Principles Life & Work: Machiavelli’s Version

machiavellian principles book cover

Ray Dalio wrote Principles.

It’s a fantastic book.

But it’s a bit aspirational sometimes.
And you should temper it with human nature and foundational power dynamics.

So to avoid that you may fall for naive self-help pitfalls, we over-correct here with more cynical principles.

machiavellian principles book cover

These principles will not sound as good. But they probably do work better

Machiavellian Principles

In red are the original principles.
In bold, the Machiavellian version.

  • Be a hyper-realist
    • Be a hyper-realist, don’t believe BS aspirational principles. Everyone wants more power, money, and women

… Including your billionaire boss turned into “I walk into the woods to give you principles” guru.

Ray Dalio says he came to despise “impractical idealism”.

Well, we’re the same.

And we believe some of the original principles ARE impractical idealism.


It’s impractical idealism to believe that Dalio -or anyone else- appreciates “hyper-realism” that disempowers them.

  • Look at nature to learn how reality works
    • Look at nature where the only laws are self-interest and power

Nature is governed by very simple principles of the selfish gene.
And the power to actualize -or not actualize- what’s good for the selfish gene.

End of it.

Actually… We’re the first to say here that it doesn’t 100% end there.
There is a lot more.
Including real affection, love, and even selfless behavior.

And still…

The foundations are still selfish genes.

So ask yourself:

what better describes reality, the basic principles of nature, or the principles your boss came up with?

  • Be Radically Open-minded
    • Be skeptically open-minded, and definitely not to the point that your brain falls off.

A thousand fools are born every minute, don’t listen to them.
And a thousand smart men want to manipulate you, lead you, or take from you. Starting from those who deny their own selfish motives. So be skeptical.

Be particularly skeptical of those who profess to be “radically open-minded” and to have no ego.
Often, they’re only oblivious to their own dark side, to their will to power… And to their vindictiveness if you cross them.

  • Power Comes From Knowing How We’re Wired
    • Power comes from knowing how to get what we’re wired to want

Dalio only got into his guru-days after he was a billionaire. And after he had his belly full of everything he always wanted.
So first focus on getting what you want.
THEN you can join Dalio in all sorts of mental mast… Pursuits.

  • Use Principles
    • Always rely on the basic principles of human selfishness and will to power, be skeptical of anything else

Also, we go back to our main caveat to The 48 Laws of Power.
There can be general guidelines of course.
And those can be useful guides.

But there are no laws and principles that will always apply and optimize your choices.

Also, if we go by The Fund, Ray Dalio was the first to amend, delete, or add new principles.
By the most cynical interpretations, Dalio changed them based on how it best suited him.

So, trash any law or principle liberally whenever it suits you.
You can always come up with a BS good-sounding rationale later on.

  • Realize You Have Nothing to Fear Saying The Truth
    • Realize you have nothing to fear saying what others want to hear

That original principle is so obviously ineffective in so many situations that we don’t even need to waste time on it.

  • Have Integrity and Demand it From Others
    • Never expect others to do what’s best for you because it is “the right thing to do”. Better believe they will cheat if they can

Our Machiavellian principle this time is too cynical.

Luckily, there are plenty of people who have integrity.
And we encourage you to also be one.

At the same time, it is best not to count on it.
And it is safer to expect people you don’t know to not have integrity.

It’s also safer to expect most people to cheat whenever cheating becomes too easy, or too rewarding to say “no”.

Finally, hello:

Of course it’s convenient for the owner if everyone in his business has integrity.

  • Be radically transparent
    • Be selectively transparent to get a reputation for transparency. Then hide your weaknesses and promote your strengths

And never trust anyone who pushes you to be radically transparent,

  • Be loyal to the common mission
    • Be loyal to yourself

Of course any founder and organization gains when people are loyal to the common mission.

But… Do you?

Also, this is BS value that sounds good only at first read.
Reflect a bit more on it, and it’s truly only just power of the group over the individual.

Among the “common missions” in history we have some of the most barbaric acts humanity has ever recorded.

