In the 48 Laws of Power Robert Greene distill thousands of years of history into 48 concise laws of power. It’s a book that clearly divides people. Either you find it amoral, evil, and dangerous (it’s actually banned in some prisons). Or, alternatively, it opens your eyes and serves as a valuable source of information on power and human behavior.
In any case, as Greene states in the book, power is neither good nor bad – it can be used for both causes. Plus most of us, knowingly or unknowingly, have probably observed some of the laws in practice, or have been involved in power games (however minor they may be). So even if you find the book amoral you would still do well to read and understand the laws. After all, the game of power is an inevitable part of life – even if we don’t participate.
Personally I would say that the 48 Laws of Power is not a book to base your life on. But even if it’s evil and dangerous, and even if you’re not interested in power, the book still provides insight into human behavior and how to avoid being manipulated by others.
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Book Summary & Notes
All text that is quoted & italicized is taken directly from the book.
Law 1: Never outshine the master
“Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. In your desire to please or impress them, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish the opposite – inspire fear and insecurity. Make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power.”
Two things to keep in mind:
- Masters can be outshined even by being your natural self.
- Never take anything for granted: current favorites can quickly lose that position.
Law 2: Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies
“Be wary of friends – they will betray you more quickly, for they are easily aroused to envy. They also become spoiled and tyrannical. But hire a former enemy and he will be more loyal than a friend, because he has more to prove. In fact, you have more to fear from friends than from enemies. If you have no enemies, find a way to make them.”
- “Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit, because gratitude is a burden and revenge is a pleasure.” – Tacitus
- Honesty rarely strengthens friendships, and so you can never truly know what friends actually think or feel.
- A declared or open opponent is better than having no idea who your opponents are.
Law 3: Conceal your intentions
“Keep people off-balance and in the dark by never revealing the purpose behind your actions. If they have no clue what you are up to, they cannot prepare a defense. Guide them far enough down the wrong path, envelop them in enough smoke, and by the time they realize your intentions, it will be too late.”
I: Use decoys and red herrings
- If people know your intentions they can prepare or counter them – if they don’t, they can’t.
- Honesty does not lead to trust and does not win people’s hearts: “Honesty is actually a blunt instrument, which bloodies more than it cuts. Your honesty is likely to offend people; it is much more prudent to tailor your words, telling people what they want to hear rather than the coarse and ugly truth of what you feel or think.”
- But don’t fully close up either since this makes people suspicious. Talk about your intentions and goals, just make sure they are not your real ones.
II: Disguise your actions
- For deceptions to work best they require a smoke screen, or a poker face, to distract people from your true purpose.
- The best smoke screen is often a bland exterior since it hides your true intentions and actions behind the ordinary.
Law 4: Always say less than necessary
“When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you appear; and the less in control. Even if you are saying something banal, it will seem original if you make it vague, open-ended, and sphinxlike. Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.“
- Once you’ve said something it’s impossible to take it back – and so it’s better to keep your words under control.
- Short answers and silence can also force others to jump in and fill the silence with all sorts of comments. In this way people often reveal valuable information.
Law 5: So much depends on your reputation – guard it with your life
“Reputation is the cornerstone of power. Through reputation alone you can intimidate and win; once it slips, however, you are vulnerable, and will be attacked on all sides. Make your reputation unassailable. Always be alert to potential attacks and thwart them before they happen. Meanwhile, learn to destroy your enemies by opening holes in their own reputations. Then stand aside and let public opinion hang them.”
- Reputation is a fundamental part of power since it has the potential to exaggerate your strengths.
- In the beginning you should aim to establish a reputation for some outstanding quality. Greene lists qualities such as honesty, cunning, or generosity.
- However, reputations are easily damaged and so you should be careful and thwart any potential attacks. And if there is an attack: take the high road and don’t behave desperate to defend yourself.
- In contrast attacking others’ reputations casts doubts on them. Even if it’s untrue some lingering doubts will still exist which presents the other party with a dilemma: either respond and defend yourself (which could amplify the reputational damage – why are you being so defensive?), or don’t respond and let the rumors simmer.
Law 6: Court attention at all cost
“Everything is judged by its appearance; what is unseen counts for nothing. Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion. Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost. Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colorful, more mysterious than the bland and timid masses.”
