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 following the 48 laws will generally increase your power, while failing to follow them will decrease it, or worse. He provides details on how to practice the laws, plus examples and analysis.
Many of the laws originated or were exemplified in the aristocratic courts of old Europe, where a bevy of courtiers jockeyed for influence around a powerful person. There were clear principles and rules of conduct that everyone knew, but applying them was a high art at which only a few succeeded, and not always for long.
Courtiers served the king while scheming to increase their power, defend it from others, and keep others from undermining or surpassing them. They appeared civilized and refined, but were ruthless and ambitious beneath the surface. At the same time they had to be subtle: Courtiers sought power by sucking up to the king, but if they got too obvious about it, their peers (who had the same goal) would turn on them.
Staying on top and increasing your power required strategy and tactics, but at the heart of the game lay an essential skill — deception, which was employed in myriad ways.
Since then, the game of power hasn’t changed much, although it’s gotten a bit less bloody (more heads roll figuratively than literally). To practice deception effectively requires an understanding of human behavior (your own and others’), the relentless study of the people around you, complete self-control, outward charm, adaptability, strategic thinking, and deviousness.
Here, then, are the 48 laws in brief (each 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.
(Shortform note: We’ve grouped the laws into categories to clarify themes and make them easier to remember.)
Key takeaways: Be calculating and strategic, not emotional. Identify your goals and pursue them relentlessly.
Best 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: Be Wary of Friends; 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: Misery Is Contagious: Avoid It Like the Plague: Avoid miserable people. The perpetually miserable spread misery like an infection, and they’ll drown you in it.
Law: 19: Know Your Victims: 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: Focus Your Efforts: 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 Through 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: Get the Timing Right: 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: Ignore Small Problems: 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: Chart Your Own Course: 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: Be Elusive: Be flexible, fluid, and unpredictable — formless — so your opponents can’t get a fix on you and can’t figure out how to respond.
Key takeaways: Show rather than tell. Attune yourself to others’ emotions. Win the hearts of followers.
Best 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: Say as Little as Possible: 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: Attract Attention: Be outrageous or create an aura of mystery. Any attention — positive or negative — is better than being ignored. Attention brings you wealth.
Law 9: Don’t Argue, Demonstrate: Demonstrate your...
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Everyone wants power over people and events, and always tries to get more. No one likes feeling powerless.
But wielding power is a double-edged sword. It’s a vital asset, but appearing too power-hungry or being too blatant in using power could be fatal to you, or at least to your ambitions and status. You must create a facade of appearing fair and decent, but behind it you must be cunning and ruthless.
You can learn to play the game of power by studying how it was played in the Old World aristocratic courts that surrounded a powerful person — the rules are much the same today. In those days everyone schemed for power. Underlings served a king or master, but at the same time sought their own power by sucking up. If they got too obvious about it, however, their peers (who had the same goal) would turn on them.
On the surface, everyone had to seem civilized and refined. So winning the king’s favor required being subtle while also watching out for, and thwarting, others’ scheming to oust you.
The key was to be indirect: Smile while stabbing your opponent in the back, and use charm and deception instead of overt power grabs. You also had to apply tactical thinking, subtle...
The Law of Power: Ensure that those above you always feel superior. But don’t overdo it when trying to impress or please them, or you’ll inadvertently make them feel insecure and you’ll suffer the backlash. Go out of your way to make your bosses look better and feel smarter than anyone else.
When it comes to power, eclipsing the boss is a particularly dangerous mistake. People in power need to feel secure in their position, superior to others in intelligence and charisma, and deserving of their perks. When they feel insecure, they lash out.
Whenever you demonstrate your talents you provoke resentment and envy (manifestations of insecurity) in others, whether they’re bosses, subordinates or peers. Of course, you can’t spend your life worrying about everyone’s petty jealousies, but you need to pay special attention to your approach with superiors because of their greater ability to harm you. They can make heads roll, although not as literally as did kings of the past.
To avoid rocking a superior’s boat, don’t try to win his approval by showing off your gifts and talents. He may seem appreciative but at the first opportunity he’ll replace you with...
The Law of Power: Keep a close eye on your friends — they easily become envious and resentful, and will undermine you. In contrast, if you promote an enemy, he’ll be more loyal than a friend in an effort to prove himself. So use your enemies. If you lack enemies, you should create some.
We instinctively turn to friends when we need help, but you should think twice about doing this because you don’t know your friends as well as you think you do.
Friends often agree with whatever you say to avoid an argument. Also, when you’re friends, you cover up negative qualities so as not to offend the other person. As a result, you never know for certain how a friend truly feels.
When you’re in a position of power, beware of hiring a friend. Hiring friends weakens you because your friend is rarely the one who can help you the most. You need skill and competence more than friendship. Also, friendly feelings can get in the way of what needs to be done.
If you hire a friend, you’ll discover the qualities he or she has kept hidden. In addition, your act of kindness will unbalance the relationship. Receiving a favor from you may begin to feel burdensome; people...
