Monday, April 1, 2013

Lessons that Game of Thrones Teaches Business Owners

In a similar situation to my last post, I thought of too many ideas for a Vistaprint post and trimmed it down before sending it in. Here's the unabridged version, with 5 extra examples that I didn't put in the actual post.

The third season of HBO’s epic fantasy series Game of Thrones premiered on Sunday, March 31st. For fans who have been anxiously awaiting the premiere since season two ended on June 3rd of last year, this meant a return to the battles, power plays, and intrigue of Westeros and Essos. The war for the Iron Throne, the threat of the White Walkers north of the Wall, and the dragons of Daenerys Targaryen far to the east all make for appointment television, but what really drives this show are the individual characters.

Author George R.R. Martin, who created this universe in his 7-part book series A Song of Ice and Fire, is a master of character development. Each player in this game has strengths, flaws, desires, impulses, and alliances that make every decision agonizing, and every move seem like life-and-death. Characters in this series run the gamut from staunchly loyal and fervently devoted to doing what’s right (Ned Stark) to living life with few morals and fewer true confidants (Petyr Baelish).

What works for some may not work for others, and the players in this world need to find the strategy that works best for them. In the same manner, small-business owners need to find out how best to serve their needs and advance their company. With that in mind, take a look at these 5 Game of Thrones characters, as all of their stories can be applied to small business. (Caution: if you haven’t caught up with the first episode of the third season, there are some spoilers).

1.       Lord Varys – Stay a few steps ahead of the game. Varys is employed by the king of the Seven Kingdoms as the “Master of Whisperers,” and is known around the capital city of King’s Landing as “The Spider.” He has hundreds of spies and informants in his employ, which keep him abreast of everything that everyone is doing in the city and beyond. Fortunately, you don’t need that kind of spy network to stay on top of the game. Check the trends and new developments on the Internet and social media, and keep your business aligned with popular goings-on. Your customers will appreciate your keeping abreast of the current climate and will feel more confident in your business because of this.

2.       Margaery Tyrell – Pursue all opportunities. Margaery Tyrell is a beautiful, highborn lady from the castle of Highgarden, and she has serious aspirations of becoming Queen of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Usually, the father marries off his daughter. However, Margaery Tyrell does not sit idly by and wait to be sold. She first weds Renly Baratheon, as she figures he has the best chance to become king in the war for the Iron Throne. Once he is killed, she immediately goes to the capital and professes her love for Joffrey Baratheon, the incumbent and victorious king. Joffrey agrees to marry her, and Margaery immediately begins to ingratiate herself to the people of King’s Landing. Small business owners can take a lesson here, as you should leave no stone unturned when performing research or scouting for new opportunities. While it seems that Margaery threw herself into these marriages with reckless abandon, there was actually a great deal of cunning and shrewdness that went into these decisions.

3.       Robb Stark – Make all the big decisions yourself. Robb Stark is one of the main protagonists of the series, and is stylized as “The King in the North.” He has taken up arms against the Lannisters and, in a daring and clever raiding maneuver, has captured House Lannister’s most important son Jaime. Robb wishes to trade Jaime for his two sisters, both of whom are held captive by the Lannisters in King’s Landing, after he defeats the Lannisters in battle. His mother, however, has other ideas. She is incredibly impatient and wishes to be reunited with her daughters immediately, and thus secretly releases Jaime with one of her guards to travel across the country in hopes that he’ll release her daughters and send them back to her. Robb is furious. His mother gave away their only bargaining chip with almost no chance of getting her end of the bargain fulfilled. The lesson here? Make sure all of the major decisions go through you. Employees are a vital part of many small businesses, and can give valuable insights, but the owner is the one who should be making the final decisions in order to avoid fiascoes like the one detailed above.

4.       Arya Stark – Do good for others. Arya Stark is Robb’s 9-year-old younger sister, and is not a captive of King’s Landing as Robb believes. She is actually a member of a traveling party heading north towards the Wall. During this journey, Arya saves three men from burning to death by unlocking the wagon in which they were trapped. She did not need to do this, as two of the three seemed violent and potentially deadly. The third man, however, turns out to be a Faceless Man named Jaqen H’ghar, capable of changing his appearance at will and trained in the arts of stealth. He is indebted to Arya, and allows her and her friends to escape from captivity by killing several guards. While this is a brutal example, the lesson remains. If you do good for others, they will most likely do the same for you. Although running a small business is a full-time job that requires large amounts of time and effort, try to avoid being selfish with your time. The more time you devote to charitable causes and organizations, the better your name will be in the community, and the more people who will want to help you out down the line.

5.       Tyrion Lannister – Make time for your personal life. Tyrion Lannister is one of the most devious characters in the Game of Thrones universe. He is a dwarf, and is mocked as The Imp, so he uses cunning and scheming rather than strength and fighting to accomplish his goals. He plays the game well, works his way out of several major jams, and eventually ends up being the Hand of the King, the second most powerful man in the Kingdoms. He has an incredibly stressful life, as he has to play several characters against each other and watch out for himself at all times. When he does get a rare break, it usually comes with his lover, a girl named Shae. She is fiercely loyal to him and they seem truly happy together. In the same vein as the lesson above, this character shows you that it is important to keep your relationships alive. Do not kill your friendships and potential romantic relationships because you feel too stressed and overwhelmed by work, and try to keep business and personal life separate when you return home from work. At the end of the day, a supportive friend or loved one is worth a lot more than one more sale or investment.

Lessons that didn't make the cut, but are still important:
a.       Xaro Xhoan Daxos: don’t make promises you can’t deliver on. Meaning don't tell Daenerys that you can buy her thousands of ships and bring her the Iron Throne, because you'll probably just be thrown into your own gigantic totally empty vault. Business-wise, don't write checks you can't cash, and don't make agreements that you can't keep up. You will be seen as a liar. 
b.      Jon Snow: make the difficult decisions when you have to. As in, kill the person you have to kill. If Jon had killed Ygritte, he wouldn't be a captive of the wildlings, and wouldn't have had to kill Qorin Halfhand. In business, don't kill people. But fire them if you need to, before they become a threat to your business.
c.       Dany: It is better to be loved than feared – Her dragons did not inspire the fear (and thus allegiance) that she wanted. However, her life was saved on two occasions by two men who were loyal to her: Jorah Mormont and Barristan Selmy. This comes down to how you manage your employees. If you are a kind, caring leader, you will be more respected than if you inspire fear.
d.      Davos: Don’t hold onto something too long, or be too loyal to one thing just because you started with it or because you have a personal connection: know when to get out in order to help yourself – he comes crawling back to Stannis even though he was just completely destroyed in the Battle of the Blackwater, Stannis is now controlled by Melisandre, sentences Davos to prison
e.      Khal Drogo: Be realistic if you encounter losses/ setbacks. Drogo had a fight with an enemy and received a wound on his chest which would have been fine, had he treated it carefully. However he thought himself too strong for medical help and felt it would get better on its own, and it eventually festered and killed him. If you are in a tight spot, or encounter some bad luck, don’t go along merrily as if nothing happened. Assess your position and make the necessary adjustments.

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