The 48 Laws of Power cover

The 48 Laws of Power - Book Summary

The secret methods to getting what you want

Duration: 20:31
Release Date: October 25, 2023
Book Author: Robert Greene
Categories: Management & Leadership, Career & Success
Duration: 20:31
Release Date: October 25, 2023
Book Author: Robert Greene
Categories: Management & Leadership, Career & Success

In this episode of "20 Minute Books", we dive into the provocative universe of "The 48 Laws of Power" written by Robert Greene. Published in 1998, this book offers an intriguing exploration of power dynamics at their core. With the backdrop of historical context, it unravels how power is understood, protected against, and utilized for one's benefit.

Hailing from the University of California, Berkeley, Robert Greene is a renowned American author and public speaker. With five internationally acclaimed bestsellers to his name, Greene has a profound understanding of strategy, power, and the path to success. "The 48 Laws of Power" is the first stepping stone in this exceptional literary journey.

This book is an ideal companion for entrepreneurs on their quest to secure a leading edge in their market, anyone aspiring to acquire power while safeguarding themselves and others from its potential misuse, and individuals intrigued by the evolution of power dynamics throughout history. Journey with us into this riveting world of power-play and emerge with insights that could potentially change your life.

Dive into the compelling universe of power and its intricate intricacies.

Consider the first day you stepped into a primary school classroom — it probably hit you like a bucket of cold water. If your parents brought you up with solid values of honesty and fairness, and you took their words to heart, you likely found yourself in a challenging terrain when suddenly mixed with your peers. It was almost as if fairness was the playground of the naive and the weak!

Let's face it, consistent fairness can sometimes put a significant dent in your road to success. If you're already navigating the high seas of business leadership or politics, this wouldn't come as news to you. But fret not if you're still working your way up!

Robert Greene was once standing in your shoes. Driven by curiosity, he delved deep into the complex labyrinth of power to understand how to acquire it, employ it, and protect oneself from its misuse. He emerged with an impressive list of 48 power laws. Today, we will shine the spotlight on the seven most enlightening ones.

In this narrative, you'll discover —

how a rookie misstep can unexpectedly lead you to victory in a chess competition;

why a well-intentioned minister ended up in a dungeon for merely organizing a festivity for his king;

and the surprising circumstances when conceding defeat might actually be your ticket to triumph.

Propel your superior to the limelight, instead of outshining them with your brilliance.

Ever made an attempt to wow your boss and, instead, ended up eating humble pie? Well, if your charm offensive towards a person in power has ever backfired, it could be because you ended up outshining them. Remember, those in power relish being the focal point of attention; trying too hard to impress them can divert the spotlight from them to you, bruising their ego in the process.

And committing the blunder of displaying superiority over them is even worse — your boss might perceive you as a threat, and your exit from the company could be swift and brutal.

Consider the saga between King Louis XIV of France and his finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet. Despite being an intelligent and loyal advisor, Fouquet's indispensability to the king did not guarantee him the position of prime minister when it became vacant. In a bid to earn the king's favor, Fouquet hosted an opulent party at his exorbitantly decorated mansion to showcase his influential connections and stature.

The day after the party, Fouquet found himself incarcerated by royal decree — the king felt overshadowed and vindictively accused him of theft to accumulate his luxurious wealth. The once influential minister was left to languish behind bars for the rest of his life.

So, now that you're aware of what not to do, how do you curry favor with your boss? A smarter approach is to consistently make the person in authority appear brighter than everyone else — yes, that includes you too.

Take the clever manoeuvre of the astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei. In dire need of financial backing for his research, Galileo had a creative idea to secure funding. Upon discovering the four moons of Jupiter in 1610, he astutely linked his discovery to the enthronement of Cosimo II de’ Medici.

How so?

With strategic ingenuity, Galileo suggested that the four moons symbolised Cosimo II and his three siblings, while Jupiter was likened to their father, Cosimo I. This masterstroke of stroking the ruler's vanity earned Galileo the esteemed titles of the official philosopher and mathematician of Cosimo II.

Leverage the fruits of other people's labor and guard your work diligently.

Would you ever think of appropriating portions of someone else's work, perhaps by cleverly borrowing a few inspired bits? Have you ever sneakily peeped at your classmate's paper during a math test to copy answers? Maybe you have, maybe you haven't. But it's undeniable that the quest for power often involves capitalizing on the labor of others.

Why expend your own resources and efforts when someone else can shoulder the burden for you? For instance, are you aware that the renowned Serbian scientist Nikola Tesla was employed under the famous inventor Thomas Edison? Interestingly, it was Tesla, not Edison, who played a significant role in the development of Edison's celebrated dynamo — he significantly enhanced what was essentially a rudimentary design at the time.

To accomplish this, Tesla dedicated an entire year to relentless work, frequently putting in shifts of up to 18 hours in the lab. Yet today, it's Edison's name that is famously associated with the dynamo.

