Although the hit HBO series Game of Thrones (GoT) is probably best known for its dragons, White Walkers, and other fantastical elements, the show is actually deeply rooted in reality.
The fantasy elements act as decorations, while politics, human nature, and business dealings serve as the true mechanisms that drive the plot and characters.
As such, we can actually look to GoT for advice that can be applied to business and industry. While the American manufacturing and industrial sectors aren’t as bleak or brutal as Westeros, the night is dark and full of terrors.
In honor of the series’ final season, premiering on Sunday, April 14, we’re reviewing a few actionable business lessons gleaned from the show.
Chaos is a Ladder: Embracing Technological Disruption
Out of all the untrustworthy characters that pepper GoT, no one is more duplicitous than the Machiavellian Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish. A man of great ambition, Littlefinger’s approach to the eponymous game of thrones is to play all sides, carefully pitting each person against the other like pawns in a game of chess.
As he sows seeds of discord among all parties, the Great Houses of Westeros tear each other apart in war and politics. Little by little, the realm falls into chaos. To many, this chaos is a dangerous thing that needs to be righted immediately. But to a man like Baelish, “chaos is a ladder.”
With his proclivity for treachery at the helm, Littlefinger embraces chaos and uses it as leverage to help boost his social status and power; even though he was born to a minor house in a remote region of the continent, Baelish ends up becoming one of the most powerful, wealthy men in Westeros.
Although real-world companies generally don’t have to grapple with the kind of underhanded politics and violence so endemic to Westeros, they still must deal with chaos in other forms, specifically technological disruption.
In recent years, industry has been moving at a rapid pace thanks to the emergence and quick adoption of high-tech innovations like the IoT, AI, enhanced data analytics, and other areas of Industry 4.0. Although this digital disruption can be daunting, embracing this “chaos” has the potential to open exponential levels of opportunity.
Bonus Tip: When climbing this ladder of chaos, companies can also take yet another pointer from the Baelish playbook. Littlefinger’s ascension of power perfectly embodies the “think big, start small, scale fast” philosophy, which can help companies develop a plan for innovation that works for them.
Valyrian Steel and the Importance of Cyber Security to Defend Intellectual Property
Throughout the series, characters revere weapons made from Valyrian steel, a rare form of metal that, in spite of its light weight, features unparalleled strength, sharpness, and wear resistance. There are only a handful of Valyrian steel weapons left in Westeros and, because of their metallic properties and rarity, each one of them is considered a priceless heirloom.
Hundreds of years prior to the series’ starting point, the Valyrians, renowned for their craftsmanship, innovation, and sorcery, developed an arcane forging method to create this exceptional metal using magic and dragon fire. Although there are many talented blacksmiths throughout Westeros, none are able to recreate this technique.
Just like the Valyrians, many manufacturers have unique processes, designs, and other intellectual properties that not only add value to their one-of-a-kind products or services but also help distinguish them in the market.
Companies are urged to take a hint from the ancient Valyrians and practice the same level of stringent secrecy when it comes to their valuable intellectual properties by investing in heavy-duty cybersecurity measures and adhering to best cybersafety practices.
Obtaining and maintaining a competitive edge in the market is difficult and, sadly, companies and individuals will sometimes resort to questionable cyber activities to steal another company’s intellectual property. The manufacturing industry, which traditionally hasn’t had to worry about cyber-crime in the past, is becoming increasingly vulnerable to these situations.
The Targaryen Approach to Brand Development
Branding is a surprisingly important component of Westeros culture. Throughout the Seven Kingdoms, all noble families have their own unique sigils and house words – these symbols and phrases essentially act as logos and slogans for their respective houses, each one designed to express and emphasize the values and heritages of the family.
While there are many impressive sigils and compelling house words, few can rival the Targaryen’s approach to branding. Their house sigil, a three-headed red dragon emblazoned against a black field, serves multiple purposes. Not only does it remind other houses of the Targaryen’s dragon-taming legacy, it also references the history of how they originally took control of Westeros.
Paired with the phrase “Fire and Blood,” both the sigil and the house words convey the Targaryen penchant for fiery aggression as well as their ancestral Valyrian roots.
However, not all of the Great Houses of Westeros have good marketing strategies. House Tyrell, in spite of their wealth and political savvy, suffers from poor branding practices. Lady Olenna, the quick-witted, sharp-tongued matriarch of the Tyrell family, even laments the weakness of their sigil and house words.
In theory, their branding strategy should work. Their sigil, a golden rose, is aesthetically pleasing, while also cautioning others not to mistake kindness for weakness. And their words, “Growing Strong,” are certainly intended to express both their family’s fortitude and ambition.
However, in spite of aesthetics, subtlety, and intention, the Tyrell family's branding comes off as uninspired, tepid, and flat, especially when matched up against the exciting, memorable sigils and words of the other Great Houses.
In the real world, strong brand representation is as tricky as it is in Westeros. Choosing a nice looking image or a clever phrase is a good start, but isn’t enough. Ultimately, building a strong brand is about reflecting the essence of a company’s identity.
The Game of Business
In the first season, Cersei Lannister tells fan-favorite Ned Stark, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”
Similarly, when you play the game of business, you thrive or you fail. Thankfully though, the industrial business world is a lot easier to handle than Westeros.
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