Book Summary: The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

48 Laws

Maxims

– Be like water—stay flexible and don’t get stuck in your ways.

– Be wary of old ideas and advice from others–always put it in the context of changing circumstances.

 

Book Notes

In a nutshell: Power is everything in life–without it we are helpless. Having control leads to having more power. Have a plan for everything. Attention draws more power. Manage your emotions. Deception is the best weapon in the pursuit of power. Say less than necessary and make people come to you. Cultivate your own personal style, and make your accomplishments appear effortless. Always ask for more. Be adaptable and eschew dogma and old ways of thinking.

Everything in life is a game of power. Being powerless is being helpless, and being helpless is miserable. Don’t be fooled by claims of honesty or naïveté, as these can be subtle power moves themselves. Rather than shrugging off the pursuit of power, you should strive to get better at the game of power yourself. Doing so will make you a better person, as you will inevitably help people and make them feel better along the way. Because the game is inescapable, it is better to be an artist at it than a novice.

The most important skill to master in your pursuit of power is to manage your emotions. Emotions cloud judgment and reduce your level of control in a situation.

Understand the past and the future

You should spend a great deal of time calculating what might happen in the future, and use the past to constantly learn from the experiences of yourself and of others.

Deception is the most potent weapon in the game of power. The most helpful shield in the pursuit of power is patience. Always make moves to acquire power indirectly.

Law 1: never outshine the master

Always make your master feel powerful, smart, and clever. Some masters are more insecure than others, so you must keep in mind that sometimes you can outshine them just by being yourself. It is not a weakness to disguise your strengths.

Law 2: learn to never trust friends too much, and learn how to use your enemies

Friends can get jealous, and enemies have more to prove that friends, so enemies can be more trustworthy than friends.

Law 3: conceal your intentions

Use decoys and red herrings to disorient people from your true intentions. Gain people’s confidence by speaking with sincerity about a goal that you don’t really want, and divulging a heartfelt (but meaningless) secret to win their trust. Use grand gestures and establish false patterns to conceal your true intent.

Law 4: always say less than necessary

Trying to impress someone by talking more will only make you look foolish. Being sparse and vague with your words will make you seem more majestic and more powerful to others, and will lead to others tipping their hands to you and showing their weakness in order to fill the silence.

Law 5: reputation is everything–guard it with your life

Start by establishing your reputation based on one outstanding quality, such as generosity or honesty. Build and subtly defend your reputation until it is well known. Undermine your enemies’ reputations indirectly to gain an advantage over them.

Law 6: court attention at all costs

The worst thing for anyone seeking power is to be ignored. Attract attention to yourself by being bold, colorful, and controversial. Even negative attention can be a good thing. Create a sense of mystery in what you do by saying less, caring about your appearance, and doing unpredictable things that capture people’s imaginations.

Law 7: use the work of those around you, but always take the credit

Never do something yourself if someone else can do it for you. Likewise, always protect the credit for a project that you done by holding it closely to you until the time is right.

Law 8: make other people come to you

Always favor effective action to aggressive action. Keep opponents on the defensive by being slow to act and laying subtle traps for them. When you make other people come to you, you are in control.

Law 9: win through your actions, never through argument

The truth is generally seen, not heard. If a confrontation can be solved by showing proof rather than direct argument, than it is the better approach.

Lot 10: avoid the unhappy and the unlucky

Associate yourself with happy and fortunate people to avoid being infected by the problems of others.

Law 11: keep people dependent on you

The more you are relied on, the more freedom you have. If you are ambitious, you are better off seeking out weak rather than strong masters so that they become dependent on you. Become the man behind the throne. Power is not independence; it requires other people.

Law 12: use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim

Law 13: when asking for help, appeal to people’s self interest, not mercy or gratitude

Speak about the future, not about the past. Start with finding out what motivates and interests the other person, whether it be money, respect, or reputation.

Law 14: Pose as a friend, work as a spy

Use conversations and encounters to conspicuously gather information about people that you can use to your advantage.

Law 15: Crush your enemy completely

People with wounded pride will seek vengeance. Make sure to beat your enemy decisively and quickly.

 

Lost 16: use absence to increase respect and honor

Create value through scarcity. A strong presence will increase your influence and power, but only to a certain point.

Lost 17: keep others in suspense, and cultivate an air of unpredictability

Your opponents will use pattern recognition to plan a strategy to beat you. If your behavior is impossible to predict, however, they will be unable to have this sense of control over you and will fear in you instead. The more capricious you act, the more defensive your enemies become, and the more respect and interest you obtain. Don’t be predictable.

Law 18: don’t build fortresses to protect yourself–isolation is dangerous

Fortresses have a way of cutting off the people they are trying to protect from flexibility, information, and people that lead to greater amounts of power. Make a habit of mixing with different groups of people, which will give you the most amount of information and keep you relevant and powerful.

