The 48 Laws of Power — Book Notes

Robert Greene

Si Quan Ong
Aug 6, 2017 · 61 min read

Published: 2000

Who is Robert Greene?

Robert Greene, coined the “Modern Machiavelli” distills the most important lessons from history to help you get ahead.

What This Book Is About:

The laws of power, and how you can use them to gain power for yourself.

Notes

Law 1: Never Outshine The Master

Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. In your desire to please and impress them, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish the opposite — inspire fear and insecurity. Make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power.

Keys To Power

  • Everyone has insecurities. When you show yourself in the world and display your talents, you naturally stir up all kinds of resentment, envy and other manifestations of insecurity. That is to be expected.
  • While you cannot spend your life worrying about the petty feelings of others, with those above you, you must take a different approach.
  • It is a deadly but common misconception to believe that by displaying and vaunting your gifts and talents, you are winning the master’s affection.
  • He may feign appreciation, but at this first opportunity he will replace you with someone less intelligent, attractive and threatening.

There are 2 rules you must realize.

  • 1: You can inadvertently outshine a master simply by being yourself.
  • 2: There are masters who are more insecure than others, and you may naturally outshine them by your charm and grace.
  • If you cannot help being charming or superior, you must learn to avoid such monsters of vanity. Or find a way to mute your good qualities when in the presence of such.
  • Never imagine that because the master loves you, you can do anything you want. Entire books could be written about favourites who fell out of favour by taking their status for granted.
  • Turn this Law to your advantage by flattering and puffing up your master. Use discreet flattery, for e.g make him appear more intelligent than you. Act naive. Make it seem like you need his expertise.
  • If your ideas are more creative than your master’s, ascribe them to him, in as public a manner as possible.
  • It is not a weakness to disguise your strengths if in the end they lead to power. By letting others outshine you, you remain in control, instead of being a victim to their insecurity.

Reversal

  • You cannot worry about upsetting every person you come across, but you must be selectively cruel.
  • If your superior is a falling star, there is nothing to fear from outshining him. Outdo, outcharm and outsmart him at key moments.

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

Be wary of friends — they will betray you more quickly, for they are easily aroused to envy. They also become spoiled and tyrannical. But hire a former enemy and he will be more loyal than a friend, because he has more to prove. In fact, you have more to fear from friends than from enemies. If you have no enemies, find a way to make them.

Keys To Power

  • It is natural to want to employ your friends when you find yourself in times of need. The world is a harsh place, and your friends soften the harshness.
  • The problem is you often do not know your friends as well as you imagine. Friends often agree on things in order to avoid an argument. They cover up their unpleasant qualities so as to not offend each other. They laugh extra hard at each other’s jokes.
  • Since honesty rarely strengthens friendship, you may never know how a friend truly feels.
  • When you decide to hire a friend, you gradually discover the qualities he/she has kept hidden.
  • The receipt of a favour can become oppressive — it means you have been chosen because you are a friend, not because you are deserving. There is almost a touch of condescension in the act of hiring a friend that afflicts them. The more favours and gifts you supply to revive the friendship, the less gratitude you receive.
  • If you never expect gratitude from a friend, you will be pleasantly surprised when they do prove grateful.
  • The problem with using or hiring friends is that it will inevitably limit your power. The friend is rarely the one who is most able to help you; and in the end, skill and competence are far more important than friendly feelings.
  • Keep friends for friendship, but work with the skilled and competent.
  • Your enemies are an untapped gold mine that you must learn to exploit.
  • Lincoln said: “You destroy an enemy when you make a friend of him.”
  • Without enemies around us, we grow lazy. An enemy at our heels sharpens our wits, keeping us focused and alert.
  • A sharply defined enemy is a far stronger argument for your side than all the words you could possibly put together. (Read In-group, out-group)
  • The man of power welcomes conflict, using enemies to enhance his reputation as a surefooted fighter who can be relied upon in times of uncertainty.

Reversal

  • There are times when a friend can be used to greater effect than an enemy.
  • A man of power often has dirty work that has to be done, but for the sake of appearances it is generally preferable to have other people do it for him; friends often do this the best, since their affection for him makes them willing to take chances.
  • If your plans go awry for some reason, you can use a friend as a convenient scapegoat.

Law 3: Conceal Your Intentions

Keep people off-balance and in the dark by never revealing the purpose behind your actions. If they have no clue what you are up to, they cannot prepare a defense. Guide them far enough down the wrong path, envelope them in enough smoke, and by the time they realize your intentions, it will be too late.

Part 1: Use decoyed objects of desire and red herrings to throw people off the scent

If at any point in the deception you practice people have the slightest suspicion as to your intentions, all is lost. Do not give them the chance to sense what you are up to: throw them off the scent by dragging red herrings across the path. Use false sincerity, send ambiguous signals, set up misleading objects of desire. Unable to distinguish the genuine from the false, they cannot pick out your real goal.

Keys To Power

  • Most people are open books. They say what they feel, blurt out their opinions at every opportunity and constantly reveal their plans and intentions.
  • It is easy and natural to always want to talk about one’s feelings and plans for the future, but it takes effort to control your tongue and monitor what you reveal.
  • Many believe that by being honest and open they are winning people’s hearts and showing their good nature. They are wrong. Honesty bloodies more than it cuts.
  • By making yourself so predictable and familiar, it becomes almost impossible to respect or fear you, and power will not accrue to a person who cannot inspire such emotions.
  • Lay honesty aside, and train yourself in the art of concealing your intentions.
  • Basic to an ability to conceal one’s intentions is a simple truth about human nature — our first instinct is to always trust appearances. We cannot go around doubting the reality of what we see and hear — constantly imagining that appearances concealed something else would exhaust and terrify us.
  • A tactic that is often effective in setting up a red herring is to appear to support an idea or cause that is actually contrary to your own sentiments. Most people will believe you have experienced a change of heart, since it is so unusual to play so lightly with something as emotional as one’s opinions and values.
  • Another powerful tool in throwing people off the scent is false sincerity. People easily mistake sincerity for honesty.
  • It is important to not go too far in this area. Appear overpassionate and you raise suspicions. Be measured and believable or your ruse will seem the put-on that it is.
  • To make your false sincerity believable, espouse a belief in honesty and forthrightness as important social values. Do this as publicly as possible. Emphasize your position on this subject by occasionally divulging some heartfelt thought — though only one that is meaningless or irrelevant.

Part 2: Use smoke screens to disguise your actions

Deception is always the best strategy, but the best deceptions require a screen of smoke to distract people’s attention from your real purpose. The bland exterior — like the unreadable poker face — is often the perfect smoke screen, hiding your intentions behind the comfortable and familiar. If you lead the sucker down a familiar path, he won’t catch on when you lead him into a trap.

Keys To Power

  • The best deceivers use a bland and inconspicuous front that calls no attention to themselves. They know that extravagant words and gestures immediately raise suspicion.
  • People can only focus on one thing at a time. It is really too difficult for them to imagine that the bland and harmless person they are dealing with is simultaneously setting up something else.
  • The simplest form of smokescreen is facial expression.
  • One of the most effective smokescreen is the noble gesture. People want to believe noble gestures are genuine, for the belief is pleasant.
  • Another effective smokescreen is the pattern, the establishment of a series of actions that seduce the victim into believing you will continue in the same way.
  • Another psychological weakness to construct a smokescreen — if someone seems to belong to your group, their belonging must be real.

Reversal

  • No smokescreen, red herring etc. will succeed in concealing your intentions if you already have an established reputation for deception.
  • In such cases, it is better to own up, to appear the honest rogue, or the repentant rogue.
  • Although it is wiser to divert attention from your purposes by presenting a bland exterior, there are times when the colourful, conspicuous gesture is the right diversionary tactic.

Law 4: Always Say Less Than Necessary

When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you appear, and the less in control. Even if you are saying something banal, it will seem original if you make it vague, open-ended, and sphinxlike. Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.

Keys To Power

  • Your silence will make other people uncomfortable. Humans are machines of interpretation and explanation; they have to know what you are thinking. When you carefully control what you reveal, they cannot pierce your intentions or meaning.
  • The less you say, the more profound and mysterious you appear.
  • Andy Warhol realised that it is impossible to get people to do what you wanted them to do by talking to them.
  • The less you say, the less risk you run of saying something foolish or dangerous.
  • When words are out, you cannot take them back. Keep them under control. Be careful with sarcasm: the momentary satisfaction you gain with your biting words will outweigh the price you pay.

Reversal

  • There are times when it is unwise to be silent. Silence can arouse suspicion and insecurity, especially in your superiors.
  • Words can sometimes act as a kind of smokescreen for your deception. By bending your listener’s ear with talk, you can distract and mesmerize them — the more you talk, the less suspicious they become of you.

