What is the 48 Laws of Power list? How can I become more powerful in my life and work? What are the secrets to success?
The 48 Laws of Power list is a list of ways to become more powerful, from Robert Greene’s book The 48 Laws of Power. Read on to learn how to use the 48 Laws of Power list to use your enemies, keep others dependent on you, say as little as possible, take credit for others’ work, and control all the options. You can choose to apply or dismiss these rules – but you can’t escape them.
Introduction: The 48 Laws of Power List
People can’t stand to be powerless. Everyone wants power and is always trying to get more. Striving for and wielding power is a game everyone participates in, whether they want to or not. You’re either a power player or a pawn someone else is playing with.
In The 48 Laws of Power Robert Greene contends that since you can’t opt out of the game of power, you’re better off becoming a master player by learning the rules and strategies practiced since ancient times.
He’s codified 48 laws of power based on examples and writings going back 3,000 years of people who’ve excelled or failed at wielding power, with glorious or bloody results. Greene argues that the 48 Laws of Power list will generally increase your power while failing to follow it will decrease it, or worse.
Here, then, is the 48 Laws of Power list (each law is independent, so you don’t need to follow them in sequence), along with Greene’s warning of the seductive quality of power: it can consume your mind, and you might never see human behavior the same way again. We’ve grouped the laws into categories to clarify themes and make them easier to remember.
The 48 Laws of Power List
Theme 1: Adopt a Power Mindset
Key “48 Laws of Power list” takeaways: Be calculating and strategic, not emotional. Identify your goals and pursue them relentlessly.
Best “48 Laws of Power list” example: Chinese Emperor Sung converted an enemy into an ally. Sung invited the enemy, King Shu, to his palace, where Shu thought he would be punished. After wining and dining him, however, Sung sent Shu home with a package. When Shu opened it, he found evidence documenting his conspiracy against Sung. He realized he was being spared and became one of Sung’s most loyal followers.
Law 2: Never Put Too Much Trust in Friends, Learn How to Use Enemies: Keep a close eye on your friends — they get envious and will undermine you. If you co-opt an enemy, he’ll be more loyal than a friend because he’ll try harder to prove himself worthy of your trust.
Law 10: Infection: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky: Avoid miserable people. The perpetually miserable spread misery like an infection and they’ll drown you in it.
Law: 19: Know Who You’re Dealing With – Do Not Offend the Wrong Person: When attempting to deceive someone, know who you’re dealing with, so you don’t waste your time or stir up a hornets’ nest in reaction.
Law 23: Concentrate Your Forces: Focus your resources and energies where you’ll have the most impact or get the most benefit. Otherwise, you’ll waste limited time and energy.
Law 29: Plan All the Way to the End: Make detailed plans with a clear ending. Take into account all possible developments. Then don’t be tempted from your path. Otherwise, you risk being surprised and forced to react without time to think.
Law 35: Master the Art of Timing: Anticipate the ebb and flow of power. Recognize when the time is right, and align yourself with the right side. Be patient and wait for your moment. Bad timing ends careers and ambitions.
Law 36: Disdain Things You Cannot Have: Ignoring Them Is the Best Revenge: Sometimes it’s better to ignore things because reacting can make small problems worse, make you look bad, and give your enemy attention.
Law 41: Avoid Stepping Into a Great Man’s Shoes: If you succeed a great leader or famous parent, find or create your own space to fill. Sharply separate from the past and set your own standards — or you’ll be deemed a failure for not being a clone of your predecessor.
Law 48: Assume Formlessness: Be flexible, fluid, and unpredictable — formless — so your opponents can’t get a fix on you and can’t figure out how to respond.
Theme 2: Communicate Powerfully
Key “48 Laws of Power list” takeaways: Show rather than tell. Attune yourself to others’ emotions. Win the hearts of followers.
Best “48 Laws of Power list” example: When Michelangelo was carving the famous statue of David, the mayor of Florence took a look and told him the nose was too big. Instead of arguing, Michelangelo gestured for the mayor to follow him up the scaffolding, where the artist pretended to be changing the nose. When he was done, the mayor pronounced it perfect. But Michelangelo hadn’t changed it — he just changed the mayor’s vantage point to a new one, from which it looked fine.