Lawn 19: know who you were dealing with. Do not offend the wrong person.

Along the road to power, there are any number of opponents, suckers, and victims. You need to be able to know who is who in order to be effective. Learn to recognize who is who and how to react accordingly. Five types of people to avoid:

  • Proud and arrogant people: if they are slighted, they will attack you violently
  • Insecure people: if you wrong them, it will simmer within them and they will slowly attack you
  • Suspicious people: they see the worst in people, and always suspect people are plotting against them
  • The serpent with the long memory: these people are generally cold and calculating, and will not easily forget if they are wrong
  • Plain, unaware, and unintelligent people: these people may seem like easy victims, but you may waste time and resources trying to get them to fall for your ruse

Never assume that the person you’re dealing with is weaker or less intelligent than you are. Never trust appearances or your own instinct about people. Instead, gather as much objective information as you can about them.

Law 20: don’t commit to anyone

If you don’t commit to any people or causes other than yourself, you will make people want to win you over and Court more attention. Give them hope, but never satisfaction. Appearing unattainable Will only increase your power. Likewise, stay above the fray of petty disputes. Appear supportive and interested, but let others do the fighting.

Law 21: play a sucker to catch a sucker–seem dumber than your opponent

Never insult someone’s intelligence. Instead, make someone feel smarter than you to open up numerous avenues of deception.

Law 22: use the surrender tactic–transform weakness into power

Never sacrifice long-term power and maneuverability for short-term self-righteousness and martyrdom. Know when to wave the white flag and play along with your more powerful opponent. By appearing to turn the other cheek, you will confuse your opponent and neutralize their attack. Power is always in flux, so appearing to surrender can buy you time to strengthen your long-run position.

Law 23: concentrate your forces

Don’t let the thrill of short-term gains distract you from the threat of potentially serious failures. Forces that are bloated, dissipated and divided will fall apart. Concentrate on a single goal or a single task to ensure success.

“It is enough to strike oil once. Your wealth and power are assured for a lifetime.”

Law 24: play the perfect courtier

The laws of courtship: avoid ostentation, practice nonchalance, be frugal with flattery, get noticed by having a unique style, adapt your style to whom you were dealing with, don’t act like a friend with a superior, never be the bearer of bad news, never criticize directly, rarely ask for favors, never joke about taste or appearances, have a quick wit and humorous disposition, but don’t be a cynic, Show wonder and amazement at other people’s achievements, observe your own actions, master emotions, keep up with the style of the times, and be pleasant to be around.

Law 25: recreate yourself

Become the master of your own image, Rather than letting others define it for you. Don’t allow others to limits you or mold you. Treat your persona like an actor would treat a roll, and get good at playing many different roles.

Launch 26: keep your hands clean

Power depends on appearances. If you make a mistake, find a reasonable scapegoat instead of taking the fall yourself. Likewise, have someone else be your cat’s paw, and do your dirty work on your behalf.

Lot 27: play on people’s need to believe to create a cult-like following

Offer up a cause for people to believe in, and be enthusiastic about your ideas.

The five steps of cult making:

  1. Keep it vague, keep it simple
  2. Emphasize the sensual and visual over the rational: appeal to all the senses
  3. Structure your group like an organized religion, complete with esoteric titles and rituals
  4. Hide the sources of your wealth
  5. Set up an “us vs. them” mentality

People don’t want to hear about the fruits of hard work and exhaustion. Instead, they want a reason to believe in the mystical and the esoteric.

Law 28: enter action with boldness

Audacity and confidence increase credibility. Boldness creates fear, and fear creates authority. Swift and energetic action leaves no room for doubt. Don’t be afraid to say what you think and put your money where your mouth is. The expression of shared feelings is powerful. Boldness is an acquired trait that needs to be cultivated.

Law 29: plan all the way to the end

Improvisation is never a substitute for thinking several steps ahead. Never rely on vague, open-ended plans. Clarity and thorough planning will help you overcome anxiety.

Law 30: make your accomplishments seem effortless

Research and practice endlessly behind the scenes, but always make it look easy when it’s time to perform. Surround your actions with mystery and always hide your own cleverness.

Law 31: control the options, and let others play the hand that you deal

Withdrawal and disappearance are two classic ways to control the options. You can leave or you can stay, but if you stay then you can dictate the circumstances. Frame situations in your favor by presenting only options that benefit you, or by displaying them in skewed ways.

Law 32: play on people’s fantasies

Be a source of pleasure to those around you by playing on their superstitions and fantasies. The key to fantasy is offering something that is distant, ungraspable, and vague. Familiarity is the opposite of fantasy.

Law 33: discover each man’s thumbscrew (i.e. weakness)

Pay attention to verbal and nonverbal cues to determine someone’s weakness. It might be an insecurity or a secret. Get other people to open up by lending a sympathetic ear or telling them and unimportant secret of your own. Weaknesses are often the opposite of the traits that others display outwardly. The need for validation is often the best one to exploit. All you need to do is make people feel better about their taste or social status.

