Spoiler alert: This post contains some discussion about the Season 7 Finale of Game of Thrones. If you haven’t seen it yet, please come back after you do.
This season finale of Game of Thrones was impressive, and included a lesson about how to perform the perfect entrance for negotiations – on the back of a dragon. But the season’s most enjoyable moment was the showdown between Brienne of Tarth and Arya Stark. On one hand you have the knight who bested the Hound and fought off a bear, and on the other, you have the most bad ass 'lil assassin in all of the seven kingdoms.
Arya Stark is a very compelling character. Having lost her father in Season 1, she has bounced from one dark father to the next, using a carefully curated list of enemies to guide her growth. Finally home after her heroine’s journey of growth, Arya enters the Winterfell courtyard and sees Pod and Brienne sparring, and she just can’t help showing off a little of the training she received. When she engages with Brienne directly, Arya uses a combination of fighting tactics she has absorbed over the years, besting the best of the best.
When Brienne and Arya end their little duel, Brienne asks, in astonishment, “Who taught you to do that?” “No one,” Arya responds, a wry pun on the training she received from the guild of the Faceless Men in Braavos. It was possibly the most delightful moment of the entire series, to see the first glimpse of how the Stark children have transformed through their journeys.
However, for me, this sparring match was all about innovation and Arya's matching and defeating Brienne symbolizes the power of the nimble and agile startup against a much bigger opponent... like an entrenched global multi-national corporation with a billion dollar brand and advertising budget. It's also a lesson about the power of resilience, to fight indefatigably against impossible odds to achieve your goals. Also, never go for the breast plate... aim for the neck.
Anyway, the "spine" of this television series can be found in the heroic journeys of the orphaned Stark children, their travails and lessons, and their coming of age in a time of war. Arya has become the perfect assassin and master of the art of war, Sansa learned hard lessons from Littlefinger and Cersei, Bran has transformed completely into his mentor, the Three-Eyed Raven. And Jon Stark – who it turns out isn’t a Stark at all, but a Targaryen with a claim on the Iron Throne – has literally resurrected to ascend from the Bastard of Winterfell to his position as the King of the North.
These four characters represent the four paths to entrepreneurial success. Arya is skills based, and knows how to implement the vision. Bran is vision based, and sees the farthest but is unable to implement, trapped in a wheelchair. Sansa is politically based, and is now able to best Littlefinger, who was the master of political machinations. And Jon Snow is a bit like Steve Jobs, who resurrected after John Sculley stabbed him in the back.
Similarly, there are four yogas – karma yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga and raja yoga – that represent action, emotion, wisdom and the integrative approach. Karma yoga is is the path of action, which Arya pursued, to become the perfect instrument of revenge. Bhakti yoga is the path of the heart and connection, which Sansa has followed. Jnana yoga, which focuses on the third eye, is the path that Bran has taken. And Raja yoga, the “Royal Path of Yoga,” which brings them all together into a balance of vision and implementation, to produce a deeper form of leadership. This is what Jon Stark has achieved. Well, except for the political machination part… he nearly tanked the final negotiations by being too blunt. Or as Tyrion Lannister put it, “Have you ever considered learning how to lie every now and then? Just a bit?”
So as we pursue our own hero’s journeys, we should remember the lessons that this TV show offers: Be like Bran Stark, and strive to see farther, both into the future and into the past; be like Sansa Stark, and master the art of politics and persuasion; be like Arya Stark, and remember that success is the best revenge; and learn from Jon Snow's resurrection by remembering that even if your last startup didn’t work out like you planned... everybody loves a comeback story. Either that or go look for a few dragons to command!
But the deepest lesson this TV show can teach us is that character isn't developed in the absence of adversity, but because of it. There's saying in the venture capital business that entrepreneurs are like tea bags, you don't know how strong they are until they're in hot water. But that's not the right analogy... entrepreneurs are more like swords, that are tempered in the fires that could destroy them. It is only through adversity that we can become who we are meant to be. Every fire you put out, every hardship you endure, every competitor you overcome... thank them because that is what brings you to success. Like Larry Ellison said, “I have had all of the disadvantages required for success.”
Or consider Thomas Edison, who tested no fewer than 6,000 vegetable growths, and ransacked the world for the most suitable filament material. Of this effort, he said, "The electric light has caused me the greatest amount of study and has required the most elaborate experiments. I was never myself discouraged, or inclined to be hopeless of success. But I cannot say the same for my associates." So the light bulb wasn't Edison's test... it was the fire that made him who was meant to be.
Edison added, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. Many of life's failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. The most certain way to succeed is to try just one more time.” So put some steel in it and power through. Never give up. Yeah, you can pivot... but never give up. '
That's how you forge an inner Iron Throne.