The 4 Fundamental Principles of Social Success

In this post, I’m going to show you how to become successful socially and in life.

That’s a big claim.
Luckily, on this website, we have the know-how, expertise, and resources to back everything we say.

So let’s start:


Some of the popular literature on power rests on cynicism.

It’s easy for cynicism to find fertile ground.
Since a lot of the self-help literature is based on politically correct, feel-good BS, cynicism can sound more “real”, and “more effective”.

A foundation of “healthy cynicism” is good.
But total cynicism is no more effective than naive self-help is.
And it’s especially harmful for close relationships and, generally, for a happy life.

See it as a continuum:

What is effective, then?

Well, look around wherever you’re staying right now.
I challenge you to see anything that was done by one single person.
Instead, 99% of whatever you see is around was developed by people working in concert.
That’s cooperation.

Cooperation is the backbone of progress and civilization.
Civilization IS cooperation.

But we don’t need to look at the greater systems to make a case for cooperation.
Cooperation benefits you, and your life.

When we talk about repeated-social interactions, which include friends, intimate relationships, family members, as well as many business transactions, collaboration is most effective in increasing your power and influence (and your well-being, as well).

Collaboration is simple.
Collaboration means that you give value, and they give value back to you, leading to more value-creation that you would have otherwise missed without collaboration.

Collaboration evolved in humans because it was good for everyone. Including the selfish individual.
Evolutionary psychologists disagree on many things, but they all agree that collaboration yields social and material benefits not just for the group, but for the individual as well.
There is plenty of evidence for that, and contemporary computer simulations support the same conclusion (Matt Ridley, 1996).

Let me say it again: collaboration is not empty self-help or for the naïve ones. Collaboration evolved because it proved a boon for the individual’s self-interest and selfish genes.

What does it mean to you?
It means that if you structure most of your long-term relationships as collaborations and as win-win, you will gain (together with your partners, and society at large).

Here is an overview of the basic life success strategies:

laws of social success infographics

Let’s review each one of them:

#1. Make Friends, Not Enemies

Listen out:

This is especially important to you.
If you’re reading here, chances are that you’re high in power.

You want power, you are driven, you want more in your life, and you are ready to work for it.

Many people who are high on power make the mistake of entering relationships with a competitive mindset.
They want to win and dominate, and approach others with the idea of “showing power” and “showing who’s boss”.

That gets you two possible reactions from people: submission, or competition.

The problem is, that most winners are also high in power, and that means that if you compete with other competitive people, you end up competing against the people you want on your side.

And that’s why in Power University we discuss the importance of “mixing warmth with power”.

Of course, we must be realistic.
It’s not always possible to make friends and allies.
But again, this is not about getting that 100% score. It’s about the mindset.
By approaching people and life with the mindset that you seek allies first, you will win more often, and more easily in life -plus, you’ll be happier-.

Please read:

#2. Pick & Stick With High-Quality People

At the most general level, high quality to you is simply:

  1. Non-value-takers, obviously, but it’s important to start with the basic
  2. Value-givers, or at least willing to

Personally, I include traits such as:

  1. Appreciates and seeks win-win, which is the foundation of any good relationship. So for example, a good signal for this is that if you give, they give back, rather than hoarding and asking for more
  2. Ethics and morals, this is not about being a saint or “nice”, it’s about having some standards of morals and ethics and preferring fair deals to take advantage of others
  3. Open to talk about issues, since nobody is perfect and nobody is perfect for us, it’s important that one is willing to listen and willing to consider possible changes
  4. Open to change, the next logical step to listening. That doesn’t mean they must change, but they’re open to the possibility, in case it’s fair
  5. Ready to make amends to keep it fair and win-win. The ability to own up to mistakes is an important test of character, and it includes basic behavior such as the ability and willingness to apologize

It’s important to be a realist here because nobody is perfect.
So by “high quality” we never mean perfection. Expecting perfection sets you up for failure and it’s even unfair -you and I aren’t perfect either, after all-.

2.2. Avoid Cheats & Turkeys

Yes, nobody is perfect.

However, being realistic means accepting that some people are better than others -even if that “only” means “better for you”-.
And, by simple logic, some people are worse than others.

So while you want to pick and stick with better people in life, you also want to recognize and avoid life’s takers.

Even here, we don’t do pie-in-the-sky ideal scenarios and we instead work with the reality we have.

You may have an abusive parent, you may have moved into a condo with a druggie lowlife as a neighbor, or you may have picked a not-so-great spouse in the past.
It may be hard to cut out or remove those people.
No problem!
For now, your task is simply to strategize and make the most out of it, while you still apply this strategy to all other people in your life.

3. Seek Win-Win

Win-win works and applies across all socialization.