- Reputation is one thing, but appearance and attention is another important element to consider. This consists of two parts:
I: Surround your name with the sensational and scandalous
- The quantity of attention is important, not the quality. Just as there’s no such thing as bad marketing, there’s no such thing as bad attention.
- Controversy, scandals, bad reviews, slander – it doesn’t matter as long as it lifts you from the general mediocrity.
II: Create an air of mystery
- Most things in life are familiar, and most people are an open book. This is why we revere the mysterious.
- By doing things that are slightly mysterious, or something that cannot be explained easily, you heighten your mysterious aura which makes you stand out.
Law 7: Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit
“Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause. Not only will such assistance save you valuable time and energy, it will give you a godlike aura of efficiency and speed. In the end your helpers will be forgotten and you will be remembered. Never do yourself what others can do for you.”
- Nobody can be the expert on everything, but by making use of the skills and wisdom of others (e.g. delegation) you can be more efficient and effective. Just remember to take the credit.
- Also remember the “standing on the shoulders of giants” line from Isaac Newton: nothing is made in isolation. His inventions were only possible because of what others achieved; Shakespeare borrowed from Plutarch, and people have borrowed from Shakespeare ever since. Greene calls the past “a vast storehouse of knowledge and wisdom.”
Law 8: Make other people come to you – use bait if necessary
“When you force the other person to act, you are the one in control. It is always better to make your opponent come to you, abandoning plans in the process. Lure him with fabulous gains – then attack. You hold the cards.”
- It’s important to keep the initiative and to let others react, responding to your actions.
- In negotiations or meetings the other party can be put on the defensive by luring them into your territory. For you the territory is familiar, for them it’s unfamiliar, giving you an advantage.
Law 9: Win through your actions, never through argument
“Any momentary triumph you think you have gained through argument is really a Pyrrhic victory: the resentment and ill will you stir up is stronger and lasts longer than any momentary change of opinion. It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word. Demonstrate, do not explicate.“
- Most arguments are pointless: both parties are convinced they are right and neither is willing to budge (or even listen and consider the argumentation). It’s must better to win through your actions – “demonstrate, do not explicate.”
- With actions there is also no risk of misinterpretation, heated arguments, or offensive remarks.
- “The truth is generally seen, rarely heard” – Baltasar Gracián
Law 10: Infection: avoid the unhappy and unlucky
“You can die from someone else’s misery – emotional states are as infectious as diseases. You may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster. The unfortunate sometimes draw misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it on you. Associate with the happy and fortunate instead.”
- Ever heard the saying that we’re the average of the five persons we spend most of our time with? That is what this law is all about. If we surround ourselves with dissatisfied, miserable people we will become like them.
Law 11: Learn to keep people dependent on you
“To maintain your independence you must always be needed and wanted. The more you are relied on, the more freedom you have. Make people depend on you for their happiness and prosperity and you have nothing to fear. Never teach them enough so that they can do without you.“
- Complete independence is not power. Power always involves relationships between people.
- The best way to combine staying independent and being powerful? Make yourself wanted and needed (e.g. develop a talent or skillset that cannot be easily replicated).
- This is also why joining forces with the powerful can be the wrong move: they don’t have to depend on you, they’ll have other options. It’s better to find and build relationships of dependency with weaker leaders.
Law 12: Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim
“One sincere and honest move will cover over dozens of dishonest ones. Open-hearted gestures of honesty and generosity bring down the guard of even the most suspicious people. Once your selective honesty opens a hole in their armor, you can deceive and manipulate them at will. A timely gift – a Trojan horse – will serve the same purpose.”
- The best way to apply generosity is when you first meet someone. First impressions last a long time.
- Key point of this law: give before you take.
Law 13: When asking for help, appeal to people’s self-interest, never to their mercy or gratitude
“If you need to turn to an ally for help, do not bother to remind him of your past assistance and good deeds. He will find a way to ignore you. Instead, uncover something in your request, or in your alliance with him, that will benefit him, and emphasize it out of all proportion. He will respond enthusiastically when he sees something to be gained for himself.”
