“The 48 Laws of Power” is a hugely popular book.
Especially among the more “type-A” personalities and among the most power-craving Machiavellians.
Yet, in your efforts to develop and acquire more power, “The 48 Laws of Power” might be more damaging than helpful.
Keep on reading.
Is The 48 Laws of Power Realistic?
In a strict sense, “The 48 Laws of Power” is neither true nor realistic.
It’s not true because the laws are not real “laws”.
They are maxims teased out from ancient-world examples which might apply to some modern circumstances, but which badly backfire in many others.
This should be obvious to anyone with a modicum of emotional and social intelligence.
But some people who read “The 48 Laws of Power” do not yet possess a basic understanding of social and power dynamics.
So they start applying the “laws” in all the wrong situations.
They come across as sociopathic at best, and as social retards, dickheads, and emotionally challenged at worst.
They don’t gain power, but lose power, together with losing friends and social status.
And the more they apply the “laws”, the more they progress on a highway to social isolation.
See here one example from a user post on the “48 Laws of Power subreddit“:
The above example is eerily common in that group.
And that’s exactly what has led me to writing up this article.
This post reviews the shortcoming of “The 48 Laws of Power” and warns readers of the most common misinterpretation of the laws.
- #1. Never Outshine The Master: And You Become A Housebroken Dog
- #2. Never Put Too Much Trust In Friends – But Friends ARE Power
- #3. Conceal Your Intentions – So That You Can Look Like A Big Fake
- #4. Say Less Than Necessary – But Plenty of People Acquire Power by Talkins Lots
- #5. Guard Your Reputation With Your Life – And Your Reputation Might Just Cost You Your Life
- #6. Court Attention At All Cost – And You Become An Attention-Seeking Whore
- #7. Let Others Do The Work And Take The Credit – Then Watch All Your Best People Leave
- #8. Make Others Come to You – But Don’t Be Afraid of Taking The First Step
- #9. Win Through Actions, Not Arguments – Except Arguments Support Actions
- #10. Avoid Unhappy & Unlucky – Except Luck Doesn’t Exist
- #11. Learn to Keep People Dependent On You – So You Can Start Behaving Like A True Abuser
- #12. Use Selective Honesty – And Get A Liar’s Reputation In No Time
- #13. Appeal to People’s Self-Interest – And You Will Get Only Self-Interested People
- #14. Work As a Friend, Pose As a Spy – Ie.: How To Become A Despised Traitor
- #16. Use Absence to Increase Respect – Or Maybe Use Presence to Increase Respect?
- #17. Keep Others In Suspended Terror – And You Shall Also Live In Terror
- #18. Do Not Build Fortresses To Protect Yourself – Actually: Why Not?
- #19. Know Who You’re Dealing With, Lest Offend The Wrong Person – AKA “Keep Your Head Down”
- #20. Do Not Commit to Anyone – So You Can Spend A Lifetime Alone
- #21. Seem Dumber Than Your Mark – So That You Can Invite Aggression
- #22. Use Surrender As A Tool – Just So You Get The Reputation Of A Quitter
- #24. Play The Perfect Courtier – And Never Focus On, You Know… Actual Skills & Results
- #26. Keep Your Hands Clean – Except This Is Now How Power Players Move
- #27. Create A Cult-Like Following – Then Enjoy Spending Your Time With Idiots
- #28. Enter Action With Boldness – And Risk It All With A Boneheaded Move
- #29. Plan All The Way to The End – Never Mind Life Never Follows Plans
- #30. Make Your Wins Seem Effortless – And Totally Miss Our Struggle-Adoring Zeitgeist
- #32. Play To People’s Fantasy – So They’ll Never Support The Way You Need
- #33. Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew – So You Can Make More Enemies
- #34. Be Royal to Be Treated Like Royalty – Or Ditch The Window-Dressing Game
- #35. Master The Art of Timing – And Now You Really Are On A Fool’s Errand
- #36. Disdain/Ignore Things You Cannot Have – But Disdain Broadcasts Your Hurt
- #37. Create Compelling Spectacles – Ie.: Waste Your Time On Cheating
- #38. Think As You Like But Behave Like Others – Baa, Baa
- #39. Stir Up Waters To Catch Fish – But Stirred Up Water Can Get Choppy
- #40. Despise The Free Lunch – Become The Worst Guest Ever
- #41. Avoid Stepping Into A Great Man’s Shoes – Should You Follow Average Men Instead?
