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A scale of power

What if we had a scale for power?

A while ago I found The Gervais Principle, a book that describes a theory of 'power' dividing people into 3 groups, sociopath, clueless, and losers. It had a big impact on me, and I told Lucio something like this:

When I stumbled upon I realized this was like the practical version of Gervais Principle, turning that wisdom into how-to guides, strategies, and techniques.

The top level (the name sociopath is perhaps for effect) is the only one who actually uses and understands power. So in his review, Lucio says:

Effective men must learn to act like sociopaths Whether this makes them evil or good depends on the situation.
Good Sociopaths operate by what they personally choose as a higher morality, in reaction to what they see as the dangers, insanities and stupidities of mob morality. We also agree with it. In many ways, this is what this website and Power University do: make good sociopaths.

Today, after having gone through a good chunk of PU (twice), I'm not sure it's the practical version of the Gervais principle. The top level they describe, the sociopaths, do much more than what PU describes. I now think they inhabit a different realm of power, where stakes are high, and they don't operate at the level of basic power awareness and social power ONLY (this is a prerequisite, of course!). Example: a sociopath convinces the CEO of the company to give him his job (yes, this is a series and the whole point is to make people laugh). We have zero visibility on the power dynamics at high stake situations, like in geopolitic conflicts and boardroom intrigue. But I do feel now their study of power is very different from ours.

Definition of power

Power: power is the measure of an individual to influence or dictate decisions, influence or dictate other people’s behavior and, ultimately, to achieve goals and get the outcome, things, or results that he desires.

This definition mixes together many levels of power. It definitely matches the "geopolitic conflicts and boardroom intrigue" type of power. It also matches the interpersonal power that we study at PU. But I think these two types of power are fundamentally different.

In the Gervais principle, Venkat (author) says that powertalk happens only when there's high stakes, and every time anyone utters something using powertalk, there's a transition in the equilibrium of power.

This is not what happens when you are negotiating a discount or when trying to kick out someone who is taking over a whatsapp group: the stakes are not that high.

so I think it's not a terrible idea to try to go for a scale, similar to how earthquakes have the Richter scale, or autism has a scale.

This could be useful to tag people or situations. Imagine we could watch a youtube video and say person A, a 3 in the power scale, is power protecting when a journalist who is a 2 in the power scale is asking a stupid question.

Actually I'm not sure of the utility of the current scale as I think the top levels are outliers, and the real "action" for TPM followers would happen on the area between 0 and 2-3. The other areas are perhaps unreachable for mere mortals.

Totally open to suggestions here; consider this a very early draft of a post or similar, the LOF power scale.

Power scale


POTUS, Leader of a superpower (Example Xi Jinping, Putin)

  • Can start a war; even a world war
  • Decides who lives and who dies not only in his close area of influence but in the entire world
  • Can create and destroy wealth at scale (example: ruining a country with sanctions, moving the stock exchanges up or down with his decisions, altering the value of currencies)
  • The livelihood of billions is at his command. His influence goes beyond his countrymen

To get to this level you need to be an extremely skilled power wielder and of course an amoral sociopath


Dictator in a small country. My estimation is that there are hundreds of people like this in the world Honorable mention: Billionaire with a vision and connections

  • Can start a war; even a world war. And stop one
  • The livelihood of millions, if not billions is at his command. Example: Nazi regime confiscated factories and repurposed them for war. Millions of employees stopped making say tables and started producing bullets, tanks, etc
  • Their decisions can make billionaries (by the hundreds) and can send people below poverty level


Local top level politician with majority, during the (usual) 4 years mandate. My estimation is that there are thousands of people like this in the world.

  • Their decisions can make millionaries (hundreds of people) and can send people below poverty level

This level and the next are not very interesting to me so I'll make it short.


Elected politician, mid level. My estimation is that there are single-digit millions of people at this level all over the world.

  • A politician at this level gets elected, then "creates" 1000s of jobs by bringing a big corporation to his city (example: Amazon)

These guys have terraforming power (see below).


