Yesterday the fifth season of the HBO series Game of Thrones was released to an adoring global audience. If you’re not a fan yet perhaps you should be if only for the sake of your business. While watching it is incredibly entertaining, it could also revolutionize your business and leadership skills, a new book shows.
To coincide with the new season launch independent publisher Infinite Ideas releases Game of Thrones on Business today. Authors Tim Phillips and Rebecca Clare argue that the fantasy series can provide answers to real-world dilemmas, suggesting that as a leader you should encourage those water cooler conversations and office gossip if it’s about last night’s episode. Your team could be discussing
- What Tywin Lannister has in common with Steve Jobs (neither favours the mothering style of leadership);
- Why Ned Stark should have had a scenario-planning meeting (just saying that ‘Winter is coming’ without doing anything about it is career shortening);
- What Daenerys Targaryen can teach us about servant leadership (she frees her slave–employees, and they adore her);
- How to network like Littlefinger (or even BNI’s Ivan Misner);
- Why behaving like Jon Snow will just antagonise your boss (being a clever little twat isn’t always endearing).
From the intern’s desk to the boardroom, every organisation has its own challenges and battles. Game of Thrones on Business draws parallels between the successful TV show and today’s frenetic business world. Each chapter offers a great opportunity to improve leadership skills and business strategy without the need for swords or dragons. Taking examples straight from the TV show to breathe life into management theory, Game of Thrones on Business demonstrates that the best leadership lessons can be learnt even while relaxing at home.
It’s common knowledge now that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 was the biggest known oil disaster in the petroleum industry, the clean up of which was handled very badly by BP. Might the damage-control have gone better if CEO Tony Hayward had been able to swot up on Game of Thrones before entering the fray?
Initially not comprehending the gravity of the disaster, Hayward was sent to deal with the press. Very quickly BP was branded an enemy of the environment and held up as a company built on greed and profits, out for its own gain with little respect for its customers, and entirely lacking any concern for the world around it. Hayward was sent to handle the growing threat to coastlines and wildlife, but his unsympathetic reaction and reluctance to admit that BP was at fault quickly put the company in danger of losing shareholders and, perhaps more importantly, credibility. Producing a product which has damaging effects on the environment is tough enough, with activists always on your case, but a fundamental lack of understanding of the effect that your company has on its surroundings can be devastating. We continue to need oil, which fuels our capitalist economies; BP supplies a product that all of us rely on, whether directly or indirectly so the company certainly could have come out of the situation a lot better than it did. So what went wrong? Perhaps a few lessons on delivering messages from the hit HBO series might have helped.
Messages are frequently sent in Game of Thrones. We’re not talking about the sort sent by raven so much as the demonstrations of strength. So in this category would come pouring molten gold over the head of an entitled and ambitious irritant to demonstrate why you’re not to be messed with, crucifying slave masters to show what happens to the unjust when they cross you, or cutting off the hand of the best swordsman in the land to prove that the Lannisters aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. None of these is really good PR in the sense of making the message sender look like a good person, but they do all demonstrate the value of public relations, of controlling the message so that the recipient perceives you in the way you want to be perceived.
Although sending a message works well, sometimes nothing beats delivering the message yourself – provided you are sufficiently clued up to handle the situation. In the first series of Game of Thrones, Ned Stark goes down to King’s Landing to help the king, Robert Baratheon. Knowing how treacherous the Lannisters can be, his wife begs him to send a deputy, but for Stark it is imperative that he go himself, for only then can he truly represent the views of his kingdom. Perhaps this is what BP was hoping to achieve by sending its CEO to help smooth over relations, but like Ned, Hayward didn’t really understand the world he was entering. While Ned failed because his idealism clashed with the corruption at court, BP’s massive gaffe could perhaps have been avoided with a little media training.