- #44. Disarm and Infuriate With The Mirror Effect – Ie.: Overinvest In your Opponents
- #45. Preach The Need For Change But Reform Slowly – Just So You Can Waste More Time
- #46. Never Appear Too Perfect – Just So You Can Let The Haters Control You
- #47. Stop At What You Aimed For – And You Cap Your Own Upsides
#1. Never Outshine The Master: And You Become A Housebroken Dog
This law says that it’s a big mistake to appear smarter and brighter than your master.
In many cases, that’s true.
But if you keep obeying this law without a bigger strategy for career advancement, you’re on a highway to average-dom.
How else are you going to move forward if all you worry about is looking dumber than your boss?
Why Law of Power #1. Is Wrong
Bosses are people, and most people cluster around the average.
That means average skills, average drive and even average power.
If all you do is focusing on not outshining the master, you risk remaining stuck behind an average boss for years to come.
And for years to come you will keep your head down, following your master like a sheep.
If your goal is to live a safe, modest and simple life, then all good.
But if you want more, then you probably don’t want to apply this law (unless your boss is an awesome rising star who’s also carrying you forward).
Personally, one of the biggest regrets of my life is that it took me so long to stop appeasing average bosses.
Don’t do the same mistake.
Life is short. And appeasing average bosses is a waste of life.
Do This Instead
First of all, seek bosses whom you can learn from for a long time.
Ideally, you will not only learn the hard skills of the trade, but he will also be a role model.
If there is some age difference, don’t be afraid of a boss being a father or mother figure if you never had a positive father or mother figure.
Very open minded bosses will not try to stop your career because you outshine them but they will help you up instead (just make sure you can tell the difference between envious and helpful).
In any case, once you have learned everything, the time has come for you to move ahead.
And that point, it’s not anymore about how “not to outshine the boss” but how to “move past him in the most effective way possible”.
#2. Never Put Too Much Trust In Friends – But Friends ARE Power
Robert Greene is not totally wrong.
Friends can grow resentful and turn, or simply screw you over in spite of the friendship.
And enemies can be turned into friends and allies too, for sure.
But you don’t make the rule with the exceptions.
Why Law of Power #2. Is Wrong
This law puts you in a bad mindset.
The mindset that friends and enemies might be more or less the same.
But they’re not.
And you’re much better off with lots of friends.
As someone said, your network is your net worth and authors such as Keith Ferrazzi have built whole businesses on how to network effectively.
Friends and allies are crucial even in the animal kingdom.
Chimps for example don’t rule through sheer force alone.
Often the alpha male is not the strongest, but the one with more friends and allies (Ridley, 1996).
And that is all the truer for humans.
As my first mentor once told me:
Make friends, not enemies
#3. Conceal Your Intentions – So That You Can Look Like A Big Fake
In life, you can’t always be honest.
There will be plenty of times when you will have to conceal your true intentions, embellish your motives, or only present the most “socially acceptable” side of your true intentions.
But going from “sometimes having to lie” to “making lies the centerpiece of your strategy” is a big stretch.
Why Law of Power #3. Is Wrong
The law is wrong when concealing your intentions becomes your main way of approaching life.
Many people can smell fakeness, and eventually your lies will catch up with you.
I remember this highly skilled guy who once joined our team. He might have been the most skilled speaker in town.
But he always concealed everything, and eventually his concealments started not adding up anymore:
As you can see, concealment eventually started to show cracks. And he destroyed his reputation.
The funny thing?
This guy probably thought he had fooled everyone “concealing his intentions”.
He probably thought he was coming across cooler and increasing his power.
People felt somewhat “off” with this concealer, and he never fit in. He ended up highly isolated.
