How Use The 48 Laws of Power (In The 21st Century)

laws of power by thepowermoves

We all loved the Machiavellian48 Laws of Power“.

So in this long article we will update The 48 Laws of Power with modern examples.

This article will teach you how to apply The 48 Laws of Power to your contemporary lifestyle, with plenty of modern examples.


Law #1: Learn All You Can From Your Master – Then Move Past Him 

 Law 1: Never outshine the master. 
Law 1: Make your master feel good until you have learned everything from him, then focus on acquiring more power, and move past him

Law of Power N.1 Explanation

This law worked better in the ancient world.

In Greene’s beloved courts, the king was the ultimate power, until his death.
In a world that lacked mobility, “never outshining the master” was a better rule of thumb.

But today there is more mobility, few offices confer power until death, and you can always replace anyone.
CEOs included.

And if you aim high, you should probably aim to do that.

Focusing on “never outshining the master” might easily turn you into the “good boy employee”, the perfect housebroken dog
That’s particularly dangerous if you have an average boss, and most bosses cluster around the average.

Rising stars have a different mindset. 
They don’t look at their immediate boss and worry about “not outshining him”.

As a matter of fact, the rule of thumb for rising stars is this:

The more meteoric the rise to the top, the more likely it is that some average boss got outshone

Scarface is a dramatic -and dramatized- example of a man constantly outshining his boss:

Imagine if Scarface had “never outshined the master”.

Law of Power #1 Proper Application

Don’t get me wrong:

This is not to say you should go out of your way to outshine your boss.

Before you even think about outshining your boss:

  1. Learn all there is to learn from your boss (thinking of power before learning the trade is the definition of crash and burn)
  2. Make sure you have enough power when you attempt overtaking (the bigger the power differential, the riskier a collision course becomes)

And even then, potential overruns must be executed shrewdly.

How to Outshine The Master

There are three ways to outshine the master:

  1. Professionally neutral: Position all your outshining moments as “for the good of the company”. Here, you keep a professional relationship with your boss, counting on the fact that he can’t sack you because you bring great results that other leaders are noticing
  2. Slow burn murder with a smile: Outshine your master while being extra friendly and obsequious. That will make it impossible for the master to strike back without looking vengeful and spiteful 
  3. Swift takeover: For when there is only a place for one man at the top and he doesn’t want to move. Stay friendly and unthreatening… Until he’s weak and you’re ready to pounce. Then pounce.

Example: Killing The Masters Softly

How do you kill your masters with a smile?

Like Marquez did.

In 2003 Marc Marquez was an upcoming young gun who had just joined MotoGP, the premier class of motorbike racing.

The first year in MotoGP is largely considered an “apprenticeship” because nobody has ever won in their first year.

That meant that expectations were low for Marquez and high for the older guns.

Among the older guns was Marquez teammate, Daniel Pedrosa.
Pedrosa was a proven race winner, an experienced driver, and a title contender. 
Pedrosa was #1. on the team and Marquez was expected to learn a lot from him.

But Marquez didn’t just learn.
Marquez came in and started going fast.
So fast that he was beating all the established players, including his teammate Pedrosa. 
Tensions were simmering in the paddock.

And how did Marquez handle it?

Marquez went out of his way with his public declarations of love.

How fast the older guys were, how much he was learning from them, and just when he was topping the chart, he went as far as to say that his teammate and main rival Pedrosa was “N.1 in the team”.

This article sums it up well:

law of power number 1 example

Marquez “greasing up” approach made it impossible for the old guard to attack him without looking like a vengeful pack moving out of spite.

Example 2: The Swift Takeover

The swift takeover is quick and bloodless.

And it’s perfect for when there is only one spot at the top.

The game is simple: you stay friendly and play the subordinate… Until you have enough power to overtake the master.

This is what Matteo Renzi did within the Democratic Party in Italy. 

Enrico Letta was prime minister for the Democratic Party, but Renzi was the up-and-coming young gun.

A positive and energetic politician with the gift of gab, Renzi positioned himself as the man of change (similar to Obama, who would indeed later gift Renzi with his last state dinner in full honors).

As Renzi’s political clout increased, there was just one final master above him: the prime minister.
The media smelled blood and hunted for signs of war.

But Renzi always played down any possible battle with Letta.
This was Letta’s government, and he had no personal ambition, he said.

And he kept saying it.

Culminating with a famous olive branch he gave Letta on live TV, which has since become famous in Italy:

Renzi: Enrico, you can stay serene

A few weeks later, when Letta faltered and looked weak, Renzi made his move.
Renzi played the friend while he waited for the propitious moment to pounce.

Enrico Letta was so stunned by the blow that he left Italy altogether.
They stopped being friends. 
But Renzi couldn’t care less: Letta was history, and Renzi was in power.

Further reading

If your boss is a POS read here:

Bosses should learn who they can trust and who they can’t.

You can only move to the top when you eventually outshine your master.
-The Power Moves

Law #2: Make Many Friends, So You’re Not Dependent On Anyone

✘  Law 2: Never put too much trust in friends, learn to use enemies. 
Law 2: Power is shaky when you depend too much on any individual but do make friends

Law of Power #2. Explanation

This law is a very good analysis of power dynamics.

And it still applies to modernity. 

It’s when you take it to an extreme that it becomes silly.

Because sure, you can’t 100% count on anyone, and friends can turn
But on average, you’re still better off with a friendly cast around you.

