The opposite of the 48 Laws Of Power is where we need to go

I have been thinking about leadership a lot and the role that design can play in that on this blog. There are lots of ways design can play a role in leading people and organizations to a better place, to solve problems. What I love about design is that it connects, that it creates equality. I love that it can create a platform on which people can come together, equal, with one language: the visual, where everybody can speak their mind and understand the other. I love that it is transparent and open, holistic and works from beauty. The way I see it, design leadership is a form of servant leadership. It doesn’t work from a position of power but of skill and connection. Design can help that which wants to be born to come into this world. Design leadership is deeply co-creative.

It is always interesting to learn about one thing from the complete opposite. For me the complete opposite of design leadership is leadership based on power. There is this book by Robert Greene, called the 48 laws of power. This book describes the complete opposite of how I see design leadership. Power in design leadership comes from skill and openness. Power according to Greene comes from manipulation and deception. It’s a great book because it works. If you look at some of these 48 laws, you see that this just works. The book is based on a thorough analysis of what worked in history when it comes to attaining power. Some of these laws are:

  1. Never outshine the master
  2. Never put too much trust in friends
  3. Conceal your intentions
  4. Always say less than necessary
  5. Always protect your reputation at all costs
  6. Use selective honesty
  7. Pose as a friend, work as a spy
  8. Crush your enemy totally

And so on. This stuff works! This is a great handbook if you want more power. If power is your goal, study these 48 laws. After you have gained power, you can lead!

But my questions is if you really want to live like this, if you really want to win like this? Greene calls it amoral, a game. Yes, it’s a game. Yes, it works. This power game is a totally different game than the design leadership game. The skills needed to play the power game are totally different than the skills you need to play the design leadership game. The game to attain power depends on your ability to limit the power of others. Sucking up to people in power, not being open and honest, hiding your true thoughts and intentions, use the information you get from people for your personal advancement, crushing people, these are all valuable skills in the power game but very negative energy skills. They work. They used to work. These 48 laws all come from a time when it was okay to limit other people for your own benefit. Apart from the obvious negative energy that is baked into all these laws, I believe they amount to a leadership that is not about empowering others, but is about limiting others.

If we only look at the first law of the 48 which is about never outshining the master, about hiding the extend of your own talents, Steve Jobs used to say: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” This is quite the opposite of the first law of the 48 and creates an environment that doesn’t limit people but empowers them. It creates an environment where people don’t have to hold back to be afraid of having better skills or knowledge than the person in power. But this requires leaders with confidence. A fearful leader is afraid of people with special talents. A servant leader is happy with people with special talents.

Imagine being in a complex design process and people holding back their talents. That would never lead to the best solution. A lot of these laws are about hiding your talents, intentions, thoughts. In the age we are hopefully leaving behind, these things might have worked. But if we want to solve complex challenges, we need to tap into the potential of people not limit it.

Imagine being in a complex design process and people are holding back information, concealing their intentions, and using information for their own personal benefits. All these laws are frustrating the finding of solutions. Luckily for the people using the 48 laws, lots of problems are not complex and solutions can be found rather easily. But in complex problem solving, this type of behavior is killing.

Imagine being in a complex design process and crushing another person. All these 48 laws are about one person being better than the other, one person’s opinion carrying more weight than that of another. Not based on skills or knowledge but on a person’s ability to play the power game. The power game is a social game, not a skills game.

Unfortunately, I can imagine a world like this. This is the world we live in. But this is not the world we have to live in. The 48 laws of power are based on what worked in the past. And if we continue to play that game, we stay stuck in the past. What if we look to the future and create 48 laws of how we want the world to work in the future? What would the 48 laws be? What would they be based on? I believe we need 48 new laws that will take us to a future of equality instead of hierarchy, trust instead of fear, openness instead of secrecy, love for all and not just the people in power, honesty instead of lies, empowerment instead of limiting. I think that would be a good idea. Let’s start with the first laws right now:

  1. Never Outshine the Master → Be comfortable with people being having superior talents. (Listen to Steve Jobs and his quote about hiring smart people.) Actively seek out opposite views to avoid confirmation bias.
  2. Never Put Too Much Trust in Friends, Learn How to Use Enemies → Trust people, trust that all people have good intentions in their hearts. (Read: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman)
  3. Conceal Your Intentions → Be radically candid. (Read: Radical Candor by Kim Malone Scott)
  4. Always Say Less Than Necessary → Share as much as possible, even if you think your ideas are crazy (their might be a gem of truth in it or they might be a stepping stone to great ideas). The crazy ones are the ones who change the world.
  5. So Much Depends on Reputation, Guard It With Your Life → Have the courage to be disliked. (Read: The Courage To Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi)

I think we could continue like this for all the 48 laws. As always, the opposite is also true, sometimes more true. Maybe I will do just that in another blog post. When I look at the opposite of all the 48 laws, I see a future in which I would want to live. I feel we should look at the future we want to create and let go of the things that got us to this point if we want to face the complex challenged that lay ahead and generally live a life based on love and potential. We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Listen to Einstein.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you enjoyed it. If you clap for this essay, I will know I connected with you. I will dive deeper into the topics around Design Leadership in upcoming articles. If you follow me here on Medium, you will see them pop up on your Medium homepage. You can also subscribe to an email service here on Medium which will drop new essays right into your inbox. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn to see new articles in your timeline or talk to my bot at :) You can also find me on Instagram. When I am not blogging about Design Leadership, I work as a design strategist and project manager at Zuiderlicht.



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Dennis Hambeukers

Design Thinker, Agile Evangelist, Practical Strategist, Creativity Facilitator, Business Artist, Corporate Rebel, Product Owner