Now, of course, some others might never be found out and gain power by concealment.
But you can gain the same power without as much concealment.
So, why lying (and risking) then?
#4. Say Less Than Necessary – But Plenty of People Acquire Power by Talkins Lots
It’s not completely wrong that powerful people talk less.
In my overview of the “archetypes of dominance” I list the silent Godfather as the true archetype of power.
And yet, thinking that power always talks little is a very limited view of power.
Because there are many ways to acquire power and resources by talking a lot.
Below are just a few examples
Why Law of Power #4 Is Wrong
I will not waste too much time because a couple of examples will suffice to show that this law cannot be generalized.
- McGregor became the richest MMA fighter with his mouth as much as his punches
- Jordan Peterson & Ben Shapiro became rich by talking way more than necessary
- Donald Trump became president by dominating the news with his constant presence
Seen an example of one of those socially skilled impaired folks who apply “rules” at random.
#5. Guard Your Reputation With Your Life – And Your Reputation Might Just Cost You Your Life
It’s true that reputation is important.
But not in all situations and not al the times.
In the digital era, one could have a spotless digital reputation while actually being a dickhead.
Why Law of Power #5. Is Wrong
Yet, “reputation” is nothing but a fancier way of saying “what people think of you”.
Overly worrying about your reputation is the equivalent of worrying too much of what others think of you.
And when you worry too much about what others think of you, you are giving them huge power over you.
Much better to focus your reputation on a few people whose opinion matters and letting all the rest outside of your “reputation management efforts”.
Finally, reputation is often connected to your ego.
And people do all crazy of stupid things when they are controlled by their ego.
The famous bar scene in Goodfellas is one example of the stupidity of defending “reputation”:
This is one example of the stupidity of “guarding your reputation with your life”. Literally.
#6. Court Attention At All Cost – And You Become An Attention-Seeking Whore
I don’t why Greene even comes up with this law.
There is just little connection between power and attention.
As a matter of fact, attention seeking is correlated with little power -and even less power and control over one’s own mind-.
Why Law of Power #6. Is Wrong
This law is only valid for influencers, social media celebs and some jet-set personalities.
For everyone else, there is truly little power in seeking attention at all cost.
Indeed, the more attention you get, the more scrutiny you get.
And more scrutiny leaves you with less room to maneuver and higher chances of getting mired in time-wasting scandals.
Furthermore, at the upper echelons of attention, it’s annoying being under the limelight at all times.
Ask Britney Spears about it:
Don’t court attention at all costs, but instead rid yourself of the narcissistic need for attention.
It’s freeing, and freedom is the sweetest fruit power (and vice versa).
#7. Let Others Do The Work And Take The Credit – Then Watch All Your Best People Leave
Many offices and many bosses function exactly like Robert Greene describes.
But many is not all, and excessive credit taking never fails to estrange your subordinates.
Why Law of Power #7. Is Wrong
Robert Greene writes with the ancient times in mind.
And back then, when masters decided for life or death and power was absolute, it worked.
Not so much.
How long would a manager keep his best employees if all he did was stealing their ideas?
This example is from a series (Madmen), but it’s realistic of how people feel when their managers steal their ideas.
And they will not stick around long:
And in the series as much as in reality, she later quit for greener pastures (and better bosses).
#8. Make Others Come to You – But Don’t Be Afraid of Taking The First Step
The idea of being approached first is great.
Using bait is a bit sneaky, but depending on the situation and the person you’re dealing with, it can also be fair game.
However, this maxim is wrong when taken to the extreme.
Why Law of Power #8. Is Wrong
At the end of the day, often in your life you will have to ask.
Bottom line: you can’t always wait for others to come to you in life.
And whether or not you take that first step differentiates those who enjoy success from those who don’t.
#9. Win Through Actions, Not Arguments – Except Arguments Support Actions
This law is not very suited for modernity, where freedom and democracy require influence and people’s support.
Today, it’s difficult to divide actions from arguments.
They are two faces of the same coin.
Why Law of Power #9 Is Wrong
To realize this law makes little sense you only need to take a look at some of the most powerful people in the world.