The modus operandi isn't very different today from Edison's era. Consider how seldom politicians pen their own speeches, or how prominent authors skillfully 'borrow' from their peers.

However, merely enjoying the results of another's labor isn't sufficient — it's vital to stake your claim on it too. For instance, Edison and his enterprise took all the accolades for Tesla's contributions to the dynamo. Edison didn't even share a fragment of his earnings with Tesla, despite promising him a hefty $50,000!

So, bearing in mind Tesla's story, remember that the recognition received for any innovation or creation is just as crucial as the creation itself. If you don't lay claim to your work, there will undoubtedly be someone ready to snatch your idea — and all the subsequent acclaim.

Attain power over someone by understanding them deeply — pretend to be their ally to achieve this.

Perhaps you've grappled with this challenge before — you're trying to outwit your competition, but you can't quite decode your competitors' tactics. How do you surmount this obstacle?

A crucial ploy to gaining dominance is to amass significant details about the individuals you aspire to wield power over. If you wish to extract something from someone, you need to comprehend them. After all, knowing a person’s plans, vulnerabilities, and aspirations can help you earn their goodwill and steer their actions.

Consider the strategy of art dealer Joseph Duveen, who in 1920 was determined to woo industrialist Andrew Mellon as a client. But Mellon proved a tough nut to crack, prompting Duveen to resort to bribing Mellon's staff for confidential information about their boss.

Whenever Mellon visited London, Duveen ensured he followed suit. The dealer conveniently ran into Mellon at an art gallery they were both visiting and struck up a stimulating conversation.

Equipped with extensive knowledge about Mellon's preferences, Duveen effortlessly won him over by creating the illusion of shared tastes in art, among other common interests. The encounter concluded on a high note, and Mellon soon became Duveen's most valuable client.

So, how can you replicate Duveen's strategy?

You could employ informants or better still, assume the role of a spy yourself by posing as the person's friend. While most people choose to hire spies, as Duveen did, this approach comes with risks. After all, how can you verify the veracity of your spies' reports?

To ensure the accuracy of your intelligence, it's best to undertake the spying operation yourself. However, this is no mean feat, as people generally hesitate to divulge personal information to outsiders.

Nevertheless, they tend to let their guard down around those they perceive as friends, which makes masquerading as a friend an extremely effective tactic.

Engage in erratic behavior to perplex your competition.

You're likely aware that most individuals resist sudden shifts, but did you know that you can leverage unpredictability as a competitive edge? By acting in an inconsistent manner, you can keep your competition on their toes. Here's how to go about it:

In competitive situations, your rivals will probably spare no effort in trying to decipher your patterns and decision-making process, and they won't think twice about using this information to their advantage. In such a scenario, your most powerful counter-move is to behave unpredictably — this ensures you cannot be easily figured out by your competitors, thereby leaving them feeling threatened and disoriented.

Look at the famous 1972 chess showdown between Bobby Fischer and Russian champion Boris Spassky. Fischer knew that Spassky's modus operandi was to exploit the predictability and routines of his adversary, and he turned this insight into his trump card by playing the game as irregularly as possible.

Even in the run-up to the match, Fischer kept everyone guessing if he'd show up in Reykjavik, the designated venue for the contest. And when he did appear, it was barely in the nick of time — just as the game was on the verge of being called off due to his non-appearance. Fischer's erratic antics continued as he raised issues about everything from the lighting and chairs to the noise in the room.

When the inaugural match of the tournament finally kicked off, Fischer threw Spassky off by making uncharacteristic errors and conceding — a strange turn of events considering Fischer's reputation for tenacity. Spassky was left bewildered, unable to discern if Fischer was genuinely making mistakes or merely putting on an act.

Fischer had successfully cornered Spassky exactly where he wanted him: when your competitor is sufficiently bewildered, you are perfectly positioned to seize the win.

Why so?

Engaging in actions that baffle your opponent forces them to expend their energy trying to make sense of your behavior, diverting them from the immediate task. This creates an opportune moment for you to strike.

So, after the first two rounds of chess, Fischer began clinching victory after victory with audacious moves. When the dust settled, Spassky conceded defeat and Fischer was crowned the world champion.

Concede to a mightier adversary now to amass power in the future.

Ever found yourself in a position where you're pitted against someone in a battle you know you can't win? While it's typical for people to defy all odds and fight for honor, this isn't the pathway to power. So what's the best course of action when you're up against a stronger adversary?

The answer is to surrender.

This might seem counterintuitive, especially as humans are innately inclined to defend against their foes. However, when a rival behaves aggressively, they will anticipate a similar response from you. In instances where you're certain your adversary has the upper hand, your wisest move is to deviate from the expected path and capitulate.

But why?