- Generally people are completely focused on their own needs and wants, and most people will not have a innate desire to help you. Instead – and this is key to the art of asking – frame your wants and needs in a way that aligns with people’s self-interest and they will be much more likely to comply.
- Note that some people do have a charitable nature and thus might be more responsive to a cry for help rather than an appeal to their self-interest.
Law 14: Pose as a friend, work as a spy
“Knowing about your rival is critical. Use spies to gather valuable information that will keep you a step ahead. Better still: Play the spy yourself. In polite social encounters, learn to probe. Ask indirect questions to get people to reveal their weaknesses and intentions. There is no occasion that is not an opportunity for artful spying.“
- Asking other people to spy has it’s uses, but it’s risky.
- Sometimes it’s better to spy yourself. Reveal some secrets (false or true) or make a confession and they are more likely to do so as well. But be careful: if you do it too obviously people will suspect you – emphasize the natural conversation.
Law 15: Crush your enemy totally
“All great leaders since Moses have known that a feared enemy must be crushed completely. (Sometimes they have learned this the hard way.) If one ember is left alight, no matter how dimly it smoulders, a fire will eventually break out. More is lost through stopping halfway than through total annihilation: The enemy will recover, and will seek revenge. Crush him, not only in body but in spirit.”
- Stopping halfway in your struggle, due to feelings of mercy or hope for a friendly conclusion, is a mistake. Your enemies are very likely to become embittered and bound on revenge in the future. Better to crush them totally.
Law 16: Use absence to increase respect and honour
“Too much circulation makes the price go down: The more you are seen and heard from, the more common you appear. If you are already established in a group, temporary withdrawal from it will make you more talked about, even more admired. You must learn when to leave. Create value through scarcity.”
- This law only works if you’ve achieved a certain level of respect or power (people cannot miss what they don’t like or appreciate). If you leave in the beginning of a relationship you are simply forgotten.
Law 17: Keep others in suspended terror: cultivate an air of unpredictability
“Humans are creatures of habit with an insatiable need to see familiarity in other people’s actions. Your predictability gives them a sense of control. Turn the tables: Be deliberately unpredictable. Behavior that seems to have no consistency or purpose will keep them off-balance, and they will wear themselves out trying to explain your moves. Taken to an extreme, this strategy can intimidate and terrorize.”
- People expect the expected and generally stick to their routines and schedules. Suddenly changing this throws people off guard.
- The flipside is that routine works as a sort of smoke screen (Law 3) so it can also work in your favor.
Law 18: Do not build fortresses to protect yourself – isolation is dangerous
“The world is dangerous and enemies are everywhere – everyone has to protect themselves. A fortress seems the safest. But isolation exposes you to more dangers than it protects your from – it cuts you off from valuable information, it makes you conspicuous and an easy target. Better to circulate among people, find allies, mingle. You are shielded from your enemies by the crowd.”
- Isolation and being fortified does not protect you from danger, but it does make you less flexible. Remember that power only exists in relationships with others.
Law 19: Know who you’re dealing with – do not offend the wrong person
“There are many different kinds of people in the world, and you can never assume that everyone will react to your strategies in the same way. Deceive or outmanoeuvre some people and the y will spend the rest of their lives seeking revenge. They are wolves in lambs’ clothing. Choose your victims and opponents carefully, then – never offend or deceive the wrong person.”
- Greene lists several different types of persons and how they might react to your strategies. They are simple archetypes but the key lessons is that you need to know who you’re dealing with and what sort of character that person has.
- Don’t trust your instincts for this for appearances can be deceiving – use concrete study and knowledge.
Law 20: Do not commit to anyone
“It is the fool who always rushes to take sides. Do not commit to any side or cause but yourself. By maintaining your independence, you become the master of others – playing people against one another, making them pursue you.”
“Part I: Do not commit to anyone, but be courted by all”
- If you don’t take sides you will not be seen as weak, but independent – you focus on your own goals. And the more independent you are, the more people will want you to join their cause. (I.e. this means that they see you as powerful.)
“Part II: Do not commit to anyone – stay above the fray”
- People generally rush to take sides in a conflict. It might be tempting to do this as well but you cannot predict the future, and you cannot know which sides will win a conflict. Keep your emotions in check.