Exec in a big, successful company that makes products that affect the entire world. Example: Steve Jobs, but also other less flashy executives at 'boring' companies that make products people need and you have never heard their names.

This level is not only for CEOs but for the top management at big companies. Say the VP marketing at GM.

  • He has a budget in the billions range
  • Hires and fires high power people (other execs)
  • Makes decisions about whether a product sees the light of day, and that product affects the life of millions, if not billions, of people.

Example: electric line of cars for BMW Example: CEO of apple deciding whether a new product comes about

I'm not talking about a middle manager with a 6-figure salary. I'm talking about decision makers that play a highly political game to get to where they are and come from a particular pedigree.

This level can also contain a major criminal (say Pablo Escobar; he made or popularized something that people want, cocaine, at scale) or a major star that can alter people's behavior at scale (say a cult leader that reaches mainstream success, or a religious leader of the past, like Jesus or Ghandi). Anyone who creates an ideology with a major following may land about here.

Note: Pablo Escobar at times must have had power in the 8-9 range. Perhaps a better example would be someone commercializing sugar with mass distribution (example a VP at coca cola).


This is the really interesting area on this power scale, because:

  • While levels above might feel unreachable I think anyone can aspire to levels 2 and 3 because they depend on your skill and connections
  • You don't need to be a sociopath to reach this level
  • There's lots of low hanging fruit
  • It's usually not a zero-sum game, there's plenty of opportunity and uncapped markets, so that you don't have to do extreme things to defend your turf from competitors


  • "Real" Influencer. Not the kind that does little dances on tiktok but a real influencer before the term got hijacked by mainstream media (and since replaced with "creator").
  • "Real" self-made business owner past certain baseline of revenue, say 1M USD yearly.
  • Conventionally successful artist (Example: painter who sells his work at major galleries)
  • Conventionally successful sport person (Example: football player)
  • He wrote an useful book that sold millions of copies solving a real problem (not entertainment). Example: Dale Carnegie
  • Started a 'non-VC-funded' company that serves millions, and the value it creates is 'real'
  • Started a successful non-profit that runs a project that changed the world for the better (example: Melinda gates foundation)
  • Invented a humanity-altering product or service (example: crossfit) that either does something new that people want, or improves effectiveness of an existing solution
  • Is a consultant or speaker and his day rates are six digits. Major corporations book him because he has maven knowledge and the company that hires him can turn that into millions or billions
  • Has a track record of making extremely good decisions and predictions (That is, not the usual pundit that doesn't check his predictions!)

What is common on those profiles? They have world-class performance at a skill that has leverage.


The eagle at TPM. There's no need to go into detail here as we all know what this means, but:

  • He's a sovereign individual; has enough resources to not depend on others for his lifestyle
  • Even better: he's an enlightened individualist
  • Is often his own boss. Often self-made. Has enough resources to be an independent thinker. If he has a job, he loves it to pieces, has lots of freedom and power to do things his way, and is extremely respected by anyone around him
  • Has gone through PU or somehow managed to acquire that skillset in his previous experience. In other words, he's socially competent
  • Doesn't belong to any groups (like religions, political parties), his identity is small
  • Uses critical thinking to make decisions
  • Has an antifragile ego
  • Is trying things all the time; he fails, he may even fail a lot, but he uses failures to learn and try better next time
  • He's a decent enough investor (with his time and resources) that even failing a lot he has a good baseline of resources to keep trying
  • Has a big social circle where he starts activities and is a constant source of value to others
  • Has control over his sources of income so that, barring a major country- or world-level crisis, his livelihood is not affected
  • He doesn't get influenced by most blatant attempts from politicians, marketers, and sociopaths that can reach him
  • He associates with people who contribute to his happiness/success
  • Is relatively successful in dating if he's at a time in his life where dating is important to him
  • If he has a life partner, this is a high quality woman (or man)
  • Can influence others enough to not get in a power-down position when this is avoidable
  • He's a net positive for anyone in his life


