What is it all about

Game of Thrones is an enjoyable show with some quirky scenes. While waiting for the next season, here is a short video with a message that should be remembered.

During the fifth season, in order to quell the thirst for blood of her citizens, queen Daenerys decides to reinstate pit fights as per request of her new husband.

The opening duel features two fighters: one large man versus one smaller man. This leads to a lively discussion between Daario, the charming mercenary and the new and stoïc King Hizdahr zo Loraq.

What do we see in this scene?

There it is, laid in front of us… An arena with a pit fight between two different classes of fighters: one agile and the other powerful. The fight seems to start well for the smaller one, enthusing Daario who’s the same type of fighter. Daario then starts explaining why the queen should bet on him. The king on the other hand expresses his disagreement both in regard to what Daario says as in the way he puts it.

At the end of the fight, “against all odds”, it is the larger fighter who wins.

What do we learn from this scene?

There are two interesting parts to this scene.

First of all, the background of both people participating in the discussion.
Daario is an acknowledged veteran fighter who killed and murdered his share of people. Not only is he skilled and cunning, but he’s also very experienced. The king on the other hand has no figthing experience at all and probably doesn’t know how to properly wield any type of weapon. Instead, he experienced a lot of fights as a spectator and his analytical abilities provide him with a different type of insight.

The second interesting aspect is that both use a concept to explain their reasoning; Daario with the rule of thumb and the king with Occam’s razor.

Leadership and concepts

Daario

A rule of thumb can be defined as a principle with broad application that is not intended to be strictly accurate or reliable for every situation. While the The term is thought to originate with carpenters who used the length of the tip of their thumbs rather than rulers for measuring things. This has led to both modern uses as a unit of measure (inch) and an imprecise yet reliable and convenient standard

Daario started at age 16 as a very successful pit fighter who was later rewarded with freedom. He then chose to join the Second Sons as a sellsword, gradually climbed the ladder and became the leader of the mercenaries. All his knowledge, he acquired through hardship, lots of training, fighting and first had experience. During this fight, Daario confides about his rule of thumb: that in combat, speed and agility defeats size and strength, and he’s referring to himself as example.

Daario’s mistake is to use himself as benchmark. While he may be of average built, his fit body, strong reflexes, agility and natural talent make him an outstanding warrior; one that could easily beat the larger fighter. This however cannot be transposed to other situations. Daario, didn’t take the time to assess both fighters and just believes the smaller will win because he would. Daario mentally bestowed the smaller fighter with his personal capabilities, thus creating an image of himself in the pit. Of course he can’t lose!

This teaches us that leaders should:
1. Be able to distinguish their capabilities from others and not transpose them
2. Be able to identify strength and weaknesses of the people they’re working with
3. Take the time to assess the full scope of the context
4. Consider very carefully any form of simple profiling or decision-making

As Andy Bounds would say when asked for a rule of thumb: It depends!
It depends of the context, of what people want, of what they need.
And the only rule of thumb that can be effectively used is get informed!

King Hizdahr

Occam’s razor is a problem-solving principle stating that when several explanations arise for a specific occurrence, then the simpler solution is usually the better one.

Hizdahr belongs to the ancient aristocratic House of Loraq, one of the ruling families of slavemasters in Meereen.

Hizdahr is the opposite of Daario. Where the second was a pit fighter, the first lived the life of a slavemaster. Where one had to fight, the other was betting on the fighters. Where one lived a life of hardships, the other enjoyed luxury.

Hizdahr is first of all a businessman and his trade is slavery and pit fighters. In order to make money, he has to assess people’s worth. Slaves are his assets. He has watched many fights and use them to optimize his purchases and price assessments for individual slaves. His ego has no place during these processes.

In this scene, Hizdahr disagree with Daario with a very simple statement: “Larger man do triumph over smaller man far more often than not.”
Hizdahr is using statistics to corroborate his statement, implying that his vast expertise comes from watching pit fights all his life. His assertion is quite simple in fact: big is better than small in a fight. Unlike Daario, he doesn’t use additional artifices to try and persuade the others.

Following Occam’s razor principles, among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Larger fighters are more resilient, have more strength and longer reach. Therefore, for a smaller fighter to win we’ll need to assume he’s fast, nimble, talented, stronger than expected, etc.
This means that the simpler answer (and statistically most proved) is that the larger fighter will win.

While Hizdahr won this bet, there is no guarantee that the larger fighter will win the next fight.

Hizdahr is an “intellectual” who do not trust the opinion of people with ground experience. Pit fights are his trade and what define him as a person. Without it, he’s nothing.

This teaches the following:
1. Listen to people who have a different background, they complement your weaknesses
2. Your actions define you, not your title

Conclusion

Both the rule of thumb and Occam’s razor are heuristic techniques. They can ease the cognitive load of making a decision, but are fundamentally flawed.

We all tend to use our own experience as a filter and based on our profile we prefer using field experience or a theoretical approach. Both have their advantages, and in most cases they complement each other.

Leaders are often experienced people, who stand above others. When making decisions, they have to take into consideration that other people working with/for them do not have the same aptitudes and capabilities. As such, leaders should temper their expectations.

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