Even our primate cousins prefer friends.
Most alpha male chimps are not the strongest. 
But they have the most elaborate political skills and the largest web of friends and alliances (Ridley, 1996)

And that’s all the more true for people.

As Lincoln said:

i destroy my enemies when i make them friends abraham lincoln quote

Law #3: Profess Noble Intentions, & The Hordes of Gullibles Will Follow

 Law 3: Conceal your intentions. 
Law 3: Make your intentions sound noble, dupe yourself into believing them, then advertise your world-saving goals, and the hordes of the gullible will follow you

Law of Power #3. Explained

Concealing your intentions is very basic manipulation.

And unless you’re a great actor, people will sniff the fakeness out of you.

The higher level of concealment is to truly mix pro-social efforts with self-interest and only promote the pro-social side.

And the highest level, of manipulation is not to conceal anything, but to really believe in your plan.
Then you will sound all the more credible and charismatic.

Manipulation: Techniques, Strategies, & Ethics

Example: Oprah Winfrey

Self-duping is what the most successful self-help guru is doing.

They crave power, success, and an audience to support their narcissistic needs.
But they hide their real motives beyond the guise of “helping people”.
Most of them buy into, or seek to buy into their own PR, so it sounds more natural.

You can see the difference: Tai Lopez seems like a slimy snake oil salesman because he’s concealing his intentions.

Compare it to people like Napoleon Hill, Joe Dispenza, Oprah, and the endless “law of attraction” quacks.
Rabid fans defend the work of these gurus because they seem to really buy into the most controversial -and best-selling- aspects of their work.

napoleon hill criticism

That’s a quote from the biggest-selling self-help book ever. In the face of Hill’s unwavering conviction, nobody ever bothered to say “wait a second… “.

Example: Visionary Entrepreneurs

This will be quick, but it’s crucial.

The 21st century most successful way of acquiring power with Law #3 is to come up with missions to “chance the world”, “disrupt this or that industry”, or “help a billion people”.

If you want to go overboard, you might even go for “saving the human race”, like Elon Musk is doing.

And I’m not saying that there is nothing true in there.
Entrepreneurship is the engine of progress and new technologies empower us.

But there is also a major dose of concealment and manipulation.
Entrepreneurs’ missions are far overblown and far more idealistic than reality.
Because the reality is a bunch of corporations doing similar things and battling each other out for dominance.
And when one wins, it’s the “visionary entrepreneur” who wins the most, not the human race.

But it works great.
People flock to buy from and be hired by those successful “visionaries”.

Also read:

Law #4: Hire Others to Say Good Things For You

 Law 4: Always say less than necessary. 
Law 4: Don’t tout your own horn, but manipulate others to say good things about you

Law of Power #4. Explanation

Robert Greene says that powerful men dominate and inculcate fear through silence.

That’s in part true (see The Godfather analysis), but it’s not a “law”.

There are many ways of being powerful, including extroversion and even flamboyance (see “The Archetypes of Dominance“).

Indeed, in this day and age of advertisement overload, you do need some powerful PR to get your name out.

How to Say Less Than Necessary

Avoid making the pitch yourself, but have others do it for you.

One possible way of doing it in the 21st century is to leverage the media.


Exception of Law of Power #4: Ben Shapiro

As we’ve mentioned, the laws are not generalizable.

Plenty of people gained success and power by talking more than necessary.

Some of them incarnate certain values or beliefs, turn themselves into cult figures, or spearhead a movement.
Ben Shapiro, who talked more than necessary, became a leading figure among young conservatives.

Law #5: Get A great Online Reputation, Then Be A Jerk In Real Life

✘  Law 5: So much depends on reputation. Guard it with your life. 
 Law 5: Focus on your reputation selectively. Some people and situations are not worthy of upholding your reputation

Law Of Power #5. Explanation

Law #5 applies today even more so than in the past.

But with a big caveat: you cannot think of reputation as something you need to constantly uphold in person. 

It’s a waste of life to continually defend your reputation.


Because your reputation will start at 0 at any time you change groups or meet someone new.

Curate your online reputation instead, and then do whatever the f*ck you want in your private life.

Read more:

Example: Yours Truly & Her Neighbor

As I type, my neighbor is ringing at my door.

Twice today already and 4-5 times in the past few days.

And I’m not opening.

One because at home I’m always in underwear and can’t be bothered.
Two because I’m enacting a plan (more in the advanced forum).
And three, because, for several reasons, my neighbor doesn’t deserve my time.

I’m losing my “neighborly” reputation with my neighbor, but I deemed her as undeserving of my best behavior, so she doesn’t get to mess with my priorities just so I can uphold some finicky “reputation”.

Example 2: Keanu Reeves & The Heart of Gold

As far as I know, Keanu Reeves is a great guy.

And the world is better off if he helps people, no matter why he does it.

It might also be true that he wanted to help secretly, but sure, such a public statement makes me wonder:

law of power example from keanu reeves
Sounds a bit fishy if your name is attached to it through different channels, though

Reeves “secret” was so secret that it was all over my LinkedIn feed:

law of power number 5
Imagine if he wanted to make it public…

That’s proper 21st-century reputation management.
Manage at the macro level, and do whatever you want at the micro level.

Law #6: Attention Is Costly – Cure Your Narcissism

 Law 6: Court attention at all costs. 
Law 6: Attention comes with strings attached. Unless you’re an influencer, make yourself into someone who doesn’t need the spotlight: it’s much more freeing

Law of Power #6 Explained

Too much attention in the 21st century can make for a truly uncomfortable life.