If you surrender, or at least make your opponent believe that you have, you can prevent them from inflicting major harm. Moreover, your opponent, under the impression that they have emerged victorious, will relax their defenses. This creates a golden window of opportunity for you to recover your strength and strategize your next move.

Let's examine the scenario involving Bertolt Brecht, a writer who espoused revolutionary communist ideologies and immigrated to the United States in 1941 to join a collective of intellectuals in exile from Europe. After World War II, Brecht and his counterparts were called before the U.S. Congress, which was probing into alleged communist infiltration of Hollywood.

While his fellow radicals resisted and challenged the authority of Congress by creating a ruckus and being noncompliant, Brecht remained cool-headed and courteously responded to the queries directed at him.

Thanks to his well-mannered conduct, Brecht was let off the hook by the government, which even offered to assist him with his immigration procedure — ultimately, their assistance was unnecessary because he left the country and carried on articulating his staunch beliefs through his writings.

And his recalcitrant comrades?

They were blacklisted, rendering them unable to publish their works for years!

Hence, emulate Brecht's approach and transform surrender into a tool for self-empowerment. Strive for long-term resilience instead of sacrificing a great deal for fleeting moments of glory.

To command respect like a superior, you must carry yourself like one.

Do you hold a higher position than someone else? If so, it's critical to embody that role — unless you'd rather be viewed as their equal. But bear in mind, behaving as if you're on the same footing as others while occupying a higher rank will only breed disrespect.

Consider Louis-Philippe, the king of France during the 1830s and 40s. He held a deep aversion for royal ceremonies and the emblematic regalia that came with the throne. Known for his disregard for the etiquettes of his rank, he was notorious for donning a simple gray hat and carrying an umbrella instead of the traditional crown and scepter. Rather than hobnobbing with other royalties, he mostly socialized with bankers.

However, the king's conduct yielded no favorable results — he soon attracted the ire of both the affluent and the impoverished. The wealthy class was indignant at the unconventional king, while the economically disadvantaged despised a monarch who mimicked the mannerisms of the lower classes but failed to champion their welfare. Even his banker acquaintances turned hostile when they realized they could offend him without any repercussions.

This accumulated resentment eventually triggered an uprising against him, leading to his forced abdication from the throne.

People generally harbor mistrust for higher-ups who pose as their equals; such behavior arouses suspicion of dishonesty, as people tend to view this seemingly humble demeanor as a cunning ploy to disguise their privileges.

So what's the recommended approach?

You should instead employ what's known as the strategy of the crown to ensure people accord you regal respect. In essence, if you perceive yourself to be superior and act accordingly, others will also start recognizing your superiority. When they observe you acting like a superior, they'll presume there's a valid justification for your demeanor.

Take the example of Christopher Columbus — he carried himself like a royal, and consequently, he was mostly perceived as one. In fact, it was his confident mingling with the Spanish royal family that ultimately persuaded the Spanish throne to fund his expeditions.

Seduction is a more effective route to power than force.

Imagine you're in the shoes of Chuko Liang, the chief strategist for the ancient Chinese kingdom of Shu: The southern King Menghuo has just declared war on China, and it's now your responsibility to halt his advances and safeguard the nation.

But before delving into what you ought to do, it's important to understand what you should avoid.

To start with, resorting to power and forceful strategies is never a smart move, even if they appear to be the most convenient options. In fact, exercising your might will only stoke concealed resentment as force inevitably incites resistance. Liang was aware of this and refrained from launching a full-frontal attack, even though he could have likely vanquished the invading forces.

But had he done so, Menghuo would harbor resentment towards both China and Liang, and the nation would have to remain on constant alert. This constant state of vigilance would have drained everyone involved and cultivated a climate of distrust.

A more effective strategy is seduction. People are predominantly governed by their emotions, and by manipulating their sentiments, you can make them act according to your wishes — voluntarily.

Achieving this involves initially intimidating your opponent to anticipate hardship, followed by an unexpected display of kindness. For instance, when Menghuo invaded China, Liang seized him and his entire army. Menghuo was separated from his troops and braced for the worst, but he was taken aback when he was served gourmet food and wine.

While Liang set free his enemy’s soldiers, he stipulated that Menghuo could be released only if the enemy king pledged to submit to the Chinese king if ever captured again.

Even though Liang apprehended Menghuo multiple times, he always set him free. It was only on the seventh capture that Menghuo willingly prostrated himself at Liang’s feet, surrendering himself and his kingdom.

Despite having multiple opportunities to kill Menghuo — a fact the enemy king was well aware of — Liang extended repeated chances and consistently treated him well. Consequently, Menghuo's gratitude and sense of obligation to the Chinese king grew, culminating in his voluntary surrender.

Concluding insights

The primary lesson from this book:

Through the ages, power and victory have governed the world. While a great deal has transformed in today's times, the significance of leadership and superiority is still paramount. By studying the successes and missteps of historical battles for power, you can harness your potential to become an influential figure.

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