Law 5: So Much Depends On Reputation — Guard It With Your Life

Reputation is the cornerstone of power. Through reputation alone you can intimidate and win; once it slips, however, you are vulnerable, and will be attacked on all sides. Make your reputation unassailable. Always be alert to potential attacks and thwart them before they happen. Meanwhile, learn to destroy your enemies by opening holes in their own reputations. Then stand aside and let public opinion hang them.

Keys To Power

  • Reputation will protect you in the dangerous game of appearances, distracting the probing eyes of others from knowing what you are really like, and giving you a degree of control over how the world judges you — a powerful position to be in.
  • Whether the same exact deeds appear brilliant or dreadful can depend entirely on the reputation of the doer.
  • In the beginning, you must work to establish a reputation for one outstanding quality, whether generosity or honesty or cunning. This quality sets you apart and gets other people to talk about you. You then make your reputation known to as many people as possible.
  • A solid reputation increases your presence and exaggerates your strengths without you having to spend much energy. It can also create an aura around you that will instill respect or fear.
  • Make your reputation simple and base it on one stirling quality.
  • If you have already stained your reputation and are prevented from establishing a new one — then it is better to associate with someone whose image counteracts your own, using their good name to whitewash and elevate yours.
  • Reputation is a treasure to be carefully collected and hoarded. When you’re first establishing it, you must protect it strictly, anticipating all attacks on it. Once it is solid, do not let yourself get angry or defensive at the slanderous comments of your enemies — that reveals insecurity, not confidence in your reputation.
  • Take the high road, and never appear desperate in your self-defense.
  • An attack on another man’s reputation is a potent weapon, especially when you have lesser power than him. He has much more to lose in such a battle.
  • However, practice this tactic with skill; you must not seem to engage in petty vengeance. If you do not break your enemy’s reputation cleverly, you will inadvertently ruin your own.

Reversal

  • There is no possible reversal. Reputation is critical; there is no exception to this Law.

Law 6: Court Attention At All Costs

Everything is judged by its appearance; what is unseen counts for nothing. Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion. Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost. Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colourful, more mysterious than the bland and timid masses.

Part 1: Surround your name with the sensational and scandalous

Draw attention to yourself by creating an unforgettable, even controversial image. Court scandal. Do anything to make yourself seem larger than life and shine more brightly than those around you. Make no distinction between kinds of attention — notoriety of any sort will bring you power. Better to be slandered and attacked than ignored.

Keys To Power

  • Attracting attention is a skill no one is born with; you have to learn.
  • At the start of your career, you must attach your name and reputation to a quality, an image that sets you apart from other people.
  • This image can be something like a characteristic style of dress, a personality quirk etc. Once the image is established, you have an appearance.
  • It is a common mistake to imagine that this peculiar appearance of yours should not be controversial, that to be attacked is bad.
  • To avoid being a flash in the pan, you must not discriminate against different types of attention, in the end, every kind will work in your favour.
  • Society craves larger-than-life figures, people who stand above the general mediocrity. Never be afraid of the qualities that set you apart and draw attention to you.
  • If you find yourself in a lowly position that offers little opportunity for you to draw attention, an effective trick is to attack the most visible, most famous, most powerful person you can find.
  • Once in the limelight you must constantly renew it by adapting and varying your method of courting attention. If you don’t, the public will grow tired of you, take you for granted and move on to a newer star.

Part 2: Create an air of mystery

In a world growing increasingly banal and familiar, what seems enigmatic instantly draws attention. Never make it too clear what you are doing or about to do. Do not show all your cards. An air of mystery heightens your presence; it also creates anticipation — everyone will be watching you to see what happens next. Use mystery to beguile, seduce, even frighten.

Keys To Power

  • The mysterious invites layers of interpretation, excites our imagination and seduces us into believing that it conceals something marvelous.
  • Do not imagine that to create an air of mystery you have to be grand and awe-inspiring. Mystery that is woven into your day-to-day demeanor and is subtle has much more power to fascinate and attract attention.
  • Mysterious people put others in a kind of inferior position — that of trying to figure them out.
  • If you find yourself trapped, cornered and on the defensive in some situation, try a simple experiment: do something that cannot be easily explained or interpreted. Choose a simple action, but carry it out in a way that unsettles your opponent, a way with many possible interpretations, making your intentions obscure.

Reversal

  • In the beginning of your rise to the top, you must attract attention at all costs. As you rise higher, you must constantly adapt. Never wear the public out with the same tactic.
  • Do not let your air of mystery become a reputation of deceit.
  • Never appear overly greedy for attention, for it signals insecurity and insecurity drives power away. Understand that there are times when it is not in your interest to be the center of attention.

Law 7: Get Others To Do The Work For You, But Always Take The Credit

Use the wisdom, knowledge and legwork of other people to further your own cause. Not only will such assistance save you valuable time and energy, it will give you a godlike aura of efficiency and speed. In the end your helpers will be forgotten and you will be remembered. Never do yourself what others can do for you.

Keys To Power

  • The world of power has the dynamics of the jungle: there are those who live by hunting and killing, and there are also vast numbers of creatures (hyenas, vultures) who lives off the hunting of others.
  • These less imaginative types are often incapable of doing the work that is essential for the creation of power. They understand early on that if they wait long enough, they can always find another animal to do the work for them.
  • Do not be naive: at this moment, while you are slaving away on some project, there are vultures circling above you trying to figure out a way to survive and thrive off your creativity.
  • It is useless to complain about this, or wear yourself ragged with bitterness. Better to protect yourself and join the game.
  • Once you have established a power base, become a vulture yourself and save yourself time and energy.
  • Learn to get others to do the work for you while you take the credit and you appear to be of godlike strength and power.
  • If you think it is important to do all the work yourself, you will never get far.
  • Find people with the skills and creativity you lack. Either hire them, while putting your own name on top of theirs, or find a way to take their work and make it your own.
  • There is another application of this law that does not require the parasitic use of your contemporaries labour: use the past, a vast storehouse of knowledge and wisdom.
  • Otto von Bismarck once said, “fools say that they learn by experience. I prefer to profit by others’ experience.”

Reversal

  • If your power is not firmly enough established, you will seem to be pushing people out of the limelight.
  • To be a brilliant exploiter of talent your position must be unshakeable or you will be accused of deception.
  • Be sure you know when letting other people share the credit serves your purpose. It is especially important to not be greedy when you have a master above you.

Law 8: Make Other People Come To You — Use Bait If Necessary

When you force the other person to act, you are the one in control. It is always better to make your opponent come to you, abandoning his own plans in the process. Lure him with fabulous gains — then attack. You hold the cards.

Keys To Power

  • Aggressive action is not effective action. Most often the most effective action is to stay back, keep calm and let others be frustrated by the traps you lay for them, playing for long-term power instead of a quick victory.
  • The essence of power is the ability to keep the initiative, to get others to react to your moves, to keep your opponent and those around you on the defensive.
  • When you make other people come to you, you suddenly become the one controlling the situation.
  • When you make your opponent come to you, you create the illusion that he is controlling the situation. He does not feel the strings that pull him.
  • Everything depends on the sweetness of your bait. If your trap is attractive enough, the turbulence of your enemies’ emotions and desires will blind them to reality. The greedier they become, the more they can be led around.

Reversal

  • There are opposite cases where striking suddenly and aggressively at the enemy demoralizes him.
  • Fast attack can be an awesome weapon, for it forces the other person to react without the time to think or plan.
  • With no time to think, people make errors of judgment and are thrown on the defensive.
  • Choose your tactics depending on the situation. If you have time on your side, make them come to you. If time is against you and your enemies are weaker, strike quickly.

Law 9: Win Through Your Actions, Never Through Argument

Any momentary triumph you think you have gained through argument is really a Pyrrhic victory: the resentment and ill will you stir up is stronger and lasts longer than any momentary change of opinion. It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word. Demonstrate, do not explicate.

Keys To Power

  • In the realm of power, you must learn to judge your moves by their long-term effects on people.
  • The problem with trying to prove a point through argument is that in the end you can never be certain how it affects the people you’re arguing with. They may appear to agree with you politely, but inside they may resent you.
  • No one can argue with demonstrated proof. They are there, right before our eyes to see.

Reversal

  • Verbal argument has one vital use in the realm of power: to distract and cover your tracks when you are practicing deception or are caught in a lie. Draw the other person into an argument to distract them from your deceptive move.
  • When caught in a lie, the more emotional and certain you appear, the less likely it seems that you are lying.

Law 10: Infection: Avoid The Unhappy and Unlucky

You can die from someone else’s mistery — emotional states are as infectious as diseases. You may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster. The unfortunate sometimes draw misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it on you. Associate with the happy and fortunate instead.

Keys To Power

  • Those misfortunates who have been brought down by circumstances beyond their control deserve all the help and sympathy we can give them.
  • But there are others who are not born to misfortune or unhappiness, but who draw it upon themselves by their destructive actions and unsettling effect on others.
  • It would be a great thing if we could raise them up, change their patterns but more often than not it is their patterns that end up getting inside and changing us.
  • In the game of power, the people you associate with are critical.
  • The risk of associating with infectors is that you will waste valuable time and energy trying to free yourself.
  • One of the most insidious infectors is the suffer from chronic dissatisfaction (or the jealous, complaining type.)
  • There is only solution to infection: quarantine. Do not take pity, do not enmesh yourself in trying to help.
  • Positive qualities can infect us. Associate with people who attract happiness to themselves.

