Overview of Law #45: Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform Too Much at Once
Everyone understands the need for change, but people are nonetheless creatures of habit. Too much change is unsettling and will spark backlash. Make a show of respecting the old way of doing things. Evoke revered history and cloak your changes in familiar rituals.
Principles of Law 45
People understand the need for change conceptually, but are unsettled by change that seems drastic or chaotic, or that affects them personally. We’re creatures of habit and change upsets our routines and expectations.
Some change provokes immediate resistance. Too much change too quickly creates anxiety that will eventually boil over. Every revolution, no matter how welcome at first, eventually sparks a strong backlash. Never reform too much at once
However, there are ways to make change more appealing and less threatening to people, and therefore more successful.
According to Law 45 of the 48 Laws of Power, an effective approach is to employ a comforting deception: preach change, and even make changes behind the scenes, but maintain the comforting appearance of familiar institutions and traditions.
For instance, retain familiar titles and traditions, and even institutional structure. When the Romans transformed their government from a monarchy to a republic, they replaced the king with two consuls, but retained 12 advisors mirroring the old structure. They retained the practice of an annual sacrifice, but instead of having the king perform it, they created a new position for a “king of the sacrifice.”
You can also ease fears by publicly asserting your support and reverence for the values of the past; appear to be safeguarding tradition.
Also, pay attention to the public mood; if your reform is ahead of its time and people aren’t ready for it, they’ll be anxious and misinterpret it. Slow down and work to make your changes seem less radical.
Never underestimate people’s conservatism — it’s deeply embedded, so you can’t just yank people into the future with drastic changes. They’ll rebel, and you’ll be the scapegoat. This is important to remember when executing Law 45 of the 48 Laws of Power.
Anticipate a delayed reaction. People may be initially enthusiastic but their enthusiasm will fade; they feel empty and start yearning for the past again. You need to quickly create a new set of values to replace the old ones and quell anxieties. Create new rituals, which can be linked to the past.
Putting Law 45 to Work
Here is an example of how to apply Law 45 of the 48 Laws of Power: After trying to force change and modernization on China with the failed Great Leap Forward, Mao Tse-tung learned to move more slowly in implementing communism and to make it less threatening. He used China’s enormous attachment to the past to his advantage instead of fighting it.
Mao succeeded by associating his radical ideas with familiar, revered historical figures and events of the past. He referred to history in his writings and speeches. This had a legitimizing and comforting effect.
He portrayed himself as a hero like the warrior statesmen of Chinese tradition, making him seem powerful and larger than life. On the other hand, he associated his opponents with any past violence and unhappiness, suggesting they would bring a repeat.
Mao skillfully used history to lend weight and authority to himself and his campaign, while allaying fears. Mao knew to never reform too much at once.
Exceptions to Law 45
Are there any exceptions to Law 45 of the 48 Laws of Power? During stagnant periods, people hunger for change rather than resisting it. So launch your reforms, but remain aware of the public mood and slow down if necessary. Also, be ready for eventual backlash. But in general, it’s safe to follow Law 45 of the 48 Laws of Power: Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform Too Much at Once.
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