The Law of Power: Always hide your true intentions. If you keep people off balance and in the dark, they can’t counter your efforts. Send them down the wrong path with a red herring or create a smokescreen and by the time they realize what you’re up to, it will be too late for them to interfere.
Sub-law: To deceive people about your real intentions, take preemptive action to mislead by using decoys and red herrings. Use tools such as fake sincerity, ambiguity, and lures — and people won’t be able to differentiate the genuine from the false to see your goal.
Many people wear their feelings on their sleeve. And when it comes to plans and intentions, they’re quick to tell all at the slightest provocation.
People tend to be “open books” because talking about feelings and intentions comes naturally. Watching your mouth — monitoring and controlling what you say — takes effort. In addition, they believe honesty and openness will win people over.
However, honesty has distinct downsides:
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The Law of Power: The less you say, the more intimidating and powerful you are. When you do speak, make it vague and ambiguous, leaving the meaning to others to interpret. They’ll be frustrated and obsessed with trying to figure you out.
In the power game, appearance is everything. When you say little you come across as powerful, intimidating, and mysterious. Keep these principles in mind:
The Law of Power: Reputation is integral to power. With a strong reputation you can influence and intimidate others. Beware of attacks on your reputation and squelch them immediately. Meanwhile, undermine your opponents’ reputations.
You can never really understand another person. But to interact with others, we have to try, so we judge people by what we can see — their appearances. This includes style, words/gestures, and behavior. Your appearance is an integral part of your reputation.
Reputation is something you need to carefully create and maintain. When you control how the world judges you, you have power. You can intimidate and influence others by reputation alone, which is why you must build and guard your reputation ferociously.
When establishing your reputation, focus first on one memorable quality — for instance craftiness, effectiveness, or generosity. People should associate you with this trait and talk about you. You should demonstrate it to as many people as possible, so that your reputation spreads. The trait on which your reputation is based serves as a calling card, announcing your arrival and predisposing others to be influenced...
The Law of Power: We judge everyone and everything by appearances; what we can’t see doesn’t count. Make sure you stand out from the crowd. Portray yourself as larger, more mysterious, and more exciting than anyone around you.
Sub-law: Attract attention by being controversial and outrageous. Welcome scandal. Don’t differentiate between positive and negative attention — it all enhances your power.
Attracting attention doesn’t come naturally to many people. You have to learn how to do it. Start by associating your name and reputation with something that makes you stand out from others. It could be a clothing style, hair style, mannerism, or quirk that gets you noticed and talked about.
It doesn’t matter whether your image or appearance is controversial — any kind of attention is good. P.T. Barnum welcomed attacks and didn’t bother defending himself. He cultivated an image as a huckster.
Society relishes those who are larger than life, who stand out from the crowd. So don’t hesitate to adopt qualities that draw attention. It’s better to be controversial and be attacked than ignored. No matter what your profession is, you’ll...
The Law of Power: 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 and accomplishments, while your helpers will be forgotten.
You waste time and energy when you do things others could do for you, or have already done. And when you take advantage of others’ efforts, and take credit for them, you come off as powerful and amazingly productive.
You can take advantage of others in two ways:
Vultures are an example of taking from others: Vultures know that if they wait long enough, another animal will always do the work of providing dinner. People often do the same thing, circling like vultures waiting for the opportunity to feed on others’ success or creativity. You can’t change this by complaining — you’re better off becoming a vulture yourself.
Francisco Pizarro exemplified the first method of taking from others after they’ve done the work. He was a soldier in the...
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The Law of Power: Make your opponent come to you. When you force others to act, you’re in control. Bait them, then attack.
Many people achieve power through aggression, but it has a downside. As you continue to use aggression as your main tactic you have to launch attacks in all directions at a growing number of enemies. This becomes tiring.
At this point, you’re no longer in complete control — you’re reacting to your enemies without calculating the consequences, rather than planning several moves ahead.
Power comes from acting effectively, not simply aggressively. Often, it’s more effective to lay traps, then wait for them to work. You win for the long term (the war) rather than the short term (the battle).
Instead of reacting to your opponents, maintain the initiative by making them react to you — this keeps them on the defensive. Put another way, when you make people come to you, you’re in control of the situation.
To accomplish this, you must:
**Making others come to you is a more powerful tool...
The Law of Power: Arguing your point rarely changes anyone’s mind — even when you appear to win, you lose because you stir up resentment. A far better way of getting others to agree with you is to demonstrate your point without saying anything. People believe what they can see.
When you argue with someone, even if they seem to agree with you, you can never be certain they really do.
They may politely assent, while secretly resenting you. Or your choice of words may have offended them. In any case, people distrust words because they know you’ll say anything, including offering bogus sources and statistics, to bolster your case.
Demonstrating your point is more effective and powerful. Your target can see the evidence in front of her — there are no words to be misinterpreted. British architect Sir Christopher Wren knew the power of demonstration over argument. When he built a town hall for the city of Westminster, the mayor worried that the second floor would fall on his office below. Wren knew this was impossible, but instead of arguing he...