And you will soon realize that many of them are great communicators.
Arguments indeed are not opposite to action: arguments can pave the way for actions.
Or, once actions are underway, good arguments can legitimize those actions.
#10. Avoid Unhappy & Unlucky – Except Luck Doesn’t Exist
Greene takes a leaf out of the self-help literature here.
Law number 10 indeed sounds a lot like the old adage that “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”.
But that’s only partially true and, in good part, it’s a self-help myth.
Why Law of Power #10 is Wrong
Let me summarize this one for you:
- No serious scientist believes in luck
- Helping people in dire straits can provide bigger pay-offs than helping anyone else
#11. Learn to Keep People Dependent On You – So You Can Start Behaving Like A True Abuser
This is a law that sounds like it cynically describes power.
But it does not describe power. It describes how abusers think.
Why Law of Power #11. Is Wrong
These are the people who focus on keeping others dependent:
Some of them can be successful in keeping their victims dependent, but they are mostly “successful” with low quality men and women who have few options.
And even then, relationships with a dependent often end up being co-dependent and nobody is really in power (see Beatty, 1986).
However, worry not.
There is a high quality way of keeping people dependent.
And that’s to be so good that they want to be dependent on you.
These types of high quality people though don’t really crave to have anyone dependent on them.
#12. Use Selective Honesty – And Get A Liar’s Reputation In No Time
Robert Greene writes:
One act of honesty will cover a dozen lies
Not only that’s most often not true, but lies also destroy your reputation (another example of laws contradicting each other).
Why Law of Power 12 Is Wrong
Unless you keep moving, lies quickly add up.
And you soon lose the benefit of the doubt and get the reputation of a liar (see again the example of “conceal your intention).
So much so for Greene’s own law “guard your reputation with your life”.
#13. Appeal to People’s Self-Interest – And You Will Get Only Self-Interested People
Again, a law which sounds cynically realist, but which is actually wrong.
Why Law of Power #13 Is Wrong
Social sciences are pretty clear about this one: appeals to higher ideals and shared identities are superior to self -interest.
And appealing to self-interest can actually be counterproductive.
Above a certain threshold of salary, a typical example of self-interest, appeals to higher values work better.
This a chart to help you understand the difference between appealing to external incentives (what’s in it for me) VS higher ideals:
#14. Work As a Friend, Pose As a Spy – Ie.: How To Become A Despised Traitor
Robert Greene says:
Better yet, pose as a spy yourself
And here already you should be able to see what’s wrong with this.
Why Law of Power #14 Is Wrong
Do you remember some years ago the international scandal when Germany found out the US tapped Merkel’s phone?
Can you imagine now if the US president had done the tapping himself?
Exactly: quite ridiculous to even to think of.
That’s because powerful people don’t spy themselves: they send spies.
And if you’re not the president of a country (yet), focus on making good, support and win-win friendships instead of spying.
One single act of spying will immediately leave you with one single friend (the one you spied for) and lots of enemies (everyone else).
#16. Use Absence to Increase Respect – Or Maybe Use Presence to Increase Respect?
Law 16 is not all wrong: there can be such a thing as over-presence and becoming banal.
Yet, it’s wrong for how it shifts your focus.
Why Law of Power #16 Is Wrong
You are far better off focusing on adding value whenever you’re there.
Only then when you are not there people will notice the difference.
But if you focus on absence before you become the most skilled and value-adding individual in the group… Then nobody will care you’re not there.
Before your absence makes the difference nobody cares you’re not there.
Focus on adding value with your presence, not your absence.
And that’s why you’re better off focusing on mastery, not on absence.
#17. Keep Others In Suspended Terror – And You Shall Also Live In Terror
Greene says never to build castles because isolation is dangerous.
And then he suggests to let others live in suspended terror through your unpredictable behavior.
And guess where does that lead? To isolation and to the necessity of castles.
Why Law of Power #17 is Wrong
Reigning through terror makes for paranoid leaders.
And they are paranoid for good reasons: when you reign through terror everyone longs to plant a knife in your back the moment you turn.