In social and intimate relationships it’s often “unspoken” that both parties are better off, while in business transactions, it’s often more “in the open” and openly pursued, negotiated, and discussed.

People must know that engaging with you is a win-win.

As you become higher value, most people will know that it’s a win for them.
However, in some cases, you may want to make it more obvious.

Some ways to make it more obvious:

  1. Internalize within yourself that you seek a win-win
  2. Mind your reputation
  3. Use words that evoke cooperation (words and names are a form of framing, see the evidence here)
  4. Say that you seek win-win (frame as win-win)
  5. Say that you appreciate win-win
  6. Say that you prefer people who support each other

Another major benefit of framing as a win-win is that it influences people’s behavior.
Remember: most people have the capacity for both collaboration and cheating. When you use collaborative frames, you increase the likelihood that you select and expand their collaborative mode.

As we’ll learn in the module on frames, framing also includes “thread-expanding”, a set of techniques that increase the salience and power of a frame.
For now, just make a mental note, and we’ll get there.

And note:

NOTE: You can still be aggressive within a win-win

Many people don’t explicitly say they seek a win-win because they think it means that they can’t negotiate hard if they do.

Not the case.
Win-win is not about being nice. And it’s not even the same as going 50/50, or being “fair”. Even if you reach an agreement that captures 90% of the added value, that is still a win-win as they are 10% better.

3.3. Reframe as Win-Win

It’s incredibly easy to “forget” common goals and interests and turn competitive and win-lose.

Indeed, it’s mind-boggling how many people allow localized competition, momentary win-loses, and compromises to ruin whole relationships.

So to avoid momentary hiccups spoiling whole interactions, negotiations, or even relationships, you will re-set the frame as win-win, refocusing attention on the common goals, interests, or even simple mutual liking and respect.

So for example, if it seems like you are reaching an impasse while you negotiate your salary, you would say:

You: Look, what I’m saying here is I can deliver to you exactly what you’re looking for. And maybe more. Which is great, because I also want to join your team. There is an opportunity to gain on both sides here, and that’s what I want.
We only need to find how we can make this work.
If you could only match this number, which I think is very fair..

That re-sets the frame again towards a win-win.

For good examples:

Also read:

10 Frame Control Techniques to Out-Frame Anyone

3.4. Align Interests

One of the best ways to keep relationships win-win is to align interests.

People with aligned interests have their own “what’s in it for me” to stick with you, and to play straight and fair.

Some interests naturally align, so that becomes a case of framing, thread-expanding, and reframing as a win-win.
But in some other cases, you can actively take steps to increase that alignment, which in turn will increase cooperation, loyalty, and returns (and potentially even increase dependence on you, which is the darker side of aligning interests).

We’ll learn how during the course of Power University (and the darker side of dependence in the Machiavellian lesson).

3.5. Maintain Win-Wins

If establishing win-wins is the first step, keeping the win-wins is the other side of the coin.

Some ways of keeping the win-win include:

  1. Keep bringing value
  2. Ask for value back
  3. (Tactfully) Remind people of the benefits
  4. (Tactfully) Remind people of the costs of cheating

Potentially, especially in business, also:

  1. Police and control
  2. Let people know about the controls
  3. Let people know about the costs of cheating and stealing

And in the case of interpersonal relationships with high-quality people:

  • Keep being a high-quality, honest, and respect-worthy person (more on the “eagle lesson”)

Also read:

Enlightened collaborator“.

Life Strategy: The Enlightened Collaborator

It works within families, too.

My brother was thinking about selling his house and moving in with my aging parents. This is a big move with potentially big consequences for inheritance and the splitting of family assets.

When the idea reached me, the family was dangerously thinking about whether it was fair and who was going to gain and lose.
A terrible frame to discuss the topic.

So the first thing I said was this:

Me: It’s a big project to think of. Let’s talk about it and find something we’re all happy with. We’re a family, and personally I only want something we’re all happy with, and especially our parents.

Immediate change of mood.
Everyone nods; everyone’s closer—and I become more leader-like, too-.

Remember this: a frame of collaboration sets the expectation of collaboration, which in turn also leads people to behave collaboratively.

#4. Be Warm And Powerful

Your focus is dual:

  1. Make yourself into the best and strongest giver/collaborator you can be (self-focus)
  2. Developing the best and strongest collaborations you can develop (social-focus)

The two go absolutely hand in hand.
The more power you have, the more people want to collaborate with you, and the more you can advance each other’s interests.

Also read:

Power Strategy 101: High-Power / High-Warmth

#4. Cover Your As*

Here’s the truth:

Collaboration is the only way to truly project power and build anything great.

But collaboration and cheating are two sides of the same coin.

