The 48 Laws of Power

PEOPLE are motivated to succeed in business for different reasons. Some people want to change the world and some just want to make money. If you go to business school or listen to CEOs speak at annual meetings you’ll hear a lot of talk about money: how much money, made by whom, from which activities, and what is the plan to make even more next year.

The drive by individuals and corporations to make more money seems so normal that few people stop to ask the obvious question, why acquire more money?  What is the purpose?  Why go to so much trouble?

To quote Al Pacino’s character Tony Montana from the 1983 film Scarface:

In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.

If money is merely a means to acquire power then it makes sense to consider power.  Is the acquisition of power a worthwhile goal?  How can power be acquired and maintained?

The 1998 bestselling book written by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers entitled “The 48 Laws of Power” goes a long way towards answering the second question. The 48 Laws of Power are quite telling, if not a little Machiavellian, and provide a good explanation of the principles by which power can be acquired and maintained:

Law 1 – Never Outshine The Master – Always make those above you feel comfortably superior.

Law 2 – Never Put Too Much Trust In Friends, Learn How To Use Enemies

Law 3 – Conceal Your Intentions – Keep people off-balance by never revealing your purpose. Guide them in the wrong direction and by the time they realise what you’re up to, it will be too late.

Law 4 – Always Say Less Than Necessary – When you are trying to impress people with words, say as little as possible. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.

Law 5 – Reputation – Guard It With Your Life – Reputation is the cornerstone of power because once it slips you are vulnerable to attack. You can attack your enemies by destroying their reputation and allowing public opinion to hang them.

Law 6 – Seek Attention – Never let yourself get lost in the crowd. Stand out and attract attention.

Law 7 – Use the Good Work of Others – Use the good work of others to your advantage. Their assistance will save you time and energy, and give you an aura of godlike efficiency. In the end your helpers will be forgotten and you will be remembered.

Law 8 – Make Other People Come To You – When you force the other person to act, you are the one in control.

Law 9 – Win Through Actions – Any victory gained through argument is a Pyrrhic victory.  People hate to be defeated and victory through argument means nothing because “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”. It is more powerful to win the agreement of others through your actions, without saying a word.

Law 10 – Avoid Infection – Emotional states are infectious. The unfortunate can draw misfortune not only on themselves but also on you. Associate only with happy and fortunate people.

Law 11 – Keep People Dependent On You – If people value you or need what you have then they will be willing to give you more freedom and make exceptions for you.

Law 12 – Use Honesty To Disarm People – One honest action can cover dozens of dishonest ones. You can use selective honesty to bring down people’s guard . Once their defenses are down, you can manipulate them.

Law 13 – Appeal To People’s Self-Interest – If you need help from someone don’t remind the person of your past helpfulness, they will find a way to ignore you. Instead, appeal to the person’s self-interest by finding something in your request that will benefit them.

Law 14 – Pose As A Friend, Work As A Spy – Information is power. Gathering information about rivals allows you to destroy them. Pose as a friend and work as a spy.

Law 15 – Crush Your Enemy Completely – A feared enemy must be crushed completely. If you give your enemy a chance to recover they will seek revenge.

Law 16 – Create Value Through Scarcity – The more you are seen, the more common you appear. If you are already established in a group, temporarily withdraw from it. This will  make you more talked about and even more admired.

Law 17 – Cultivate An Air Of Unpredictability – Humans are creatures of habit with an insatiable need to see familiarity in other people’s actions. Your predictability gives them a sense of control.

Law 18 – Isolation Is Dangerous – The world is dangerous and enemies are everywhere so you need to protect yourself. Isolation exposes you to more dangers than it protects you from. Mingling amongst the people gives you access to information and avoids making you a conspicuous target.

Law 19 – Know Who You’re Dealing With – There are many different kinds of people in the world, and you can never assume that everyone will react to your strategies in the same way. Deceive the wrong person and they will spend the rest of their lives seeking revenge.

Law 20 – Do Not Commit To Anyone – Do not commit to any cause but yourself. By maintaining your independence you become the master of others.

Law 21 – Seem Dumber Than You Are – No one likes to feel stupider than the next person. The trick is to make people feel smart – and not just smart, but smarter than you are. Once convinced of this, they will never suspect that you may have ulterior motives.

Law 22 – Surrender When Weak – When you are weak, choose to surrender. Surrender gives you time to recover, and time to wait for their power to wane. By turning the other cheek you infuriate and unsettle your enemy.

Law 23 – Concentrate Your Forces – Conserve your energies and concentrate them at their strongest point. You gain more by finding one rich client, than by having a dozen poor ones.

Law 24 – Play The Perfect Courtier -The perfect courtier woos people and thrives in a world where everything revolves around power and political dexterity.