- It’s better to keep your autonomy and act as the neutral party (maybe even as a mediator?).
- Greene highlights the point that every bit of energy we expend on others is subtracted from our own strength.
Law 21: Play a sucker to catch a sucker – seem dumber than you mark
“No one likes feeling stupider than the next person. The trick, then, is to make your victims feel smart – and not just smart, but smarter than you are. Once convinced of this, they will never suspect that you may have ulterior motives.”
- A feeling of intelligence and sophistication is a critical part of people’s self-worth self-confidence. Never insult them or make them question this. At the same time, make sure you downplay your own level of intelligence and sophistication to appear unsuspicious.
Law 22: Use the surrender tactic: transform weakness into power
“When you are weaker, never fight for honor’s sake; choose surrender instead. Surrender gives you time to recover, time to torment and irritate your conqueror; time to wait for his power to wane. Do not give him the satisfaction of fighting and defeating you – surrender first. By turning the other cheek you infuriate and unsettle him. Make surrender a tool of power.”
- People tend to overreact – acting aggressively begets more aggression. Instead of fighting back it can be worthwhile to yield. This lessens their aggression and stops their behavior. It also gives you control of the situation because surrender is part of a grander plan – it gives you time to plan for retaliation.
Law 23: Concentrate your forces
“Conserve your forces and energies by keeping them concentrated at their strongest point. You gain more by finding a rich mine and mining it deeper, than by flitting from one shallow mine to another – intensity defeats extensity every time. When looking for sources of power to elevate you, find the one key patron, the fat cow who will give you milk for a long time to come.”
- Focus on a single goal and task at a time – intensity beats extensity.
- For most people this will be difficult: we are spread all over the place; distracted and unfocused. Concentration is the way forward.
Law 24: Play the perfect courtier
“The perfect courtier thrives in a world where everything revolves around power and political dexterity. He has mastered the art of indirection; he flatters, yields to superiors, and asserts power over others in the most oblique and graceful manner. Learn to apply the laws of courtiership and there will be no limit to how far you can rise in the court.”
- Where power exists, courtiers will exist. Their role is not an easy one to master: it’s walking on a tightrope between doing too little and too much.
- The laws of court politics:
- Avoid ostentation: be modest, not pretentious.
- Practice nonchalance: everything must appear as if it were easy and effortless (especially when it’s not).
- Be frugal with flattery: if you use it too much or do it to obvious it loses its value.
- Arrange to be noticed: be careful with your appearance and develop your own (subtle) style.
- Alter your style and language according to the person you are dealing with
- Never be the bearer of the news
- Never affect friendliness and intimacy with your master: a friend and a subordinate are two different things.
- Never criticize those above you directly
- Be frugal in asking those above you for favours: earn favours instead, and don’t ask favours for someone else.
- Never joke about appearances or taste
- Do not be the court cynic: if you constantly criticize others, some of it will rub off on you – so express admiration and wonderment.
- Be self-observant
- Master you emotions: become an actor – laugh and cry when appropriate, hide your anger and frustration.
- Fit the spirit of the times: even if you don’t agree with the Zeitgeist, make sure you keep up with it.
- Be a source of pleasure: obscure your unpleasant qualities and try to project pleasant ones. People avoid the former but are attracted to the latter.
Law 25: Re-create yourself
“Do not accept the roles that society foists on you. Re-create yourself by forging a new identity, one that commands attentions and never bores the audience. Be the master of you own image rather than letting others define it for you. Incorporate dramatic devices into your public gestures and actions – your power will be enhanced and your character will seem larger than life.”
- Most people are formed by a) what they are born with, b) the environment they grew up in, c) what role society puts them in. But this does not have to limit you: you can create your own identity and character.
- “Working on yourself like clay should be one of your greatest and most pleasurable life tasks. It makes you in essence an artist – an artist creating yourself.”
- Greene encourages everyone to create your own image and don’t let anyone limit what you want to be.
- There’s two steps in this process: 1) become an actor in control of your emotions and appearance, and 2) create a “memorable” character that people will remember.
Law 26: Keep your hands clean
“You must seem a paragon of civility and efficiency: Your hands are never soiled by mistakes and nasty deeds. Maintain such a spotless appearance by using others as scapegoats and cat’s-paws to disguise your involvement.”