Law 4: Always Say Less Than Necessary: Say little and be ambiguous, leaving the meaning to others to interpret. The less you say, the more intimidating and powerful you are.
Law 6: Court Attention at all Cost: Be outrageous or create an aura of mystery. Any attention — positive or negative — is better than being ignored. Attention brings you wealth.
Law 9: Win Through Your Actions, Never Through Argument: Demonstrate your point rather than arguing. Arguing rarely changes anyone’s mind, but people believe what they see. They’re also less likely to be offended.
Law 12: Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm Your Victim: Use honesty and generosity to disarm and distract others from your schemes. Even the most suspicious people respond to acts of kindness, leaving them vulnerable to manipulation.
Law 13: When Asking for Help, Appeal to People’s Self-Interest, Never to Their Mercy or Gratitude: When you need help from someone in a position of power, appeal to their self-interest. They’ll be glad to help if they’ll get something in return, and you’ll get what you want without seeming desperate or irritating.
Law 14: Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy: Be friendly, sympathetic, and interested to get people to reveal their deepest thoughts and feelings. When you know your opponent’s secrets, you can predict his behavior and control him.
Law 25: Re-Create Yourself: Create a powerful image that stands out, rather than letting others define you. Change your appearance and emotions to suit the occasion. People who seem larger than life attract admiration and power.
Law 27: Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following: Offer people something to believe in and someone to follow. Promise the world but keep it vague; whip up enthusiasm. People will respond to a desperate need for belonging. Followers line your pockets, and your opponents are afraid to rile them.
Law 32: Play to People’s Fantasies: Conjure up alluring fantasies in contrast to the gloomy realities of life, and people will flock to you. Spin the right tale and wealth and power will follow.
Law 37: Create Compelling Spectacles: In addition to words, use visuals and symbols to underscore your power. What people see makes a greater impression on them than what they hear.
Law 43: Work on the Hearts and Minds of Others: Win others’ hearts and minds. Play on their emotions and weaknesses, and appeal to their self-interest. You’ll have them eating out of your hand, and they’ll be less likely to turn on you.
Law 44: Disarm and Infuriate with the Mirror Effect: Seduce people by mirroring their emotions and interests; create the illusion that you share their values. They’ll be so grateful to be understood that they won’t notice your ulterior motives.
Theme 3: Adopt Behaviors that Enhance Your Power
Key “48 Laws of Power list” takeaways: Conceal your intentions. Ingratiate yourself to others, but benefit yourself under the surface.
Best “48 Laws of Power list” example: Famous con man Victor Lustig pretended to be a count; he dressed expensively, but always wore an odd, attention-grabbing accessory. He hung around hotels acting in ways that got people buzzing. He was so interesting and distracting that people who got close to him didn’t notice they were being robbed.
Law 1: Never Outshine the Master: Ensure that those above you always feel superior. Go out of your way to make your bosses look better and feel smarter than anyone else. Everyone is insecure, but an insecure boss can retaliate more strongly than others can.
Law 3: Conceal Your Intentions: Always hide your true intentions. Create a smokescreen.
If you keep people off-balance and in the dark, they can’t counter your efforts.
Law 5: So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard It with Your Life: Nurture and guard your reputation because reputation is integral to power. With a strong reputation, you can influence and intimidate others.
Law 7: Get Others to Do the Work for You, But Always Take the Credit: Get others to do your work for you. Use their skill, time, and energy to further your ambitions while taking full credit. You’ll be admired for your efficiency.
Law 16: Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor: Once you’ve become well-known, don’t wear out your welcome. The more you’re seen and heard from, the more you cheapen your brand.
Law 17: Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability: Throw others off balance and unnerve them with random, unpredictable acts. You’ll gain the upper hand.
Law 21: Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker – Seem Dumber Than Your Mark: Make your intended victims feel as though they’re smarter than you are, and they won’t suspect you of having ulterior motives.
Law 24: Play the Perfect Courtier: Learn the rules of the society you’re playing in, and follow them to avoid attracting unfavorable attention. This includes appearing like a team player and being careful about criticizing diplomatically.
Law 30: Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless: Make difficult feats seem effortless and you’ll inspire awe in others and seem powerful. By contrast, when you make too much of your efforts, your achievement will seem less impressive and you’ll lose respect.
