The 48 Laws of Power
I have a mean streak of perfectionism running through me – I feel the need to work harder at things others recognize as my genius.
Does this sound familiar? Do people tell you “Hey, you’re brilliant at _____” but you feel compelled to study harder, and deeper?
In other words I study a lot of strategy type books because I want to be better – just as Michael Jordan kept practicing harder and harder even after he’d already established himself as the greatest of all-time in our view.
As great as he was, I doubt Jordan ever felt he reached full potential.
On the subject of strategy my favorite book is The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. I own the full edition and the concise edition both. I often refer to the concise edition, especially when writing copy.
- Enter action with boldness (check)
- Re-create yourself (check)
- Create compelling spectacles (check)
- Do not appear too perfect (check)
- Despise the free lunch (check)
I don’t agree with everything in the book. It advocates a ruthless approach to life and business that doesn’t fully jive with my way.
For example . . .
Law 27 :: Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cult-like Following
People have an overwhelming need 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.
“Men are so simple of mind, and so much dominated by their immediate needs, that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived.” – Machiavelli, The 48 Laws of Power
That quote pretty much sums up how 90% of the “gurus” I’ve met think. It may profit them greatly but it disgusts me and it’s something I want no part of. I’ve met some otherwise good people who go to great ends to achieve this objective. No thanks. It’s true, but that’s not how I’m going to achieve my objectives.
I recently had a good friend offer to write some copy for me – I gladly accepted, and then immediately regretted it. His entire pitch was based on lies. My view of him, diminished. I will not compromise my integrity, an uncommon asset, for money – a common one.
That said . . .
A selection of passages I do use, with some examples of how I’ve used them in my life.
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, guilt and deceit.
Recently I read a truth about marketing – if you’re getting something for free, or very cheap and you’re wondering how they could be making money it probably means YOU are the product. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
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. – The 48 Laws of Power
When Genghis Khan was conquering China a Chinese spy infiltrated his camp, gained his confidence and convinced him to spare people and cities by telling him “If everyone is dead, who will you tax? Spare them, tax them greatly and your riches and empire will expand.” Khan would have never spared these lives without the confidant appealing to his greed.
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.
I have a neighbor that’s been giving me issues. In the country the thing people value most is their privacy. Therefore I setup a video camera, prominently focused on his property. Although it isn’t connected or recording it’s a thumbscrew. “I’m watching you.”
Law 17 :: Keep Others in Suspense: 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. Taken to an extreme, this strategy can intimidate and terrorize. – The 48 Laws of Power
People are bored by predictable stories; they are thrilled and held captive by stories they cannot predict. Unpredictability puts you in mind. Predictability is the cue of something a person doesn’t need to think about. People take for granted what is predictable.
For me, this is definitely a book worth mastering which means taking the concepts and molding them in a way that fits you. I’m certain Frank Underwood (House of Cards) has read and mastered this book . . . and I hope I look nothing like him in application. 🙂