Together with the good attention, you also get stalkers, paparazzi, “selfie fans” all over the place, and maybe… The taxman as well.

It can get annoying.
You can ask Briney Spears about it.

Unless attention is your only ticket to success, you’re probably better off making yourself into a man who does not need attention.
It’s freeing, really.
And freedom is power.

Law #7: Appeal to Prosocial Ideals – Then Reap All The Benefits

✘  Law 7: Let others do the work for you, but always take credit
Law 7: Make people feel their work is for the team and for the world while you position yourself to be the real beneficiary.

Law of Power #7. Explanation

Another rule that worked more in the past than today.

If back then the master was going to gloat on his servant’s idea… Tough luck.
When your king steals your idea, tough luck again.

But as masters’ coercive power has waned, the costs for credit takers have increased.

You can’t put your employees to death if they tell everyone what you’ve done, and you can’t silence Glassdoor’s anonymous reviews-.
And they can always move on to someone else, which the best ones will most likely do.
Leaving the sneakiest credit takers stuck with the idiots.

Bad Example: Don Draper

See an example with Don Draper:

Even in the very best-case scenario, your report will still know you’re being a sneaky MOFO

Example: Elizabeth Holmes 

21st-century top manipulators don’t steal credit making others feel cheated.

Today’s top manipulators take credit while making others feel good about it.

Make others think they are doing the work for themselves or, even better, for the world.
Feed them with higher ideals and a small portion of the spoils, and they will be happy about you taking the lion’s share of the pie.

Elizabeth Holmes is one of the most dramatic examples:

sociopath elizabeth holmes lies

Holmes did it for the people (yeah, sure).
And to provide basic health rights (yeah, sure).

At a certain point, she even added “female empowerment” to the mix.
And the gullible ones were happy to toil for her:

This is the 21st-century way of taking credit for others, fellas.

Law #8: Make Others Come To You. Pull Always Beats Push

✘  Law 8: Make other people come to you. Use bait if necessary. 
 Law 8: Make others come to you. When you can’t, learn how to rebalance the relationship.

Law of Power #8. Explanation

There is little to change here.

When you approach, you are perceived as the one asking and taking value.
And you are in the power down.

People who get along well with people learn to re-adjust the relationship, but it’s not always easy.
And, as they say, starting well is half the job.

This is also a heavily underestimated rule of seduction.

While most powerless PUA focus on approaching, the most successful men position themselves as the honey for the bees.

hugh heffner mit girlfriends
|Source=selbst fotografiert. Originally from [ de.wikipedia]

Law #9: Act Unethically, Cover Up With Words

 Law 9: Win through your actions, never through argument
 Law 9: Sync actions and words in a mutually reinforcing cycle

Law of Power #9 Explained

Actions and words are two sides of the same coin.

And there are plenty of situations when you need to win with words, even more so than with actions.

This might be all the more true in the 21st century.
We revere intellect, and we elect politicians, which means they must convince people to give them power… Mostly with words.

Examples: Trump, Peterson

There are many good examples of reaching power with words.
Some of them:

  • Trump: Lies & Word Salad Spectacles

Trump wins more with words than facts.

He can’t stick to things, and chances are that he isn’t even a billionaire. 

But it doesn’t matter what you have done, it only matters what people think you have done (and will do).
And you convey that with your ads, PR, and… Words.

Also, check out: Trump debating techniques part I and part II.

  • Words Legitimizing Wars: Bush Mass Manipulation

Words can pave the way for actions.
And they can even legitimize illegitimate wars.

Think of the Iraq War.
Words allowed for massive action in what turned out to be one of the biggest political cones of our modern world.

Also read: Politicians’ manipulations.

  • Power Debaters: Jordan Peterson

A few modern gurus rose to fame thanks to words.

Think of Shapiro, Tucker Carlson, or, even more so, Jordan Peterson, also the author of the extremely wordy (and best-selling) 12 Rules for Life.

Peterson talks openly about making $80k/month with book royalties alone, and he might be today’s most influential intellectual.
That is power. 

Jordan Peterson’s power is words. Words and actions are not antithetical; they can both support power.

Law #10: Help Strategically: The Lower They Are, The Bigger Your Credit

 Law 10: Infection: Avoid the unhappy and the unlucky. 
 Law 10: Help people strategically, depending on how willing and able they are to pay back

Law of Power #10. Explanation

The original law #10 is more of an exception than a law.

And goes against our own evolutionary programming.


Let’s digress very quickly, and we’ll see why.

Have you ever wondered why humans feel most compelled to help those who are most in need?

Because we’re nice?

Maybe… However, some evolutionary psychologists say we prefer helping those most in need because it provides the biggest bang for the buck (Wright, 1994)

To begin with, helping people at their lowest is easier because even a small handout will make a difference.
And second, when you help someone out of a desperate situation, they will owe you a lot.

Example: The Man I’ll Never Forget

Years ago, I was desperate, alone, and lost.

And I will never forget Umar, the man who helped me up.

But here is the funny thing: he didn’t actually do much at all.

Umar listened to me for maybe 20 minutes, asked a few questions, and allowed me to bounce off ideas (a great technique to bond and connect BTW).

But at that time, it meant the world to me.
Many years later, I still think of Umar as a savior (as a matter of fact, as I type, I am getting misty-eyed).

And I would do a lot for Umar.

So the rule here is that if you can help someone who’s going to get back up, then you’re better off helping people who are at their lowest.

Also read:

Reversal Example: Romantic Relationship

Watch out helping people who:

  1. Have higher potential than you have
  2. Are highly ambitious
  3. Are very ungrateful

This can happen sometimes in romantic relationships.

