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.

Vinnies CEO Sleepout

THERE are currently more than 105,000 homeless people in Australia.

Census figures from 2006 indicate that each night 54% of homeless people seeking supported accommodation are turned away, which means around 56,000 people are sleeping on the street each night in Australia.

The problem is that in the wake of the financial crisis the number of homeless people has risen much faster than the supply of homeless and housing services required to support the needs of people experiencing disadvantage.

The St Vincent de Paul Society indicates that the new face of homelessness is families: young families; two-parent families; families with no history of domestic violence.  The sub-prime crisis didn’t only hurt corporate Balance Sheets and Profit & Loss statements, it also hurt families in local communities.  Homelessness is no longer a problem isolated merely to the victims of substance abuse, gambling addiction or mental illness.   The market downturn has forced people on the edges of the labour force into positions of serious disadvantage.

On Thursday 17 June 2010, the Vinnies CEO Sleepout will be taking place in capital cities across Australia.  The event aims to raise funds and increase community awareness about homelessness by challenging business and community leaders to experience homelessness first-hand for one night.

There are already 350 CEOs who have risen to the challenge, some of the people taking part include:

Please check out the website, and consider supporting the participants by making a donation or rising to the challenge by taking part yourself!

12 Tips for Nailing the Guesstimate Question

AS WE found out in the previous post, the guesstimate question is a usual type of question that you can expect to be asked when interviewing for a position at a consulting firm.

Here are 12 tips to help you nail the guesstimate question:

  1. Practice: We live in a world where most of us use a calculator or computer every day and it can be easy to forget how to do basic arithmetic in your head. Practice doing some guesstimate questions before the interview so that you are prepared. It is a good idea to bring a pen and paper to the interview to keep track of your calculations.  The has also suggested bringing graph paper to the interview so that you can graph your results.
  2. Know some basic facts: It will help to know a few basic facts to give you a starting point from which to make reasonable assumptions. It is a good idea to know some key country and city population estimates.  For example, estimates for the population of the world (7 billion), America (300 million), Australia (20 million), New York (20 million), Sydney (4 million) and Melbourne (4 million).
  3. Use round numbers: You are responsible for doing the calculations so pick numbers that are easy to work with. For example, estimate the population of America as 300 million not 309.3 million.
  4. Get into character: An easy way to calm your nerves and improve your performance is to role play. You are not a university graduate desperate for a consulting job, you are a professional consultant. Game on!
  5. Take a moment: It is important to maintain your composure so before starting to answer the guesstimate question take a moment to consider your approach. You can buy yourself some time by saying, “That’s an interesting question” and then pausing to think.
  6. Have a clear approach: It is important to have a clear approach to help you answer the question.
  7. Ask questions: Your interviewer may be able to provide you with direction. If the question is “How many ping-pong balls will fit inside a 747?” the first question you might want to ask your interviewer is “What is the volume of a ping-pong ball?”
  8. State your assumptions: The interviewer may not know the answer or may not want to give you direction so you’ll have to make assumptions.  It is a good idea to clearly state your assumptions. For example, “let’s assume that the diameter of a ping-pong ball is 4cm. The formula for the volume of a sphere is 4/3.pi-r^3. The volume of a ping-pong ball would therefore be about 11-pi centimetres cubed”.
  9. Think out loud: The interviewer is trying to assess your thought process in getting to the answer, not the answer itself. If you don’t think out loud, you make it difficult for the interviewer to give you points.
  10. Explain your logic: As you make your way through the problem it is helpful to explain the logic behind each of your assumptions. Instead of saying “a 747 is about 100 metres long” you could say “I know that  an average car is about 5 metres long and based on my experience I would say that 20 cars lined up end to end would be about the same length as a 747. So I will assume that a 747 is 100 metres long”.
  11. Answer the question: After doing all of the calculation remember to answer the question that has been asked.
  12. Be prepared for the follow-up question: After you answer the guesstimate question, you may be asked “If you had to find the real answer to the question, how would you do it?” This is a test of your creativity and resourcefulness.

The Guesstimate Question

THE guesstimate question is a usual type of question that you can expect to be asked when interviewing for a position at a consulting firm.