- Everyone makes mistakes, but the powerful have scapegoats that can take the fall.
- If something unpleasant or dirty needs to be done make use of a cat’s paw: the executioner, the bearer of bad news, the person who does the dirty deed and keeps your hands clean.
Law 27: Play on people’s need to believe to create a cult-like following
“People have an overwhelming desire to believe in something. Become the focal point of such desire by offering them a cause, a new faith to follow. Keep your words vague but full of promise; emphasize enthusiasm over rationality and clear thinking. Give your new disciples rituals to perform, ask them to make sacrifices on your behalf. In the absence of organized religion and grand causes, your new belief system will bring you untold power.”
- Most people want to believe in something greater than themselves, or want to follow someone who will show them the way. This explains cults, but also gurus and the promise of easy change (rather than the truth, which is hard work).
- Greene’s steps to create a cult:
- Keep It Vague, Keep it Simple
- Emphasize the Visual and the Sensual over the Intellectual
- Borrow the Forms of Organized Religion to Structure the Group
- Disguise Your Source of Income
- Set Up an Us-Versus-Them Dynamic
Law 28: Enter action with boldness
“If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid.”
- Most people are afraid of conflict and would prefer to be liked by all. If we act boldly, we are afraid of the consequences – what will others think of us?
- But it’s infinitely better to act bold when appropriate (it’s a tactic after all, not a strategy). It makes people look audacious, brave, and courageous, which in turn makes them look powerful.
- Boldness might not be a natural trait for people, but neither is timidity. Both are traits that we acquire and adopt. Greene states that our fears of bold action, and its consequences, are often overstated and the consequences of being timid are even worse.
Law 29: Plan all the way to the end
“The ending is everything. Plan all the way to it, taking into account all the possible consequences, obstacles, and twists of fortune that might reverse your hard work and give the glory to others. By planning to the end you will not be overwhelmed by circumstances and you will know when to stop. Gently guide fortune and help determine the future by thinking far ahead.”
- We all live in the moment, but we should have the foresight to plan ahead. This means you will not be surprised and better prepared for things you have to do.
- Of course this is difficult: people usually react emotionally and immediately to the things that happen to them. But it would be much better to take a step back, and to look at and prepare for the ending. Take the longer view – the ending is everything.
Law 30: Make your accomplishments seem effortless
“Your actions must seem natural and executed with ease. All the toil and practice that go into them, and also all the clever tricks, must be concealed. When you act, act effortlessly, as if you could do much more. Avoid the temptation of revealing how hard you work – it only raises questions. Teach no one your tricks or they will be used against you.”
- When we spend a lot of time and energy on something we would love the tell the world exactly how much effort it took. But this is the wrong approach: we should want things to look easy and effortless. Be vague about how much work it took and how you did it.
Law 31: Control the options: get others to play with the cards you deal
“The best deceptions are the ones that seem to give the other person a choice: Your victims feel they are in control but are actually your puppets. Give people options that come out in your favor whichever one they choose, Force them to make choices between the lesser of two evils, both of which serve your purpose. Put them on the horns of a dilemma: They are gored wherever they turn.”
- You always want to give people options when presenting something. Even if intellectually we know that choosing between two evils is wrong and manipulative, we still feel a sense of freedom and free will. It’s better to give people a few choices (all of which should benefit you, of course) rather than forcing their hand.
- How do you control the options?
- Color the choice: give multiple options, but make sure that one is seen as obviously the correct one.
- Force the resistor: if people are willful and would choose the opposite of what you would do (e.g. children), advocate the opposite option.
- Alter the playing field: a complex way to control options is to change the playing field, so that the only options possible are the ones you give them.
- The shrinking options: if people are indecisive reduce their options gradually, or increase the price gradually. If they think their options are better today than they are tomorrow, they will take the bait.
- The weak man on the precipice: a variation of the first tactic for weak decision makers, here the goal is to play aggressive. Play on their emotions, eliminate options by describing the dangers and the risk, until only one preferable choice is left.
- Brothers in crime: if you involve people in in a crime, even if it is very minor or very subtle, a bond will be created between you, one of guilt and shame. This will limit their options.