The Law of Power: People who are perpetually miserable spread misery like an infection, and they’ll drown you in it. Avoid these people like the plague. Conversely, if you associate with happy people, you’ll share in the good fortune they attract and spread. Seek them out.
People who are hurt by circumstances beyond their control deserve sympathy and help. But others bring unhappiness on themselves and spread it to those around them by their destructive acts and influence on others. You can’t change or improve them — they will change you by afflicting you with their problems.
People are highly susceptible to the emotions and pathologies of those they spend time with. Chronically miserable and unstable people have the greatest influence because of their intensity. Because they paint themselves as victims, it can take you a while to see that they cause their own problems. By the time you realize this, these infectors have sucked you in.
When your goal is power, those you associate with can make or break you. If you associate with infectors, you’ll waste time extricating yourself, and others will lose respect for you due to guilt by association.
Miserable, destructive people spread misery wherever they go. If you try to help them, you end up worse off, and the miserable people never change.
Think about the people close to you. Is there someone who’s always miserable and leaves misery in her wake? Is there someone you always feel happy being around? How have these people affected you?
The Law of Power: The more that a superior needs you, the more security and freedom you have to pursue your goals, so make him dependent on you. Never let superiors think they can get along without you.
A big part of exercising power is getting people to do what you want them to do. You can force them in some way, but the best outcome is when they do your bidding willingly. To accomplish this, you make them dependent on you.
This works with people at all levels but is especially beneficial when the person doing your bidding is a superior and you function as the so-called power behind the throne. Make yourself indispensable to him, become so involved in every aspect of his work that getting rid of you would leave him with huge problems. Then you have the upper hand and can get your way.
People often think that being powerful means being independent, but power requires relationships — with allies, dupes, enemies, and superiors. A completely independent person has freedom but not power. When others are dependent on you, however, you have the independence to pursue your goals.
Otto von Bismarck served two weak Prussian kings, Frederick and his brother...
The Law of Power: You can use honesty and generosity to disarm and distract others from your schemes. It works because even the most suspicious people respond emotionally, like a child, to acts of kindness.
Deception and distraction go hand in hand. Distracting people gives you time to set up your trap or scheme to deceive them without its being noticed.
One of the most effective methods of distraction is to surprise them with honesty or generosity. This approach disarms people by allaying suspicions and bringing out their inner child — they respond with eager, childlike gratitude.
The Chinese called this practice “giving before you take” — the gift distracts your victim while you do the taking. The gift can be anything including a physical gift, an act of kindness, a favor, or a seemingly honest admission.
It can be used to create an immediate distraction from what you’re doing, or to soften someone up for future actions or requests.
For your first meeting with someone, start with selective honesty. If someone believes you’re honest from the outset, it takes a lot to dislodge that belief, which gives to time get your plans in place. You can turn...
The Law of Power: When you need help from someone in a position of power, don’t talk about your needs or something you did for them in the past. Instead, appeal to their self-interest. They’ll be glad to help if they’ll get something important to them in return.
Achieving power often requires seeking help from people above you. But you can’t just blurt out what you want — there’s an art to asking.
To succeed in getting what you want, you have to focus not on your desires, but on those of the other person. She probably couldn’t care less about your needs, and if you focus on them, she’ll view you as desperate or as an annoyance.
Also, don’t make the mistake of basing your appeal on such irrelevant things as your loyalty, friendship, or favors you’ve done for the other person in the past.
In order to show how fulfilling your request benefits the other person, you need to understand what motivates her and what matters to her. Put yourself in the other person’s place, and see things as she would. Does she have ambitions or enemies you could help to address? Look for the ways you can help fulfill her needs or further her goals.
Here’s an example of ignoring...
Getting something you want usually requires seeking help from others. But to get what you want, you need to appeal to others’ self interest. They’ll be more willing to help if they have something to gain.
Think of something you want to accomplish at work or in an organization. Whose help do you need to get it done?
The Law of Power: Collecting information through spying is essential to wielding power. When you know your opponent’s secrets, you can predict his behavior and control him. You can enlist spies to gather intelligence for you, but it’s better to be a spy yourself. Adopt a friendly manner and you’ll get people to spill their plans and weaknesses.
To wield power you need to understand others: their intentions, goals, and ambitions, as well as secrets, weaknesses, and ulterior motives. This knowledge enables you to predict what they’ll do in the future.
However, most people won’t intentionally tell you these things; you need a way to ferret out the information without their knowing it.
There are two ways you can do this:
1) Use spies: Using others (for instance, people who work for your target) as spies is useful but risky. You’ll get information, but you can’t control your spies. They may inadvertently give you away, get things wrong, or start working against you.
2) Be a spy yourself: Be friendly and listen. It’s easy and effective to pose as a friend while collecting information. Say little while getting others to do the talking — and listen.
