The 48 Laws of Power (1998) takes an irreverent look at the fundamental characteristics of power, and how to understand it, defend against it and use it to your advantage These blinks offer compelling insights, backed by historical examples, into the dynamics of competition and control.
About the author
Robert Greene is an American author, public speaker, and graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. The 48 Laws of Power is the first of five international bestsellers penned by Green about strategy, power, and success.
You won’t earn your boss’s favor by flaunting your brilliance, but you will if you make him or her shine:
Have you ever attempted to impress your boss only to fail miserably? If you’ve ever struggled to impress someone in a position of authority, it could be because you outshined them. After all, strong individuals prefer to be the center of attention; attempting to impress them too hard may divert attention away from them and toward you, causing them embarrassment.
Acting superior to them is even worse, as it may cause your manager to perceive you as a threat to their position and, as a result, fire you from the firm.
Consider the connection between King Louis XIV of France and his finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet. Fouquet became necessary to his king as a wise and faithful counselor, but this didn’t ensure him the position of prime minister when the existing minister died. Fouquet arranged a grand party at his lavishly furnished chateau to demonstrate how well-connected and prominent he was to secure the king’s favor.
The following day, Fouquet was arrested on the king’s orders, who felt overshadowed and falsely accused the minister of stealing to gain such vast wealth. Fouquet was doomed to spend the rest of his life in a jail cell.
So now you know how to offend your boss, but how do you win her favor? Making the person in charge look wiser than everyone else, including yourself, is a better tactic.
For example, Galileo Galilei, an astronomer, and mathematician needed money for his studies and devised a clever technique to get it. When he discovered Jupiter’s four moons in 1610, he made a point of tying his discovery to Cosimo II de Medici’s enthronement.
Galileo deduced that the four moons symbolized Cosimo II and his three brothers, while Jupiter itself represented Cosimo I, the father of the four brothers. Galileo was named the official philosopher and mathematician of Cosimo II after playing to his ruler’s ego.
Take credit for other people’s work and make sure to preserve your own:
Would you ever contemplate plagiarizing a few creative bits from another person’s work and claiming it as your own? Have you ever cheated on a math test by stealing answers from a classmate? Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t, but the truth is that gaining power often necessitates utilizing the efforts of others.
Why would you waste your time doing things for yourself when you can have someone else do it? Did you know that Nikola Tesla, a Serbian scientist, worked for Thomas Edison, the famed inventor? And it was Tesla, not Edison, who was instrumental in developing Edison’s famous dynamo by improving on Edison’s very basic design at the time.
Tesla worked nonstop for a year to accomplish this discovery, often working 18-hour days in the lab. Today, however, the dynamo is credited to Thomas Edison.
Since Edison’s day, not much has changed. Consider how rarely politicians compose their speeches and how much well-known novelists “steal” from other authors.
But benefiting from other people’s work isn’t enough; you’ll also have to claim credit for it. Edison and his firm, for example, claimed exclusive credit for Tesla’s work on the dynamo. Despite promising Tesla $50,000, Edison did not share a single dime of his profits with him!
Based on Tesla’s experience, remember that the credit given for any innovation or production is equally as important as the invention itself. If you don’t claim credit for your idea, someone else will take it and all the credit that comes with it.
Getting to know someone is the best method to gain control over them, and appearing as their friend is the finest way to do so:
Maybe you’ve run into this dilemma before: you’re trying to outmaneuver your competitors but can’t seem to foresee their plans effectively. How are you going to get around this?
Gathering crucial information about the individuals you want to control is another way to obtain authority. And to gain something from someone, you must first learn about them. After all, knowing a person’s intentions, flaws, and desires will aid you in gaining their trust and directing their behavior.
Take, for example, art dealer Joseph Duveen, who set out in 1920 to win over billionaire Andrew Mellon as a customer. On the other hand, Mellon was not easily persuaded, so Duveen decided to pay Mellon’s personnel into passing him confidential information about their boss.
Duveen made it a point to accompany the industrialist to London. By chance, the dealer showed up at the same art gallery Mellon was attending and struck up a lively conversation with him.
Duveen effortlessly acquired Mellon’s favor by convincing him that they shared similar tastes in art, among other things, because he understood so much about what he enjoyed. As a result, the meeting concluded positively, and Mellon quickly became Duveen’s most valuable client.
So, how are you going to do what Duveen did?
You can pay informants or, even better, pose as a person’s buddy to work as a spy. While most people, like Duveen, prefer to hire spies, this is a hazardous tactic. After all, how do you know your spies are telling you the truth?
It’s best to do your surveillance to ensure the accuracy of your data. This is a difficult endeavor because most people are hesitant to reveal personal information to strangers.
When they’re with someone, they consider a friend, though they’re less covert, making presenting as a buddy a highly effective technique.
Act unexpectedly to throw the competition off:
You surely already know that most people dislike abrupt changes, but did you also realize that you may utilize unpredictability to your advantage? Acting unexpectedly can throw your competitors off guard, and here’s how to do it:
In competitive situations, your opponents will most likely try to figure out who you are by watching your patterns and making decisions. They will not hesitate to use this information against you. In this case, acting wildly is the ideal course of action; being unpredictable will prevent your opponents from understanding you, terrify and unnerve them.
For example, the legendary 1972 chess match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, the Russian champion. Fischer was aware that Spassky’s strategy was to exploit his opponent’s routines and predictability, and he took advantage of this knowledge by playing as unpredictably as possible.