Sending the CEO could have been great PR – if you send your top guy to a disaster rather than a representative it shows that you understand the situation is serious. It also demonstrates a will to be honest and avoid the accusations that could come from hiding behind a slick (no pun intended) PR operation. Unfortunately in a company this huge the CEO rarely knows as much as the folks on the ground and is not necessarily adept at handling the world outside his corporate ivory tower. It was abundantly clear that Hayward had not been properly prepared for dealing with the media. Perhaps sending a public relations advisor to brief him and field questions for him might have enabled the CEO to show he was actively concerned and doing his best to ensure that the issue was resolved as quickly and efficiently as possible instead – dare we say it – of putting in a performance that made the company look corrupt and shambolic.
It was announced at the end of last year that Tesco would be closing several stores to make up for the deficit of billions of pounds lost in 2014. Whether this is a strategic retreat or an unplanned but necessary downsizing is yet to be seen. But perhaps we can hold off panic buying their ‘Finest’ range just yet, especially if the company is willing to take a few lessons from an unexpected source.
With the rise in the UK of the ‘Big Four’ supermarkets, we seem to be getting ever closer to a bust after the great supermarket boom. Competition is healthy, but how many supermarkets do we really need? There’s only so much room in our cupboards for baked beans and marmite so is there really any need for a Sainsbury’s next to a Tesco Express just down the road from Morrisons? Do the supermarkets know something that we don’t? Is the zombie apocalypse approaching quicker than expected and is their sole purpose to provide enough supplies for us to ride it out?
So perhaps this strategy of retreat from Tesco is a wise business move. They are currently bleeding money by the billions and need to reassess their place in the market. Rather than building another superstore in the middle of nowhere, perhaps the sensible business move under new boss Dave Lewis really is to take a step back and assess the best place to take the company from here. The loss of revenue has shown that all these superstores are not essential to the modern day consumer.
The link might not be immediately apparent but strategic downsizers might learn a thing or two by watching Game of Thrones. Once, the Targaryens ruled the seven kingdoms; for 300 years they were the most powerful family. When the show begins, Daenerys and her brother Viserys are in exile, across the NarrowSea, in Essos. An unplanned and unwanted retreat has turned into a game played at a tactical distance. The last Targaryen (under 100), Daenerys, is not out of the game, merely taking time to reinforce her strengths and address her weaknesses, planning her next move carefully and assessing what she wants. To do this is not a sign of retreat or weakness, or an indication that she’s out of the game. Daenarys’ marriage to Khal Drogo was a strategic alliance to increase strength and numbers before the advance.
Of course, not everything goes to plan. Trial and error in business is sometimes necessary to success. One cannot build an empire without failure and learning from mistakes. By the end of season one, Daenerys’ husband has died, the Dothraki have deserted her and she is in danger of losing everything; that is, until her dragons hatch. She is the Mother of Dragons, and having found strength from an unexpected source she now has an advantage over all her opponents.
Recently, Tesco has been accused of practising low trading standards when it comes to its suppliers, withholding payments, and breaching suppliers’ trust in an effort to win the ‘supermarket war’ with its competitors. Much like King Joffrey, who thinks nothing of torturing a subordinate, Tesco is beginning to reap what it sowed. The backlash from Ned Stark’s beheading at the end of season one immediately set up Joffrey as the ultimate villain and began the War of the Five Kings. What can Tesco, the non-beheading supermarket, learn from this? Perhaps the moral is to not believe too strongly in your own invincibility – in business as in war nobody is invulnerable (just ask Gregor Clegane after his almost-defeat by Oberyn Martell). Tesco is unlikely to step as close to the brink as Ser Gregor but wobbles like this make consumers more aware of the politics behind their store cupboard essentials.
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).
The UK is gearing up for a big election in the next few months. Nick Clegg’s been locked up somewhere in the hope the electorate forgets about him, Labour has launched its ‘pink bus of feminism’ and Nigel Farage is trying not to look like a complete tool in the run up to voting day (not that that seems to matter to the UKIP faithful).
Political rivalries are not new; they have gone on for thousands of years and come hand in hand with deception, backstabbing (remember the Ides of March?) and defamation of character. And you thought Game of Thrones was gory. David Cameron’s ‘hospitality bill’ has just been released and shows that he spent nearly £2,000 of tax payers’ money on entertaining guests like the Queen and, less justifiably, Claudia Schiffer. Perhaps Cameron is as much a fan of Game of Thrones as the rest of us (it would certainly show him being ‘in touch’ with his people) and enjoys flamboyant gestures and indulgent dinner parties much like the characters do.
