Every time I watch an episode of the fantasy drama HBO series Game of Thrones it strikes me just how many parallels there seems to be between the fictive land Westeros and the worlds of real-life businesses and organisations. After now watching 4 seasons, I can’t help but be annoyed at how little the characters base their decisions and actions upon knowledge and collaboration.
Why is it that no one came to assist the “Night’s Watch” on the Wall who just faced a major attack? Could it be that nobody knew what was at stake?
And why do the remaining Stark family members (+ one Snow) never cross paths? None of them even knew which of the others were still alive. There’s clearly a communication mismatch going on there.
However, all of this is of course part of the plot and required in a story like GOT to create suspense. The reason these problems bother me is not so much because things aren’t going very well in Westeros, but maybe because they look very transferable to today’s organizations.
Let’s take a look at some of the similarities between Westeros and present-day enterprises:
Isolated Strategies and Activities
Game of Thrones
In Westeros, every man creates his own fortune. As a consequence everybody keep their cards close to their chest. Each of the seven Kingdoms - each House, each alliance, basically every single person - makes decisions isolated from everyone else’s strategies 9 out of 10 times. Rarely do the characters share information or collaborate with each other. In GoT, that means power structures change as the wind blows and that good (and bad) men are killed in the most brutal ways.
Many companies also work in this siloed manner, having each department - sometimes each employee - working with their own assets and systems. Lots of invaluable information thereby doesn’t get shared across the business. When it does get shared, it’s often shared manually, taking up lots of time and causing errors. Poor information exchange means that each unit invents assets that may already exist, causing duplicated work. In companies, these mistakes don’t happen out of manipulative reasons, as is often the case in GOT, but more likely because most businesses don’t have one central data management and sharing system, causing weakened workflows and bad data quality.
Game of Thrones
With the exchange of information being quite poor, no one seems to have the full overview of the state of the continent. Few people knew of Mance Rayder’s wildling army and its plans to cross the wall, and even fewer know that the practically invincible white wanderers have resurrected. Very few know that the economic situation in King’s Landing is unsustainable. And who knows what Lord Petyr Baelish, also known as Littlefinger, is up to? Due to these giant information holes, no one acts on an informed basis.
When no one has a complete overview of information in an organisation, one can only imagine the mistakes being made. Poor communication - internally as well as externally - leads to lost sales and bad decision-making.
Inefficient Information System
Game of Thrones
The information that is collected and shared in and outside of Westeros is handled by an inefficient and unreliable system, consisting of message-carrying ravens, lonely vulnerable messengers on horseback and an invisible network of spies. This is obviously not a very reliable system, causing a lack of overview and missed opportunities.
Most companies have some sort of information system, but similar to the situation in Westeros, they are often ineffective. Sometimes information about products, customers and suppliers are managed in single-domain solutions, resulting in a slow and unreliable information flow; sometimes the wider organisation is not well informed about the importance of data strategies and therefore don’t prioritise data as a strategic asset. However, as the dragons of Daenerys Targaryen grow bigger and bigger, so does the bad data quality in these companies.
”You know nothing, Jon Snow”
In Part 2 of this blog post we list more GOT and business parallels and discover how the "one" with the Master Data Management solution could have won the Game of Thrones.