The Unexpected Benefits of Playing Dumb

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The 48 Laws of Power" by Robert Greene. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Have you ever said or done something dumb on purpose? How does playing dumb help you get what you want?

Nobody likes to come across as dumb, naive, or undiscerning. However, sometimes playing dumb can help you succeed in getting what you want.

Keep reading to learn about the unexpected benefits of playing dumb.

What We Can Learn from Otto von Bismarck

To understand the benefits of playing dumb, consider Otton von Bismarck. Otto von Bismarck was a Prussian diplomat and politician who controlled German foreign affairs for 30 years in the mid-to late-1800s.

Otto von Bismarck used the playing-dumb tactic to get Count Blome of Austria to sign a treaty beneficial to Prussia but against the interests of Austria. The night before the negotiations started, Bismarck challenged Blome to a round of his favorite card game, quinze. He played recklessly and made rash comments and blunders, which lulled Blome into thinking he didn’t need to worry about anything devious being in the treaty. He signed it the next day without reading the fine print, at which point Otto von Bismarck exulted that he’d never expected an Austrian to sign such a treaty.

Like Otto von Bismarck, make your intended victims feel as though they’re smarter than you are by playing dumb, and they won’t suspect you of having ulterior motives.

Because nobody likes feeling stupid, be careful to avoid insulting another person’s intelligence inadvertently. Going a step further, you can exploit this human vanity by playing dumb to succeed in your schemes.

If you make other people feel smarter than you, by making yourself out to be naive or slow-witted by comparison, they’ll let down their guard and fail to be suspicious of your motives.

Making others feel smarter than you by appearing to be subservient and naive can also help you advance in the ranks, if you’re starting in a low position. You won’t seem threatening to anyone, and you’ll be promoted. At the least, you’ll be left alone to pursue your own interests unnoticed.

Besides downplaying your intelligence, you can do the same with other qualities to lull people into complacency. For instance, make people feel they are more sophisticated or have better taste. They’ll like having you around to make them feel better about themselves, and you’ll have the space to develop your schemes.

The Unexpected Benefits of Playing Dumb

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  • Why you should never outshine your boss
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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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