Reversal

  • There is no reversal. The application is universal. Ignore this law at your peril.

Law 11: Learn To Keep People Dependent On You

To maintain your independence you must always be needed and wanted. The more you are relied on, the more freedom you have. Make people depend on you for their happiness and prosperity and you have nothing to fear. Never teach them enough so that they can do without you.

Keys To Power

  • The ultimate power is the power to get people to do as you wish. When you can do this without having to force people or hurt them, when they willingly grant you what you desire, then your power is untouchable.
  • The best way to do this is to create a relationship of dependence. The master requires your services; he is weak or unable to function without you; you have enmeshed yourself in his work so deeply that doing away with you would bring him great difficulty. Once such a relationship is established, you have the upper hand.
  • The ultimate form of power is not independence. The completely independent man would love in a cabin in the woods, but he would have no power. The best you can hope for is that others will grow so dependent on you that you enjoy a kind of reverse independence: their need for you frees you.
  • One way to obtain this position: possess a talent or creative skill that simply cannot be replaced.
  • Having the appearance of specialized knowledge and skill gives you leeway in your ability to deceive those above you into thinking that cannot do without you.

Reversal

  • By making others depend on you also means you are in some measure dependent on them.
  • No independence comes without a price. You are forced to isolate yourself. Monopolies often turn inwards and destroy themselves from the internal pressure.
  • Interdependence remains the law, independence a rare and often fatal exception.

Law 12: Use Selective Honesty And Generosity To Disarm Your Victim

One sincere and honest move will cover over dozens of dishonest ones. Open-hearted gestures of honesty and generosity bring down the guard of even the most suspicious people. Once your selective honesty opens a hole in their armour, you can deceive and manipulate them at will. A timely gift — a Trojan horse — will serve the same purpose.

Keys To Power

  • An act of kindness, generosity or honesty is often the most powerful form of distraction because it disarms other people’s suspicions.
  • Learn to give before you take.
  • Selective honesty is best employed on your first encounter with someone. We are all creatures of habit, and our first impressions last a long time. If someone believe you are honest at the start of your relationship it takes a lot to convince them otherwise.
  • A single act of honesty is often not enough. What is required is a reputation for honesty, built on a series of acts.

Reversal

  • When you have a history of deceit, no amount of honesty will fool people. In these cases, it’s better to play the rogue.

Law 13: When Asking For Help, Appeal To People’s Self-Interest, Never To Their Mercy Or Gratitude

If you need to turn to an ally for help, do not bother to remind him of your past assistance and good deeds. He will find a way to ignore you. Instead, uncover something in your request, or in your alliance with him, that will benefit him, and emphasize it out of all proportion. He will respond enthusiastically when he sees something to be gained for himself.

Keys To Power

  • There is an art to asking for help, an art that depends on your ability to understand the person you are dealing with, and to not confuse your needs with theirs.
  • Most people never succeed at this, because they are completely trapped in their own wants and desires. They start from the assumption that the people they are appealing to have a selfless interest in helping them.
  • Even the most powerful person is locked inside needs of his own, and if you make no appeal to his self-interest, he merely sees you as desperate, or a waste of time.
  • Self-interest is the lever that will move people. Train yourself to think your way inside the other person’s mind, to see their needs and interests, to get rid of the screen of your own feelings that obscure the truth.

Reversal

  • Some people will see an appeal to their self-interest as ugly and ignoble. They prefer to exercise charity, mercy and justice as a way of feeling superior to you.
  • When you beg them for help, you emphasize their position and power. They are strong enough to need nothing from you except the chance to feel superior. This is the wine that intoxicates them.
  • Do not be shy. Give them that opportunity.

Law 14: Pose As A Friend, Work As A Spy

Knowing about your rival is critical. Use spies to gather valuable information that will keep you a step ahead. Better still: play the spy yourself. In polite social encounters, learn to probe. Ask indirect questions to get people to reveal their weaknesses and intentions. There is no occasion that is not an opportunity for artful spying.

Keys To Power

  • People won’t tell you all their thoughts, emotions and plans. As such, you cannot predict their movies and are constantly in the dark.
  • The trick is to find a way to probe them, to find out their secrets and hidden intentions, without letting them know what you are up to.
  • The most common way of spying is to use other people. The method is simple, powerful but risky — risked being exposed, or fed wrong information.
  • It is better to be the spy, pose as a friend while secretly gathering info.
  • Practice this tactic with caution and care. If people begin to suspect you are worming secrets out of them under the banner of conversation, they will avoid you. Emphasize friendly chatter, not valuable information.
  • By pretending to bare your heart to another person, you make them more likely to reveal their own secrets.

Reversal

  • Just as you spy on other people, you must be prepared for others to spy on you.
  • You can feed wrong information.

Law 15: Crush Your Enemy Totally

All great leaders since Moses have known that a feared enemy must be crushed completely. (Sometimes they have learned this the hard way.) If one ember is left alight, no matter how dimly it smolders, a fire will eventually break out. More is lost through stopping halfway than through total annihilation: the enemy will recover, and will seek revenge. Crush him, not only in body but in spirit.

Keys To Power

  • Your enemies wish you ill. There is nothing they want more than to eliminate you. If, in your struggles with them, you stop halfway out of mercy or hope of reconciliation, you only make them more determined, more embittered and they will someday take revenge.
  • Have no mercy. Crush them totally. Allow your enemies no options.
  • The goal of power is to control your enemies completely, to make them obey your will. You cannot afford to go halfway.

Reversal

  • This law should rarely be ignored, but it does sometimes happen that it is better to let your enemies destroy themselves.

Law 16: Use Absence To Increase Respect And Honour

Too much circulation makes the price go down: the more you are seen and heard from, the more common you appear. If you are already established in a group, temporary withdrawal from it will make you more talked about, even more admired. You must learn when to leave. Create value through scarcity.

Keys To Power

  • A strong presence will draw power and attention to you. But a point is inevitably reached where too much presence creates the opposite effect: the more you are seen and heard from, the more your value degrades.
  • At the right moment, you must learn to withdraw yourself before they unconsciously push you away. It is a game of hide-and-seek.
  • The moment you allow yourself to be treated like anyone else, it is too late — you are swallowed and digested. To prevent this, you need to starve the other person of your absence. Force their respect by threatening them with the possibility that they will lose you for good; create a pattern of absence and presence.
  • Extend the law of scarcity to your own skills. Make what you are offering the world rare and hard to find, and you instantly increase its value.

Reversal

  • This law only applies once a certain level of power has been attained.
  • Leave too early and you do not increase your respect, you are simply forgotten.
  • In the beginning, make yourself omnipresent. Only what is seen, appreciated and loved will be missed in its absence.

Law 17: Keep Others In Suspended Terror: 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. Turn the tables: be deliberately unpredictable. Behaviour that seems to have no consistency or purpose will keep them off-balance, and they will wear themselves out trying to explain your moves. Taken to an extreme, this strategy can intimidate and terrorize.

Keys To Power

  • Nothing is more terrifying than the sudden and unpredictable, e.g earthquakes and tornadoes.
  • Only man has the capacity to consciously alter his behaviour, to improvise and overcome the weight of routine and habit. Yet most men do not recognize this power. They prefer the comforts of routine and habit.
  • A person of power instills a kind of fear by deliberately unsettling those around him to keep the initiative on his side.
  • Unpredictability is often the tactic of the master, but the underdog can use it too. If you find yourself outnumbered or cornered, throw in a series of unpredictable moves. Your enemies will be confused.
  • Scrambling your patterns on a day-to-day basis will cause a stir around you and stimulate interest.

Reversal

  • Predictability can work in your favour — you can lull people to sleep.
  • It can become a form of smoke screen.

Law 18: Do Not Build Fortresses To Protect Yourself — Isolation Is Dangerous

The world is dangerous and enemies are everywhere — everyone has to protect themselves. A fortress seems the safest. But isolation exposes you to more dangers than it protects you from — it cuts you off from valuable information, it makes you conspicuous and an easy target. Better to circulate among people, find allies, mingle. You are shielded from your enemies by the crowd.

Keys To Power

  • Fortresses cut you off from help and cut into your flexibility. Everyone knows where you are.
  • Power depends on social interaction and circulation.
  • In moments of uncertainty and danger, you need to fight this desire to turn inward. Instead, make yourself more accessible, seek out old allies and make new ones, force yourself into more and more different circles.
  • The effects of isolation on the human mind: a loss of proportion, an obsession with detail combined with an inability to see the larger picture, a kind of extravagant ugliness that no longer communicates.

