Game of Thrones: Great books. Great show. Great water cooler topic.
Dragons aside, at its core, HBO's Game of Thrones is all about people trying to be the best: the best warrior, the best leader, the best kingdom... and, by extension, the best business.
Here's a guest post from Ed Reeves, the co-founder and director of Moneypenny, the market-leading provider of telephone-answering specialists, with offices in the U.S., U.K., and New Zealand. (Instead of having random people in a massive call center take your calls, Moneypenny assigns one person to your account.)
Last year Ed wrote about leadership lessons for entrepreneurs from Game of Thrones, so I asked him to weigh in again ahead of the season premiere.
This is a big week for Game of Thrones fans. In just a few days the opening episode of the sixth season will air, and it's rumored to start with one heck of a twist.
As the first season to dramatically depart from George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels, even the most avid readers don't know what's in store. And that's exactly the way the producers like it.
Why? This is the show's trump card. More than any other show on TV, GoT is almost impossible to predict. Whether it's the beheading of Ned Stark or Stannis Baratheon sacrificing his own daughter, the show continues to surprise and excite fans at every turn. (As long as you haven't read the novels, of course.)
That sense of surprise isn't just valuable on TV, though -- it's equally powerful in business.
Think about innovation. How often is the "next big thing" what you would expect? Hardly ever -- that's why it's the next big thing. Likewise, it's rarely the obvious that makes us really remember a company. Ask yourself what last made you walk away from a store or business feeling great. I'm willing to bet it wasn't business as usual.
So aside from the importance of surprise, what else can we learn from the hit drama? Quite a lot actually.
Here are four key lessons:
1. Embrace the fact that appearances can be deceiving.
Intelligent, compassionate, and tactical. Tyrion has all the qualities of a great leader. Yet he's the black sheep of the Lannister family. (And that's saying something when your siblings are sleeping together and Joffrey's your nephew.)
Why? He lives in a society that isn't able to discount his dwarfism. Appearances, however, can be deceptive.
This is certainly true when it comes to finding the right employees. Hiring the best people is never easy, but personality, attitude, and values are a far better indicator of talent than a resume littered with buzzwords.
Skills can be learned and experience gained, but a positive attitude cannot. That doesn't mean these assets aren't important, but they shouldn't be the primary focus. Businesses thrive on relationships, and building a crack team of people is crucial.
2. Always reward loyalty.
If there's one thing Game of Thrones viewers can be sure of it's this: loyalties can change, and quickly.
For example, take Petyr Baelish. Switching allegiance to whoever best serves his interests, the character is a master manipulator and all too happy to push his opponents out of the nearest moon door should they get in his way.
The same is true in real life (although with slightly less life-threatening consequences). We all have favorite businesses or companies: places we like to shop because they smile at us and make us feel good, or suppliers who take time to understand us as individuals and what we need.
The problem is this can soon change. One or two bad experiences, and those good memories disappear. As a company it's our responsibility to make sure our customers feel treasured, like each and every one is our biggest and most important client.
Their loyalty is priceless and should never be taken for granted.
3. Relentlessly seek to innovate.
The best entrepreneurs don't follow rules. In fact, they're usually the ones who rip up the rule book and rewrite it. The word no simply isn't in their vocabulary.
Daenerys nailed this point perfectly in Season Five. Speaking to Tyrion about her vision for the future, she declared: "I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."
That's exactly what we, as business leaders, must do. It's up to us to innovate, to be disruptive, and to challenge the norm. There will always be people who tell us it can't be done, but that's where the biggest opportunities lie.
And sure, it might be easier with a couple of fire breathing dragons behind you, but belief and bravery are powerful weapons in their own right.
4. Never discount the cost of broken promises.
When talking to Game of Thrones fans, two words always produce an open-mouthed reaction: "Red Wedding."
In one of the most talked-about episodes in the show's history, Robb Stark, his mother, his wife, and most of his army are slain by Walder Frey. Twitter went into meltdown, YouTube was flooded with angry reaction videos... all because of one broken promise. Stark had promised to marry Frey's daughter, but when he went back on his word Frey struck a deal with the Lannisters and the results became GoT folklore.
While in business a broken promise is unlikely to cause this severe a reaction, going back on your word can cause irreparable damage to both your brand and market share. For example, take Volkswagen. The image of the once trustworthy, quality German manufacturer was recently rocked due to the emissions scandal. With rumors of law suits from customers and dealerships, VW's reputation is in a battle for survival.
More a song of diesel and NOx than ice and fire... but a story with almost as many twists.