A man or a woman meets someone in distress and helps them back up.
But once the formerly downtrodden partner is back on their feet, they’re going to want a partner whom they feel is closer to their value.

example of 48 laws of power
People partner up around their values. Helping someone above your level might lead them to drop you.

The song “Don’t You Want Me” describes a similar dynamic:

You were workin’ as a waitress in a cocktail bar
When I met you
I picked you out, I shook you up and turned you around
Now five years later on, you’ve got the world at your feet
Don’t, don’t you want me?

Law #11: Make People Want to Submit to You

 Law 11: Learn to keep people dependent on you
Law 11: Make people want to depend on you (pull VS push)

Law of Power #11 Explained

I am ambivalent about this law.

Sure, dependencies confer power, and today is no exception.

But it’s weak to approach life with a mindset of keeping people dependent on you.
It’s often a sign of excessive emotional investment, it’s a defensive mindset and it often leads to toxic relationships.


Because pure dependencies are less common than codependencies.

You can see this most strikingly in romantic relationships, with controlling men and abusive men who seek to keep their women dependent on them.

But if the women eventually become independent, the tables turn.
The men go crazy and turn into stalkers and, in the most extreme cases, killers.

This is more common than you would think.

And today, with options all over the place, high-quality men and high-quality women are unlikely to stay dependent on low-quality controllers.
And, here’s the crux of the matter: most controllers who seek dependencies are not the highest quality individuals.

What’s the solution?
People should want to stick to you.

Which happens almost automatically when you are high quality.

Law #12: Be Unethical By Deed, But Honest by Law

 Law 12: Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim. 
Law 12: Make the laws, lobby for the laws, or pay the best to find ways around the laws

Law of Power #12 Explained

The 48 Laws of Power says the following:

One act of honesty will cover dozen lies

But that’s how small-timer cheats operate.
They ask you to trust them, constantly fib, and lie about small things… And make a reputation for liars.
And they never manage to cheat big.

The bigger-time cheats do the opposite instead.
They are honest a dozen times (or more) to cover the real big-time cheat.

Like Bernand Madoff:

law of power number 12 example

Madoff famously said, “it’s all a big lie”. But to keep that lie alive, he was selectively honest hundreds of times.

Barnie Madoff shelled out $18 billion of honesty to cover one big lie.

But we’re still in the realm of losers here.
That’s the pinnacle of cheating.
Not the pinnacle of power.

Power that works well does not serve prison sentences.

The pinnacle of power is spotlessly clean when it comes to laws.

True power influences the masses to elect the politicians who will enact the laws they want.
Or they will find legal loopholes around the laws.

So true power writes or bends the laws to keep amassing resources legally, without ever having to cheat the way that most powerless men do.

Also read:

Law #13: Appeal to Higher Ideals With Prosocial Hype – Then Capture The Profits

 Law 13: When asking for help, appeal to people’s self-interest, never to their mercy. 
Law 13: Appeal to higher ideals. That’s where the fat margins are

Law of Power #13. Explained

Greene recommends:

Emphasize out of proportions what’s in it for them

However, unless we embrace a much wider definition of “self-interest” this can often backfire today (see the discredited “homo economicus theory“).

As a matter of fact, social psychologists have proven that deep engagement and teamwork happen when people do not think of what’s in it for them (see Haslam, 2011).

On top of it, add our culture or idealism and value-signaling.

A large percentage of the population in the rich countries feels “guilty” for being self-interested and will give you give lots of time and money to relieve themselves of that pain.

Also read:

  • How to be a leader (for how leaders must leverage identity and pro-social drives)
  • Drive (for intrinsic VS extrinsic motivation)
  • Misbehaving (for how psychology unseated the “rational man” theories)

Example: Teslas’ Virtue-Signaling 

The 21st century most successful manipulators don’t appeal to the basest interests.

In a world where most basic drives are already met, aiming at higher needs in the Maslow Hierarchy pays well.

The 21st century highest profiting businesses ask for more money to make people feel like they are less self-interested.


Think of Limousine Liberals who feel guilty for the environment, for the penguins, for the poor Africans, for the toxic masculinity… Or whatever it’s fashion to feel guilty for.

These people play a hefty premium for two reasons: to escape their sense of guilt and, of course, for virtue-signaling.

revised law of power 13
Profits are large when you help rich people feel better about themselves

Again, let’s not over-generalize: not all appeals of pro-social products are scams.

But most of them charge far higher than the contributions to the social cause they claim to support would warrant.

More examples?

Also read:

Law #14: Make Friends, But Learn to Peek Behind Their Mask

 Law 14: Pose as a friend, and work as a spy. 
Law 14: Make friends, but don’t let the “friendship” fool you: learn to peek behind the mask

Law of Power #14. Explained

Writes Greene:

Better yet, pose as a spy yourself

The real powerful men though don’t spy themselves.
They send the spies.

If we intend “spying” as in learning about people though, that can never be wrong.

Also read:

Law #15: Make Your Wars Swift

✘  Law 15: Crush your enemy totally. 
Law 15: Crush your enemy totally, or show crushing strength. Most of all, avoid leaving a wounded man with enough power to plot revenge and strike back

Law of Power #15 Explained

This one applies to modernity as well.

With a caveat though: crushing enemies totally can be a costly business, while an overwhelming display of force can save time and resources.

Example: Nuclear Warnings

In life, crushing your opponents totally often comes at high costs and risks.