- The horns of a dilemma: two choices, neither are good – those are the horns of a dilemma. Deny all options to escape and force them to choose one of two evils.
Law 32: Play to people’s fantasies
“The truth is often avoided because it is ugly and unpleasant. Never appeal to truth and reality unless you are prepared for the anger that comes from disenchantment. Life is so harsh and distressing that people who can manufacture romance or conjure up fantasies are like oases in the desert: Everyone flocks to them. There is great power in tapping into the fantasies of the masses.”
- It’s much better to appeal to people’s fantasies or the things they really want to hear – the truth is often cold-hearted and ugly.
- “People rarely believe that their problems arise from their own misdeeds and stupidity. Someone or something out there is to blame – the other, the world, the gods – and so salvation comes from the outside as well”
Law 33: Discover each man’s thumbscrew
“Everyone has a weakness, a gap in the castle wall. That weakness is usually an insecurity, an uncontrollable emotion or need; it can also be a small secret pleasure. Either way, once found, it is a thumbscrew you can turn to your advantage.”
- Nobody is flawless and everyone has a thumbscrew that can be discovered. Greene offers the following tactics:
- Pay attention to gestures and unconscious signals: this is often how weakness is discovered – through indirect and unimportant signals. As Freud put it: “No mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore.”
- Find the helpless child: Most weaknesses have a direct link to their childhood experiences. Knowing more about how a person was raised can reveal great insights.
- Look for contrasts: maybe a bit cliche (although often true), but people with an obvious behavioral trait often conceal the opposite. The shy want attention, the aggressive can be big cowards, et cetera.
- Find the weak link: a weakness can also be a who, a person behind the scenes who has great influence who can prove to be the weak link.
- Fill the void: people who are unhappy or insecure seek validation and something to fill their emotional void.
- Feed on uncontrollable emotions: some people are overwhelmed and ruled by emotions to the extent that they cannot steer or control themselves. This weakness allows you to do the controlling.
Law 34: Be royal in your own fashion: act like a king to be treated like one
“The way you carry yourself will often determine how you are treated: In the long run, appearing vulgar or common will make people disrespect you. For a king respect himself and inspires the same sentiment in others. By acting regally and confident of your powers, you make yourself seem destined to wear a crown.”
- We should not just treat others as we would like to be treated, rather we should act the way we want to be treated. If you act like a king, you will treated like one. But likewise, if you act nervously or unconfidently, people will treat you with little respect.
- Greene calls this the “Strategy of the Crown”: if we ourselves believe we are destined to do great things we will radiate this outwards. Other people will be infected and assume we have reasons to be so confident and determined.
- Of course there’s a difference between acting regally and arrogantly, which is the very opposite of acting like a king.
Law 35: Master the art of timing
“Never seem to be in a hurry – hurrying betrays a lack of control over yourself, and over time. Always seem patient, as if you know that everything will come to you eventually. Become a detective of the right moment; sniff out the spirit of the times, the trends that will carry you to power. Learn to stand back when the time is not yet ripe, and to strike fiercely when it has reached fruition.”
- Timing is everything, but since time is a human concept, we can alter it. Green identifies three different ‘times’:
- Long time: the time to be patient – to wait for an opportunity and take a long-term perspective. Rushing quickly into something can prove disastrous and sometimes the best thing is to wait.
- Forced time: in contrast to long time, where we take things slowly and deliberately while we wait for the perfect moment, we can use forced time on others to hurry them along. It’s an offensive weapon where we can set deadlines, force people to follow a certain speed, and abandon their natural pace.
- End time: the time in which patient comes to an end, when an opportunity presents itself, this is the moment to act aggressively and decisively.
Law 36: Disdain things you cannot have: ignoring them is the best revenge
“By acknowledging a petty problem you give it existence and credibility. The more attention you pay an enemy, the stronger you make him; and a small mistake is often made worse and more visible when you try to fix it. It is sometimes best to leave things alone. If there is something you want but cannot have, show contempt for it. The less interest you reveal, the more superior you seem.”
- A stoic response to the things you want, or the things that irritate you, is to remember that you personally pick the things that bother you. You can also choose to ignore them or considered them too trivial to warrant a response.