  • Pay More Attention To Fairness of System Than Getting Your Way
    • Pay attention to get it your way. Then spin it as “fair”

Ultimately, that’s what Dalio also wanted: getting his way.

Hello, what do you think all his work on principles stem from?
He wanted to get richer, more powerful, more famous.

And… there is nothing wrong with it.

Some people, and hopefully Dalio included, want to do that win-win.
Such as, they get what they want, and others are also better off.
It’s also the way we prefer it here.

But if getting it his way would mean that some others would be worse off for it… Do you think he’d have stopped?
I hope so.

But still, most bosses and founders would rather find an exception to their principles. Even if that means the process is “less fair”. Or maybe “just for this one time”.

So don’t count on the system being the ultimate decision-maker when you’re going against the boss.

Only a naive person would believe that.

  • Principles Can’t Be Ignored By Mutual Agreement
    • As long as you gain and there are no costs… Break any principle

Just ask yourself:

Who gains when you pay the price to obey your boss’ principles?
The company and the owner.

And maybe sometimes they do deserve to gain and come first.

But… Maybe not always.

And who says they’re any worthier than you are anyway?
Oh yeah, right… They say that 🙂

  • If People With Power Don’t Obey The Principles, The System Will Fail
    • Come up with principles that are good for you, so that you can always obey them. Then, you masterfully spin those principles to make them sound virtuous and “good”.

As a rule of thumb, always be skeptical of any principle that goes against the owners, founders, and bosses.
It’s not even about bad bosses. It’s about human nature.
Human nature will always put one’s best interest before “principles”.

And attention now:

Even if principled bosses follow the principle so that they lose and you win, they will always hate you for it.

And you will always pay for it.
At best, you lose social capital and future opportunities.
At worst, they will come up with some reasons why you’re falling afoul of the principles and must go.

So, again, put human nature before any principle.

  • Tough Love is The Hardest and Most Important Type of Love
    • Tough love only works from top to bottom, never the other way around

So don’t count on this BS to deliver some “tough love” feedback to your boss.
99% of people will not appreciate 99% of the time.

  • Don’t Hide Your Observations About People
    • Be strategic with your observations, and keep most of them for yourself

The original principle is so out of touch with reality to be laughable.

  • Recognize and Deal With Key Man Risk – Every key person should have at least one person who can replace him
    • Make sure you are irreplaceable – and charge accordingly. Guard the secrets of your high-performance as the main source of your power

This is basic conflict of interest.

The company wants you replaceable because when you’re replaceable, you’re low value and low power.

You want the opposite.

If the business puts people around you to learn from you, never teach them anything unless you’re gaining from it.

  • Escalate when you can’t adequately handle your responsibilities . . .
    • If you need to escalate make sure you look proactive rather than incapable -if necessary, take credit for prompt escalation and lay the blame of failure on someone else

Another basic conflict of interest at work.

The business gains with prompt escalation.
After all, your manager gets paid the same whether you escalate promptly, or not.

But unless you’re strategic with escalation you may look like someone who can’t handle his job.

  • A Great CEO Is Not As Good As a Group of Great Leaders
    • Let hippies share. You go for sole leadership

The original principle may have some merit –may!-.

But it’s still somewhat suspicious because the founder retains more power with many “CEOs”, rather than one.

Also, a single CEO can eclipse a founder if he shines bright.
But with many CEO… The founder maintains power.

See some possible conflict of interest there? 🙂


We’ve been inspired by this article after reading The Fund.

The therapist of one of Bridgewater’s employees said that Dalio’s system was designed by someone with Asperger’s syndrome.

That sounds a bit mean, to be honest.

There is plenty of genius in Dalio’s principles -we truly believe so, it’s a fantastic self-help book.

But self-help is not always the most effective to advance in life.
And the therapist’s take is still valid.
Plenty of these principles just don’t work well with human nature.

And, if taken too literally, these principles may also create unnecessary conflict.
The costs of those conflicts will always be borne out by those with the least power.

Indeed, many of these principles are designed to make the company better off.
And not necessarily the employee.

So our principles take the opposite side.
The side of a cynical and Machiavellian employee.

Power University teaches how to marry Machiavellianism for personal success, with win-win

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