The answer is not to avoid collaborations, win-wins, and relationships.
But to be smart about them

See Power University for more.

Applying the Laws: Examples

The above rules don’t just apply to people.

They apply to businesses and organizations as well.
See here some examples:

1. Powerful Businesses Ally: Peter Thiel & Elon Musk

People love “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel.

And for good reasons, it’s a great book on entrepreneurship.

What Zero to One also is, though, is an ode to collaboration in business (and to monopoly).
Peter Thiel:

  1. Tells readers to drop the “disrupt” myth BS because it creates competition against the most powerful and established players (ie.: Thiel exhorts to avoid unneeded fights)
  2. Shares how allying with Elon Musk instead of fighting him made both of them winners (i.e., turning enemies into allies)
  3. Exhorts readers to build teams based on cooperation, win-win, and shared meaning (i.e., pick people and partners with whom it’s easier to establish win-win and cooperation)

And BTW, Thiel understood the power of “extreme collaboration”, too.
That’s why he exhorts his readers to build teams that he (shamefully) calls “mafia”.

Speaking of which:

2. Powerful Men Seek Friends Without Unnecessary Enemies: The Godfather

The same principle of cooperation can be applied to crime.

Think of the difference between “petty crime”, “crime”, and “organized crime”.

Which of the three is most effective in enriching and empowering its members?
It’s organized crime, which is based on building up a web of alliances.

Being a Godfather is less about war than it is about establishing and nurturing alliances.
Including, and possibly especially, other powerful players: other organized crime families, politicians, and high-ranking cops. 

Even the name itself, “Godfather”, is used to foster the strong bond and cooperation that reign among same-blood families.

The organization is also structured to provide a win-win.
The organization provides work and opportunities, you share your part with the bosses, and everyone’s happy.
You do great work, “make your bones”, and one day you can enjoy the full protection of that family.

Do you want to see how a mafia boss uses collaborative frames?
Check this one out:

Lorenzo: (speaks aggressively and somewhat disrespectfully)
:  First of all, I respect you, Lorenzo, you’re a stand-up guy and we’re from the same neighborhood (<—- collaborative frame), but don’t ever talk to me like that again (<—- sets boundaries within the collaborative frame)

Read the full forum entry here.

And if you think “that’s a movie”, that was instead exactly the actor’s experience with a mobster in real life.

3. Powerful Empires Build Powerful Alliances: Rome, England, The U.S.

The same concept applies to countries.

It doesn’t matter how powerful a country is: if it starts wars, it loses power.
And if it starts too many wars, it’s doomed.

Even focusing too much on military power can be counterproductive.

Think of the Assyrians.
Oh wait, you don’t know who they are?
That’s OK.
Nobody does.
And that’s because all they did was invest in war and make war.
And in spite of developing the most advanced and ruthless army of the ancient world, they left no mark on history. Constant and continuous rebellions by their many enemies eventually led to the Assyrians’ downfall -in spite of their superior power-.

Wars are often bad news even when you win.
Take Sparta for example, which theoretically won against Athens.
Sparta’s victory over Athens was a loss for everyone. It ended the Greek golden age, which never recovered.
And when the bigger guys invaded Greece, Sparta had nobody to ally with.

A more recent example is Germany, which up until World War II was the biggest military power in Europe.
And still, it lost both world wars and much of its territory.
Too many wars and too many enemies

Germany failed to collaborate.

Compare Germany with more long-lasting powers that did build empires.
Rome, England, and the US

Those are the powers that, on average, set up win-wins and collaborations.
And made friends and allies.

The Romans could be ruthless when needed, as all great powers sometimes need to be.
But the higher-level strategy and frame were one of cooperation and win-win among any region that joined the empire. Rome stressed unity, freedom for the population it annexed, and the common good and trade.
Same for England and its Commonwealth.

They all had plenty of wars, but they also had larger collaborations.
And made friends and allies.

The Romans could be ruthless when needed, as all great powers sometimes need to be.
But the overall frame was one of cooperation. Rome always stressed unity within the empire, freedom for the population it annexed, and the common good and trade.
Same for England and its Commonwealth.

And similar to what the US has been doing
A superficial look from the leftists would show that the US is a warmongering country. But the opposite is true. US wars are few and small compared to historical standards.
What truly allows the US to project its power is its web of alliances, together with the military bases that the US operates in their allies’ territory.

The US is the most powerful country in the world. And still, guess which allies it picked?
The US allies are also the most powerful countries in the world. The NATO countries in Europe include all the rich Western countries.
In Asia, Korea and Japan, both close US allies, are the two most technologically advanced countries in the region.

map of NATO countries

The richest and most powerful country is allied with the richest and most powerful countries. Is it any wonder the USSR was going to lose?

That’s how you build a proper power network.