In real life, even stronger opponents often end up paying heavy prices for war.

Take the US in WWII for example.
The US was eventually going to crush Japan totally, but it was going to be a dirty business against such a dogged fighter.

Enter, the overwhelming display of force.

The power display of the nuclear bombs might have ultimately spared lives and resources on both sides (just too bad it had to drop on an actual city… Twice :S).

Law #16: Create Scarcity & Exclusivity 

 Law 16: Use absence to increase respect and honor. 
Law 16: Don’t just use the principle of scarcity, but be scarce for everything and everyone you have not chosen to focus on

Law of Power #16 Explained

I wouldn’t make “absence” into a law.

I’d focus more on building a life where you really have little time for distractions.

So you can be honest and scarce.

And for whatever you care, focus more on adding value with your presence than with your absence.

Focusing on absence is, again, a defensive mindset.

Example: Romancing The Power Moves Coaching Business

Sometimes people reach out to me asking for coaching.

Coaching is a service I removed from the products list some time ago, albeit I’m not against it in principle.
As long as I like the person and it’s not a request for ongoing commitment, though.

And I make sure people know that, if we agree, it’s a special offer:

law of power 16 in action
Scarcity + exclusivity get people chasing

Cheap hoes are always available on the side street. You be busier and scarce

Law #17: Be Friendly, But Hold Onto The Tools of Coercive Power

 Law 17: Keep others in suspended terror: cultivate an air of unpredictability. 
Law 17: Manage through goodwill, But make sure you hold onto the tools of coercive power, too

Law of Power #17. Explained

The original law worked better with the old power.

When an absolute monarch decided life or death with the direction of his thumb, an “air of unpredictability” could reduce his subjects to trembling Jell-O in his presence.

In that sense, suspended terror worked to increase the monarch’s power in the short term, silencing all possible dissent.
In the long term, though, it was likely to make the monarch’s power shakier because that approach leads to poorer decision-making and increases the risks of assassinations.

In any case, making it work today is both difficult and even less effective.

Unpredictability in today’s society is most likely to become “fickleness”, or pure “craziness”.

And the same is true for government leaders.
With a globalized world and international trade at historical highs, it’s easier for a consortium of states to impose debilitating sanctions on rogue players even without having to go to war.

There is, however, still a place today for an “air of unpredictability”.


In street gangs.
Having a reputation of a dogged, crazy fighter, will paradoxically lead to fewer fights.
Indeed, since few people want to mess with madness, a vastly underrated self-defense technique is to scream like a possessed madman before a possible attack. 

But power built on unpredictability is often limited, even in the underworld.
Because people don’t usually want to be led by “unpredictable schizophrenics”.
So, albeit there are exceptions, real power most often goes to more even-minded leaders.
This is a movie scene, but Nicolas Cage correctly explains this concept.

Also read:

Bad Examples: Saddam Hussein & Trump

Saddam Hussein kept his neighbors on suspended terror.

But his wars pissed off the international community, leading to biting sanctions and, eventually, a military intervention that delivered Saddam a searing defeat (and later cost him his life).

Keeping others in terror indeed does not work as well if you’re not very powerful to begin with.
And if you are very powerful… Then you have better strategies at your disposal.

saddam hussein execution

It’s also worth noting that Saddam’s “terrorizing approach” made for a rather paranoid and fearful leader.

Saddam created an army reporting directly to him to defend against internal dissent.
As a sign of his paranoia, he kept the tanks around Bagdad purposefully low in ammunition in case they were going to turn on him.

The Personal Terror of Donald Trump

Trump cannot be compared to Saddam, of course.

But his erratic behavior could certainly fit the definition of “an air of unpredictability”, and several White House insiders testify that many fear for their jobs.

Trump’s fickleness is not helping him any, though.
The “terror” that he might say or do something stupid does not support Trump’s leadership.
And it does not help him to get things done with others and through others.


Because modern power in democracies as much as in business is enhanced by alliances and support, it’s hard to form a strong web of allies while being unpredictable.

Indeed, modern power that lasts is best served by a web of alliances and a certain smoothness and constancy of operations.

Also read:

The Solution? Positive Collaboration Supported By Coercion

Machiavelli famously said that being feared is better than being liked.

The beautiful thing, though, is that the two are not opposites.
And you can be both.

This is how high-quality power, the type of power that lasts and grows, acts.

Enlightened leadership prefers friendly relationships and always approaches with a smile.
But it’s not naive friendliness: it’s friendliness backed by strength.

At a very raw level, this is the stance:

I come with a smile and a gift looking for collaboration because that’s best for both.
But if you try to f*ck me up, then, well… I’m also carrying a gun.

Even some of the most thriving underworld organizations adopt this approach.
Think of The Godfather.
Albeit it’s a movie, that’s exactly how the mafia became so entrenched and successful in Sicily: its terror was for the enemies only.

The Godfather mostly sought to do business win-win and always sought to provide value, too.
And that’s how Tom Hagen, the family’s lawyer, approached Waltz:

Had Waltz played along, the transaction might have been a win-win.

It’s only when Waltz refuses that terror comes into play.

Your friendly handshake on the table will go much further if you keep the revolver in the drawer

Also, read on “enlightened collaboration“:

Life Strategy: The Enlightened Collaborator

Law #18: Build A Fortress – Then Pretend You Do It For The Peasants

 Law 18: Do not build fortresses to protect yourself – isolation is dangerous. 
Law 18: Fortress your life by covering your downsides. And then enjoy life carefree

Law of Power #18. Explained

Robert Greene intends to “fortress” more figuratively.