Usual powerless citizen. The Turkey at TPM. I'm sure there's a good definition somewhere here in the forums, but just in case:

  • Has a job, with a boss that has enough power to change his happiness level anytime
  • Has a tiny social circle, often composed of powerless people (other turkeys)
  • Someone in his life (example: family members) can push him around to do things he doesn't want to do. That is, he's often the power-down and the victim of someone who doesn't have his best interest at heart (manipulator)
  • Depends on others (parents, partner, usually the government too) to have a stable life
  • In extreme cases, is jobless
  • His main concern is to make enough to survive, and fill his hours with entertainment
  • His life is filled with drama
  • Has near zero influence over any other human except perhaps some underlings at work (he could be a construction worker that manages 3 other construction workers, all of them laying bricks)
  • Has little willpower
  • Smokes, consumes mainstream media, or does something else that even mainstream culture accepts as a big negative influence in your life
  • Fixed mindset
  • Doesn't read (other than for pleasure) or educate himself
  • Has psychological problems that are untreated because of lack of resources
  • Has low aspirations. Wants a job, just any job
  • Spends significant time on social media showing rage or consuming rage
  • Depends on other's views to form an opinion of himself
  • Compares himself with others in menial activities (usually the kind that people fake on instagram).
  • Uses blatant lies about his status because he's not happy with it. Is the kind of person that takes a picture of himself next to a Ferrari or at a Yatch party so that his instagram followers think he owns it
  • Is easily influenced by marketers, politicians, and mostly people who don't have their best interest in mind
  • Rarely uses critical thinking to make decisions. Makes big life decisions following influencers or charlatans
  • In rare cases where he musters enough willpower to improve himself, he buys crap products that are sold to him using triggers (manipulation) like fake reputation (lower tier university master programs), or massive marketing (self-help programs that promise to start a business or get the job of their dreams with little effort). Of course the products don't produce the result he's after. The product maker can blame the buyer not implementing the steps correctly, and might be right. End result: no improvement
  • He may have entitlement problems, thinks the world should give him things for free because he has been born


  • To get to levels 10-6 you need to be an extremely skilled power wielder and of course an amoral sociopath. This is not what PU teaches. And I don't think there are any resources that get you there (if this is what you want! which I think is unlikely).
  • Levels 10-3 have lots of money.
    • Levels 10-7 are beyond billionaires. They have billionaires queuing to talk to them to get some favors
    • Levels 8-2 might be self-made millionaires
  • Levels 10-4 have terraforming power, as in they can alter the geopolitic equilibrium, can create/move country borders, redirect rivers, produce energy and resources like food at massive quantities, destroy resources, create canals that improve commerce the world over, link people with transportation (creating roads and train tracks, like the The Road and Belt Initiative) etc. That's real power.
  • Levels 10-2 have massive leverage. I consider leverage in three forms (after Naval Ravikant):
    • Staff
    • Capital
    • Software/information products

The scale is not perfect as a "real" influencer (level 2-3) could be far more powerful than a top exec in a big company (level 4-5). But no scale can capture the complexity of what we are dealing with (power). As the saying goes, no model is right, but some models are useful.

The eagle/turkey distinction is kinda a boolean because it produces a massive change. I think this is where TPM is at, and it's a sweet spot. Getting from zero to one could take massive trial and error and a lifetime of mistakes and learning; or you can do things like PU and read the book reviews at PU and shorten it 🙂 Also getting from zero to one has a massive market: anyone can get to one starting from zero! Getting from 2 to 4 is a big jump and I don't think any resources cover that. Perhaps people who managed that don't write about it? If so, there's an interesting opportunity here. Although I suspect one would have to get really domain-dependent, super specific, and there might not exist general rules like the ones PU displays, at those levels.

John Freeman and Illystorm have reacted to this post.
John FreemanIllystorm

It's an interesting concept, LOF.