The Law of Power: Crush your enemy completely. If you leave even one ember smoldering, it will eventually ignite. You can’t afford to be lenient.
History is replete with examples of leaders who defeated their enemies but left them alive out of mercy. Of course the opponent always bided his time, becoming ever more resentful and determined, until he was strong enough to seek revenge.
Your enemies feel nothing but animosity for you, and want to eliminate you. The only way to have security and peace is to do to them what they would do to you. When you get the upper hand, don’t hesitate to deliver the final blow. This doesn’t necessarily mean killing them, but at minimum neutralizing them by totally eliminating their ability to fight back. In the old days, banishment often worked.
For instance, in the 1930s,...
The Law of Power: Once you’ve become well-known and admired, don’t wear out your welcome. The more you’re seen and heard from after a certain point, the more you cheapen your brand. People will lose interest and respect for you. But if you make yourself scarce for a while, you’ll renew people’s respect and appreciation.
In wielding power, both presence and absence are key concepts. With a strong presence, you attract attention and overshadow everyone else. But if you overdo it and become ubiquitous, people will stop paying attention to you and you’ll lose respect and power. This is where absence comes in. You can preserve and enhance your status by withdrawing at the right moment, just before people start getting tired of you.
The cycle of seduction and love works this way. When you lover begins taking you for granted, pull away for a while without explanation. Your absence regenerates the person’s desire for you, and when you return he or she cherishes and respects you again. Similarly, novelists J.D. Salinger and Thomas...
The Law of Power: Because people crave predictability and a sense of control, you can throw others off balance and even terrify them with random, unpredictable acts. While your opponents are stressing themselves out by trying the explain and anticipate what you’re doing, you can achieve your objectives almost unnoticed.
Unpredictable, sudden events like tornadoes and flash floods terrify people, leaving them in fear of the next one. You can have a similar effect on people by being unpredictable.
We want other people to be predictable, and we ourselves follow patterns and routines, out of laziness, a preference for comfort, or a desire to keep the peace. Animals follow patterns as well, which allows us to hunt them successfully.
But unpredictability is an important tool for wielding power — by suddenly doing something no one expected you create fear and confusion, which keeps others off balance, allowing you room to maneuver. It may also prompt them to make mistakes.
You can use this tactic effectively even if you are the underdog. For instance, during the Civil War General Stonewall Jackson confused and stymied the much larger Union forces that...
The Law of Power: Never isolate yourself when you come under pressure. This just cuts you off from information you need and people who could help you, and when real danger arises you won’t see it coming. Instead, make a point of being outgoing. Contact with others increases your power.
It can be tempting to isolate yourself when you feel pressured or threatened. But this is a mistake.
Most military commanders understand the risk of isolating yourself behind walls to ward off danger. First, doing so makes you an easy target — everyone knows where you are. Your enemies can lay siege and turn your fortress into a prison. You’re relying on limited information from an ever smaller group of people. Also, you’re cut off from outside help and intelligence about what’s going on beyond your walls. Such isolation typically ends in defeat.
Isolation is as bad a personal strategy as it is a military strategy. Maintaining power requires social interaction. You need to be the center of all activity and aware of everything and...
The Law of Power: There are many different kinds of people, and each will react differently to attempts to deceive them. You need to know who you’re dealing with and avoid the types who will waste your time or exact revenge.
In your quest for power, you can’t treat everyone the same way. There are many different types of people, and you need to be able to recognize which type you’re dealing with and respond appropriately.
Here are the five most dangerous types, most of whom you should avoid dealing with because it’s either a waste of time or it will come back and bite you.
The Law of Power: Don’t commit to any side or cause except yourself. By maintaining your independence, you remain in control — others will vy for your attention, and you can play one side against another.
Sub-law: Stay aloof and don’t commit yourself, and you’ll gain power and attention as people try to win you over. Give them hope, but nothing more.
You’ll get respect if you refuse to commit to a person or group. You’ll be powerful because you’re unattainable by either side. The more independent you appear to be, the more people will want you on their side. Desire is contagious — when people see that someone else is desired, they want to get in on the action too.
However, if you commit, you’ll instantly lose your luster — you’ll no longer be desired and sought after.
When people are courting your support, they’ll use many tactics, including gifts and favors, to create a sense of obligation. Accept the gifts if you want to, but don’t feel or accept any obligation.
Don’t offend anyone or appear to be averse to commitment. Focus instead on keeping others excited and interested in you and hoping for alliance....
In your daily life and work, there are often situations in which people want your support or want you to take sides. Often, however, you’re better off politely avoiding commitment.
Think of a situation where you were pressed or felt forced to take sides. What did you do?
The Law of Power: Make your intended victims feel as though they’re smarter than you are, 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 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.
The Prussian minister Bismarck used this 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...
The Law of Power: Surrendering can be a tool of 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, while you wait for his power to weaken. You’ll win in the end.
It may seem counterintuitive, but surrendering to your opponents can be the best course because it puts you in a position of control.