Because, literally, castles and walled cities (mostly) worked, and they have been bastions of civilization for centuries.

But let’s move to today.

What do we intend today for a fortress?

It could still be taken literally, like the bunkers that some wealthy people love to arm themselves with.

Or we might consider fortress in a wider sense, including modern contracts such as:

  • Prenuptial agreements
  • Golden parachutes
  • No performance clauses

These are all examples of a “fortress mentality”, in the sense of “preparing for the worst-case scenario”.
Some authors also speak of healthy intimate relationships as an emotional power base with which to more confidently face the world -which we might refer to as an “emotional fortress”-.

The 21st-century version of a fortress is a great approach to acquiring and keeping power in life, and it’s exactly how powerful men think.

Once you have a fortress to retreat to, figurative or not, you can more safely and more confidently live outside of it.
With a prenup, for example, you can enjoy the relationship worries-free, and with golden parachutes, you can work without fear of being sacked.

And you can still keep great relationships with the non-fortress people by pretending you’re just like them.

Which is what many politicians do:

To Enter Modern Fortresses, Pretend You Do It For The Peasants

Look at how Hillary pitches her campaign:

law of power 13 example

Some politicians want power for power’s sake.

And some of them don’t even plan on supporting the middle class and the average citizens.

Yet, if they want to swing for the presidential palaces -the modern fortresses- they need the citizens’ vote.

And that’s when you’ll see them stepping out of their strongholds and mingling with the commoners, pretending to be just like them.
Most commoners don’t see the game and feel blessed for being the recipients of such generosity.

Look at this example of Obama pretending to be “just one of the guys”:

Notice the boom mics placed around the place, including behind the counter (minutes 1:06, 1:38).

Do those suggest a truly “improvised pop-in by the president”, or more like an elaborate PR scheme to shore up political support?

To me, it feels more like the latter.
But it worked.
Look at the comments:

reactions to obama persuasion
How much more gullible can a guy get?

I’d have been super bummed if Obama disrupted my dinner just so he could play his “I’m just like you” game.

Law #19: Know Who You’re Dealing With – Not Everyone Deserves Your Time

 Law 19: Know who you’re dealing with- do not offend the wrong person. 
 Law 19: Not everyone deserves your time. Make sure you know early on who does and who doesn’t

Law of Power #19. Explained

Offending the wrong person was much more dangerous in the ancient world when power could decide for life or death on a whim.

Granted, you still don’t want to offend the wrong person, with this iconic scene from The Godfather proves the point:

But still, I find the mindset behind the original law to be rather limiting.
The original law is motivated by fear and subordinates one’s goals to others.

But real power players worry less about offending others than achieving their objectives.

And second, the better and more powerful you get, the more you start thinking in terms of who deserves your time.

My usual stance is: to be kind to everyone, and find out early who they are.


Because there is an element of exchange in life, and you want to know if people taking your time are also going to give something.

Also read:

Law #20: Take Sides Strategically – Or Become The Referee 

✘  Law 20: Do not commit to anyone. 
Law 20: Study the situation, then make your strategic commitment. Alternatively, you position yourself as the mediator

Robert Greene is right when he says this: 

Only fools jump in too early taking this or that side

That’s the equivalent of betting on the black or red, and you lose a tremendous amount of power by giving your support away too early and too cheap.

So yes, this law adapts well to modernity.
But there is one step above the noncommittal game (second example).

Italy Realpolitiker of WWI & Fool of WWII

As long as you remain outside of the fray, you are the big prize courted by all sides.

And this is exactly what Italy got with its noncommittal game during WWI.

The war saw Austra/Germany pitted against France/England, and Italy spoke and negotiated with both.

Italy was picking sides based on convenience, the best offer on the table, and the likelihood of victory.
And I was happy to let everyone know about it because that increased the offers on the table.
Italy was using commitment as a bargaining chip.

Compare it to Italy in the Second World War, which jumped in right away based on ideology (nazi-fascism).
And that proved disastrous.

Go one level up: be the referee, not the player

The next level of the noncommittal game is taking the referee or mediator role.

Smart power players prefer taking the mediator role rather than taking sides and getting mired in the war.

If you play your role well, you can become the referee of the contest, a role that everyone looks up to.

The mediator does not fight himself, but by influencing the terms of negotiation and the rules of the game, it can defend its interests at no cost while increasing its political clout and soft power.

The US played it several times after WWII as the world’s major superpower, and it’s indeed a role naturally suited for the strongest party.

Smaller Players As Mediators

Albeit not easy, smaller can sometimes be mediators, too.

It takes smarts and a certain element of boldness, as you have to show up with the attitude of being a righteous moral authority (a hideous power move, BTW).

Putin tried to play the mediator often.
For example, he met the North Korean president when US-NK relations seemed to sour and he openly stated he wanted to broker the nuclear deal.

Benito Mussolini dramatically boosted his power and international political standing playing mediator between the more extremist Hitler and the democratic powers (see Munich Agreement).

Also read:

joseph stalin quote it's not the people who vote that count

The mediator role is a “soft” version of the vote counter.

Exception: Picking side without anyone else knowing it

Of course, there are almost always exceptions.

And if you can pick a side without anyone else knowing it, then you have nothing to lose.
If that side wins, you have a powerful ally. 
If it loses, nobody knows what you did.