Especially the idea of coming up with a "scale" -may come back to it eventually, or would gladly expand it if grows into something-.

As it is right now, I'm not fully convinced.

Principles Are The Same At Any Level

There seems to be some hidden implicit assumption there that:

  1. The higher power job/life, the higher the personal growth/value/level I'm not convinced that's necessarily the case.
    And it's also potentially disempowering in my opinion, as in "if I'm lower down, then I'm less developed/knowledgeable/in some way "worse".
  2. Different levels have different laws, systems and rules, which I strongly don't think it's the case. Power dynamics are the same for everyone. The only difference is the level of awareness, level of skills, and level of ruthlessness in going for what's best for you (or for your goal).
    Of course not all the principles and domain of power dynamics may be covered in PU (yet), but that's a totally different topic (the focus is more interpersonal now as most foundational for most people, but it'll get there)

Once you reach good level of power awareness plus skills, you unlock all levels... At a potential level.
But more than "unlocking", it means you are "good to begin the climb up".
Because it then becomes a lot about putting in the time, making the connections, learning the specifics of your trade... And practicing.

Practicing it is another major differentiator between those who focus on the climb up, and those who are cool to reach their goals, and then "chill".
Because practicing at Davos is not the same as at your tech Meetup, so the higher you go, the more opportunity for growth.
But it would be exaggerated to think of it as a different game, with different rules, as if they were interacting with UFOs. Instead, they're still dealing with people, still following the same general rules.

And what you reach largely depends on how hungry you are (crucial), what your goals are, what you're prepared to do, and of course some form of luck/serendipity.
That means that the power you negotiate in life is what's important to you and your goals, and thus highly subjective -so if kicking an idiot out of a group is important to you, that's what matters to you-.

Some more notes:

Power hunger makes the difference

  • Higher levels don't (necessarily) rest uniquely upon power-skill, but at least equally importantly on power-hunger: If your goal is to retire early and stay unknown to anyone, that's as valid as it is leading a nation. And there may be no real difference in power awareness between the two (there are probably differences in skills though as the guy who's been socializing/politicking/mafia-ing for decades has honed those skills)
    • Serendipity/luck also plays a role: being elected requires luck as well. There's probably many parallel universes where Trump didn't become POTUS and Putin never amounted to more than a KGB operative

The sociopathy myth(understanding)

  • The sociopath's description in The Gervais Principle is only the author's point of view, it doesn't mean it accurately describes reality, and besides the (much) genius in those posts, I personally don't think it accurately represents reality.
    For one, in the TV show example he describes, he's describing a small company in the middle of bumfuck nowhere (hardly any high level of impact).
    As well:
  • Reaching high up in any type of power scale doesn't necessarily require or imply sociopathy, one could indeed make an argument that it (also) requires strong work ethic. I think of Obama, and albeit one may or may not like him, one could make a good case he's not a sociopath.
    Civilization also continually advanced, which means that, more or less, most leaders and CEOs did add some value to everyone else.

Eagle/turkey are more about personality, than power

  • Eagle/turkey is only marginally about power, and albeit both are still a "constructs in progress", it's a lot more about personality.
    When it comes to power, it's more about the mental aspects of power. Plus we also added a domain of morals and ethics (including "pulling up", owning mistakes, striving for adding value and win-win, etc. etc.)

The foundations are the same, the specifics change

Overall, I do agree with you that, depending on the path you decide, many skills are very domain-specific.

But I think that all power-related principles stay the same and only change in interpretation.

For example, to become a #1 ruler.dictator the principle of making friends becomes "make more high-power friends on the way up" and "avoid unnecessary enemies" becomes "get rid of your enemies when your reach the top".

And the principle of adding value to remain at the top becomes "add value to the few that prop you up in power".

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Thanks Lucio for the detailed commentary. I agree that in its current form the scale is not very useful or actionable.

