3 Business Lessons to Learn from Netflix’s “House of Cards”

3 years ago by in Featured Articles, Leadership

Yes, I am on the “House of Cards” bandwagon.

The Netflix series continues to win praise and awards for writing, acting and it’s unique use of a subscription-based, steaming platform as its home. Like the Sopranos was for HBO, so too is the Kevin Spacey-driven series for Netflix.

While I am not an avid television watcher, “House of Cards” simply had me hooked from episode one of the first season. Not because of its sometimes over-the-top negativity of the politics of Washington, but because of its sheer brilliance in how many of its story lines and outcomes show insight into what it takes to be great and win at business. The series is filled with great business lessons we can all use in our daily lives – believe it or not.

As to not fill the post with spoilers, I won’t give too much away about the plot line or action from either season. Sometimes the events are over dramatized to make a point but they all point to one simple conclusion: it takes dedication, chutzpah and tough choices to make it to the top.

This lesson isn’t just one for aspiring Washington insiders. No, the central themes of the series are also applicable to your career and your business. Try to clear the negativity and see exactly what the characters are doing to get where they want to go, and the business lessons become clearer.

Here are the top three business lessons that I’ve surmised after watching two seasons of the enigmatic series:

  1. You Can’t Worry About Being Liked to Succeed: I once told a colleague that life wasn’t a popularity contest. She disagreed and said to win at politics you have to be liked. As “House of Cards” shows, that simply isn’t true. Respected? Yes. Feared? Yes. Liked? Not necessarily. Like Frank Underwood in the series, you have to get your boss to like and trust you. But, at the end of the day, it’s the folks who know how to use leverage and their influence who win. Is that pessimistic? I don’t think so. It’s just fact: winners don’t care if people like them. They just want to win. You have to be willing to show strength if you’re going to win.
  2. You have to be Brave, Bold and Willing to Take Your Lumps: In the first season when Underwood gets passed over for a key role, he’s angry and disappointed. Yet he knows it’s a long game – not a short one. Although he does get revenge, he instead of wallowing in self-pity, focuses on influencing the outcome despite his setback. Again, the show injects more negativity than in most situations but the lesson remains. The old adage “you’ve lost the battle, but not the war,” is apropos in situations like this. In business, don’t let setbacks or disappointment make you take your eye off the bigger prize.
  3. Make Sure you Have a Partner and Pick Winners: Sure, that person at the office is a nice enough guy but do they help you make it where you want to be? Again, referring to lesson #1: nice guys don’t always finish last but they sure don’t matter when it comes to winning. Winners make things happen and that’s how they generate the power they need to help their vision come to life. Having a partner to help you navigate and sail sometimes-troubled waters is a key. Claire Underwood is that partner for Frank. Sure, their marriage is unconventional but don’t get caught up in the literary license being used for pure entertainment value. She’s the rock and the balance to Frank’s success building. We all need those partners. Find one. Seek them out and lean on them. As business lessons go, I believe we often forget the need for a partner. Don’t be the lone wolf. There is strength in numbers.

No, I am not some Machiavellian master who is laying out a template here for people to back-stab or manipulate their way to the top. But business, like politics, is all about influence and power. You don’t get ahead, drive an innovative vision, or bring to life a great plan without having the fortitude to play the game. We all have to play the game and the better you do it, the more successful you’ll be. Business lessons are everywhere and we have to be ready to understand and decide if we’re willing to make the sacrifices and choices necessary to succeed.

I’ll admit, I’m sometimes more focused on being the nice guy or trying to be more liked. At the end of the day, the times I’ve succeeded the most and brought to life my vision to do my job the best way possible, I’ve followed the lessons we can learn if we look through the Hollywood candy into the real lessons of a great show like “House of Cards.”



Scott Gulbransen

Scott is Global Head of Digital Content at Haymon Boxing - the world's premier boxing management firm. He's the former Vice President of Digital Marketing at DSI, and ran social media and PR at brands like Applebee's, and Intuit's TurboTax. He's a regular contributor for Social Media Today, SpinSucks.com, Forbes.com, Technorati.com and in 2011 ranked #21 in the list of “Top 50 Daddy Bloggers” in the USA by Cision. His award-winning social marketing campaigns are known for their engaging content, humor and real results.

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