Reversal

  • The only thing constant human contact cannot facilitate is thought. The weight of society’s pressure to conform, and the lack of distance from people can make it impossible to think clearly about what is going on around you.
  • As a temporary recourse, isolation can help you gain perspective.

Law 19: Know Who You Are Dealing With — Do Not Offend The Wrong Person

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 or outmaneuver some people and they will spend the rest of their lives seeking revenge. They are wolves in lambs’ clothing. Choose your victims and opponents carefully, then — never offend or deceive the wrong person.

Opponents, Suckers and Victims: Preliminary Typology

Being able to recognize types of people and acting accordingly is critical.

  1. The Arrogant and Proud Man
  • Although he may initially disguise it, this man’s touchy price makes him very dangerous.
  • If at any point in your dealings with a person, you sense an oversensitive and overactive pride, flee.

2. The Hopelessly Insecure Man

  • This man is related to the proud and arrogant type, but is less violent and harder to spot.
  • His ego is fragile, his sense of self insecure and if he feels himself deceived or attacked, the hurt will simmer.
  • He will attack you in bites that will take forever to get big enough for you to notice.
  • If you find you have deceived such a person, disappear for a long time.

3. Mr. Suspicion

  • He sees what he wants to see — usually the worst — in other people, and imagines everyone is after him.
  • Play on his suspicious nature to get him to turn against other people.

4. The Serpent With A Long Memory

  • If hurt or deceived, this man will show no anger on the surface, he will calculate and wait.
  • He is usually cold and unaffectionate.
  • Be doubly careful of this snake, and if you have somehow injured him, either crush him completely or get him out of your sight.

5. The Plain, Unassuming and Often Unintelligent Man

  • This man is a lot harder to deceive than you imagine.
  • The danger with this man is not that he will harm you or seek revenge, but merely that he will waste your time, energy, resources and even your sanity in trying to deceive him.

Keys To Power

  • The ability to measure people and to know who you’re dealing with is the most important skill of all in gathering and conserving power.
  • Before embarking on any move, take the measure of your mark or potential opponent.
  • Study people’s weaknesses, the chinks in their armours, their areas of both pride and insecurity. Know their ins and outs before you even decide whether or not to deal with them.
  • In judging your opponent, never rely on your instincts. Nothing can substitute for concrete knowledge. Study and spy on your opponent for however long it takes; this will pay off in the long run.
  • Never trust appearances.

Reversal

  • There is no reversal.

Law 20: Do Not Commit To Anyone

It is the fool who always rushes to take sides. Do not commit to any side or cause but yourself. By maintaining your independence, you become the master of others — playing people against one another, making them pursue you.

Part 1: Do not commit to anyone, but be courted by all

If you allow people to feel they possess you to any degree, you lose all power over them. By not committing your affections, they will only try harder to win you over. Stay aloof and you gain the power that comes from their attention and frustrated desire. Play the Virgin Queen: give them hope but never satisfaction.

Keys To Power

  • When you hold yourself back, you incur not anger but respect. You instantly seem powerful because you make yourself ungraspable, rather than succumbing to the group, or to the relationship as most people do.
  • As your reputation for independence grows, more and more people will come to desire you, wanting to be the one who gets you to commit.
  • Once you commit, the magic is gone.
  • The goal is not to put people off, but stir the pot and excite interest.

Part 2: Do not commit to anyone — stay above the fray

Do not let people drag you into their petty fights and squabbles. Seem interested and supportive, but find a way to remain neutral; let others do the fighting while you stand back, watch and wait. When the fighting parties are good and tired they will be ripe for the picking. You can make it a practice, in fact, to stir up quarrels between other people, and then offer to mediate, gaining power as the go-between.

Keys To Power

  • Most people operate in a whirlpool of emotions, constantly reacting, churning up squabbles and conflicts. You have to master your emotions.
  • Make your moves matters of your own choosing, not defensive reactions to the push and pull of others around you.
  • Preserving your autonomy gives you options when people come to blows — you can play the mediator, broker peace while securing your own interests.
  • You will be tempted to side with the stronger party when conflicts breaks out. But remember: it is often difficult to foresee which side will prevail in the long run.
  • Energy wasted on the affairs of others subtracts from your strength.

Reversal

  • Both parts of the law will turn against you if you take it too far.
  • If you keep your growing number of suitors waiting too long, you will inspire not desire, but distrust.
  • Eventually you may find it worthwhile to commit to one side — if only for appearance’s sake.
  • The key is to maintain inner independence.

Law 21: Play A Sucker To Catch A Sucker — Seem Dumber Than Your Mark

No one likes feeling stupider than the next person. The trick then is to make your victims feel smart — and not just smart, but smarter than you are. Once convinced of this, they will never suspect that you have ulterior motives.

Keys To Power

  • Given how important the idea of intelligence is to most people’s vanity, it is critical to never insult or impugn a person’s brain power.
  • Subliminally reassure people that they are more intelligent than you are, and you can run rings around them.
  • Appearing less intelligent than you are is the perfect disguise.

Reversal

  • At the start of your climb to the top, you cannot play too stupid. You may want to let your bosses know, in a subtle way, that you are smarter than the competition around you.
  • As you climb the ladder, you should to some degree try to dampen your brilliance.
  • A show of intelligence can help you get out of a scrape.

Law 22: Use The Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness Into Power

When you are weaker, never fight for honour’s sake; choose surrender instead. Surrender gives you time to recover, time to torment and irritate your conqueror, time to wait for his power to wane. Do not give him the satisfaction of fighting and defeating you — surrender first. By turning the other cheek you infuriate and unsettle him. Make surrender a tool of power.

Keys To Power

  • What gets us into trouble in the realm of power is often our own overreaction to the moves of our enemies and rivals. That overreaction causes problems we would have avoided if we had been more reasonable.
  • The next time someone pushes you, try this: do not resist or fight back, but yield. This often neutralizes their behaviour.
  • By yielding, you control the situation, because your surrender is part of a larger plan to lull them into believing they have defeated you.
  • This allows you time and space to plot the countermoves that will bring them down.
  • Surrender also offers a way of mocking your enemies, of turning their power against them.

Reversal

  • The point of surrendering is to prevent matyrdom.
  • While matyrdom can offer power and inspiration, it is often messy and unpredictable. It is still best to avoid it at all costs.

Law 23: Concentrate Your Forces

Conserve your forces and energies by keeping them concentrated at their strongest point. You gain more by finding a rich mine and mining it deeper, than by flitting from one shallow mine to another — intensity defeats extensity every time. When looking for sources of power to elevate you, find the one key patron, the fat cow who will give you milk for a long time to come.

Keys To Power

  • The world is plagued by greater and greater division. We are all in a state of total distraction and diffusion, hardly able to keep our minds in one direction before we are pulled in a thousand others.
  • The solution is a form of retreat inside ourselves, to more concentrated forms of thought and action.
  • Schopenhauer, “Intellect is a magnitude of intensity, not a magnitude of extensity.”
  • Casanova attributed his success in life to his ability to concentrate on a single goal and push at it until it yielded. Concentrate on a single goal, a single task, and beat it into submission.
  • Power always exists in concentrated forms, for in any organization it is inevitable that a small group hold all the strings. You must find out who controls the operations, who is the real direction behind the scenes.

Reversal

  • There are moments where dispersion is the proper tactical move. Dispersal is often suited for the weaker side.
  • Being too single-minded in purpose can make you an intolerable bore. Diffusion was Leonardo da Vinci’s power, but remember: such genius is rare, and the rest of us are better off erring on the side of intensity.

Law 24: Play The Perfect Courtier

The perfect courtier thrives in a world where everything revolves around power and political dexterity. He has mastered the art of indirection; he flatters, yields to superiors, and asserts power over others in the most oblique and graceful manner. Learn and apply the laws of courtiership and there will be no limit to how far you can rise in the court.

Court Society

  • The successful courtier walks a tightrope — pleasing but not pleasing too much, obeying but somehow distinguishing himself from the other courtiers, while also never distinguishing himself so far as to make the ruler insecure.
  • Great courtiers throughout history have mastered the science of manipulating people. They make the king feel more kingly; they make everyone else fear their power.
  • They never say more than necessary, getting the most out of a compliment or hidden insult. They are magnets of pleasure — they know how to please yet they neither fawn nor humiliate themselves.
  • Because power exists, courtiers will always exist.

Laws of Court Politics

  1. Avoid Ostentation
  • Never prattle on about yourself or call too much attention to your actions.

2. Practice Nonchalance

  • Never seem to be working too hard. Your talent must appear to flow naturally, with an ease that makes people take you for a genius rather than an workaholic.
  • Even if something demands a lot of sweat, make it look effortless.

3. Be Frugal With Flattery

  • Too much of a good thing loses its value.

4. Arrange To Be Noticed

  • Pay attention to your physical appearance, and find a way to create a distinctive — a subtly distinctive style and image

5. Alter Your Style and Language According To The Person You Are Dealing With

6. Never Be The Bearer Of Bad News

  • The king kills the messenger who brings bad news.