People typically overreact to opponents’ actions, which escalates their problems. Your first instinct will be to respond to aggression with greater aggression. But your enemy will step up his aggression in turn. If you’re the weaker party, you’ll be decimated.
A wiser and more effective tactic is to surrender, to turn the other cheek. That halts your opponent’s aggression and confuses her, while giving you the upper hand. While your opponent is lulled into thinking she’s defeated you, you now have the space to build your strength, discover your enemy’s weaknesses, and plan revenge.
On the surface, you appear compliant, but inwardly you’re standing firm. It requires self-control to play dead...
The Law of Power: Conserve your resources and energies by focusing them where you’ll get the most benefit. Concentrate on mining the richest mine rather than a whole string of mines.
People often feel distracted and pulled in many directions, which undercuts their energy and effectiveness at whatever they’re trying to accomplish. The key is to prioritize your goals and concentrate on the most important ones.
The same is true when it comes to wielding power: Concentrate single-mindedly on your key goal and you’ll achieve it because your efforts and resources won’t be diluted.
When Casanova was imprisoned, he focused single-mindedly on escape. Even when he was moved to a new cell after months of secretly digging, he didn’t give up but persevered and finally escaped.
Whether you hold a position of power or are striving for power, you’ll need assistance from people more powerful than you. If you concentrate your...
The Law of Power: Courtiers of old were often masters of manipulation, expert at working their schemes within specific rules of behavior required in court. Learn from the courtiers’ failures and successes, and you can rise in any system.
To thrive in whatever court or environment you’re playing for power in, learn the rules and know how to manipulate them. Even in modern times, a skilled courtier or functionary who can successfully navigate and thrive in the world of power has great power himself. There’s much you can learn about how to do this from studying courtiers of the past.
The laws that governed court politics in the days of kings remain applicable today. Here are a few:
The Law of Power: Reinvent yourself with a powerful new image that stands out and draws attention, rather than letting others define you. Then change your appearance and emotions to suit the occasion, or stage riveting dramas as backdrops for your actions.
Everyone is born with a certain character, which is shaped by family, associations, and experiences. But this is a passive process. You need to take control and shape and reshape who you are, according to your circumstances — the images you create allow you to attain and wield power.
The first step is self-awareness — view yourself as an actor, assuming the appearances and emotions required for the occasion.
Second, create a character or image for yourself that stands out and attracts attention. Abraham Lincoln, for example, drew attention by portraying himself as a homespun country lawyer, down to his hat, clothing, and beard. He also was the first president to spread his image through the use of photos.
Besides having a memorable appearance, you...
The Law of Power: You’ll inevitably make mistakes or need to take care of messy problems. But it’s imperative to keep your hands clean. Find scapegoats to blame and use cat’s paws or fixers to handle problems while disguising your involvement.
Sub-law: Your good name and reputation depend more on what you conceal than on what you reveal. Everyone makes mistakes, but those who are truly clever manage to hide them, and to make sure someone else is blamed. A convenient scapegoat should always be kept around for such moments.
Mistakes themselves don’t hurt powerful people — it’s how they deal with them that counts. Making excuses or offering apologies are the worst possible responses. Excuses never satisfy anyone, and apologies dig a deeper hole for you. They raise questions about your competence (maybe you’ve made other mistakes too?), intentions, and motives.
The more quickly you can shift attention to someone else the better. You need a scapegoat.
The practice of using a scapegoat has a long history — Hebrew priests transferred the sins of the people to a goat (originating the term “scapegoat”), which would be...
The Law of Power: People desperately want to believe in something. Offer them a cause to follow. Promise the world but keep it vague; whip up enthusiasm. Mimic a religious structure with a hierarchy, rituals, and requests for sacrifice (donations). You’ll have untold power over your followers, who will worship you.
Creating a cult following is an effective way to build and use power. Among the many benefits:
It’s surprisingly simple to set up a cult. The reason is that people have a desperate need to believe in something, and belong to a group or cause. They’re highly susceptible to the siren call of a new movement or trend.
History is filled with examples of people and movements that attracted a mass following. They look foolish or even tragic in retrospect, but they seemed divinely inspired to adherents at the time.
Rather than leaving...
The Law of Power: If you hesitate before doing something, your doubts will undermine your efforts. When you act, do so boldly — and if you make mistakes, correct them with even greater boldness. Everyone admires the bold.
People have a natural tendency to hesitate before acting. To be powerful, you need to overcome this tendency, by practicing audacity.
Here’s how these two tendencies — boldness and hesitation — work:
The Law of Power: Make detailed plans with a clear ending. Think far ahead, take into account all possible developments, and don’t be swayed by wishful thinking. Then pursue your plans and don’t be tempted from your path.
Most people believe that they’re thinking of the future and planning ahead. Instead, they’re actually practicing wishful thinking of what they want the future to be, rather than a future based on reality.
However, unhappy endings occur more often than happy ones. For example, when the Athenians attacked Sicily, they weren’t thinking about what could go wrong — they were focused on riches and glory. But the war was disastrous and led to the fall of their great civilization. The Sicilians fought harder on their home turf, multiple enemies banded together against them, and wars broke out on several fronts.