What will you be asked to do

A typical guesstimate question will require you to estimate a number by doing a rough “back of the beer coaster” calculation. You are supposed to reach a final answer by using a series of narrowing assumptions.

Your assumptions should have a sound basis and you should explain the logic behind your assumptions, however it is not important that your assumptions be 100% accurate.

What is being assessed

Your response to the guesstimate question will help the interviewer evaluate your strengths in the following areas:

  1. professionalism and ability to remain level-headed when placed in a tricky situation;
  2. creativity and sound judgement in being able to come up with plausible assumptions;
  3. logic and structured thinking; and
  4. numerical skills and level of comfort with doing basic arithmetic in your head.

The guesstimate question is quite different from the kind of interview questions that you are probably used to.  For the guesstimate question, it is better to arrive at the wrong answer with good assumptions and clear logic than to know the right answer because you saw it on the Discovery Channel last week.


Here is a list of example guesstimate questions to give you an idea of the kind of questions to expect:

  1. How many births are there in America each day?
  2. How many petrol stations are there in Sydney?
  3. How many bottles of wine are consumed in France each month?
  4. How many cups of tea are drunk in England each day?
  5. How far does the average Premiership footballer run in a single game?
  6. How much does Mount Kilimanjaro weigh?
  7. How many pounds are spent on haircuts in the UK each year?
  8. How many ping-pong balls will fit inside a 747?
  9. How many weddings are performed in China each year?
  10. How many men’s suits were sold in the United States last year?
  11. How many tennis balls fit in a swimming pool?
  12. What is the annual size of the golf ball market in Japan?
  13. Estimate the total revenues obtained from the movie Avatar.
  14. What is the size of the market for mobile phones in America?
  15. How many white cars are there in Australia?
  16. How many people are buried each year in England?
  17. What is the annual market for apples in America?
  18. What is the annual revenue of Harrods in London?
  19. What is the market for bicycles in America?
  20. How many taxis are there in New York?

5 Benefits of Forums

OVER the last 3 months I’ve had lots of people ask me interesting and relevant questions about consulting and business strategy, which made me realise that people often prefer to learn by asking questions and discussing ideas rather than reading text books or blog posts.

To help you continue learning about consulting and business strategy, a brand new consulting forum will be launched soon!

There are at least 5 clear benefits to be gained from participating in a forum:

  1. Learning: Asking questions and getting advice will make it easier to learn the things that you want to know;
  2. Credibility: If you know the answer to someone’s question and you post a helpful comment then you are helping to build credibility with other forum users. By establishing a reputation as a trusted expert you can attract attention and generate opportunities for yourself;
  3. Networking: Participating in a discussion forum is a good way to meet people who have similar interests;
  4. Community: Joining a discussion forum is an easy way to become part of a community of interest. Belonging to a community of interest allows you to help others, get feedback and support, and to build a personal identity; and
  5. Popularity: If you have a website, your popularity is measured largely by how many links point to your website. If you create a signature line to use in your forum posts which includes a link to your website then every time you ask a question or post a comment in the forum you get an extra link back to your website.

Inspirational Leadership Requires Self-Esteem

A PERSON who wants to work on their leadership ability should work on their self-esteem.

The job of a leader is to persuade and inspire. A leader needs to develop and persuasively convey a clear vision of what their organisation plans to do, and to inspire and empower the people who work for that organisation to contribute towards making that vision become a reality.

A leader with high self-esteem will be able to do that job more effectively. There are at least three reasons for this:

  1. A leader with a low self-esteem may feel the need to prove that they are right, or feel the need to take credit for any success achieved by the organisation. This kind of behaviour is unlikely to inspire and will not encourage people to give their best efforts;
  2. A leader with low self-esteem is more likely to hire other people with low self-esteem because they are intimidated by people with more confidence than themselves; and
  3. High self-esteem contributes to high performance. This view is supported by Nathaniel Branden, author of The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, who has identified six practices that result from (and contribute towards) high self-esteem:
      a.  living consciously;
      b.  self-acceptance;
      c.  self-responsibility;
      d.  self-assertiveness;
      e.  living purposefully; and
      f.  personal integrity.

A leader who operates at a high level of consciousness, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, self-assertiveness, purposefulness, and personal integrity, that would certainly be inspirational.