Take Saddam Hussein for example.
Saddam Hussein reigned through terror.
He purposefully ordered the tanks around Baghdad to be low in ammunition, just in case the army wanted to turn on him.
Do you think that makes for great leadership -or great quality of life?-.
#18. Do Not Build Fortresses To Protect Yourself – Actually: Why Not?
Unexpectedly, Greene advises against fortresses.
Since he is so into history and ancient times, he should know that fortresses have been bastions of civilization against the dark forces of barbarianism.
Fortresses enabled progress and, even today, fortresses work.
Why Law of Power #18 Is Wrong
Greene says that fortresses are dangerous because they isolate you.
But fortresses isolate you only if you let them isolate you.
Instead, you can build them and use them as insurances on your life.
The term “insurance” is very befitting since modern versions of fortresses are:
- Prenuptial agreements
- Contract clauses
These types of fortresses enable and protect power (and money).
And, if you’re very rich, it might actually be a literal fortress.
It’s such a thing that modern fortress buyers even have a name: doomsday capitalists.
#19. Know Who You’re Dealing With, Lest Offend The Wrong Person – AKA “Keep Your Head Down”
This is such a terribly, terribly defensive mindset.
Why Law of Power #19 Is Wrong
This law gets people in the wrong frame of mind.
Again, we go back to a “sheep frame of mind”, more worried of not crossing the wrong person rather than achieving their own goals and dreams.
Needless to say, this is not how people going places think.
#20. Do Not Commit to Anyone – So You Can Spend A Lifetime Alone
Another law which cannot be generalized.
I get what Greene is saying: play both sides and only negotiate based on your interests.
Yet this cannot be generalized.
Why Law of Power #20. Is Wrong
Let’s begin with relationships first.
As Amir Levine explains, a strong intimate bond allows the partners to take on the word more confidently.
And in both interpersonal and international relationships, commitment gives parties a strong moral authority.
Think of the US and its stance against totalitarianism in WWI and WII.
The US was mostly accepted as the world’s policeman also thanks to its commitment to democracy and the rule of law.
A non-committal party instead can easily come across as sleazy and unreliable.
#21. Seem Dumber Than Your Mark – So That You Can Invite Aggression
Looking dumber can be used strategically.
But only if you’re stronger than your mark.
Otherwise you invite aggression and bullying.
#22. Use Surrender As A Tool – Just So You Get The Reputation Of A Quitter
Greene makes surrender and regrouping sound easy.
But it’s rarely like that in real life.
Why Law of Power #22. Is Wrong
This is simple:
When you lay down your arms you are at the mercy of your opponent.
It will be up to him to decide the terms, and who knows if his terms will allow you to regroup or if they will destroy you completely.
It’s best to negotiate while you’re still standing and kicking instead. Then you will have a say in negotiations.
Finally, there is also an advantage in never surrendering: you make a reputation for someone who is better left alone, which paradoxically leads to fewer battles.
#24. Play The Perfect Courtier – And Never Focus On, You Know… Actual Skills & Results
Politics are important.
But there is more in life, success and power.
And if all your effort is in playing the perfect courtier, then you’re definitely going down the wrong path.
Why Law of Power #24. Is Wrong
Robert Greene has a classical background and he’s never really worked in business.
In the old courts he studies, politics might have dictated 95% of power.
Back then there were no obvious results to tie one’s power to, so it was all about who the king favored and who influenced the king the most.
But things have changed today.
Of course, office politics still matter.
But they’re only one side of the coin.
And you must also focus on skill-building and results.
#26. Keep Your Hands Clean – Except This Is Now How Power Players Move
Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where people with dirty hands couldn’t hold onto power?
But we don’t live in that world.
Why Law of Power #26. Is Wrong
This also depends on what you mean by “keeping your hands clean”.
In a larger context, worrying too much about keeping your hands clean also means you are submitting to what everyone else defines as “clean”.
The top power players do not accept the definition of what’s “clean” and what’s not.
