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Business Wisdom From Game Of Thrones (No Spoilers)

by Jessica Zartler / June 06, 2016

In case you’ve been living under your desk - Game of Thrones is the most successful TV show - ever. The fantasy series based on the George R.R. Martin novels is being watched in 170 countries and has been the most pirated TV series for the last four years.

In 2015, it set a record for winning the most number of Emmy Awards for a series in a single year, with the fifth season winning 12 out of 24 nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series. Most notably, New York magazine’s leading entertainment website ranked the series’ fandom as the most devoted in pop culture, ahead of Lady Gaga’s, Justin Beiber’s, Harry Potter’s or Star Wars’ (insert ‘Wow’ here).

Whether you are a die hard fan on the fifth book (like me), or are just starting to find the incredible subplots, dynamic characters and enlightening subtext of the book or show, the story offers much more than dragons, sex, violence and swordfighting.

In the layers between the artfully written details and jaw-dropping ruthlessness for which Martin kills off major characters, there is much wisdom to be found. Similar to the one-liners from Lord of the Rings, Paulo Coelho novels or Winnie the Pooh, Martin speaks about business, politics, relationships, life, death and the human condition through his characters.

In this article, we take a look at the business knowledge that can be found in the words of our favorite - and not so favorite - Game of Thrones characters. Here are ten pieces of “biz-dom” (business-wisdom) from GOT.

1.   Unabatingly innovate

“I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.” - Daenerys Targaryen

Daenerys is successful not only because of her genetics, but because of her rebellious nature. She doesn’t take no for answer and insists that nothing is impossible.

The most innovative entrepreneurs are rebels at heart and through sheer willpower, manifest great things. This is exactly what businesses must do - innovate, be disruptive and challenge the status quo.

2.   Fear creates opportunities

“Bran thought about it. 'Can a man still be brave if he's afraid?''That is the only time a man can be brave,' his father told him.”  Bran and Ned Stark

“Fear cuts deeper than swords.”  Syrio Forel to Arya Stark

The Stark family certainly knows about fear and in their words, they echo what many entrepreneurs have had to learn in their beginning strides. It can be scary to run a business and be competing out in the big bad world, but fear can either limit your capabilities or drive your courage.

Don’t let it be the first. Leap first because if you fly, it will all be worth it. And if you fall, well... more on that in #4.

3.   Never stop studying

“... a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” - Tyrion Lannister

“What we don’t know usually gets us killed.” - Petyr Baelish

Tyrion Lannister and Petyr Baelish both believe in the power of knowledge as a tool. Whether you look at it as “keeping an edge,” or as a more dire need to “not get killed” out there in the business world, it’s clear - you need to keep up with market trends, study your industry and craft and always be a student.

This is especially important in the age of disruption. For example, the hospitality industry took a long time to learn about and react to disruptor AirBnB and for many, it was too late. Always keep your mind as sharp as a sword.

4.   Don’t be afraid of failure

“Every flight begins with a fall.” - The Crow

“A bruise is a lesson… and each lesson makes us better.” –Arya Stark.

We all know the stories of famous entrepreneurs like Arianna Huffington - who got rejected by 36 publishers, Bill Gates - who watched his first company crumble, or Walt Disney - who was told he lacked creativity. Like The Crow and Arya both acknowledge, everyone will get knocked down but it’s how each of us reacts to that initial blow or failure that determines the outcome.

Fall down. Get back up. This is the only way to make it in the business world.

5.   Estimate risk and prepare for the worst

“Winter is coming.” House Stark

The most quoted line from the show, this House Stark motto reminds us all to be vigilant. Even though it is “summer” now, food is plentiful and things are peaceful, doesn’t mean it will last. House Stark knows the nature of the seven kingdoms and so should you.

Always be prepared for the worst and take time to do proper risk assessment planning just in case “winter” comes early.

6.   Power is illusory

“Power resides where men believe it resides; it’s a trick, a shadow on the wall, and a very small man can cast a very large shadow.” - Varys

Lord Varys, the keeper of royal secrets, who rose from a slave to counselor of the King, knows better than anyone about the nature of power. You can read this quote in two ways: 1) If you seek power, you can use office politics and strategy to aspire to a higher position 2) If you are in fear of the powerful, know that it is a ruse and the whole thing could crumble at any moment and to be ruled, one must give up their power.

In the business world, sometimes the small fish win. By clever witty marketing or viral, organic PR, entrepreneurs can cast a bigger shadow and overtake competitors despite their appearance in size.

7.   Justice earns respect

“The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man's life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.” - Ned Stark

Ned Stark is revered and respected because of the fair and just way he rules. Leading is not always easy, especially when you have to behead a man for desertion, but if you must punish anyone on your team, do it the Stark way.

Lead by example and don’t be passive aggressive or throw colleagues “under the bus.” Own up to your team’s mistakes and you shall have leal colleagues forever.

8.   Always face the music

“Most men would rather deny a hard truth than face it.” - Tyrion Lannister

There are many examples of this in Game of Thrones but as most contain spoilers, I will refrain from detail. This is a fact in business - sometimes the facts are painful. Your campaign was a waste of money, you didn’t hit the target deadline, you are way over budget and your colleagues are in a mutiny.

The sooner you can acknowledge reality, the quicker you can react to find a solution. Don’t wait until the proverbial axe is at your neck. It is better to face the truth than to deny it.

9.   Practice non-attachment

“The things we love destroy us every time, lad. Remember that.” - Jeor Mormont to Jon Snow

Jeor Mormont, known as “the old bear” and the first lord commander of the Night’s Watch, has seen a thing or two. His advice to Jon Snow reminds us that the things we attach ourselves too, can sometimes destroy us.

In the business world, we need to maintain the ability to be objective, even in projects we are most passionate about. If something is not working or an idea is tanking, we cannot allow our love or ego to make the decisions. Practicing non-attachment early on, and throughout a project is the best way to preserve resources, time and ourselves.

10.   It’s about the ride

“Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some, are given a chance to climb. They refuse, they cling to the realm or the gods or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.” - Petyr Baelish

One of the most clever characters on GOT, Petyr Baelish rarely gives advice and keeps most of his tricks to himself. However here in this quote, we see the true motivation of his character. While everything else is in chaos, he is looking for how he can advance himself.

In this way, entrepreneurs must be agile and adaptable. As markets fluctuate, stabilize and destabilize, those who can ride the waves will not only survive, but thrive. While everyone else is clinging to the old system, charge ahead and climb that ladder.

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