A Game of Thrones

JUL 29, 2014

I started reading George R.R. Martin’s “A Game of Thrones” in 1996 when it first came out.  I found it completely mesmerizing and starting telling all of my friends about it.  I even had one of my best friends email Martin telling him what a fan I was and ask him if he would sign a first edition copy of the book to give to me as a birthday present.  Amazingly, Martin responded immediately and out of the goodness of his heart did just that.   When HBO picked up the books and started to make a series I was so excited.  They have done an amazing job recreating Martin’s world and bringing the story to millions of people.

I was sitting with a peer yesterday and we were discussing our company, its strategy, and goals over lunch.  We were talking about the amount of upheaval and change occurring right now and how difficult it was to communicate clearly on the direction in a way everyone could understand.  Then I started thinking about “A Game of Thrones.”

The backdrop for the books is that there is a place called the Seven Kingdoms in which there was a King that had risen to power and gone mad.  Certain families felt he must be stopped, marched against him, and overthrew him.  In doing so they did their best to wipe out his lineage.  Turns out a loyalist was able to smuggle out one of the Mad King’s children and ship her off to another continent.   More on that in a bit.  With the Mad King dead a new king was crowned.  After a decade or so the new king dies and that is where the story really begins.  You see upon his death the entire Seven Kingdoms is thrown into turmoil and all over the place people start naming themselves the rightful king and the entire land goes to crap… Everyone starts fighting everyone and there are crazy politics and violence everywhere.

Now the daughter of the Mad King was smuggled to the new continent has been raised her whole life to believe her purpose is to gather an army and go back to the Seven Kingdoms and take back the throne she should have rightfully had.  She is clearly special in many ways and is even able to find a weapon that could shift the entire balance of any conflict in her favor (dragons).   While she waits for the dragons to age and become powerful, she tries to amass an army of followers to help her go take back her throne…

But here is the thing.  In the Seven Kingdoms there is a place called “The North” and beyond the North there is an area everyone is afraid of.  So they built an incredible wall thousands of feet high and froze it in ice.  They did this because there was a long forgotten threat on the other side of that wall called the White Walkers.  Without going to much into it, and at this point in the series it is unclear on their purpose, the White Walkers look like really bad dudes that are mindless yet somehow amassing a huge force that at some point are going to disrupt everything.  The Walkers are also extremely difficult to kill.  Swords, lances, etc do not work.  You need fire or a very rare type of weapon that not many have knowledge of to kill them… To guard against this potential threat all the criminals in the Seven Kingdoms are sent to “The Wall” and have to take a vow to defend the Seven Kingdoms from what may lay upon the other side.  These men are called the “Night’ Watch” and are woefully understaffed for the task and as the White Walkers start showing up all over the place they scream for reinforcements…but since the Seven Kingdoms are going crazy fighting each other, not a whole lot of people are listening.

I think that is all you need to know about “A Game of Thrones” for me to draw some parallels.  During my lunch with my peer I told him that while everyone was SOOOO focused on recapturing the throne the true threat lay beyond the wall.  But since the threat beyond the wall was not seen by many or even really going to be a major issue for two to three years, the kingdoms were not giving it much credence.

So after explaining all this I told him that this could be my vision statement:  Our Company would survive the battle for the Seven Kingdoms while preparing to lead and win the war against the White Walkers.

As funny as that may sound, think about it for a second.  Couldn’t the Seven Kingdoms be that battle for the Datacenter and the White Walkers the Cloud, Big Data, Apps, New Tech?

Then we discussed what it would take to realize this vision:

  1. We need to establish and accept that we live in a violent society.
  2. In order to defend our castles we must make sure each person in them believes in the cause and will fight for the person next to them.
  3. We must make choices around the weapons we use to survive today and develop a weapon to win the war coming from behind the Wall…

I view the violence in business as very real.  New technologies are destroying their predecessors all the time.  That is a well know fact of our industry.  The violence I am referring to here has two aspects.  First, it is an entrepreneurial culture needed in a company.  A need to test, fail, pivot, succeed, move forward, repeat.  For so many, this type of culture is seen to lack stability and threaten the brand by launching new products and initiatives early and often.  And when one or two of the internal startups may struggle, this creates risk which makes so many uncomfortable.  The second aspect is that many of the startups in a company actually succeed and show great value.  At some point those businesses may need to be mainstreamed into the general territories for greater reach or possibly could even cannibalize an existing business.  So to establish and accept that we live in a violent society means you need to accept that this is a culture that embraces the risks of entrepreneurship and will embrace new go to market models as the businesses evolve.

Building on that is the key to the second point about defending the castles.  I view each region of the company as a castle with an army of people defending it.  What I have come to believe is that it is the people inside that castle that will decide as a community whether they will stand or fall and during a war there can be no allowances made for those who are not sure about the cause.   Regions must be strong and be able to count one each other to defend and grow.  Teams built correctly will not only survive, they will thrive as other castles fall.

The last point about preparing for the battle beyond the wall is around the new technology that our clients will need to understand and implement at some point in the future.  For some that time to implement is right now and for others it is just a time for education on the options.  Regardless we need to arm our people with weapons that will allow us to lead and win in the new world.  We cannot let ourselves get so enamored with the warring in the Seven Kingdoms that we completely miss the threat/opportunity beyond the wall.

We will be hold attitude and willingness to learn (fight) on equal footing with skill set.   Skills alone do not win wars.  Attitude, leadership, mentoring, humility, and willingness to learn all matter.  Sometimes they matter a great deal more.

Lastly, if the violence I touch on in this post is too much for you, then I highly suggest you do self introspection about the industry you have chosen.  There are not many industries that have more “violence” then technology and a constant willingness to reinvent, take chances, and evolve are prerequisites.

Those are some of the actions I plan on helping my company take…What are you going to do since as we know…Winter is coming.  (sorry I so could not help myself there.)

Game of Thones


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