They focus more on doing as they please and changing the perception of what’s “clean” and what’s not (see for example the frame battles on abortion, capital punishment etc.).
Finally, we also live in a world where the issue is not whether or not you dirty your hands.
The real issue is whether you get caught, and the two things are very much not the same thing (unluckily).
See Jho Low:
Luckily, there is also a positive way with which you can approach the “hands clean” topic.
Indeed, it’s possible to acquire great reputation and to command admiration by sticking to your moral values no matter what.
We all admire the kind of men who are virtuous when nobody is looking. And we all tend to be more honest with the few men whose handshake is the equivalent of a contract.
So, yes, there is plenty of power in strong ethics.
#27. Create A Cult-Like Following – Then Enjoy Spending Your Time With Idiots
Albeit creating a cult-like following was easier in the old days, it’s still possible today.
But it’s still not the best way to acquire power.
Why Law of Power #27. Is Wrong
The main question here is this:
Who are you going to deal with after you have successfully created a cult?
You are going to deal with people who are most likely to fall for cult and cult-leader.
And that’s probably not the cream of the crop, is it.
#28. Enter Action With Boldness – And Risk It All With A Boneheaded Move
Another law which is hardly generalizable.
Why Law of Power #28. Is Wrong
There are plenty of situations where a more observant approach will serve you better than entering action with boldness
Leadership in a new group is a good example.
Too forceful leaders are disliked by the group, while those who look around and learn the power structures and the non-written rules are more likely to rise fast (see “laws of leadership from social science“).
“Enter action with boldness” as a general rule makes me think of these Family Guy skits of Kool-Aid boldness:
#29. Plan All The Way to The End – Never Mind Life Never Follows Plans
Planning is good.
But only up to a certain point because, more time than not, life does not go according to plan.
Do make your plans, but keep in mind things will most likely develop differently than what you planned.
Why Law of Power #28. Is Wrong
Overplanning is often a waste of time.
Especially in those important fields that are inherently unstable, like entrepreneurship and love.
As Tyson said:
Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face
It’s usually best to have a rough idea and start than making greatly elaborated plans and delay action.
If I showed you my original plans for The Power Moves, you’d laugh.
I wasted way too long planning, and I’d rather you not make this same (common) mistake.
#30. Make Your Wins Seem Effortless – And Totally Miss Our Struggle-Adoring Zeitgeist
Greene here is missing the spirit of the times.
There is still a place for effortless action: we all admire and secretly envy the natural talents.
But we prefer effort today.
Why Law of Power #30. Is Wrong
In our modern culture the best accolades go to the hardest workers -or those who say they are the hardest workers-.
Just tune in to any self-help guru, motivational speaker and most celebs too. They are all about hard work.
That’s what sells.
If you want to be liked and respected today, talk up your hard work.
That’s the message that resonates today: the glorification of the hustle.
And that’s what makes people feel good, because it sub-communicates that if only they put in the work, they could do it, too.
#32. Play To People’s Fantasy – So They’ll Never Support The Way You Need
Greene makes the point that people don’t want the truth.
And, for the most part, he is right.
The issue with it is that those are not the people you want in your life.
Why Law of Power #32. Is Wrong
You’re not going to go far in life if you keep around people with paper-thin egos.
You want in your life people who want -and can stomach- reality as crude and as raw as possible.
That’s how Ray Dalio built his empire: looking for truth and hiring smart people who sought the truth (see Principles by Ray Dalio).
#33. Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew – So You Can Make More Enemies
Getting to know people as they really are is important.
But why would you limit yourself to thumbscrews?
Why Law of Power #33. Is Wrong
More than what pains people, you want to know what excites them and what makes them tick.
Because with thumbscrews you can hurt people. But with their inner drivers you can get the very best out of them.
Thumbscrews bring you wars and destruction.
Dreams and aspirations build you great relationships (and revenues).
#34. Be Royal to Be Treated Like Royalty – Or Ditch The Window-Dressing Game
The rule is not totally wrong.
People judge others by the cover all the times.
Yet, it’s not how true power players act and think.