- With problems that arise: ignore them, starve them of attention, and eventually they will disappear. If you acknowledge something, you validate it and give it more credibility.
- The same is true for the things you want and desire, but cannot have. Uncontrollable desire shows a certain weakness that is not at all attractive nor powerful. Showing a certain amount of disdain or contempt makes someone seen like a bigger person.
Law 37: Create compelling spectacles
“Striking imagery and grand symbolic gestures create the aura of power – everyone responds to them. Stage spectacles for those around you, then, full of arresting visuals and radiant symbols that heighten your presence. Dazzled by appearances, no one will notice what you are really doing.”
- A picture says more than a thousand words, and visual things and symbols tend to have emotional power. As Greene puts it: “Words stir up arguments and division; images bring people together.They are the quintessential instruments of power “
Law 38: Think as you like but behave like others
“If you make a show of going against the times, flaunting your unconventional ideas and unorthodox ways, people will think that you only want attention and that you look down upon them. They will find a way to punish you for making them feel inferior. It is far safer to blend in and nurture the common touch. Share your originality only with tolerant friends and those who are sure to appreciate you uniqueness.”
- Unless you are in a position of power it’s better to blend into the crowd and share conventional ideas. Follow the spirit of the times. Of course while doing this you are free to think about the unconventional, just make sure you only share this with people of similar convictions.
Law 39: Stir up waters to catch fish
“Anger and emotion are strategically counterproductive. You must always stay calm and objective. But if you can make your enemies angry while staying calm yourself, you gain a decided advantage. Put your enemies off-balance: Find the chink in their vanity through which you can rattle them and hold the strings.”
- Acting emotionally almost always works counterproductively – it’s much better to stay calm and level-headed.
- Anger is not a sign of power, but a lack of self-control. If someone acts angrily to you the best response is to stay cool and offer no response. This will infuriate them even more.
Law 40: Despise the free lunch
“What is offered for free is dangerous – it usually involves either a trick or a hidden obligation. What has worth is worth paying for. By paying your own way you stay clear of gratitude, guild, and deceit. It is also often wise to play the full price – there is no cutting corners with excellence. Be lavish with your money and keep it circulating, for generosity is a sign and a magnet for power.”
- Gifts are never free – they always come with a sense obligation or indebtedness. The giver might not do this consciously, but remember that nothing is ever free.
- Gifts are also a power play by themselves since they define the relationship between the receiver and the giver. If you give someone a gift then it implies that you are both at least equals, or that you are the superior to the receiver.
- Remember that everything has a cost and so every gift or offer must be judged by the price you have to pay.
Law 41: Avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes
“What happens first always appears better and more original than what comes after. If you succeed a great man or have a famous parent, you will have to accomplish double their achievements to outshine them. Do not get lost in their shadows, or stuck in a past not of you making: Establish your own name and identity by changing course. Slay the overbearing father, disparage his legacy, and gain power by shining in your own way.”
- If you succeed someone who is very successful, never try to follow in their footsteps. Instead, choose a different path than your predecessor. Develop your own style and go your own way – you will never be able to surpass your predecessor in the area in which they were great.
- Also remember that circumstances never repeat. If someone succeeded by doing X and Y it doesn’t mean that you can recreate this success by repeating the same steps.
Law 42: Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter
“Trouble can often be traced to a single strong individual – the stirrer, the arrogant underling, the poisoner of goodwill. If you allow such people room to operate, others will succumb to their influence. Do not wait for the troubles they cause to multiply, do not try to negotiate with them – they are irredeemable. Neutralize their influence by isolating or banishing them. Strike at the source of the trouble and the sheep will scatter.”
- Power is always concentrated and so in every group there are one or two people who rule (or who are able to stir up trouble). Finding them, and isolating them (whether physically, politically, or psychologically), is key to conquering group dynamics.
Law 43: Work on the hearts and minds of others
“Coercion creates a reaction that will eventually work against you. You must seduce others into wanting to move in your direction. A person you have seduced becomes your loyal pawn. And the way to seduce others is to operate on their individual psychologies and weaknesses. Soften up the resistant by working on their emotions, playing on what they hold dear and what they fear. Ignore the hearts and minds of others and they will grow to hate you.”