See it in action:

Law #21: Play Dumb If You’re Smart, And Smart If You’re Dumb

✘  Law 21: Play a sucker to catch a sucker- seem dumber than your mark. 
Law 21: Discover people’s true intentions by posing as a victim. Make your enemies feel safer by looking weaker, then attack

Law of Power #21. Explained

This is one of my favorite laws.

And in a world of braggarts and alpha male posturers, it’s way underrated.

One of my favorite ways of using this law is to test people.
How do you do it?
You make yourself look clueless on purpose and then observe their behavior.

If they help and explain, it might mean you’re dealing with principled individuals.
If they try to take advantage of it, you know you must enter into your “Machiavelli mode“.

The Caveat of Law of Power #21: Always Invert Play/Reality

Here is a caveat.

You want to look dumber strategically and only when in reality you’re smart and ready to profit from your opponent’s aggression.

Because looking dumb will invite aggression, and if you’re actually dumb and unprepared, then… You see the problem.

On the other hand, when you’re dumb and defenseless, playing strong and smart might be the best option and might fend off an attacker looking for easy victims.

Example of Strategic Strength Play: The Nonexistent Lawyer 

The last time I got fired I told my employer I needed more time to get back to them because my lawyer was off for two days.

But I didn’t actually have a lawyer.

I played that game to increase the chances that my employer wouldn’t try to screw me over (ie.: being weak but strategically posing as stronger).

Example: Women Playing Damsel in Distress

This is a common game women play.

It consists of playing dumb and weak to make him act, care, and take care.

Does it work?
Yeah, with most men it works very well.

Also read:

 But if you’re a man, don’t despair, men can use this technique as well.

People love to feel strong.
Position yourself as the emotional validator of their strengths/skills, and you can recruit them to do your work.

Law #23: Stick to Your Goals. Continuity of Effort Builds Empires

 Law 23: Concentrate your forces. 
Law 23: Find something you love and stick with it over the long run. Mastery translates well into money and power

Law of Power #23 Explained

The law of power #23 applies to modernity very well.

As a matter of fact, with today’s endless distractions and whole industries built on time-wasting, it might apply to the 21st century more than ever.

Also read:

Law #24: Learn Office Politics, But Never To The Detriment of Skills & Results

 Law 24: Play the perfect courtier 
 Law 24: Develop your emotional intelligence and social skills, they are fundamental to your life’s quality. But never forget hard skills and results.

Law of Power #24. Explanation

This law only applies to modernity at 50%.

In the old courts, politics might have been 95% of power.
Back then metrics and KPIs were poor or non-existent and it was all about who the king favored and who influenced the king the most.

Today the “perfect courier” who only plays politics fails far more times than he succeeds (some high-functioning sociopaths can sometimes be the exceptions, there is one example in Power University).

Most power players today marry politics with results and skills, and you should aim to do the same.

Law #25: Find A Profitable Niche, Then Fabricate An Identity For Its Marketing

 Law 25: Re-create yourself.
Law 26: Find something that sells, and then create an identity around your product. If you’re a public person, best to stick with one identity

Law of Power #25 Explained

Recreating yourself worked better in the past when people couldn’t keep track of your changes.

You could move to a new city, and you would start from scratch. 
Even as a famous person or as a con artist.

But today, whatever you were or did is readily available with an Internet search.
And the more success you get, the more people will scrutinize your past, making the re-creation all the more dangerous.

Indeed, few people today achieve power and success with endless recreation.

The most successful Machiavellians of the 21st century do the opposite: they first find something that sells, and then attach an identity to it.

This is a shortcut to actual mastery, but in the digital world identities and authority can be faked.

Example: Jon Gray of “Men Are From Mars”

Jon Gray penned “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus“.

That’s the most popular book ever in the relationship genre.

Quite striking, if you consider that Gray lacked any meaningful background on the topic.

But John Gray quickly worked to change that.

He doubled down on relationships and acquired the references.
“Acquired” here might be quite literal, here, with Gray’s master’s degree shrouded in mystery and his Ph.D. awarded on correspondence from a non-accredited and now-defunct institution.

Gray also joined the American Counseling Association and the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors, and later founded his own relationship institute where he took the important-sounding title of “president”.

Where am I going with this?

If John Gray had kept moving and “recreating” himself, he would have lost all authority on relationships and, with his authority, lost his lucrative royalties and speaking engagements.

how to fabricate an identity

This is no bashing of John Gray. 
The guy understands genders better than most academics. Much of Gray’s criticism is driven by the nonsensical notion that genders & people are born mostly the same (also see “The Blank Slate“).

Gray is not the exception, but the rule of how many coaches, self-help gurus, and marketers operate.

Have you noticed how almost any entrepreneur with products linked to his expertise seems to have such a compelling, inspiring story on how they started doing what they’re doing?

They struggled with this or that fought without reprieve, learned, and improved… Until they finally achieved their dreams.
And now… Now they want to sell you their product to do the same.

Of course, sometimes those stories are true.
But the vast majority of times those stories are “romanticized”, and many other times the identities are custom-made from scratch. 
They are sales pitches, and the sellers’ identities are part of the marketing.

Also read:

Law #26: CYA Legally, Then Dirty Your Hands With Unethical But Profitable Deeds

 Law 26: Keep your hands clean.
Law 26: Keep your hands clean of small-time offenses, dirty them for good once you’re ready for the once-in-a-lifetime hit

Law of Power #26. Explained

There are plenty of people who keep their hands clean all their life.

They make it such a big deal to respect the law, act morally, and never say anything out of place.

In truth, many of these proud “law-abiding citizens” go to swell the rank and files of average people.
And this is exactly what “The Goodfellas” intro describes.