Law 34: be royal in your own fashion–act like a king to be treated like one

Be regal and confident, not common and vulgar. Always ask for more. If you ask for the moon, people will either think you’re crazy or think much more highly of you. How you carry yourself reflects how highly you think of yourself—you set your own price.

Law 35: master the art of timing

Never seem to be in a hurry. Hurrying implies a lack of control. Recognize the spirit of the times. Be sure to look forward to the future rather than just the relics of the past. Place yourself at the front of the next big thing, rather than just going along with the prevailing winds. No went to bide your time and went to attack. Stay patient but try to upset the timing of your opponent. Patience is worthless without the ability to ruthlessly spring into action. Acting with authority and finality will impress people.

 

Law 36: disdain things that you can’t have–ignoring them is the best revenge.

Don’t acknowledge a petty problem. Ignoring a person or situation that you dislike gives you the upper hand.

Law 37: create compelling spectacles

Establish visual trademarks to represent and differentiate your work and your style from others. Give yourself an aura by conjuring up imagery and ideals from the past. Use an emotional symbol to signify your cause.

Lost 38. think as you like, but behave like others

Only share your unorthodox and contrarian fuse with those that are close to you. People that don’t know you well will think you are trying to get attention. In public, be an advocate of orthodox thinking, and keep what you really think private.

Law 39: stir up water to catch a fish

Find a way to throw your enemies off-balance while staying calm and collected yourself. Steal the initiative from your opponent by forcing them into action before they are ready. Play on their emotions.

Law 40: despise the free lunch

The lavish with your spending and generous with your money. Generosity is a magnet for power. Accepting things in exchange for nothing usually comes with a hidden obligation, deceit, or guilt. Always protect your independence in room to maneuver. Don’t view life as a balance sheet, and don’t ignore the psychological element of money. Don’t pursue a bargain out of satisfaction. Instead, weigh the costs of additional time and trade-offs in quality. Powerful people have a sense of grandeur, and avoid pettiness.

Law 41. avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes

What happens first always appears greater than what comes after. Establish your own name and identity by changing the course if you find yourself in this situation. Eschew what has worked in the past–the world you operate in is different. Be vigilant as you grow older to avoid becoming the person you once resented. Remember that prosperity will make you lazy–fight that tendency tooth and nail.

Law 42: strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter

Recognize troublemakers and banish them before they have the chance to spread their poison. If you try to attack them directly or indirectly, they will work undercover to undermine you. People naturally congregate around a single strong personality. Understand who controls the group dynamic.

Law 43: work on the hearts and minds of others

Seduce others by playing on their emotions and fears. You have to earn people’s affection. Use the emotional and visceral responses of others to prove your point rather than logic and rationality.

Law 44: disarm and infuriate with the mirror technique

Do exactly as your enemy does to confuse them. The mirror technique neutralizes your opponent’s strategy, plays on their narcissism, and shows them the result of their own actions. For example, mimic the style of other cultures when you are in their presence.

Law 45: preach the need for change, but never reform too much at once

Too much change causes anxiety and will eventually erupt. Pay lip service to tradition. Those who finish a revolution are rarely those who started.

Law 46: never appear too perfect

Deflect envy by appearing more human and imperfect. Always except that there will be people with more success and more powerful than you. Use that knowledge and energy to push yourself rather than fall into the trap of envy. It is much easier to avoid envy then to update it once it is there. What technique is to disguise your power as self-sacrifice or for the greater good. Display trivial witnesses to appear modest and prevent envy. Excessive praise is a sure sign of it, so be vigilant when you encounter it.

Law 47: do not go past the mark you aim for–know when to quit

Don’t let hubris and overconfidence push you further than you intended to go. Have a goal and stick to it. There is no substitute for careful planning and strategy. Victory is intoxicating. Avoid repeating the same moves again and again. Always consider the role of luck in success.

Law 48: assume formlessness

Stay adaptable and think on your feet. Remember that things are always changing. Be like water. Encircle your opponent. Beat them not only head-to-head, but also through mind games. Never get stuck in your ways. Use your creativity and always be on the move. Don’t take anything personally. Always consider the trade-offs between greater size and flexibility. Smaller, more nimble groups have more strategic options than larger ones. Be wary of old ideas and advice from others, and always put it in the context of changing circumstances and the current environment.

Be like water.

My Thoughts: despite Greene’s backstabbing and ruthless writing style (you can’t blame him for taking his own advice), this book is a very useful resource for those who are wanting to learn more about power and how to acquire it. The concept of power is everywhere around us, it shouldn’t be ignored because of its unsavory repertoire. Even if you do not use these techniques, they will undoubtedly be used against you at some point, so awareness of them is key. Treat this as a guidebook for how power works, and you won’t be disappointed.

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