- There is a big difference between coercion and seduction. The former will eventually work against you (force only builds resistance), while the latter encourages people without misleading them (the heart is the key).
- Remember Law 13: most people have no reason to help you, unless it appeals to their self-interest. So show them how an action will help them – this is the quickest way to seduction.
- Every person is different and so seduction cannot work in the same way twice. Look for the things that make a person unique (their character and psychology) and for the things they share with others (emotions).
Law 44: Disarm and infuriate with the mirror effect
“The mirror reflects reality, but it is also the perfect tool for deception: When you mirror your enemies, doing exactly as they do, they cannot figure out your strategy. The Mirror Effect mocks and humiliates them, making them overreact. By holding up a mirror to their psyches, you seduce them with the illusion that you share their values; by holding up a mirror to their actions, you teach them a lesson. Few can resist the power of the Mirror Effect.”
- Everyone is narcissistic to a certain extent. If you impose your own ways on them you will only find resistance. Instead, mirror them, and make it look like you are both one of the same.
- The mirror effect can be broken down into four different versions:
- Neutralizing effect: if you do what your target does, they cannot be sure of what your intentions are and they will become confused and blinded.
- Narcissus effect: look for the values and desires of others and reflect this back unto them.
- Moral effect: give them a taste of their own medicine. I.e. reflect what they did to you, back unto them.
- Hallucinatory effect: a dummy, a fata morgana, a creation of an object that people mistake for the real thing.
Law 45: Preach the need for change, but never reform too much at once
“Everyone understands the need for change in the abstract, but on the day-to-day level people are creatures of habit. Too much innovation is traumatic, and will lead to revolt. If you are new to a position of power, or an outsider trying to build a power base, make a show of respecting the old way of doing things. If change is necessary, make it feel like a gentle improvement of the past.”
- If you need to change something, keep it grounded in the past – make it seem like a small improvement. By paying lip service to tradition or history you will ground the change to the past which makes it seem familiar, lowering resistance.
Law 46: Never appear too perfect
“Appearing better than others is always dangerous, but most dangerous of all is to appear to have no faults or weaknesses. Envy creates silent enemies. It is smart to occasionally display defects, and admit to harmless vices, in order to deflect envy and appear more human and approachable. Only gods and the dead can seem perfect with impunity.”
- Everyone wants to rule the world, to be the number one; few ever reach this. If you appear too perfect you are putting yourself in danger. Others will become envious and will start to work against you.
- The core of this law deals with inferiority: there will always be people smarter and better than us, but if they appear too perfect we are left with a feeling of mediocrity of ourselves.
- Both points are dangerous. This is why it’s key to always attribute your success to luck, or to be humble, and never to flaunt your wealth and power. Alternatively show a weakness or defect that ‘humanizes’ you.
Law 47: Do not go past the mark you aimed for: in victory, learn when to stop
“The moment of victory is often the moment of greatest peril. In the heat of victory, arrogance and overconfidence can push you past the goal you had aimed for, and by going too far, you make more enemies than you defeat. Do now allow success to go to your head. There is no substitute for strategy and careful planning. Set a goal, and when you reach it, stop.”
- If you ever reach any kind of success or accomplishment it will be tempting to strive past your mark, to continue after you’ve reached victory. But this is dangerous. Once you’ve reached your goal know when to stop – by continuing you will only create more enemies and problems.
- “History is littered with the ruins of victorious empires and the corpses of leaders who could not learn to stop and consolidate their gains.”
Law 48: Assume formlessness
“By taking a shape, by having a visible plan, you open yourself to attack. Instead of taking a form for your enemy to grasp, keep yourself adaptable and on the move. Accept the fact that nothing is certain and no law is fixed. The best way to protect yourself is to be as fluid and formless as water; never bet on stability or lasting order. Everything changes.”
- Nothing last forever and change is the one constant in life. So you need to remain fluid, adaptable, able to change your plans with changing circumstances.
- In fact, power will often concentrate to those who are able to change the quickest to the changing winds.
- As you get older the need for formlessness becomes greater since we often stick to our habits and remain rigid.
- Finally, never rely too much on advice from other people. The only way to create your own ‘form’ is through your own insights and ideas.
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