7. Never Affect Friendliness and Intimacy With Your Master

  • He does not want a friend for a subordinate; he wants a subordinate.

8. Never Criticize Those Above You Directly

9. Be Frugal In Asking Those Above you For Favours

  • Ask for favours as rarely as possible, and know when to stop.

10. Never Joke About Appearances Or Taste

11. Do Not Be The Court Cynic

  • Express admiration for the good work of others.

12. Be Self-Observant

13. Master Your Emotions

14. Fit the Spirit Of The Times

  • Your way of thinking must keep up with the times.

15. Be A Source Of Pleasure

Law 25: Re-Create Yourself

Do not accept the roles that society foists on you. Re-create yourself by forging a new identity, one that commands attention and never bores the audience. Be the master of your own image rather than letting others define it for you. Incorporate dramatic devices into your public gestures and actions — your power will be enhanced and your character will seem larger than life.

Keys To Power

  • The character you are born with are inherited, and shaped by your parents, friends and peers. The task is to take control of the process and stop allowing others that ability to limit and mold them.
  • Remake yourself. Working on yourself like clay should be one of your greatest and most pleasurable life tasks.
  • The first step in the process of self-creation is self-consciousness — being aware of yourself as an actor and taking control of your appearance and emotions.
  • The second step is the the creation of a memorable character, one that compels attention and stands out above the other players on the stage.
  • Good drama needs more than an interesting appearance, or a single stand-out moment. Drama takes place over time. Rhythm and timing are critical.
  • Remember that overacting can be counterproductive — it is another way of spending too much effort trying to attract attention.
  • Learn to play many roles, to be whatever the moment requires. Adapt your mask to the situation.

Reversal

  • There is no reversal to this law: bad acting is bad acting.

Law 26: Keep Your Hands Clean

You must seem a paragon of civility and efficiency: your hands are never soiled by mistakes and nasty deeds. Maintain such a spotless appearance by using others as scapegoats and cat’s paws to disguise your involvement.

Part 1: Conceal Your Mistakes — Have A Scapegoat Around To Take The Blame

Our good name and reputation depend more on what we conceal than on what we 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.

Keys To Power

  • The main idea behind scapegoats is the shifting of guilt and sin to an outside figure — be it an object, animal or man — which is then banished and destroyed.
  • It is a human response to not look inward after a mistake but look outward and affix blame and guilt on a convenient object.
  • The clever knows how to harness this power.
  • The practice of scapegoating still lives on today, just indirectly and symbolically.
  • A scapegoat can also serve as a warning to others.
  • It is often wise to choose the most innocent victim possible as a sacrificial goal. Such people will not be powerful enough to fight you, and their naive protests may be seen as protesting too much, as a sign of their guilt.

Part 2: Make Use Of The Cat’s Paw

In the fable, the Monkey grabs the paw of his friend, the Cat, and uses it to fish chestnuts out of the fire, thus getting the nuts he craves, without hurting himself. If there is something unpleasant or unpopular that needs to be done, it is far too risky for you to do the work yourself. You need a cat’s paw — someone who does the dirty, dangerous work for you. The cat’s paw grabs what you need, hurts whom you need hurt, and keeps people from noticing that you are the one responsible. Let someone else be the executioner, or the bearer of bad news, while you bring only joy and glad tidings.

Keys To Power

  • The truly powerful never seem to be in a hurry or overburdened. While others work their fingers to the bone, they take their leisure.
  • You will often find it necessary to expend energy to effect an evil but necessary action. But you must never appear to be this action’s agent. Find a cat’s paw.
  • The easiest and most effective way to use a cat’s paw is often to plant information with him that he will then spread to your primary target.
  • You may also find cases in which deliberately offering yourself as the cat’s paw will ultimately gain you great power. This is the ruse of the perfect courtier. As the instrument that protects a master or peer from unpleasantness or danger, you gain immense respect.

Reversal

  • Use both with caution. They are like screens that hide your own involvement in dirty work from the public; if at any moment the screen is lifted and you are seen as the puppet master, the whole dynamic turns around.
  • There are moments when it is advantageous to not disguise your involvement or responsibility, but rather take the blame yourself for some mistake. If you have power and are secure in it, you can sometimes ask for forgiveness. It is the ploy of the king who makes a show of his own sacrifices for the good of the people.

Law 27: Play On People’s Need To Believe To Create A Cultlike Following

People have an overwhelming desire to believe in something. Become the focal point of such desire by offering them a cause, a new faith to follow. Keep your words vague but full of promise; emphasize enthusiasm over rationality and clear thinking. Give your new disciples rituals to perform, ask them to make sacrifices on your behalf. In the absence of organized religion and grand causes, your new belief system will bring you untold power.

How To Create A Cult In 5 Easy Steps

Step 1: Keep It Vague; Keep It Simple

  • To create a cult, you must first attract attention.
  • Do not do this through actions, which are too clear and readable, but through words, which are hazy and deceptive.
  • Your initial speeches, conversations and interviews must include 2 elements: the promise of something great and transformative, and total vagueness.
  • This connection will stimulate all kinds of hazy dreams in your listeners, who will make their own connections and see what they want to see.
  • To make your vagueness attractive, use words of great resonance but cloudy meaning, words full of heat and enthusiasm.
  • Fancy titles, use of numbers and creation of new words are helpful. All of these create the impression of specialized knowledge.
  • Try to make the subject of your cult new and fresh, so that few will understand it.
  • Your appeal should be simple. Most people’s problems have complex causes, and they want to hear that a simple solution will cure their problems.

Step 2: Emphasize the Visual and the Sensual over the Intellectual

  • Once people have begun to gather around you, two dangers will present themselves: boredom and skepticism.
  • You need to amuse the bored and fend off the cynics.
  • The best way to do this is through theater, or other devices of its kind. Surround yourself with luxury, dazzle your followers with visual splendor, fill their eyes with spectacle.
  • Not only will this keep them from seeing the ridiculousness of your ideas, it will also attract more attention, more followers.
  • Appeal to all the senses: use incense for scent, soothing music for hearing, colourful charts and graphs for the eye.
  • Use the exotic to create theatrical effects.

Step 3: Borrow the Forms of Organized Religion to Structure the Group

  • Create rituals for your followers
  • Organize them into a hierarchy, ranking them in grades of sanctity.
  • Give them names and titles that resound with religious overtones.
  • Ask them for sacrifices that fills your coffers and increase your power.
  • To emphasize your gathering’s quasi-religious nature, talk and act like a prophet.

Step 4: Disguise Your Source of Income

  • Your coffers are beginning to fill with your followers’ money. Yet you must never be seen as hungry for money and the power it brings. Disguise your source of income.
  • Your followers want to believe that if they follow you, all sorts of good things will fall into their lap. By surrounding yourself with luxury you become living proof of the soundness of your belief system.
  • Never reveal that your wealth actually comes from your followers’ pockets; instead make it seem to come from the truth of your methods.

Step 5: Set Up an Us-Versus-Them Dynamic

  • To keep your followers united, you must now do what all religions and belief systems have done: create an us-versus-them dynamic.
  • First, make sure your followers believe that they are part of an exclusive club, unified by a bond of common goals.
  • Then, to strengthen this bond, manufacture the notion of a devious enemy out to ruin you.
  • There is a force of nonbelievers that will do anything to stop you. Any outsider who tries to reveal the charlatan nature of your belief system can now be described as a member of this devious force.
  • If you have no enemies, invent one.

Reversal

  • One reason to create a following is that a group is easier to deceive than an individual.
  • However, if at any moment, the group sees through you, you will find yourself facing not one deceived soul but an angry crowd.
  • When you play with the emotions of a crowd, you have to know how to adapt. If not, deal with someone one by one.

Law 28: Enter Action With Boldness

If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honours the timid.

Keys To Power

  • We want to avoid tension and conflict and want to be liked by all. We may contemplate a bold action but we rarely bring it to life. We are terrified of the consequences, of what others might think of us.
  • We may disguise our timidity as a concern for others, a desire not to hurt or offend, but in fact we are really self-absorbed, worried about ourselves and how others perceive us.
  • Few are born bold. Even Napoleon had to cultivate the habit.
  • You must practice and develop your boldness. The best place to begin is the world of negotiation.
  • If boldness is not natural, neither is timidity. Both are acquired.

Reversal

  • Boldness should never be the strategy behind all your actions. It is a tactical instrument to be used at the right time.
  • Plan and think ahead, and make the final element the bold move that will bring you success.

Law 29: Plan All The Way To The End

The ending is everything. Plan all the way to it, taking into account all the possible consequences, obstacles and twists of fortune that might reverse your hard work and give the glory to others. By planning to the end you will not be overwhelmed by circumstances and you will know when to stop. Gently guide fortune and help determine the future by thinking far ahead.