To strengthen its alliance, the US also made its partners stronger and richer, both with trade and, when needed, even with direct aid (most famously the Marshall Plans, which ensured Western Europe remained capitalist and friendly).
The US also created bigger global markets, making the alliance not just more powerful but richer, more prosperous, and happier.
And everyone gained.
That’s a proper win-win deal on the world stage.

It’s the exact same with people.
People who start personal feuds and wars lose power.
People who seek a web of powerful allies gain power and leverage.

4. Reversal of The Laws. Lots of Enemies Means Less Power: Donald Trump

Donald Trump is a competitive and dominant man.

That’s how it should be.
Any driven man is at least somewhat competitive.

The challenge is channeling that competitiveness in ways that support your goals through cooperation and alliances.

And Trump often struggles to contain his dominant streak, making too many enemies.

Sure, one could say: “but he is the president of the US”.
And that’s exactly why I picked him as an example.
Is Trump president because of his many enemies, or in spite of it? Look at what it’s costing him.
His constant warfare with the Democrats is making it impossible for him to pass the legislation he wants to pass.
He often battles his own party, turning friends into enemies. And that likely cost him his attempted repeal of Obamacare.

He picks wars with neutral judges and the justice department, tarnishing his reputation, which contributed to making him the most disapproved president (and making his prosecutors even more dogged).

And not to talk about the press, where it looks like it’s “Trump against all journalists”:

The press isn’t going to write anything flattering when Trump is always busy fighting it.

The result is that Trump is the most embattled president in history.
And that’s because his belligerence and uncompromising attitude of “with me or against me” make too many enemies.

The Exceptions

As we have said, these rules refer to relationships that see repeated interactions over time.

However, as with almost any law, there are exceptions and special circumstances. Even within repeated interactions, for example, it’s possible to feign collaboration.
And it’s possible to repress and/or manipulate someone into giving and giving while you take and take.

However, in the long run, it becomes more and more difficult to keep abusive relationships in place.

Also, keep in mind that people who are easiest to swindle are rarely the ones with a lot to give. And the inverse is also true: the more powerful and resourceful the people are, the better their radar against scammers and manipulators (and the more power they have to get rid of cheaters).

On average, cheating works comparatively better in:

  • One-off exchanges
  • When there is no possibility of retribution
  • When there is no harm from a damaged reputation
  • When the cheated party has no way of finding out about your deceit
  • When the cheater does not know how to cooperate: cheating is his way of life
  • When the ill-gotten spoils of cheating can be so life-changing that they’re worth the risks
  • And, very important for your mental and emotional well-being, when you don’t feel bad about it

This website is built, in good part, to teach you about the exceptions as well, so that you can protect your value-adding alliances from life’s marauders

However, whenever you are in doubt, always revert to these basic strategies of power.

Because, unless you’re not covering your ass, the downside of “being wrong” is often small.
But the upside can be huge.

Turning Enemies (and Frenemies) Into Friends

Take a friend who’s teetering between a friendly collaborator and a competitive frenemy, for example.

If when they act competitively, you escalate, you make an enemy.
Sure, you might later patch things up, but the scar will remain forever.

But if instead, you manage to turn him and win him over to a collaborative relationship, you make a friend. And a good friend, too, because he now feels he was stupid and unworthy in trying to trip you.
Ie.: you make a friend, from a position of power (judge role).

This can be shown schematically as well:

Seeking a win-win cannot ensure you will always get a win-win.
But seeking win-win first is the only strategy that gives you a chance at making a friend and ally, and thus increasing your own well-being as well.

If you go warm first when someone is curt towards you, the risk is small: he might rebuff your attempt, and you potentially lose a bit of status (we will see an example with the “icy dominance style“).
But if you play it well, you will still seem “superior”, and you make him look petty and vengeful.
The risk, overall, is small if things go wrong.

But if you manage to turn him, you win big (green quadrant).

Here is what one of the Power University alumni says when he discovered how this law applies to frenemies:

I recovered, thankfully, but a valuable lesson was learned that day: fight only as a last resort. And seek out friendlier options if possible. If I applied your knowledge to that situation today, I am sure things would have turned out differently.

Yep, he’s totally right.
Of course, we can’t be 100% sure it would have turned out differently.
But life is about odds, and chances are high that it would have turned out better for him, indeed.

The sooner you start applying these laws, the more power you have.

This is a shortened version of a Power University lesson, which contains 2 more fundamental strategies.

1 thought on “The 4 Fundamental Principles of Social Success”

  1. And now Trump is doing a great job of undoing that power network.

    He’s lost the Philippines to China, Turkey to Russia, and pushing the Europeans away, towards their own defense forces .

    Trump is undoing the American empire, not making it great again.

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