Fischer made it appear uncertain if he would be able to make it to Reykjavik, where the duo was scheduled to play, even in the days preceding up to the match. And when he did show up, it was just as the match was about to be called off owing to his absence. Fischer then continued to gripe about everything in the room, from the lighting to the chairs to the noise.
When they finally started the tournament’s opening match, Fischer committed a series of sloppy errors before giving up, which was an unusual move given his reputation for perseverance. Spassky couldn’t tell whether he was bluffing or making mistakes.
Fischer had Spassky exactly where he wanted him at this point: when your opponent is sufficiently perplexed, you’re in a wonderful position to win.
Perplexing your opponent will drive him to strive to explain his actions, diverting his attention away from the task at hand, allowing you to strike.
So, after two chess games, Fischer began making aggressive plays to win game after game. When it was all said and done, Spassky gave up, and Fischer was crowned world champion.
Surrendering to a more powerful opponent will help you gain power later on:
Have you ever faced someone you knew you’d never be able to defeat? While fighting for glory against all obstacles is typical, it is not the path to power. So, what should you do if you’re up against a stronger opponent?
Don’t give up.
This may appear to be a strange tactic, given that humans fight their adversaries naturally to protect themselves. When a competitor acts aggressively, he expects you to respond aggressively as well. When you know you’ve got the competition beat, the greatest thing you can do is surrender.
You can ensure that your enemy will not deliver significant damage if you give up or convince him that you have. Not only that, but your opponent will let his guard down as well, believing he has won. You’ll have a window of time to recoup your strength and plot your next move when he does.
Consider the story of Bertolt Brecht, a revolutionary communist writer who emigrated to the United States in 1941 to join other exiled European intellectuals. Following WWII, Brecht and his colleagues were called before the US Congress to testify about the rumored communist infiltration of Hollywood.
While his fellow radicals created a stir and defied Congress’ power by yelling and refusing to cooperate, Brecht remained cool and respectfully answered the questions posed to him.
The government released Brecht for his good behavior. They even offered to assist him with his immigration process – but their offer was useless because he left the nation and continued writing about his strong ideas.
And what about his obstinate pals?
They were put on a blacklist and couldn’t publish for years!
Make surrender an instrument of self-empowerment, as Brecht did. Instead of making huge sacrifices for fleeting moments of fame, focus on long-term strength.
If you want to be treated like a boss, you have to act like one:
Are you further up on the corporate ladder than someone else? If that’s the case, you’ll need to act the part – unless you desire to be recognized as their equal. But a word of caution: behaving as though you’re on par with others when in a higher position will only earn you scorn.
Take, for example, Louis-Philippe, the king of France in the 1830s and 1840s. He detested royal ceremonies and all the symbols that go with the throne. He was famed for wearing a gray hat and waving an umbrella in place of his crown and scepter, defying the conventions of his office. He didn’t even hang around with royalty, preferring instead to befriend financiers.
However, the king’s behavior did not help him; he was soon despised by both the rich and the poor. The wealthy despised the improbable king, while the poor despised a king who acted as if he belonged to the lower classes yet did not look out for them. When his banker pals realized they could insult him without fear of being chastised, they turned on him.
All of this hate culminated in a popular uprising against him, forcing him to leave the kingdom.
People are skeptical of higher-ups who act like they’re on their level; doing so encourages them to believe you’re dishonest since they’ll presume your modest demeanor is a ruse to obscure your privileges.
So, what’s a better strategy?
Instead, you should employ the crown’s tactic to have others treat you like royalty. Simply put, if you believe you are superior to others and act accordingly, others will believe you are as well. When people observe you acting in a superior manner, they’ll assume there’s a reason for it.
For example, Christopher Columbus acted like royalty, and as a result, most people thought of him as such. Indeed, his assured networking with the Spanish royal family persuaded the Spanish throne to fund his expeditions.
Seduction is a better way to obtain control over others than compulsion:
Imagine yourself as Chuko Liang, the head strategist for the ancient Chinese state of Shu: King Menghuo has launched the war on China from the south, and it is up to you to stop him and save the country.
But before you can learn what you should do, you must first learn what you should avoid.
To begin with, using force and coercion is never a good idea, even if it is the simplest option. People will privately resent you if you do utilize your might since force produces opposition. Liang was aware of this and chose not to fight with force, even though he would have easily beaten the invading army.
The menu would have loathed both China and Liang if he had, and the country would have had to constantly defend itself if he had. Everyone involved would have been fatigued, and paranoia would have developed.
Seduction is a better strategy. People’s emotions tend to rule them, and by playing on their emotions, you can get them to do what you want — against their will.
This can be accomplished by scaring your opponent with harm and then unexpectedly treating them well. When Menghuo attacked China, for example, Liang captured him and his entire army. When Menghuo was separated from his warriors, he expected the worst but instead was greeted with exquisite food and wine.
While Liang released his adversary’s warriors, he would only let Menghuo go if the foreign king vowed to bow to the Chinese king if he was ever kidnapped again.
While Liang continued to capture Menghuo, he always let him go. Then, on the seventh capture, Menghuo knelt at Liang’s knees and surrendered his empire and himself.
Although Liang could murder Menghuo when he kidnapped him, the enemy monarch was fully aware of it; he gave him numerous chances and treated him well each time. As a result, Menghuo became increasingly grateful and obliged to the Chinese ruler until he voluntarily surrendered.
Power and conquest have historically governed the world. Although a lot has changed in the modern period, the value of control and power has not. You may become a force to be reckoned with by learning from the errors and achievements of previous power struggles.