Keys To Power

  • Most people are too imprisoned in the moment to plan with this kind of foresight.
  • The ability to ignore immediate pleasure or dangers translates into power.
  • It is the power of being able to overcome the natural human tendency to react to things as they happen, and instead to train oneself to step back, imagining the larger things taking shape beyond one’s immediate vision.
  • The ending is everything. It is the end of the action that determines who gets the glory, the money, the prize. Your conclusion must be crystal clear, and you must keep it constantly in mind.

Reversal

  • Your plan must include alternatives and have a degree of flexibility. Build in alternatives and be open to new routes towards your goal.

Law 30: Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless

Your actions must seem natural and executed with ease. All the toil and practice that go into them, and also all the clever tricks must be concealed. When you act, act effortlessly, as if you could do much more. Avoid the temptation of revealing how hard you work — it only raises questions. Teach no one your tricks or they will be used against you.

Keys To Power

  • As humans, we admire things that move effortlessly and easily.
  • It’s the idea of sprezzatura, the capacity to make the difficult seem easy. All the great Renaissance artists carefully kept their works under wraps. Only the finished masterpiece could be shown to the public. They knew that the making of the works would mar the magic of their effect, and their studied atmosphere of ease and natural beauty.
  • When you reveal the inner workings of your creation, you become just one more mortal among others. What is understandable is not awe-inspiring, we tell ourselves we could do as well if we had the time and money.
  • One reason to conceal your tricks and shortcuts: when you let this information out, you give people ideas they can use against you. You lose the advantages of keeping silent.

Reversal

  • The secrecy with which you surround your actions must seem lighthearted in spirit. A zeal to conceal your work makes you look like you’re taking the game too seriously.
  • There are also times when revealing the inner working of your projects can prove worthwhile. It all depends on your audience’s taste, and on the times in which you operate.

Law 31: Control The Options: Get Others To Play With The Cards You Deal

The best deceptions are the ones that seem to give the other person a choice: your victims feel they are in control, but are actually your puppets. Give people options that come out in your favour whichever one they choose. Force them to make choices between the lesser of two evils, both of which serve your purpose. Put them on the horns of a dilemma: they are gored whenever they turn.

Keys To Power

  • When examined closely, the choices we have, in the marketplace, elections, jobs, tend to have noticeable limitations: they are often a matter of a choice simply between A and B, with the rest of the alphabets out of the picture.
  • Yet as long as the faintest mirage of choice flickers on, we rarely focus on the missing options. We “choose” to believe that the game is fair and that we have our freedom.
  • This unwillingness to probe the smallness of our choices stems from the fact that too much freedom creates a kind of anxiety. Unlimited options would paralyze us and cloud our ability to choose.
  • Therefore, setting up a narrow range of choices should always be part of your deceptions.

Forms of “Controlling the Options”

  1. Colour the Choices

Propose 3–4 choices of action for each situation, and present them in a way that the one you prefer always seemed the best solution compared to the others.

2. Force the Resister

Push people to “choose” what you want them to do by appearing to advocate the opposite.

3. Alter the Playing Field

The 1860s, John D. Rockefeller set out to create an oil monopoly. Instead of buying the smaller oil companies (who would fight back), he bought the railway companies that transported the oil. When he attempted to take over the company and was met with resistance, he would remind them of their dependence on the rails.

4. The Shrinking Options

E.g you can raise the price every time a buyer hesitates and another day goes by.

5. Weak Man on the Precipice

This is used for the weak. Work on their emotions, use fear and terror to propel people into action. If you use reason, they will procrastinate.

6. Brothers in Crime

It is often wise to implicate in your deceptions the very person who can do you the most harm if you fail.

7. Horns of a Dilemma

Strike quickly and deny the victim the time to think of an escape. They will be stuck and hurt themselves.

Reversal

  • Controlling the options has one main purpose — disguise yourself as the agent of power and punishment. The tactic works best for those whose power is fragile and cannot operate too openly without incurring suspicion, resentment and anger.
  • It is rarely wise to be seen as exerting power directly and forcefully, no matter how strong or secure you are. It is usually more elegant and more effective to give people the illusion of choice.

Law 32: Play To People’s Fantasies

The truth is often avoided because it is ugly and unpleasant. 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 who can manufacturer romance or conjure up fantasy are like oases in the desert: everyone flocks to them. There is great power in tapping into the fantasies of the masses.

Keys To Power

  • The person who can spin a fantasy out of an oppressive reality has access to untold power. As you search for the fantasy that will take hold of the masses, keep your eye on the banal truths that weigh heavily on us all.
  • Never be distracted by people’s glamorous portraits of themselves and their lives; search and dig for what really imprisons them.
  • Once you find that, you have the magical key that will put great power in your hands.

A Few Realities & Fantasies

The Reality: change is slow and gradual. It requires hard work, a bit of luck, a fair amount of self-sacrifice and a lot of practice.

The Fantasy: a sudden transformation will bring a total change in one’s fortunes, bypassing work, luck, self-sacrifice and time in one fantastic stroke.

The Reality: the social realm has hard-set codes and boundaries. We understand these limits and know that we have to move within the same familiar circles, day in and day out.

The Fantasy: we can enter a totally new world with different codes and the promise of adventure, skirting the sexual and relief from boredom.

The Reality: society is fragmented and full of conflict.

The Fantasy: people can come together in a mystical union of souls.

The Reality: death. The dead cannot be brought back, the past cannot be changed.

The Fantasy: a sudden reversal of this intolerable fact.

  • The key to fantasy is distance. The distant has allure and promise, seems simple and problem free. What you are offering should be ungraspable.

Reversal

  • Never come too close to the place where you are actually expected to produce results.
  • Never make the mistake of imagining that fantasy is always fantastical.

Law 33: Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew

Everyone has a weakness, a gap in the castle wall. That weakness is usually an insecurity, an uncontrollable emotion or need; it can also be a small secret pleasure. Either way, once found, it is a thumbscrew you can turn to your advantage.

Finding The Thumbscrew

  1. Pay attention to gestures and unconscious signals
  • The key is not only what you look for but where and how you look.
  • Everyday conversation supplies the richest mine of weaknesses, so train yourself to listen.
  • Start by always seeming interested
  • Appear to open up to the other person, share a secret with them.
  • If you suspect someone has a particular soft spot, probe on it indirectly.
  • Find people’s idols, the things they worship and will do anything to get.

2. Find the helpless child

  • Most weaknesses begin in childhood, before the self builds up compensatory defenses.
  • Knowing about a childhood need gives you a powerful key to a person’s weakness.
  • One sign of this weakness is when you touch on it, the person will often act like a child.

3. Look for contrasts

  • An overt trait often conceals its opposite. E.g people who thump their chest are often cowards.

4. Find the weak link

  • Sometimes it is not what but who that matters.
  • The behind-the-scenes powerbrokers are the group’s weak links: win their favour and you influence the king.
  • There is always a weak link in the chain — find the one person who will bend under pressure.

5. Fill the void

  • The two main emotional voids are insecurity and unhappiness.

6. Feed on uncontrollable emotions

  • Can be paranoid fear, lust, greed, vanity or hatred

Reversal

  • Playing on people’s weakness has one significant danger — you may stir up an action you cannot control.
  • Know your limits to this game and never get carried away by your control over your victims.

Law 34: Be Royal In Your Own Fashion: Act Like A King To Be Treated Like One

The way you carry yourself will often determine how you are treated: in the long run, appearing vulgar or common will make people disrespect you. For a king respects himself and inspires the same sentiment in others. By acting regally and confident of your powers, you make yourself seem destined to wear a crown.

Keys To Power

  • We accept limitations that are self-imposed. The solution is to deliberately force ourselves in the opposite direction — downplay the failures and ignore the limitations, make ourselves demand and expect as much as a child.
  • The Strategy of the Crown is based on a simple chain of cause and effect: if we believe we are destined for great things, our belief will radiate outward, which will infect the people around us, who will think we must have reasons to feel so confident.
  • Be overcome by your self-belief. Even while you know you are practicing a kind of deception on yourself, act like a king. You are likely to be treated as one.
  • Always act with dignity, no matter the circumstance.
  • Regal bearing should not be confused with arrogance. Arrogance may seem the king’s entitlement, but it betrays insecurity.
  • Outward strategies to projecting a royal demeanor: make a hold demand. Set your price high and do not waver.
  • Go after the highest person in the building. This immediately puts you on the same plane as the chief executive you are attacking. By choosing a great opponent, you create the appearance of greatness.
  • Give some sort of gift to those above you.

Reversal

  • The idea behind a regal demeanour is to set yourself apart from other people. But if you take this too far, it will be your undoing. Never make the mistake of thinking that you elevate yourself by humiliating people.

Law 35: Master The Art Of Timing

Never seem to be in a hurry — hurrying betrays a lack of control over yourself and over time. Always seem patient, as if you know that everything will come to you eventually. Become a detective of the right moment; sniff and the spirit of the times, the trends that will carry you to power. Learn to stand back when the time is not yet ripe, and to strike fiercely when it has reached fruition.