Vague plans will lead to trouble, so make detailed plans before acting. Think about possible unintended consequences, for instance whether you’ll create new...
When people make plans, they envision an ending but often neglect to plan the steps that will get them there, or they fail to think of what could go wrong and prepare for it. The results are not what they expected.
Have you ever planned or been involved in something where the ending surprised you? How and why were you surprised?
The Law of Power: Make difficult feats seem effortless and you’ll inspire awe in others and seem powerful. Conceal the work behind your accomplishments — if you brag about it, you’ll ruin the effect.
Natural phenomena such as volcanoes and tornadoes, which are demonstrations of power, seem effortless and leave people awestruck.
If you create an impression of effortlessness (make the difficult look easy) you can generate awe in others and seem powerful. People admire those who perform seemingly impossible feats, especially when they make it look easy.
The best courtiers prided themselves in their ability to make the difficult seem easy. Great Renaissance artists kept their studios closed and their works in progress under wraps, revealing only the final masterpiece. No one knew the effort that went into it, which would have ruined the magical effect. By contrast, performers who try too hard make us uncomfortable; graceful performers create a pleasing illusion by making their labor look natural.
Power works the same way; your public performances should be appealing, entertaining, and create a sense of anticipation — but most of all, they should be...
The Law of Power: 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.
We all like having choices, and often don’t notice that the choices we have can be very limited, whether in elections, our jobs, or the marketplace. We accept this, even though it isn’t fair, because the alternative, unlimited freedom of choice, is too overwhelming to contemplate. A limited range is easier to deal with and provokes less anxiety.
The fact that most people aren’t bothered by limited choices creates great opportunity for deception. People won’t feel they’re being deceived if they have at least a small amount of choice.
Here are some ways of setting up either/or choices for your benefit:
Spin the choices: Henry Kissinger often used this technique with President Nixon. He’d propose three or four choices presented so that his favored option always looked best compared to the others. This works well with an insecure boss like Nixon.
Advocate the opposite: Present what you don’t want as your favored...
The Law of Power: Conjure up attractive fantasies in contrast to the gloomy realities of daily life, and people will flock to hear them. Truth is less pleasant, and fantasies are preferable. Spin the right tale at the right moment and wealth and power will follow.
Fantasy is appealing when life has become boring, gloomy, or oppressive. If you can create an appealing fantasy at the right moment, when spirits are low, you’ll attract wealth and power.
Following are some types of fantasies that attract and deceive the masses, by offering a contrast to a depressing reality.
Transformative change: Change is usually slow, and requires hard work, sacrifice, and persistence. Instead, promise instant, painless transformation of people’s fortunes (poverty to riches, sadness to happiness, sickness to health).
Adventure: Everyone must live within day-to-day constraints, including social and geographic boundaries, personal...
The Law of Power: Everyone has a weakness, a hole in his armor. It’s usually an insecurity, an uncontrollable emotion or need, or a secret pleasure. Once found, it’s leverage that you can use to your advantage.
Everyone has a weakness, a button you can find and push. Some people show their weaknesses openly while others hide them. You can most effectively exploit the weaknesses of those who hide them. Push their buttons and you can easily deceive them or get them to do what you want.
In your search to find and exploit someone’s weaknesses, understand these principles:
Look and listen: No one keeps a secret. Even when people aren’t talking they convey a message with other signals such as body language. But talking is the place to start. Routine conversation is revealing — learn to listen.
Always seem interested — a seemingly sympathetic ear will get anyone talking. An old trick is to pretend to share a confidence with them; it can be inconsequential or even fabricated — it just needs to seem sincere. The other person will respond with a confidence of their own, which likely reveals a weakness.
Pay attention to details — what a person laughs at,...
The Law of Power: Act like royalty and people will treat you that way. Project dignity and supreme confidence that you’re destined for great things. If you demand a high price, people will think you’re worth it; you’ll accrue power and respect.
Act like royalty, and people will treat you as if you were royal, conferring on you status, respect, and power.
The crown creates an aura of power and entitlement that emanates from a king. Create such an aura for yourself by acting as if you’re destined for great things. Your supreme confidence and belief in yourself will radiate power the same way a crown does.
This kind of self-confidence is contagious — others will believe it, and you can ask for and receive what you want. Your belief in yourself will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Children charm adults this way when they confidently and happily ask for what they want — and adults enjoy indulging them.
Be sure to act differently — people have expectations for how a king should act, and you must meet them in order to be treated like a king. One of the most important is to act differently — separate...
The Law of Power: 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 when you know you’ll benefit in the long run. When it’s time to make your end move against an opponent, strike without hesitation.
In the quest for power, timing is everything. To take advantage of changing fortunes you need to recognize the moment to act. Constantly read the signs and ally yourself with the right side. But be ready to switch again right before the pendulum swings.