Why Law of Power #34. Is Wrong
True power players transcend the cover (the clothes) because their content (who they are) is so obvious and well known that they don’t need the cover.
Indeed, by disregarding the cover, they send a strong message about their content (and their power).
Steve Jobs is a good example:
Jobs on the left was powerless and he had to dress the part. Jobs on the right makes a statement about his superior power status by dressing as he pleases
Remember: the people struggling to make it to the top are the ones most desperate to dress royally.
#35. Master The Art of Timing – And Now You Really Are On A Fool’s Errand
Greene talks about never being in a hurry here and letting people wait.
But he also talks about spotting trends and timing your moves.
And while the former are indeed common power moves, the latter has little to do with power.
Why Law of Power #35. Is Wrong
Years ago I began trading stocks.
And like every trader, I tried to “master the art of timing” and buying and selling “at the right time”.
Long story short: I paid a good sum of money to learn that trying to time the market is a fool’s errand.
Nobody can predict the future.
Even worse it’s trying to “time” your entrepreneurial endeavors.
People who try to time their moves will always find a host of reasons why it’s not yet the right time.
But it’s never the right time because the right time is (almost) always now.
Stop making timing your biggest worry and focus instead on doing your best, adding the most value and becoming the best you can be.
#36. Disdain/Ignore Things You Cannot Have – But Disdain Broadcasts Your Hurt
I agree you should ignore things you cannot have and focus on what you can have.
But disdain and ignoring are two completely different things.
Why Law of Power #36. Is Wrong
Disdain stays within you and poisons you.
Disdain is proof that, deep down, you really wanted it. And you are broadcasting your failure to yourself and to the world.
Don’t disdain what you cannot have: focus on what you can have.
#37. Create Compelling Spectacles – Ie.: Waste Your Time On Cheating
Why focusing on compelling spectacles when you can create compelling visions and turn them into compelling realities?
#38. Think As You Like But Behave Like Others – Baa, Baa
This law makes sense… For powerless individuals.
But it’s not how powerful individuals think and act.
Why Law of Power #38. Is Wrong
Power is about shaping your environment.
It’s about shaping the culture, the people around you, the customs and traditions, and the way of doing things.
If all you do is behaving like others… Why are you even in power?
Instead, adapt and learn while you’re still training.
Then, start focusing on shaping culture and behavior.
#39. Stir Up Waters To Catch Fish – But Stirred Up Water Can Get Choppy
Stirring waters to induce your opponent into mistakes can make sense… Sometimes.
But some other times, stirring up waters has the complete opposite effect.
Why Law of Power #39. Is Wrong
An emotional opponent can be a dangerous opponent.
And an opponent who knows how to channel his anger and rage is an even more dangerous opponent.
Michael Jordan is an example of the latter:
When MJ’s opponents tried to roil him, it often had the exact opposite effect: it would draw the best out of MJ.
#40. Despise The Free Lunch – Become The Worst Guest Ever
Greene says that what is worth having is worth paying for.
And sometimes indeed people will try to buy you stuff to influence your behavior (also see “manipulative negotiation techniques“).
Yet, it’s a mistake to think of any freebies, invites or favors as something you need to despise.
Why Law of Power #40. Is Wrong
Exchanges of gifts and favors strengthen relationships.
Refusing gifts can send the message you are refusing the friendship, and you should be careful with that.
As a guest, for example, it’s a sign of appreciation to accept a free lunch.
Furthermore, since money is power, looking to save money can be a highly effective technique for acquiring power.
And yes, that savings can also come from different forms of free lunches that life might offer.
#41. Avoid Stepping Into A Great Man’s Shoes – Should You Follow Average Men Instead?
Another example of an extremely defensive mindset.
Why Law of Power #41. Is Wrong
Just answer this one for me:
Are you more likely to perform at an elite level if you train and follow an elite leader, or if you train and follow an average one?
When you work, train and learn from elite performers, you can also manage to get them to mentor you after you take over from them.
And that, again, will further boost your performance.
I will be very clear cut here: don’t listen to this “law” and don’t be fearful: seek great men and you are more likely to become a great man yourself.
