4 Powerful Business Lessons from Game of Thrones

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HBO’s Game of Thrones is arguably the most popular and successful fantasy drama TV series today. Adapted from A Song of Fire and Ice, which is a series of fantasy novels penned by George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones has drawn a diverse audience across the world.

Game of Thrones is based on the intrigues and power games in Westeros and Essos, two fictional continents that house a wide range of rivaling noble families. This series therefore makes the perfect source material for a political science student and for aspiring businessmen. Here are four powerful business lessons that this series has to offer.

A Lot Depends on Your Reputation

A phrase that is quite popular in all five seasons of Game of Thrones is: “A Lannister always pays his debt.” House Lannister is among the richest and most powerful houses in the entire show. The reason the Lannisters are fabulously wealthy is because they always make a point of paying their obligations, allowing them to take on more debt and expand their riches even further. So good was their credit that they could take out big loans on behalf of King Robert Baratheon to finance his wars and feasts.

You too should strive to build a reputation as a businessman who honours his debts. Credibility is important, far more important than money. Sometimes you may feel tempted to restructure your debt payments or delay that one invoice. Do not do it. It may dent your credibility and once you do this, there is no coming back

Billionaire businessman Dr. Chris Kirubi writes that excelling in business is all about credibility. Writing on capitalfm.com, Kirubi encourages businessmen to maintain a good reputation. “When I was starting out I had no clue what I was going to do but I was determined to be my own employer. I had met a few friends who I assisted to sell insurance and I became very good at it. Eventually, I became a director in the company and when time came for them to go back to their country, I bought one of their companies. I … seized that opportunity using the credibility I had built,” he writes.

Winter Is Coming

Another theme that has defined Game of Thrones is the imminent winter and the horrors it will bring. ‘Winter is coming’ is a phrase that the Starks, the noble family that rules the north, is all too familiar with. They fail to prepare adequately for the winter and the wars that come with it. As a result, their legacy is all but destroyed, and there is little hope that the family will make a comeback.

There is a powerful lesson to be learnt here. Businessmen should understand that no matter how good things may be, leaner times are always coming, and it is the business that plans ahead that usually survives.

The current business environment in Kenya offers the best example of how important it is for businesses to save in the times of plenty in order to survive in leaner times. Because of a weaker shilling, the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) recently increased benchmark lending rates from 10 to 11.5 per cent. Higher lending rates usually inspire a slowdown in loan uptake, leading to lower supply of money. And when something with strong and consistent demand like money is in shorter supply, its value naturally increases.

This is what the CBK hopes to achieve with the shilling. The flipside with higher lending rates, however, is that the cost of servicing new and existing loans increases. It is therefore a very hard time for businesses to expand in Kenya using loans. But some businesses will still be able to expand—the ones that retained the earnings they made in previous years.

Kenyan businesses that saved their earnings in previous years will now be able to grow at a time when the vast majority of other businesses can’t. It is important to save today so that you can grow tomorrow.

Risk but Do Not Be Risky

Lord Petyr Baelish, popularly known as Little Finger, is arguably the best survivor in Game of Thrones. Though he is of noble birth, his family name carries very little sway. The lands he controls are inconsequential when viewed in the greater scheme of things, and he is the only surviving family member with no son to carry on his legacy.

But Little Finger has not let his humble beginnings define the man he is. He is a skilled manipulator and is among the most powerful characters in the show.

Little Finger’s tremendous power, however, did not come absent very huge risks. In fact in his own words, he says: “So many men, they risk so little. They spend their whole lives avoiding danger, and they die. I’d risk everything to get what I want.” And when further asked what he wants, his response is “Everything.”

But even with his huge appetite for risk, it is important to understand that Little Finger loves risk, but is not risky. He judges each situation by its own merits, deciding whether it serves in his interest or not.

In business, it is also important to know that there is a sharp distinction between taking risks and being risky. There is perhaps nothing here in Kenya that brings this out more than the short-lived quail business that saw everyone turn into an upstart capitalist overnight.

Everybody rushed into quail farming under the credo of taking risk and being an entrepreneur. Very few, however, had realistic projections for revenue and even fewer had an objective assessment of the market structure. As a result, the only people who profited from quail were the clever businessmen who sold feeds to farmers. The rest were burnt after the high price for quail eggs – which were not justified by any real demand supply logic but by some unqualified health benefits such as libido boost—came plummeting down.

You Win, or You Die

One of the most distinctive things about Game of Thrones is that no one character is truly indispensable. In the first season, Ned Stark, viewed by many as the main character at the time, died an undignified and sudden death—he was beheaded publicly. Other key characters such as Twyin Lannister have also died quite unexpectedly.

Initially, Game of Throne fans were thrown off-balance by George R.R. Martin’s enchantment with killing off main characters. However, a little reflection shows that this was always the plan. In the first season, Cersei Lannister, daughter to Twyin Lannister, and as things stand, current Queen Regent, told Ned Stark in what would later turn out to be prophetic words: “When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die; there is no middle ground.”

Although not all business is cut throat, big business involving multinationals and billions in investment always is. You have to win, or choose the alternative of dying—there is no middle ground. This is something that businessmen need to be acutely aware of.

There is nothing that speaks to the accuracy of this observation than the developments that have characterised Kenya’s telecoms sector in the past five years. The telecom market in Kenya is a high stakes market. Those that have not been able to keep up, such as yuMobile, have not been so lucky.

After trying to gain traction in the Kenyan market and failing, yuMobile finally sold its business for Sh11 billion to Airtel and Safaricom in 2014. Airtel and Safaricom bought yuMobile’s subscribers and infrastructure, respectively. In selling its business, Essar Telecoms, the former owners of yuMobile, booked a gigantic loss of Sh37 billion, media reports show. But they had no other option, did they? It is a game of thrones after all and the alternative to winning is dying.

In conclusion, Game of Thrones offers not just entertainment, but critical insights for open-minded entrepreneurs. Owing to its popularity, the show has been renewed for a eight season and there is no doubt that it will continue drawing in legions of viewers.

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