Law 34: Be Royal in Your Own Fashion: Act Like a King to Be Treated Like One: Act like royalty and people will treat you that way. Project dignity and supreme confidence that you’re destined for great things, and others will believe it.
Law 38: Think as You Like But Behave Like Others: Don’t make a show of being different, or people will think you look down on them and will retaliate against you.
Theme 4: Take Decisive Action
Key “48 Laws of Power list” takeaways: Be ruthless in crushing opponents and exploiting others’ weaknesses.
Best “48 Laws of Power list” example: In the 1500s, French regent Catherine de Medici controlled many ambitious men who threatened her power by playing to their insatiable passions for women. She created a so-called “flying squadron” of skilled mistresses who seduced them and reported their plans back to Catherine.
Law 8: Make Other People Come to You – Use Bait if Necessary: Make your opponent come to you. When you force others to act, you’re in control. Bait them, then attack.
Law 11: Learn to Keep People Dependent on You: Make your superior dependent on you. The more she needs you, the more security and freedom you have to pursue your goals.
Law 15: Crush Your Enemy Totally: Crush your enemy completely. If you leave even one ember smoldering, it will eventually ignite. You can’t afford to be lenient.
Law 22: Use the Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness into Power: When you’re weaker, surrender rather than fighting for the sake of honor. This gives you time to build strength and undermine your victor. You’ll win in the end.
Law 28: Enter Action with Boldness: When you act, do so boldly — and if you make mistakes, correct them with even greater boldness. Boldness brings admiration and power.
Law 31: Control the Options: Get Others to Play with the Cards You Deal: To deceive people, seem to give them a meaningful choice. But sharply limit their options to a few that work in your favor regardless of which they choose. Your victims will feel in control, but you’ll pull the strings.
Law 33: Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew: Everyone has a weakness, a hole in his armor. Find it and it’s leverage that you can use to your advantage.
Law 39: Stir Up Waters to Catch Fish: Always stay calm and objective. When you get angry, you’ve lost control. But if you can make your enemies angry, you gain an advantage.
Law 40: Despise the Free Lunch: Use money and generosity strategically to achieve your goals. Use gifts to build a reputation of generosity, and also to obligate people to you.
Law 42: Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep Will Scatter: Trouble in a group often starts with a single individual who stirs the pot. Stop them before others succumb to their influence.
Theme 5: Avoid These Potential Pitfalls
Key “48 Laws of Power list” takeaways: Maintain the Laws of Power under stress. Don’t take them too far to the extreme. Watch out for counter-reactions to your success.
Best “48 Laws of Power list” example: In the late 15th century, Isabella, the ruler of a small city-state in Italy, surrounded by larger warring city-states, managed to preserve her territory’s independence and stay out of others’ wars. She did so by appearing open to overtures from other powers without accepting any, avoiding provocation, and by engaging in complicated negotiations and ruses.
Law 18: Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself – Isolation is Dangerous: Never isolate yourself when under pressure. This cuts you off from information you need, and when real danger arises you won’t see it coming.
Law 20: Do Not Commit to Anyone: Don’t commit to any side or cause except yourself. By maintaining your independence, you remain in control — others will vie for your attention. You also have the ability to pit the sides against each other.
Law: 26: Keep Your Hands Clean: You’ll inevitably make mistakes or need to take care of unpleasant problems. But keep your hands clean by finding others to do the dirty work, and scapegoats to blame.
Law 45: Preach the Need for Change, But Never Reform Too Much at Once: Talk change but move slowly. Evoke revered history and cloak your changes in familiar rituals. Too much change is unsettling and will spark backlash.
Law 46: Never Appear Too Perfect: To forestall or mitigate envy, admit to a flaw or weakness, emphasize the role of luck, or downplay your talents. If you don’t recognize and nip envy in the bud, it will grow and the envious will work insidiously against you.
Law 47: Do Not Go Past the Mark You Aimed For; In Victory, Learn When to Stop: When you’ve won, don’t let emotions push you past your goal. The moment of victory is dangerous because if you press your luck, you’ll blunder into something you haven’t planned for.
Use the laws from the 48 Laws of Power list to become more powerful in your career, your relationships, and your life.
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- Why you should never outshine your boss
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