Laws 42 and 43 are mostly correct and we will skip them.
#44. Disarm and Infuriate With The Mirror Effect – Ie.: Overinvest In your Opponents
The mirror technique can work.
But in far fewer situations you might think.
Why Law of Power #44. Is Wrong
When you mirror someone you are giving them lots of attention.
And when you give people lots of attention, you place them above you.
When you mirror someone you are electing him as your N.1 enemy while they are still ignoring you.
And that’s why, more often than not, mirroring others places you in the subordinate role.
While you mirror people will also be wondering why your target is so important to you and what’s your beef with them, which can make you look spiteful and full of hatred.
Unless you’re a young upstart trying to unsettle an established player, skip the mirror and focus on getting better.
#45. Preach The Need For Change But Reform Slowly – Just So You Can Waste More Time
Greene says that when you’re new, you should make a show of respecting the old power and reform little by little.
That’s true… Sometimes.
And some other times, it’s wasted time.
Why Law of Power #45. Is Wrong
When you’re new it’s exactly when people expect change the most.
That’s your chance to strike when it’s hot and change for the better.
If you let time pass, people will think of you as “the same old”. And you don’t want that.
Sure, someone will resist chance.
Most often it’s the old guard, who have grown complacent and is busy defending their entrenched interests.
Great: the sooner you get rid of them, the better off you and the group you lead will be.
#46. Never Appear Too Perfect – Just So You Can Let The Haters Control You
Here is another “rule of thumb” which is not a “law”.
Greene makes the case that people will envy and resent you if you seem too perfect.
Some of them will.
Why Law of Power #46. Is Wrong
So what if someone will envy you?
Let them envy you, you can’t start making mistakes on purpose to appease your haters.
Greene’s example is also idiotic: JFK was suddenly more liked after the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion?
So what, JFK -and the world- would have still been better off without that blunder!
Furthermore, don’t worry: in the off chance that you look “too perfect”, not everyone will envy you.
It’s mostly frenemies, people who resented you already and people who think they should be above you by dint of their gender, nationality, skin etc.
Those who like you and admire you instead will admire you even more when you look “too perfect”.
#47. Stop At What You Aimed For – And You Cap Your Own Upsides
Another law that makes little sense.
Why Law of Power #46. Is Wrong
If you always only stop at what you aimed for, you are capping your upsides while still leaving all the downside risks open.
Instead, when you’re winning more than expected, it might be just the right time to double down and make history.
Example: When Hannibal Lost The Chance Of His Life
The greatest example is possibly Hannibal.
Hannibal was an incredibly cunning general, and yet few could expect the incredible feats he achieved in his war against the Romans.
In one of his most famous dares, he crossed the Alps with African elephants and, deep into enemy’s territory and without any supply lines, he delivered a series of crippling defeats to one of the most feared army in the world.
At the battle of Canne he destroyed the whole Roman army and what, at that date, was the biggest army the world had ever seen.
But Hannibal stopped.
He reached his immediate goal of winning the battle and never marched to take Rome.
The Romans then switched to a war of attrition.
And little by little, because of Hannibal’s failure to keep on going and make the most out of his prodigious victories, he was eventually forced to retreat.
One of Hannibals’ best lieutenants was rumored to have said:
Hannibal, you know how to gain a victory, but not how to use one.
Don’t stop when you’re over-shooting your mark: double down.
After reading messages like this one I had to write this post:
This article sounded critical of “The 48 Laws of Power“.
And well, this is because this article is a critical review of “The 48 Laws of Power“.
This is not to say that “The 48 Laws of Power” is all wrong.
Many of the laws have valid applications in certain circumstances.
And it’s good to learn them because many people, and especially those who seek power, do apply these laws.
But the “laws” are not laws and they are not always applicable.
As my martial arts trainer said:
There are no rules. Only principles
The 48 laws are even poorer when it comes to life principles.
To end this article, I totally recommend you read Greene’s work: he is one of my favorite authors and one of the finest observers of human nature.
But I also recommend that you seek different sources as the centerpiece of your self-development work.