To survive and thrive while others are swept away, apply these principles:
Time can be viewed...
The Law of Power: Sometimes it’s better to ignore things. You’ll make small problems worse, make yourself look bad, and give your enemy attention he doesn’t deserve if you respond to a minor provocation. By not showing interest, you maintain your superiority.
When faced with an irritating, but minor offense, sometimes the best course is to ignore it. Not responding can be a demonstration of power — a message that it’s not worth your interest.
Also, you avoid wasting time, becoming mired in someone else’s mess, or drawing attention to someone or something that will fade away on its own.
Ignoring people who thrive on your attention is an effective power tactic. You cancel them out by withdrawing your attention, which may anger them but there’s nothing they can do since you’re not dealing with them. Meanwhile, you maintain your superiority.
Conversely, paying undue attention to a minor opponent gives them greater importance and makes you look petty, especially if they draw you into an extended conflict. President Kennedy...
When faced with a minor problem or annoyance, sometimes the best response is to ignore it. But people tend to jump in and try to fix it, which can make matters worse.
Think of a small, irritating problem that got worse when you tried to fix it. How did it play out? How did you end up feeling?
The Law of Power: 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. Put on a show using stunning visuals and powerful symbols that connect with people emotionally. Create a feast for the eyes and no one will notice what you’re really doing.
Our visual sense is the one we depend on the most. What we see makes a greater impression than what we hear. Images, which bypass rational thought, create powerful emotional associations, and they rarely anger or offend people the way misheard or misinterpreted words can.
Associating yourself with images and symbols will underscore and enhance your power. Use symbols to rally, excite, and unify your followers. Find a symbol to represent your cause, the more emotional the association the better. You can add to the...
The Law of Power: If you make a show of being different, flaunting unconventional ideas and behavior, people will think you look down on them, and will retaliate against you for making them feel inferior. It’s better to blend in; share your real views only with close friends and like-minded people.
It’s impossible to speak absolutely freely. We learn at a young age to hide our thoughts so we don’t offend, and to tell sensitive and insecure people what they want to hear. Inwardly, we think and believe what we want, but outwardly we try to be inoffensive.
However, some people chafe against such restraints, and aim to prove the superiority of their unconventional beliefs. They mostly offend rather than convincing anyone because people don’t easily reject their values, which have an emotional component.
Most unconventional people learn to blend in with others and to share their differing views only with like-minded people. Appearances are what counts — when you look like others, they assume you believe as they do and they leave you alone.
We have many orthodoxies today that we’re expected to...
The Law of Power: 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. Rattle your enemies to put them off balance.
When someone gets irrationally angry at you, realize two things:
Instead of getting caught up in someone’s emotions, think calmly about how to use them.
You may want to deliberately trigger someone, either to demonstrate their instability to all, or to bait them to behave foolishly. There...
The Law of Power: Use money and generosity strategically to achieve your goals. Remember that everything has a price, and don’t accept “free gifts.” But use the desire for a “free lunch” to deceive others. Use gifts to build a reputation of generosity, which creates an aura or power, and also to obligate people to you.
Money is a tool of power — use it creatively and strategically to enhance your reputation and power. Or, use the psychology of how people behave around money to implement scams.
When someone gives you something for free, you’re then obligated to them. You need to guard your independence, but you can use the tactic with others.
When you give a gift, you put the recipient under obligation. You also disarm the person so she’s less likely to see what you’re really up to. You enhance your reputation — everyone likes a generous person — and build allies, which furthers your quest for power.
There are several personality types who don’t understand how to use money to enhance power. Don’t fall into these patterns. Further, when you encounter these types, use their weakness to your advantage:
The Law of Power: If you succeed a great person or famous parent, find or create your own space to fill. Sharply separate and distance yourself from the past. Create your own identity, style, and symbols, and follow your own course. Beware of slipping back into the past.
Many successors struggle when they have to succeed a great leader or famous parent. It’s difficult because the predecessor succeeded by building power from scratch. The successor is starting with a fait accompli, which is difficult to improve on.
There’s also outside pressure on the successor to continue on the same course, since it’s working, rather than break with tradition and precedent. The successor may be afraid to lose his inheritance as well, and therefore hesitates to change things.
But power requires you to appear larger than other people. When you’re stuck in a great predecessor’s shadow, it’s difficult to project even more greatness. But if you find yourself in this situation, there are ways to overcome it.
You need the ability to fill a vacuum, or to occupy and dominate a new space. When you succeed a great leader, you must find or create your own space to fill.
The Law of Power: Trouble in a group often starts with a single individual who stirs the pot. You need to stop them before others succumb to their influence. Neutralize their influence by isolating or exposing them. Their followers will scatter.
In every group or organization, there are one or two people who like to stir the pot, or spread discontent. These troublemakers may operate overtly, subtly, or both. They may or may not be the group’s leaders.
In any case, their rumblings undermine a group’s effectiveness and cooperative spirit by stirring dissension and dissatisfaction and creating factions. Their dissatisfaction is like an infection that spreads quickly, if not caught and treated in the earliest stages.
