coming their way and if they don’t unite and head south of the wall they’ll all end up ‘dead or worse’. His ambitious plan to get round the Wall and take the Night’s Watch by surprise would most likely have succeeded were it not for Jon Snow’s infiltration of the Wildlings. If he’s able to enter into a coalition with Stannis Baratheon it could prove to be a winning alliance.
Daenerys Targaryen – compassionate, decisive and strategically adept
Plus, you know, she’s young and female so had Cameron given this answer he could have gained a few points with a section of the electorate which probably feels it has little in common with him. Although Daenerys comes from a ruling elite, the Targaryens having been kings of Westeros for the last 300 years, she’s in exile and, unlike her brother, does not take it for granted that she should rule. Her qualifications for leading her people come from her abilities rather than her name. As Jorah tells her when he first realises her potential, “You have a good claim, a title, a birthright, but you have something more than that … You have a gentle heart. You would be not only respected and feared, you would be loved. Someone who can rule and should rule. Centuries come and go without a person like that coming into the world.” Instead of crumbling when she loses her child and her husband she transforms herself into the Mother of Dragons we’ve grown to love, freeing slaves, punishing the wicked and gathering a vast throng of supporters. She’s not perfect, having shown an impatience with those who question her decisions that could tip into something more dictatorial. But at the moment we love her – just, charismatic and strong, she’s the kind of leader we could only dream of having.
If David Cameron, Ed Miliband or Nick Clegg would like any more tips on success the Game of Thrones way we have just the book for them, available in plenty of time for the election (it’s not for you, Nigel).
We read with interest yesterday a story that Virgin Media has asked Ofcom to investigate the way premier league rights are sold. According to Virgin the auction process is driving up prices and causing ‘significant consumer harm’. In his book Football Business economist Tsjalle van der Burg probes this question and comes up with the radical solution that all football on TV should be free:
What would happen if the EU introduced a ban on pay TV for all live matches and highlights shown in EU countries, so that they became free again? A ban would naturally mean that broadcasters would make less money. Therefore, they would pay the clubs less for their broadcasting rights. So the clubs would earn less and would have to moderate their expenditure. They could easily do this by paying the players less so that, on balance, clubs would not be disadvantaged. In the days before pay TV, clubs basically broke even, with lower income and lower expenditure and George Best producing beautiful play. So a pay-TV ban is perfectly possible. Indeed, because there is surplus money in the sector – more money than is needed for it to function as it should – a pay-TV ban will not harm the game.
But how would TV stations finance the broadcasts? That’s simple: they would use the revenue from commercials. In the Netherlands, where many football matches are still available free of charge, the highlights of matches in the second professional league have been broadcast free-to-air for many years by a private company. The league is not extremely popular, with an average match attendance of about 4,000. This means that advertising can generate sufficient revenue for broadcasting all football matches which are at least as important as those of the second Dutch level. So we would be able to have a pay-TV ban for all these broadcasts while being sure they will remain on the air. Additionally, this also means there is no need for broadcasters to use taxpayers’ money to show football matches.
So it is possible to have a pay-TV ban for all important football matches. Indeed, there is only one drawback: players (and coaches) would earn less.
The benefits of a pay-TV ban would be considerable. The first advantage concerns the football fans who would watch the broadcasts anyway: they would get them for free. Their savings would be more or less equal to what the players (and coaches) would lose through reduced salaries. If the savings for those fans were the only advantage of the ban, the question of whether we should have a ban would be a question of fairness only.
But the ban also has another advantage. This concerns football fans who do not watch (certain) football matches on pay TV because the subscription fee is simply too high for them. These fans will watch the broadcasts if they are free, because football gives them pleasure. For these people, a pay-TV ban would mean more pleasure. At the same time, the broadcasters’ costs would not rise when more people turned on their television sets to watch football. So with a pay-TV ban we get more pleasure without any extra costs. This means that on balance the net effect is that the football community would be better off.
Here in the UK next Monday is August Bank Holiday, a national holiday that signals the end of the summer. Traditionally that means gardening, DIY and meeting up with friends to squeeze the last drop of sunshine out of the season. If you’re having a lunch, picnic or barbecue with friends this weekend (wherever you may be), why not brighten your gathering with a cocktail (or two)? Cognac makes the ideal base for a range of cocktails. This may be a surprise if for you cognac conjures up images of stuffy, leather-chaired gentlemen’s clubs, huge balloon glasses and cigars. So here’s Nicholas Faith’s explanation from his book, Cognac: The Story of the World’s Greatest Brandy, which we’ve followed up with a few recipes from our friends at Cognac Expert.