Keys To Power

  • Time is an artificial concept created by humans. Since it is human-constructed, we can mold it to some degree, to play tricks with it.
  • Time depends on perception, which we can alter.
  • If the inner turmoil caused by our emotions tends to make time move faster, it follows that once we control our emotional responses to events, time will move much more slowly.
  • This altered way of dealing with things tends to lengthen our perception of future time, opens up possibilities that fear and anger close off and allows us the patience that is the requirement of timing.

3 Kinds Of Time

  1. Long Time
  • The drawn-out, years-long kind of time that must be managed with patience and gentle guidance
  • When you force the pace out of fear and impatience, you create a nest of problems that require fixing, and you end up taking much longer if you had taken your time.
  • Sometimes not acting in the face of danger is your best move — you wait and deliberately slow down.
  • When your mind is uncluttered by constant emergencies you will see further into the future. You will also be able to resist the baits people dangle in front of you. You will also have room to be flexible. You will not move from one deal to another without completing the first one.

2. Forced Time

  • The short-term time we can manipulate as an offensive weapon, upsetting the timing of our opponents.
  • Make them wait, make them hurry, make them abandon their own pace, distort their perception of time
  • The deadline is a type of forced time.

3. End Time

  • When a plan must be executed with speed and force

Reversal

  • There is no reversal.

Law 36: Disdain Things You Cannot Have: Ignoring Them Is The Best Revenge

By acknowledging a petty problem you give it existence and credibility. The more attention you pay an enemy, the stronger you make him; and a small mistake is often made worse and more visible when you try to fix it. It is sometimes best to leave things alone. If there is something you want but cannot have, show contempt for it. The less interest you reveal, the more superior you seem.

Keys To Power

  • Desire often creates paradoxical effects — the more you want something, the more you chase after it, the more it eludes you.
  • Turn your back on what you want, show your contempt and disdain. This kind of response drives your targets crazy.
  • They will respond with a desire of their own, which is simply to have an effect on you.
  • Contempt is the prerogative of the king.
  • Commitment and engagement often weakens you. By paying undue attention to a puny enemy, you look puny and the longer it takes you to crush such an enemy, the larger the enemy seems.
  • And if you succeed in crushing the irritant, you create sympathy for the weaker side.
  • It is tempting to want to fix our mistakes, but the harder we try, the worse we often make them. It is sometimes more politic to leave them alone.
  • Instead of inadvertently focusing attention on a problem, making it seem worse by publicizing how much concern and anxiety it is causing you, it is often far wiser to play the contemptuous aristocrat, not deigning to acknowledge the problem’s existence.
  • Several ways to execute this strategy:
  • Sour-Grapes: don’t complain and draw attention to your disappointment. Act as if it never interested you in the first place.
  • When you are attacked by an inferior, deflect people’s attention by making it clear that the attack did not even register. Though, among equals this tactic might backfire.

Reversal

  • Play the card of contempt with care and delicacy. Most small troubles will vanish on their own if you leave them be; but some will grow and fester unless you attend to them.
  • Learn to distinguish between the potentially disastrous and the mildly irritating.

Law 37: Create Compelling Spectacles

Striking imagery and grand symbolic gestures create the aura of power — everyone responds to them. Stage spectacles for those around you, then, full of arresting visuals and radiant symbols that heighten your presence. Dazzled by appearances, no one will notice what you are really doing.

Keys To Power

  • The visual can strike us with an emotional power and immediacy that leave no gaps for reflection and doubt.
  • Words put you on the defensive; the image imposes itself as a given.
  • The symbol has the same force.
  • Never neglect the way you arrange things visually. Factors like colour have enormous symbolic resonance.
  • Most effective of all is a new combination — a fusion of images and symbols that have not been seen together before, but that through their association clearly demonstrate your new idea, message or religion.
  • Use the power of symbols to rally, animate and unite your troops or team.
  • The best way to use images and symbols is to organize them into a grand spectacle that awes people and distracts them from unpleasant realities.

Reversal

  • There is no reversal.

Law 38: Think As You Like But Behave Like Others

If you make a show of going against the times, flaunting your unconventional ideas and unorthodox ways, people will think that you only want attention and that you look down upon them. They 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 tolerant friends and those who are sure to appreciate your uniqueness.

Keys To Power

  • We all tell lies and hide our true feelings, for complete free expression is a social impossibility.
  • There are people who see such restraints as an intolerable infringement on their freedom, and who have a need to prove the superiority of their values and beliefs.
  • In the end, their arguments convince only a few and offend a great deal more. The reason arguments do not work is that most people hold their ideas and values without thinking about them.
  • Wise and clever people learn early on that they can display conventional behaviour and mouth conventional ideas without having to believe in them.
  • They get to be left alone to have the thoughts they want to have, and to express them to the people they want to express them to, without suffering isolation or ostracism.
  • The logical extension of this practice is the invaluable ability to be all things to all people. People will swallow the bait because it flatters them to believe that you share their ideas.

Reversal

  • The only time worth standing out is when you already stand out — when you have achieved an unshakable position of power, and can display your difference from others as a sign of distance between you.
  • There is always a place for the gadfly, the person who successfully defies custom and mocks what has grown lifeless in a culture.

Law 39: Stir Up Waters To Catch Fish

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 a decided advantage. Put your enemies off-balance: find the chink in their vanity through which you can rattle them and you hold the strings.

Keys To Power

  • Anger is not power, but a sign of helplessness. People may temporarily be cowed by your tantrums, but in the end they lose respect for you. They also realize they can easily undermine a person with so little self-control.
  • The answer is not to repress our anger or emotional responses. It is to change our perspective — that nothing in the social and power realm is personal.
  • Anger cuts off our options, and the powerful cannot thrive without options.
  • Once you have trained yourself not to take matters personally, you can play with the emotional responses of other people.
  • In the face of a hot-headed enemy, an excellent response is no response. Nothing is as infuriating as a man who keeps his cool while others are losing theirs.

Reversal

  • When playing with people’s emotions you have to be careful. Study the enemy beforehand: some fish are best left at the bottom of the pond.
  • There are also times where a well-timed burst of anger can do you good, but your anger must be manufactured and under your control. Then you can determine exactly how and on whom it will fall.

Law 40: Despise The Free Lunch

What is offered for free is dangerous — it usually involves a trick or a hidden obligation. What has worth is worth paying for. By paying your own way you stay clear of gratitude, guilt and deceit. It is also often wise to pay the full price — there is no cutting corners with excellence. Be lavish with your money and keep it circulating, for generosity is a sign and a magnet for power.

  • In the realm of power, everything must be judged by its cost, for everything has a price. What is offered for free or at a bargain often comes with a psychological price tag — complicated feelings of obligation, compromises with quality, the insecurity these comprises bring etc.
  • The powerful learn early to protect their most valuable resource: independence and room to maneuver.
  • Being open and flexible also teaches the value of strategic generosity.

Recognize These 4 Types And Avoid Them/Use Them:

  1. The Greedy Fish
  • They take the human side out of money. They view others solely as pawns or obstructions in their pursuit of wealth.

2. The Bargain Demon

  • They waste time digging for bargains, worry endlessly about what they could have gotten elsewhere for a little less.
  • They might seem to only harm themselves, but their attitudes are contagious.

3. The Sadist

  • They play vicious power games with money as a way of asserting their power.
  • They think that paying for something gives them the right to torture and abuse the seller.

4. The Indiscriminate Giver

  • They are generous because they want to be loved and admired by all.
  • Their generosity is needy and may not have the desired effect.

Reversal

  • This Law offers great opportunities for swindling and deception if you apply it from the other side. Dangling the lure of a free lunch is the con artist’s stock in trade.

Law 41: Avoid Stepping Into A Great Man’s Shoes

What happens first always appears better and more original than what comes after. If you succeed a great man or have a famous parent, you will have to accomplish double their achievements to outshine them. Do not get lost in their shadow, or stuck in a past not of your own making. Establish your own name and identity by changing course. Slay the overbearing father, disparage his legacy, and gain power by shining in your own way.

Keys To Power

  • The simplest way to escape the shadow of the past is simply to belittle it, playing on the timeless antagonism between the generations, stirring up the young against the old.
  • Never let yourself be seen as following your predecessors. If you do you will never surpass him. You must physically demonstrate your difference, by establishing a style and symbolism that sets you apart.
  • Hunt out the vacuums, the areas in culture that have been left vacant and in which you can become the first and principal figure to shine.
  • There is a kind of stubborn stupidity that recurs throughout history — the superstitious belief that if the person before you succeeded by doing A, B and C, you can re-create their success by doing the same thing. However, circumstances never repeat themselves exactly.
  • Remember: you are your own father. Do not let yourself spend years creating yourself only to let your guard down and allow the ghost of the past — father, habit, history — to sneak back in.
  • Be prepared to return to square one psychologically.