Some may comment that, given some people pay up to £30,000 for their own wedding, red or otherwise, £2,000 for a whole year entertaining royalty and 1990s supermodels is actually a bargain. However, this bill is only for his private retreat, Chequers. Who knows how much more he has spent in Number 10! Surely the Queen is so used to lavish parties that she might prefer some humble fish and chips on her holiday?
The Tories, to many people of the UK, are the Lannisters of government: overprivileged toffs who take it for granted that they should be in charge of the country (so does that make Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband Stannis Baratheon and Daenerys Targaryen?). Only time will tell whether Dave will be elected for a second term and it is probable that he may have to settle for another coalition. However, with the economy still at functioning at a less than optimal level, and national cuts being made left right and centre, perhaps Cameron could focus more on how to help the country rather than fuelling the perception that he is an entitled, public school-educated posh boy who has no interest in the working and middle classes.
Certainly Cameron, in contrast to King Joffrey, has (to our knowledge) not ordered any decapitations during his time in office, but many voters who could sway the upcoming election need to be convinced that Cameron is interested in more than keeping rich people rich (and poor people poor). We would suggest that Cameron read our upcoming book, Game of Thrones on Business, which is full of tips and advice on how to recognise the signs that your Lannister side is overcoming your Stark good intentions and rectify it before you get shot in the privy.
If you were not inspired by our last blog when planning your Valentine weekend, how about doing something more fantastical, magical and indulgent? Over the next few days, a pop-up restaurant in London is hosting a Game of Thrones themed feast with opulent dishes inspired by the hit TV show.
Diners can eat like King Joffrey as they feast on giant platters of regal food and sip on goblets of the finest wine. Unfortunately for most of us, this is an exclusive event with the guests drawn out of a hat. One can only imagine how atmospheric it must be to find yourself transported to King’s Landing, your servants bringing plate after plate of delicious food, all while shouting ‘off with his head’ to your council.
However, if you are a massive fan of the show like we are at Infinite Ideas, why not plan your own Game of Thrones Valentine’s activities. With the fifth season only 59 days away, what could be better than a weekend spent watching your favourite episodes with your favourite person. Did you know that there is a food called a Crown Prince Squash? Well neither did we but it’s really like a green pumpkin. Why not try and get your hands on one and make a delicious, royal pie.
If you are thinking that you haven’t made any plans and things are getting a bit desperate, Infinite Ideas have come up with some tips on how NOT to spend Valentine’s day. No matter how much you love Game of Thrones, we strongly advise that you do not try the following at home (or anywhere else really):
- Practise incest: whether it be shagging your sibling like Cersei and Jaime Lannister or feeling-up your sister on horseback, this is possibly the number one no-no when it comes to romance.
- Get engaged to a psychopath: poor Sansa really didn’t have a choice when she became betrothed to King Joffrey but ‘when you bleed I will put a son in you’ is hardly the stuff of true love. Before you fall victim to Sansa’s fate, do a background check on anyone who seems a bit dodgy.
- Break your vow of chastity for a woman with a dodgy northern accent: Jon Snow thought he was doing really well as aspiring leader of the Night’s Watch. That was, until he was seduced by (clearly not) northern Ygritte. She’s not worth it*, Jon, but at least she isn’t your sister!
- Fall in love with your employer: since the very first time they met, Daenerys has put Jorah in the friend-zone with no way out. Poor man must bear the burden of his unrequited love. But as he learnt, falling in love with your boss is never a good idea.
- Share your beau with a family member: Much like practising incest, we do not advise you to take inspiration from Renly and sleep with your wife’s brother. No judgement but perhaps you should seek enjoyment elsewhere.
If you enjoyed Infinite Ideas’ infinite wisdom, our book, Game of Thrones on Business by Tim Phillips and Rebecca Clare will also be released in 59 days’ time.
*Actually, we grew to love Ygritte despite her strange vowels. Perhaps she was worth it after all.