Cognac is an ideal base for cocktails; as Pierre Szersnovicz of Courvoisier puts it: ‘other spirits provide purely alcoholic support for cocktails whereas cognac brings a definite character to any blend’. Every cognac brand offers such a complexity of taste that all a professional mixologist has to do is to identify one of the many flavours and aromas in the spirit and enhance it by blending it with complementary flavours. Because it is made from grapes, cognac is eminently suitable for cocktails that will not react too violently with the wine to be drunk later in the evening. The old wives told the right tale: grain and grape really do not mix. I can attest to the ill-effects, felt the next morning, of even the smallest tincture of whisky before drinking wine in any quantity. Cognac-based cocktails are healthier.
Cognac’s virtue as the spirit of choice for cocktail makers has come at a time when Britain has emerged as the cocktail centre of the world. The reasons are many: ‘They don’t make bad cognacs,’ says Dick Bradsell, London’s cocktail pioneer, aware that there is less quality control in the making of competing spirits. He and his colleagues are discovering that cognac is mellower and softer and has the necessary smoothness and balance. It helps that you don’t need relatively expensive VSOP; VS does fine for cocktails. Moreover, cognac was due for a revival because it had been out of fashion for so long. In Bradsell’s words, cognac ‘missed out on all the funny drinks of the 1970s and so doesn’t have any gimmicky connotations’. It also helps that, in the United States anyway, drinkers believe that cognac is stronger than competing spirits, possibly because it has more character and far greater complexity.
The basic formula for most of these drinks is relatively simple: something sour with something sweet to exploit the flavour and strength of the cognac, together with a touch of character from bitters or the like. The flexibility of cognac is also important. ‘Any mix is fine,’ says Dave Steward, a cocktail expert, ‘provided you can taste the cognac’ – a direct contrast to the distillers’ attempts to make a competitor like vodka as anonymous as possible and, as he points out ‘we hope that these mixes will lead us back to the better cognacs – drunk neat.’ Also in its favour is its capacity to provide a more interesting twist on classic whisky-based cocktails – barmen sometimes admit that they’re often doing the equivalent of merely reinventing the alcoholic wheel. But then some of these – notably the julep – were originally based on cognac only to be usurped by bourbon.
If you’re using lemon or even orange then obviously you want a richer style of cognac – say Courvoisier or Hennessy – to compensate for the bitterness of the citrus fruit. Ready made ones like Grand Marnier or Cointreau which combine orange and brandy can be replicated – after a fashion. There are obvious mixers apart from citrus fruit and other fruit like apples, such as cream, chocolate and coffee. Just think of the Brandy Alexander favoured by Anthony Blanche, a character in Brideshead Revisited – though Waugh is clearly painting him as a bounder. The Alexander normally uses dark crème de cacao and grated nutmeg, though Blanche obviously wanted cream with his. Either way it’s fine because although it’s inevitably sweet, you’re not overly conscious of the individual constituents but only of the blend.
A classic cocktail that goes down well on any occasion. Once again, easy to make and provides a taste sensation that’ll delight the taste buds. A great aperitif to enjoy before any meal. Add Media
6cl cognac (quality and brand of your choice)
1.5cl lemon juice
3cl cranberry juice
wedge of lime
Prepare and chill cocktail or martini glasses. Place all the ingredients except the lime into a cocktail shaker. Mix well and allow to chill. Strain into the glasses and garnish with a wedge of lime. Serve immediately.
This was created in 2008 specifically for the occasion known as the International Cognac Summit, an event organised by the BNIC. Mixologists and other cognac experts joined forces to create the ultimate cognac cocktail. The cocktail had to be simple to produce, with easily accessible ingredients. It also had to look fabulous – and taste amazing. And the Summit cocktail was the end result.
4 slices of freshly peeled ginger
1 slice of lime
4cl of VSOP cognac (brand of your choice)
6cl of lemonade
a fine peel of cucumber, to garnish
Place the lime and ginger into a glass and add 2cl of cognac. Add the ice and stir to mix. Add the rest of the cognac and the lemonade, then garnish with the cucumber. Serve immediately.
This classy little cocktail is both simple and chic. It not only tastes fabulous, but looks just wonderful when served. It is believed that it was so named after the motorcycle sidecar in which an eccentric British captain in Paris during the Second World War was transported to the bistro where the cocktail was born. The first recorded listing for this cocktail can be found in the early 1920s books, Harry’s ABC of Cocktails, and Cocktails, How to Mix Them. In the USA the Sidecar is often served with a sugared rim, and is very popular.
2 parts of VS or VSOP cognac
1 part fresh lemon juice
1 part Triple Sec
dash of sugar syrup
1 twist of lemon peel for garnish
Place all the ingredients (bar the lemon peel) in a cocktail shaker with some crushed ice and mix. Allow to cool and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the twist of lemon peel and serve immediately.