And its good news if the principles in PU affect all levels. I really wonder if there are people at the higher levels who found PU and are using it to make progress with high stakes. It'd be awesome if someone did use PU to get a CEO to give him his job. But I guess that same person would not post it in TPM forum, so we'd never know.

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Yeah, still a great thread that made me reflect.

And, upon reflection, there is one more area that The Gervais Principle highlighted as a key difference between CEOs/business leaders and employees and that might be better fleshed in PU (or Business University).

It's where he says that "sociopaths mediate reality for the rest".

If we changed that to "the ruling class" or "the 1%", then it's a very astute observation and, in good part, true.

That's the intersection between leadership -not necessarily manipulative- and actual manipulation (including business manipulation).

Besides "mediating reality" and, probably even more important, is "mediating emotional states", which the author discusses as providing awards and tokens of good work, but that in my opinion is also broader and includes all emotional power dynamics (the judge role).

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On the thread "Sociopaths are doing something more than what we study at TPM"...

The Office - Goodbye, Mr. Robert California (Episode Highlight)


David (incoming CEO): We have an announcement to make. Since I'm going to be the CEO now there will be no need for him, ...
Meredith: Ouch! That's gotta hurt
David: But he's gonna make so much money from the liquidation he's gonna be freed up to do something much more important.
Bob (departing CEO) : David has generously offered to donate 1 million dollars in matching funds to a cause that's very dear to me. So for the next 3 years I'll be travelling overseas concentrating all of my efforts on educating, mentoring, some African, some Asian, but mostly eastern European women.
David: I had no idea of how important this problem was till Bob explained it to me.
Bob: Oprah Wimfrey leadership academy and others schools like it work wonderful, but also with high schools. I want to see this women right through college. Particularly the gymnasts, who have lost many years of crucial education to perfect muscle groups that most of us cannot even fathom!
(Camera focuses on the facial expressions of people in the room; they get it)
Andy: You are going to seek out uneducated gymnasts


Bob has narrowed down the 'marketing' to "Oprah Wimfrey leadership academy and others schools like it." Man, what a genius sociopath. He got funding (so that he comes into any future relationship offering something of value to the gymnast that he's going to mentor). He will be in a position of power, a "mentor", a Mecenas, to... hot, young women. Who want something he has. That's arguably an upgrade from "CEO at a paper company in the middle of nowhere"


This is a real power exchange that exemplifies a few things about how the sociopaths operate in the Gervais principle:

1. **Powertalk** The talk David and Bob had was one where real power changes hands (and money). It was high stakes: at least 1M donation from the incoming CEO plus the liquidation of stock options.

2. **Sociopaths are amoral**. Everyone in the room can feel that the morals of the action are in the grey area at the very least. There's an ulterior motive, he's not helping others out of the goodness of his heart. He's a power player

3. **Bob is placing himself in a position of power, and this is beyond interpersonal power.** He's not getting "Terraforming power" but something more subtle that gets him what he wants (an unlimited supply of hot young women that look up to him)

It violates one thing: The lower layers do get powertalk, or at least the results of it. They have facial expressions that confirm that they get what Bob has done. But that's just a footnote.

I still think there's more to power moves than interpersonal power. But perhaps they are so specific to the environment they appear in (in this case, 'the office') that you cannot study them as well as interpersonal power. I do suspect that beyond the machinations of mid level managers doing office politics (where PU would kill it), there's an entire new game that only sociopaths play. Often there are brilliant people that can generate tons of value but cannot market it, and Sociopaths crave these people, they 'ride' them. Example: Wozniak (creator of immense value) and Jobs (Sociopath marketer).



Kavalier has reacted to this post.

Hi leaderoffun,

I just wanted to tell you that your post was the most eye-opening analysis ever for me

Or for people that want to learn power, but lack a clear direction and goals in life

"Aspiring to levels 1-3 and avoiding level 0" is the ultimate set of rules that one should follow to win at life

Sure, some tweaks can always been made but the core idea and analysis really hits the mark about how one should live life

My most sincere gratitude

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Lucio Buffalmano
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