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Game Of Thrones: Top 10 Lessons For CIOs

Game of Thrones is a violent and bloody affair … just like enterprise IT. Here are some of its (not too violent) lessons you can apply to the job.
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The Game of Thrones season finale airs tonight on HBO, and it seems as good a time as any to review the lessons we've learned from this season. You know, besides, "Don't live in Westeros."

This season has been terrible. I say this with love for the series. Nothing has happened. This is the result when you put every good character in jail so they can't interact. Think about it. This season alone, the following people have been in jail, or at least locked in a room or a box: Tyrion, Jamie, and Cersei Lannister, Sansa Stark, Queen Margaery, Bronn, two of three dragons, every Sand Snake, and Jorah. That doesn't even count Stannis, who's been stuck in the snow for weeks, or Arya, who's been washing dead people the whole season.

Why am I bringing this up? Mostly because it offers our No. 1 lesson about being a CIO: Put your people in the right places to work for you. Martin and the showrunners failed on that front this whole season and made a mess. Let's see if you can take apply these lessons from Game of Thrones to your IT organization, and do better:

The Other 9 Lessons For CIOs From Game of Thrones

2. Winter is always coming. Unless it is already here. This isn't about disaster planning. It should be a philosophy. Plan for the worst, not in a pessimistic, whiny way, but in an honest attempt at anticipating reasonable scenarios that are likely to happen.

3. If you are the Mother of Dragons, be the freakin' Mother of Dragons. The dumbest thing to happen to Game of Thrones is Daenerys's decision to stop rampaging the world and crushing everything in sight. Instead, she opted to hang out in a random town and put her dragons away in a dungeon because she couldn't control them. If you are the Mother of Dragons, learn to own the title. Learn to control your great big dragons. If you are a CIO, own it. Don't apologize for being the Master of the Digital Domain. Rule your kingdom.

4. Listen to the people everyone else ignores. Who are the smartest people in Westeros? Tyrion (the "dwarf"), Varys (a spy no one trusts, partially because he is a eunuch), and Littlefinger (perceived as just a brothel keeper, who moves chess pieces no one knows about). Who on your team are you ignoring because they don't fit the mold of IT pro?

5. Arya has the worst internship ever. Arya has spent weeks bathing dead people in order to become a Master Assassin. If you want better workers, give them better work.

6. Don't arm religious fanatics. What does that have to do with CIOs? I don't know. I can't understand what Cersei thought would happen when she decided to arm a bunch of fanatics and turn them loose on the city. Can we all agree she's the only one who didn't see that coming?

7. Don't send a one-armed knight to do the job of an army. This is figurative, as I don't mean to imply anyone with a disability can't do a great job, especially in IT. But Jamie, once the greatest fighter in the land, is no longer a great fighter. When he goes to Dorne to try to make a rescue, he's a failure. You have to give your team the resources they need to get the job done.

8. Don't be afraid to kill your darlings. Martin sure isn't. The king of killing characters can definitely teach us lessons about knowing when an idea has reached its end. "That’s the way we've always done it" will destroy you. By the way, here's a fun joke going around the Internet: Why isn't George RR Martin on Twitter? Because he killed all 140 characters.

9. The Iron Throne is uncomfortable for a reason. The Iron Throne is made up of the swords of the vanquished in the great battle to unify Westros. The swords were melted by a dragon and shaped into a throne. It has sharp bits and it's hard and cold. You shouldn't do too much "kinging" from the throne. A CIO should get used to spending very little time in the desk chair, the office equivalent of a throne. If you are kinging from your office, you tenure will be a short pain in the butt.

10. The Wall is pointless. This is the great security lesson from Game of Thrones. The only thing less secure than your Firewall is the Wall manned by the Night's Watch. Supposedly 300 miles long, 700 feet tall, and made of solid ice, the Wall is supposed to keep the "Wildlings" out. We've seen Wildlings go over the wall and raid. We've seen that if it wasn't for a last-second save by Stannis Baratheon, the Wall would have been breached. And it sure looks like the White Walkers won't have any problem climbing it. What the heck is it for? Especially with that little door at the bottom they have to defend? Perimeter security never works in books, TV, or IT.

As a bonus, here are our favorite life lessons from Game of Thrones:

  • If a woman asks you whether she is the most beautiful woman in the world, just say yes.
  • Apparently, the Unsullied are a great army and a lousy police force. Maybe there's a reason for that.
  • You know it is going to be especially pleasing to Cersei when she gets to say to her jailor that a Lannister always pays her debts.

Enjoy the season finale. And apply the lessons you've learned to your job. Except, please, don't learn anything from Joffrey.