What happened to all the Game of Thrones backstabbing?

George RR Martin's fantasy world and business have many parallels, claim the authors. But their book is too short of gore and thrills, says Elizabeth Anderson.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 27 May 2015

Game of Thrones is not for the faint-hearted. With murder, betrayal, back-stabbing, incest and bribery around every corner, the TV series is gripping – and stomach-churning – viewing.

Based on medieval fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin, Game of Thrones follows the battle between various noble families of the fictional Seven Kingdoms of Westeros to gain control of the Iron Throne.

The show has already provided the inspiration for many personality quizzes and countless fancy dress parties. So it’s not surprising that someone has bravely decided to draw parallels to today’s business world. The result is Game of Thrones on Business, a book that promises to explain what a fantasy involving dragons, ice monsters and heads on spikes can teach us about business.

However, if you’re hoping for a rip-roaring read, detailing the most gruesome and sordid parts of corporate life, you’ll be disappointed. Authors Tim Phillips, a freelance journalist, and Rebecca Clare, a business editor and publisher, make comparisons that are disappointingly lacking in detail. For instance, one of the authors’ early associations is between the powerful and cruel Tywin Lannister and Apple genius Steve Jobs. Tywin Lannister, the head of House Lannister, the wealthiest and most powerful family in the Seven Kingdoms, is obsessed with legacy. ‘Before long, we’ll be rotting in the ground,’ he famously tells his son. ‘It’s the family name that lives on, not your personal glory, not your honour.’

Glimpses of Tywin can be found in Jobs, the authors argue. Innovation is a team effort and many could have a legitimate claim on the invention of the iPod. However, few of them profited anything like as much as Jobs, they say. He had charisma and a belief in his own greatness – he was Apple.

Unfortunately, the analogy stops there, before we are swiftly moved on to a new chapter telling us not to embellish our cvs. The authors could have dug deeper to find out more about similarities in their personalities. Both are clearly complex, powerful characters, willing to make unpopular decisions if they think they are for the greater good.

The 128-page book has 30 chapters, and each opens with a quote from the series and a brief description of the context. It then takes us through an explanation of how this applies to modern-day business scenarios. While some of the comparisons between medieval tyrants and business leaders seem justified, others are forced and predictable.

In chapter three, ‘Don’t mix business and pleasure’, we learn what Night’s Watchman Jon Snow has in common with Bill Clinton. The authors talk about Snow infiltrating the wilding camp and falling for ‘passionate warrior woman Ygritte’, warning that sleeping with the boss can damage your chances of promotion. The tale then comes round to Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, a story that has been told countless times. Give us a newer scandalous affair and tell us something we don’t already know.  

The chapter about ‘Playing the waiting game’ makes the spot-on point that being first to market doesn’t make you any more likely to succeed. Have you heard of Six Degrees, Archie and Star Safety Razor? These were the first social media, search engine and safety razor companies. But it’s Facebook, Google and Gillette that are household names.

In Game of Thrones, one of the most controversial scenes is the Red Wedding, which takes place in the third book and series three. Here most of the best-loved characters are brutally killed off. Phillips and Clare offer a theory on why this shocked us: we’d invested in these key characters for so long that to see them die felt like a personal assault. Sadly, the business lessons are unclear. The authors give us the example of British Gas, which was fined £11.1m by regulator Ofgem for failing to deliver on lower prices for customers and to meet energy-saving targets set by the government. The link is tenuous. It’s hardly mass murder.

Fans will find this book an intriguing desk piece or a novel gift for a fellow fan. As someone who has read all the books, I think there are many scenarios the authors have left out. Game of Thrones is a delicious mix of gore, infighting, backstabbing and political intrigue. This book feels tame in comparison.

Elizabeth Anderson is a business reporter at the Telegraph and a former section editor on MT.

Game of Thrones on Business by Tim Phillips and Rebecca Clare is published by Infinite Ideas at £9.99

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