Reversal

  • The shadow of a predecessor can be used to your advantage if it is chosen as a trick, a tactic that can be discarded once it has brought you power.
  • The past often has elements worth appropriating, qualities that would be foolish to reject out of a need to distinguish yourself.

Law 42: Strike The Shepherd And The Sheep Will Scatter

Trouble can often be traced to a single strong individual — the stirrer, the arrogant underling, the poisoner of goodwill. If you allow such people room to operate, others will succumb to their influence. Do not wait for the troubles they cause to multiply, do not try to negotiate with them — they are irredeemable. Neutralize their influence by isolating or banishing them. Strike at the source of trouble and the sheep will scatter.

Keys To Power

  • In every group, power is concentrated in the hands of one or two people — for people will congregate around a single strong personality.
  • Powerful people keep their eye on the inevitable few who hold the cards.
  • Understanding who controls the group dynamic is a critical realization.
  • A key element in games of strategy is isolating the enemy’s power.
  • Always seek out people who hold high positions yet who find themselves isolated on the board. They are easily seduced.

Reversal

  • If you act to isolate your enemy, make sure he lacks the means to repay the favour.

Law 43: Work On The Hearts And Minds Of Others

Coercion creates a reaction that will eventually work against you. You must seduce others into wanting to move in your direction. A person you have seduced becomes your loyal pawn. And the way to seduce others is to operate on their individual psychologies and weaknesses. Soften up the resistant by working on their emotions, playing on what they hold dear and what they fear. Ignore the hearts and minds of others and they will grow to hate you.

Keys To Power

  • In the game of power, you are surrounded by people who have absolutely no reason to help you unless it is in their self-interest to do so. And if you have nothing to offer, you are likely to make them hostile.
  • Those that overcome this hostility are the ones who find the key that unlocks the stranger’s heart and mind, seducing him into their corner, if necessary softening him up for a punch.
  • Most people never learn this. They talk about themselves, eager to impose their own willpower and prejudices.
  • The key to persuasion is softening people up and breaking them down gently. Work on their emotions and play on their intellectual weaknesses Be alert to both what separates them from everyone one else, and what they share with everyone else.
  • The quickest way to secure people’s minds is by demonstrating how an action will benefit them.
  • The winder your support base, the stronger your power.

Reversal

  • There is no reversal

Law 44: Disarm and Infuriate With The Mirror Effect

The mirror reflects reality, but it is also the perfect tool for deception: when you mirror your enemies, doing exactly as they do, they cannot figure out your strategy. The Mirror Effect mocks and humiliates them, making them overreact. By holding up a mirror to their psyches, you seduce them with the illusion that you share their values; by holding up a mirror to their actions, you teach them a lesson. Few can resist the power of the Mirror Effect.

  • Gazing at our reflection in the mirror, we most often see what we want to see- the image of ourselves which we are most comfortable.
  • But if we look hard at the reflected image, we sometimes feel that we are seeing ourselves as others see us, as a person among other people, an object. That feeling makes us shudder.

Four Main Mirror Effects

  1. Neutralizing Effect
  • Do what your enemies do, following their actions as best you can, and they cannot see what you are up to — they are blinded by your mirror.
  • Neutralize their strategy by playing a game of mimicry with them.

2. Narcissus Effect

  • You look deep into the souls of other people; fathom their innermost desires, their values, their tastes, their spirits and you reflect it back to them.

3. Moral Effect

  • You teach others a lesson by giving them a taste of their own medicine.
  • You mirror what other people have done to you, and do so in a way that makes them realize you are doing to them exactly what they did to you.

4. Hallucinatory Effect

  • Create a perfect copy of an object, a place, a person. The copy acts as a kind of dummy, people take it for the real thing, because it has the physical appearance of the real thing.

A Warning: Beware of Mirrored Situations

  • A situation that seems to reflect or closely resemble a previous one, mostly in style or surface appearance. You can often back into such a situation without fully understanding it.
  • Avoid such association-effects.

Law 45: Preach The Need For Change, But Never Reform Too Much At Once

Everyone understands the need for change in the abstract, but on the day-to-day level people are creatures of habit. Too much innovation is traumatic, and will lead to revolt. If you are new to a position of power, or an outsider trying to build a power base, make a show of respecting the old way of doing things. If change is necessary, make it feel like a gentle improvement on the past.

Keys To Power

  • Human psychology contains many dualities — one being that while people understand the need for change, they are also irritated and upset by changes that affect them personally.
  • Preach change as much as you like, but give them the comforting appearance of older events and traditions.
  • Another strategy to disguise change is to make a loud and public display of support for the values of the past.
  • The answer to the innate conservatism is to play the courtier’s game. Pay lip service to tradition. Identify elements in your revolution that can be made to seem to build on the past.

Reversal

  • The past is a corpse to be used as you see fit. If what happened in the recent past was painful and harsh, it is self-destructive to associate yourself with it.
  • If you make a bold change from the past, you must avoid at all costs the appearance of a void or vacuum, or you will create terror. Fill that space immediately with new rituals and forms.

Law 46: Never Appear Too Perfect

Appearing better than others is always dangerous, but most dangerous of all is to appear to have no faults or weaknesses. 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 and approachable. Only gods and the dead can seem perfect with impunity.

Keys To Power

  • The human has a hard time dealing with feelings of inferiority. In the face of superior skill, talent or power, we are often disturbed or ill at ease — because most of us have an inflated sense of ourselves. When we meet people who surpass us they make it clear to us that we are in fact mediocre.
  • We feel envy.
  • Accept the fact that there will be people who will surpass you in some way — and also the fact that you may envy them. Make that feeling a way of pushing yourself to equal or surpass them some day.
  • Let envy turn inwards and it poisons the soul; expel it outwards and it can move you to greater heights.
  • Understand that as you gain power, those below you will feel envious of you.
  • Expect that when people envy you they will work against you insidiously.
  • To deflect envy, subtly emphasize how lucky you have been, to make your happiness seem more attainable to other people.
  • Disguise your power as a kind of self-sacrifice rather than a source of happiness — and you make it seem less enviable. Emphasize your troubles and you turn a potential danger into a source of moral support.
  • Be aware that some environments are more conducive to envy than others.
  • Do not try to help or do favours for those who envy you; they will think you are condescending to them.

Reversal

  • Act before envy takes root.
  • However, once envy is there, it is sometimes best to affect the opposite approach — display the utmost disdain for those who envy you.

Law 47: Do Not Go Past The Mark You Aimed For; In Victory Learn When To Stop

The moment of victory is often the moment of greatest peril. In the heat of victory, arrogance and overconfidence can push you past the goal you had aimed for, and by going too far, you make more enemies than you defeat. Do not allow success to go to your head. There is no substitute for strategy and careful planning. Set a goal, and when you reach it, stop.

Keys To Power

  • The powerful vary their rhythms and patterns, change course, adapt to circumstance and learn to improvise. Rather than letting their dancing feet impel them forward, they step back and look where they are going.
  • Luck and circumstance always play a role in power. Bad luck teaches valuable lessons about patience, timing and the need to be prepared for the worst; good luck deludes you into the opposite lesson, making you think your brilliance will carry you through.

Reversal

  • Either destroy a man or leave him alone entirely. When you beat an enemy, make your victory complete. Crush him into nonexistence.

Law 48: Assume Formlessness

By taking a shape, by having a visible plan, you open yourself to attack. Instead of taking a form for your enemy to grasp, keep yourself adaptable and on the move. Accept the fact that nothing is certain and no law is fixed. The best way to protect yourself is to be as fluid and formless as water; never bet on stability or lasting order. Everything changes.

Keys To Power

  • The powerful are often people who in their youth have shown immense creativity in expressing something new through a new form. Society grants them power because it hungers for and rewards this sort of newness.
  • The problem comes later when they often grow conservative and possessive. They no longer dream of creating new forms; their identities are set, their habits congeal and their rigidity make them easy targets.
  • The formlessness of power is more like that of water, taking the form of whatever is around it.
  • Human creations evolve towards abstraction, toward being mental and less material.
  • The first psychological requirement of formlessness is to train yourself to take nothing personally. Never show any defensiveness.
  • In evolution, largeness is often the first step towards extinction. What is immense and bloated has no mobility, but must constantly feed itself. The unintelligent are often seduced into believing that size connotes power, the bigger the better.
  • Learning to adapt to each new circumstance means seeing events through your own eyes, and often ignoring the advice that people constantly peddle your way. It means that ultimately you must throw out the laws that others preach, the books they write to tell you what to do, and the sage advice of the elder.
  • Rely too much on other people’s ideas and you end up taking a form not of your own making. Too much respect for other people’s wisdom will make you depreciate your own.

Reversal

  • When you play with formlessness, keep on top of the process, and keep your long-term strategy in mind. When you assume a form and go on the attack, use concentration, speed and power.

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Si Quan Ong

Written by

Customer Success / Marketing @ahrefs https://ahrefs.com/

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