Law 25 – Re-Create Yourself – Do not accept the roles that society chooses for you. Create a new identity and be the master of your own image rather than letting others define it for you.

Law 26 – Keep Your Hands Clean – You must not be associated with common actions, inefficiency or mistakes.

Law 27 – Play On People’s Need To Believe – People have an overwhelming desire to believe in something. Become the focal point of such desire by offering them something to follow. Keep your words vague but full of promise; emphasize enthusiasm over rationality and clear thinking.

Law 28 – Act With Boldness – If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. When you act, act with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity.

Law 29 – Think Long Term, Plan Carefully – Take a long term view and plan all the way to the end, taking into account all the possible consequences and obstacles. By planning to the end you will not be overwhelmed by circumstances and you will know when to stop. Guide fortune and help determine the future by thinking far ahead.

Law 30 – Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless – When you act, act effortlessly, as if you could do much more. Avoid the temptation of revealing how hard you work. Teach no one your tricks or they will be used against you.

Law 31 – Control the Options – The best deceptions are the ones that seem to give the other person a choice. Give people options that come out in your favor whichever one they choose. Force them to make choices between the lesser of two evils, both of which serve your purpose.

Law 32 – Play To People’s Fantasies – Never appeal to truth and reality unless you are prepared for the anger that comes from disenchantment. Life is so harsh and distressing that people are drawn to those who can manufacture romance or fantasy.

Law 33 – Find Each Man’s Achilles Heel – Everyone has a weakness: an insecurity, an uncontrollable emotion or need, or a small secret pleasure. Once found, you can turn it to your advantage.

Law 34 – Beware The Tickets You Put On Yourself – The way you carry yourself will often determine how you are treated.  In the long run, people will treat you at your self-estimation.

Law 35 – Master The Art of Timing – Never seem to be in a hurry – hurrying betrays a lack of control. Always seem patient, as if you know that everything will come to you eventually.

Law 36 – Disdain Things You Cannot Have – If there is something you want but cannot have, show contempt for it. The less interest you reveal, the more superior you seem.

Law 37 – Create Compelling Spectacles – Striking imagery and grand gestures create the aura of power – everyone responds to them. Stage spectacles for those around you.

Law 38 – Behave Like Others – If you make a show of going against the times and flaunting your unconventional ideas, people will find a way to punish you for making them feel inferior. It is far safer to blend in and nurture the common touch. Share your originality only with close and tolerant friends.

Law 39 – Be Calm – Anger and emotion are strategically counterproductive. You must always stay calm and objective but if you can make your enemies angry while staying calm yourself, you gain the advantage.

Law 40 – There Is No Free Lunch – Anything offered for free is dangerous as it usually involves either a trick or hidden obligation. Anything of value is worth paying for and by paying the full price you stay clear of deception, financial indebtedness and moral indebtedness. Be generous with your money, for generosity is a sign of power.

Law 41 – Avoid Stepping Into A Great Man’s Shoes – What happens first always appears better and more original than what comes after. Establish your own name and identity and distinguish yourself as unique from the great men who have come before you.

Law 42 – Strike The Shepherd And The Sheep Will Scatter – Trouble can often be traced to a single strong individual. Do not wait for the trouble to arise, do not try to negotiate with them. Neutralize their influence by isolating or banishing them.

Law 43 – Work On Hearts And Minds – If you use coercion people will eventually react against you. You need to seduce people so that they willingly move in your direction. The way to seduce others is to operate on their individual psychologies and weaknesses.

Law 44 – Disarm Others With The Mirror Effect – The Mirror Effect involves doing exactly as the other person does.  The Mirror Effect can be used to seduce others by making them believe you share their values. It also means they cannot figure out your strategy.

Law 45 – Preach The Need For Change, But Reform Slowly – Everyone understands the need for change, but people are creatures of habit. If you are new to a position of power, show respect for tradition. If change is necessary, make it feel like a gentle improvement.

Law 46 – Never Appear Too Perfect – Appearing better than others is dangerous and envy creates silent enemies. It is smart to occasionally display defects, and admit to harmless vices, in order to deflect envy and appear more human. Only gods and the dead can appear perfect with impunity.

Law 47 – Learn When To Stop – The moment of victory is often the moment of greatest danger. In the heat of victory you risk pushing past your goal. Set a goal, and when you reach it, stop.

Law 48 – Assume Formlessness – By having a predictable plan, you open yourself to attack. Nothing is certain and the best way to protect yourself is to be flexible and change often.

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One Reply to “The 48 Laws of Power”

  1. Law 21 – Seem Dumber Than You Are – No one likes to feel stupider than the next person. The trick is to make people feel smart – and not just smart, but smarter than you are. Once convinced of this, they will never suspect that you may have ulterior motives.

    A girl seeking notes used this one on me once!

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