QSFer Fiona Moore has a new fantasy-inspired non-fiction book out: Management Lessons from Game of Thrones.
This intriguing and absorbing book takes a look at aspects of Westerosi society and politics from an anthropological and organizational studies angle. It shows both how management theory influenced the world-building in the Game of Thrones franchise, and also how students, academics and managers can draw on the series to further enhance their understanding of concepts in human resource management and organization theory.
Based on a detailed knowledge of Game of Thrones but grounded in serious management research, Fiona Moore provides a tour of the organizations, leaders and followers in Westeros, giving insights into the fantasy kingdom as well as important lessons managers can use in their own careers. Providing a brief and enjoyable introduction to management and organization theory, the book then discusses how and why modern management concepts can be seen in Game of Thrones, exploring concepts such as leadership, strategy and human resource management through a unique lens.
Unconventional in its approach, this book will prove a key resource for students and scholars in areas such as business leadership, human resource management and organization studies looking for new and entertaining ways of understanding the theory behind management.
This book has three goals:
1. To teach, in a fun and interesting way, basic concepts of management and HRM, for people who are worried they’ll find the subjects boring or too difficult.
2. To explore how Game of Thrones reflects popular understandings about management, organizations, power and so forth at the time when it was produced.
3. Drawing those two together, to get people to think about management through the Game of Thrones lens and develop their own insights with their own tools.
Why are any of these goals worth pursuing? In the case of the first, it’s because bad management is a problem. It’s been a problem for years. Not long after management studies became recognized as a discipline, in 1968, Laurence J. Peter wrote a book called The Peter Principle, iden- tifying the common management issue that people in organizations tend to be promoted until they fail at their jobs… at which point they can’t be promoted but they can’t be demoted either, leading to a situation in which good managers become bad ones. More recently, writers like David Graeber, Mats Alvesson and Martin Parker have been arguing that bad management, and poor understandings of management, are becoming increasingly common, to the detriment of organizations and the people who work in them.
To challenge and fix bad management, though, you need to understand it—where it’s coming from, what researchers have said about it, and what it looks like when it should be working. For people with no prior business education, therefore, it’s a good idea to have a working knowledge of the principles of management so you can understand why some things operate the way they do, so you can recognize when management isn’t working, and take steps to help yourself. By demystifying management and providing a general understanding of how organizations work that doesn’t require you to study actual real-world business cases, I hope to help more people understand management theory.
If you already have some understanding of management theory, hope- fully this book should also be of some use beyond simply entertainment. People learn through story-telling, and the “cautionary tale” is intended to warn of danger. Sometimes it can be easier to appreciate a concept if we view it through the lens of fiction. If an article describes a particularly fraught takeover as a “Red Wedding” (e.g., Gibb, 2014), for instance, we can take the point that the situation is as brutal in financial terms as, argu- ably, the wedding in Game of Thrones was for the
Starks and their allies. Using fiction, and fictional examples, can help managers work through problems they have encountered, and develop better ways of managing ethically and well.
In terms of the second point, this book might encourage people to think critically about media and the culture that produces it. It can be easy to think that, just because something is “escapist television”, it has no relevance or impact. But looking at the fantasies of earlier generations can show very clearly how connected fantasy is to reality. Echoes of the First and Second World Wars are visible in The Lord of the Rings, with a mostly male cast teaming up to fight a monster in a far-off land. Fantasies from the twentieth century such as Conan the Barbarian, with lone (or, in some cases, like the Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, paired) warriors fighting monsters and magicians on their own, reflect a drive for individualism, a need for solitary, strong heroes, and a sense that the community had let its people down and was no longer reliable, as much as the philosophies of the day. The 1980s saw a rise in feminist fantasy, inverting the tropes of the genre in the way that the feminist movement was challenging gender roles. Therefore, if we can’t see the way in which Game of Thrones reflects similar currents in the twenty-first century, it’s because we’re too close to it.
There’s also a related and more complicated issue here. Peters and Becker (2010) point out that the “ironic” comedy of the 1990s and the early 2000s wound up actually reinforcing a political trend towards racism and nationalism that would later find expression in nationalist politics and anti-immigrant legislation. While comedy characters like Little Britain’s Ting-Tong, a Thai immigrant who abuses and preys on a trusting British boyfriend, seem exaggerated to the point of incredibility, there is an argument to be made that they still normalize the idea that immigrants are treacherous grifters who are here to sponge off mild-mannered and trusting Britons, to the point where a politician asserting this is given the benefit of the doubt rather than shouted down.
I should emphasize that I’m not saying that people absorb wholesale the ideas they see on screen, but I am saying that television is produced in a context. What is considered acceptable viewing, what isn’t, who gets to make it and how it is sold to the viewing public, speaks volumes about the social and political mores of the time. The question can then become what sort of ideas are normalized, or taken for granted, in Game of Thrones, particularly with regard to leadership, ideas about the function of organizations, careers, sexualities, and many other exciting things that are worth exploring in more detail.
Fiona Moore is a two-time BSFA Award finalist, writer and academic whose work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Asimov, Cossmass Infinities, and four consecutive editions of The Best of British SF. Her publications include one novel; numerous articles in journals such as Foundation; guidebooks to Blake’s Seven, The Prisoner, Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who; three stage plays and four audio plays. When not writing, she is a Professor of Business Anthropology at Royal Holloway, University of London. She lives in Southwest England with a tortoiseshell cat which is bent on world domination. More details, and free content, can be found at www.fiona-moore.com.