8 Business Strategy Tips From House of Cards


by Erika Napoletano via American Express OPEN |

From never taking “no” for an answer to empowering your team, Frank Underwood doles out valuable lessons for binge-watching entrepreneurs.

I have a confession to make: I’ve binge-watched both seasons of House of Cards on Netflix. I can’t help myself. I dim the lights, curl up on my couch and anxiously await the next tidbit of intrigue that will surely unfold.

I’m equally excited and disturbed that I have a glimpse of how things work in the machinations of our nation’s government. And I just can’t get enough.

I got to thinking about why I want more and more of the show. It’s more than just smart writing and the talents of Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright that keep me coming back for more—it’s the truth.

There’s way more truth in House of Cards than I’m comfortable with, and that’s what I enjoy the most. The series offers more than just catchy asides and one-liners. It offers some serious business strategy tips we can all take to heart and adopt in our daily business practices. Here are eight that come to mind—and perhaps you’ve found even more.

Relationships are everything. When someone on this show needs to get something done, the first question they ask is, “Who do we know?” And sure, while there are some lone wolves like Remy Danton, the rule of thumb is relationships, relationships, relationships. From Francis Underwood and his growing relationship with his bodyguard Edward Meechum to strained ones like his triad including President Walker and Raymond Tusk (with Doug Stamper, of course, circling with a watchful eye)—relationships get things done, and when relationships break down, bad things happen.

Everyone wants something. Speaking of relationships, the most enduring relationships on House of Cards (between Frank and Claire Underwood, Frank and Stamper) are based on an open understanding of each party’s wants and needs. Frank is exceedingly talented at getting to the heart of the matter in negotiations. No BS (maybe a little politicking, but no BS) and to the point. Have you noticed how short most meetings on this show are? We could all learn a thing or two about getting to the point and becoming more efficient. That comes from asking those you’re in business with what they want and what they need—as they’re often two very separate things.

There is no “no.” When you understand what the party sitting in front of you both wants and needs, then negotiations can begin. The characters in House of Cards demonstrate time and again that there is no such thing as “no.” It’s more of a “not yet,” or, “not quite like that.” The next time someone tells you no, see it as an opportunity to rethink your situation.

How can you address the wants and needs—yours and those of your business associates—in another way? Skip no. Go for, “If not this, then what?”

Not everything is a “now.” If there’s someone who understands how to play the long game, it’s the Underwoods. I’m pretty sure Claire sees Francis’ future even more clearly than he does. We love to loathe them but we keep coming back because they give us tidbits of humanity to latch onto—and much of that comes from their passion for pursuing the long game. In daily business, we often make decisions out of haste, ignoring the long term and only thinking about the now. Not everything is a “now” kind of thing. What could you let rest for now in the interests of a better future for you, your customers and your business?

Don’t underestimate face-to-face meetings. This isn’t a place to get into how much I despise text messaging, but the show backs up how I feel it should be used. Short messages, quick exchanges—digital communications aren’t for balancing the budget. The cast of House of Cards is on planes, taking teleconferences and, when possible, making the walk down the hall in the interests of face-to-face meetings. How much better could your business be if you put the people (and not their digital signatures) back into it? There’s something to be said for being able to feel the presence of another person in the room. There’s also a higher likelihood you’ll get something accomplished with face-to-face because no one’s playing a Flappy Bird clone all through your conference call.

Empower your team. During the first season, we rarely see President Walker. There’s no other show that so clearly demonstrates that no man is an island and it takes teams to get things done. The President empowers Frank, and Frank empowers Doug Stamper. Tusk sets Remy Danton on a task, and all anyone wants to know when someone reports back in is, “Where are we at?” Washington couldn’t be run by a single person. Do you think you’re the only one who can run every aspect of your business? By empowering your team, you’re freeing yourself up to do the most important job: the one you love doing.

Find your release valve. I find it absolutely adorable that Frank digs video games. When he turns his attention to recreating Civil War battle scenes with painted figurines in Season 2, Claire perceives it as a better outlet than video games. While we all can’t have Claire’s thoughts on our respective hobbies (thank all that’s holy), we all need a release valve. When your workday is done and you need to occupy your brain, what’s your go-to? All work and no play would make even Frank a dull boy. You’re no different. We can see more clearly when the fog of whatever’s eating at us is cleared away—and that requires stepping away from the mud and muck.

Cooler heads prevail. When you’ve stepped away. Said your peace. Let off steam in one way or another. When you’ve cooled off, you can have meaningful conversations. Remember the heavy bag that Frank left in President Walker’s office? And the after-the-fact chuckle about being a punching bag. In the moment, it wasn’t funny. After? Definitely funny. Give your business the gift of having important conversations when tempers aren’t in flare mode and everyone involved can approach what needs getting done from a place of purpose. And who knows—you just might find yourself back up top, thinking that relationships are key and embracing the process that will uncover exactly what everyone in the equation wants and needs.