Ancient Athens recognized the harm such people could do and typically banished them. To maintain your power and prevent your objectives from being derailed, you also need to identify and nip troublemakers in the bud.
When you sense trouble brewing, look for the disgruntled individual that people seem to be listening to and quoting. Troublemakers are typically overbearing and they’re complainers. To stop them you need to isolate them...
The Law of Power: Win others’ hearts and minds, and you’ll have them eating out of your hand. Play on their emotions and weaknesses, appeal to their self-interest and they’ll willingly do what you want. Build broad support — someday you’ll need it. Neglect this at your peril.
Making people do what you want by force may work in the short term, but it isn’t a sustainable long-term strategy because it generates resistance. Winning their hearts and minds — so they bend to your will voluntarily — is more effective and less costly.
The key to winning hearts and minds is to use people’s emotions and weaknesses. Understand their individual psychology and their emotional responses. Target strong emotions such as hate, envy, and love. Play on what they’re afraid of and what’s dear to them. When you connect with their emotions, they’re more susceptible to your control. When he gave speeches, Mao always appealed to the crowd’s emotions and spoke...
The Law of Power: Use the mirroring technique to control people. When you mirror opponents’ actions, doing as they do, they can’t figure out your strategy. Seduce people by mirroring their emotions and interests; create the illusion that you share their values. Few can resist when you reflect their deepest needs and desires.
When you pass by a mirror and suddenly see yourself, it has a startling and powerful effect. You can create a similarly powerful effect on others when you use the psychological technique of mirroring.
You can neutralize an opponents’ impact by doing what they do. Repeating their actions or words frustrates and distracts them from their objectives. Throwing their words or actions back at them can also disguise what you’re up to and give you time to maneuver. It works well in military and political campaigns.
But more commonly, you’ll want to use mirroring psychologically to charm, manipulate, and deceive. Most people try to dominate interactions with their opinions,...
The Law of Power: 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.
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.
However, there are ways to make change more appealing and less threatening to people, and therefore more successful.
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...
People accept change in the abstract, but are unsettled by change that seems too drastic, or that affects them personally. You can make people more comfortable with change by making it seem less threatening.
Think of a situation in which you implemented change. What steps did you take, over what time period?
The Law of Power: Your talents and achievements will generate envy. The envious will work quietly against you. To forestall or mitigate envy, admit to a flaw or weakness, emphasize the role of luck, or downplay your talents. Envy is extremely dangerous — recognize it and don’t let it escalate.
Your success will arouse the envy of those around you, and can bring harm upon you, if you don’t recognize the signs and stop it before it grows into a destructive force.
With little exception, your talent, accomplishment, and public admiration will generate unease in others. The reason is that most people have an inflated sense of self-worth. Your success punctures their balloon — they’re not as talented or as smart as they thought. They may even be mediocre. This stirs up envy and feelings of inferiority.
People may disguise their envy by criticizing you (for instance by saying you got where you are by taking advantage of others), or they’ll praise you excessively. Others will be indirect, working quietly and persistently to undermine you. Signs of envy include sarcastic remarks or open expressionf of resentment.
**The people you should fear the most are those...
When someone becomes jealous of you, they often work quietly against you and can cause a lot of harm before you realize it. It’s important to watch for signs and take steps to minimize envy.
Think of an achievement or honor you received. How did the people around you react? Did anyone’s behavior suggest envy? How?
The Law of Power: The moment of victory is a moment of danger because you’re tempted to press your luck. Don’t let emotions push you past your goal. Stop, consolidate your gains, and prepare for new, different circumstances.
Once you’ve achieved a victory there’s a great — and dangerous — temptation to continue pressing forward. The ability to resist the temptation, stop, and consolidate your gains distinguishes the powerful from the wannabes.
The danger inherent in victory is this: Up until the point of victory you’ve relied on a strategy, which has given you the ability to control what comes next. However, victory and the elation it generates undermine your control for two reasons:
The Law of Power: Be flexible, fluid, and unpredictable — formless — so your opponents can’t get a fix on you and figure out how to respond. When you look and behave in conventional ways that your enemy can grasp, you’re easy to attack. Change constantly to suit ever-changing circumstances and needs.
Learn to be formless — that is, flexible, fluid, and unpredictable — and your opponents won’t be able to get a handle on you. Formlessness is strategic. It gives you room to maneuver, create surprises, and bewilder your opponent. It’s a tool that increases your power. Don’t be locked into a single system, process, strategy, or approach. Change to suit your needs and circumstances.
Guerrilla warfare is formless (without a clear or definite shape or structure). T.E. Lawrence, a British officer and diplomat, put formlessness into practice as a guerrilla strategy during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire in World War I. While working with the Arabs fighting the Turks, he made the Arabs fade into the desert, never presenting a target. The Turks wasted enormous energy trying to find them, but the Arabs never revealed themselves until they attacked. Their...