But this is not how many powerful men operate.

While many good citizens care about being prosocial and keeping a prosocial image, many type-a personalities care more about power and social climbing than about what you think.

Their worry is not “staying clean”, their worry is not getting caught once their hands get dirty.

Example: Jho Low Stained His Hands For Good & Disappeared For Good

Your reputation only matters if you stain your hands under your real name, if people find out, or… If you stick around.

Jho Low, the POS that he is, stained his hands big time.
Eventually, everyone knew about it, but he did it well and before the police could catch up, he was gone.

He is “believed” to be in China.
But wherever he is, he is enjoying a lavish lifestyle financed by billions he stole from the people he was supposed to serve.

Unluckily, the truth is that we live in a world where staining your hands with a well-constructed plan works.

law of power 26 jho low

Legal Hands-Staining

Alternatively, you can simply take care that you stain your hands legally.

If people won’t be able to recoup the fruits of your unethical deeds, then you can dirty your hands as unethically as you please.

And this is how the real power players do it.

They hide money in fiscal paradises, they lobby politicians, and they leverage loopholes.
You’ll never find out and, if you do, nobody will be able to do a thing about it.

One example?

The Clinton Foundation legally provides the Clintons with the immense type of power and leverage that only billions of dollars can.

Law #27: Create A Cult Of Short Term Mood Fixes & Feel-Good Emptiness

✘  Law 27: Play on people’s need to believe to create a cult-like following.
Law 27: The appeal of real solutions which require hard work is limited. The mass appeal is in the quick fix and in the “feel good” industry

Law of Power #27 Explained

This one depends on how you define “cult”.

In the strict sense of the term, creating a cult-like following was easier in ancient times.
People were more gullible before science and mass education.

Sure, it’s still doable today and there are plenty of modern hard-core cults.

But if you aim at being a high-quality individual, you’d have to wonder today: who is going to follow a cult?

And if you are reading here, you probably will realize that cult followers are not the type of people you want to spend most of your time with.

The Self-Help Cult of Inspiration (Jay Shetty)

If we go for a “softer” definition of a cult, then you’re in luck.

There is an endless supply of people ready and willing to idolize the latest charismatic, deep-sounding guru teaching them how to think and how to live their lives.
As a matter of fact, our digital world is the best era in history for self-help gurus to gather a following as they can leverage digital virality.

For those who choose this path to power and influence, there is no need to worry about checking facts and actually helping people over the long term.

The best cults indeed don’t change people for good: they deliver short-term fixes that keep them back for more of the same “spin your wheels” inspiration.

Try to listen to self-styled “urban monk” Jay Jetty speaking:

He says:

“The paradox of our times is that we have more degrees but less sense. More knowledge but less judgment.
More experts but less solutions.
Tried to clean up the air but polluted our soul

That’s my friends, emptiness made into time-wasting motivation. 

And other self-help gurus are only marginally better.

Take Brendon Burchard, whose books are a mumble jumbo of repackaged self-help but who can call himself a “New York Time bestseller” thanks to his cult-like followers.

And some of these self-help gurus are not just time-wasters but actually harmful (see my review of Marie Forleo).

Also read:

Law #30: Make Your Accomplishment Inspirational – They Can Do It Too!

✘  Law 30: Make your accomplishments seem effortless.
Law 30: Position your accomplishments as the final fruits of a mighty struggle and adverse fate, which you only conquered thanks to relentless drive, motivation, and hard work

Law of Power #30 Explained

The original law does not reflect modernity too well.

Of course, people still love and respect talent.
Everyone unconsciously envies and respects “good genes”.

And that’s part of the issue with it.

Some people will be looking for ways to discount and discredit success from talent.
“Oh, yeah, he was born good-looking”, they’ll say.
Or “he won because he’s bigger”.

But as a hard-working underdog, you are tougher to discredit.
And, most of all, you send a much more appealing message: that if you made it, so can anyone else.

In today’s cultural climate, if you want to be admired and revered across the board, you need to drop the natural talent angle.
You’re better instead to position yourself like you’ve fought insurmountable odds with endless dedication, grit, and power of perseverance.

And then end your spiel with a wink to the audience: they can do it too.

Gary Vee & Hustle Porn

Almost every successful influencer today talks about struggle, hustle, and hard work.

A mention to Gary Vee, the king of “no talent, all hard work” is mandatory here:

law of power 30
Please note this is NO bashing of hard work, which is often a precondition.

But the same is true for Tom Bylieu, Tony Robbins, and almost everyone else.

Heck, even Will Smith had to toe the “hustle porn” line when he wanted to broaden his appeal beyond simple “Holywood celeb status”.
One of his most famous quotes runs:

And where I excel is ridiculous, sickening, work ethic.
You know, while the other guy’s sleeping?
I’m working.

Sure one might wonder Mr. Smith must also sleep at times.

So, yes, in this day and age, when you talk about money and success, you are better off bragging about work ethics than pretending it was all talent.

This is NO bashing of hard work, which is often a precondition

Law #34: Dress With Sprezzatura to Display Power

 Law 34: Be royal in your own fashion: act like a king to be treated like one.
Law 34: Dress royally. Unless you’re already powerful and rich, In which case, dress how the hell you like

Law of Power #34 Explanation

This is another rule that applied better in the old days.

In the past, dressing well was the prerogative of well-off people, so high-quality dresses were a major indicator of wealth and power.

I am listening now to the biography of Casanova.
Casanova slept with a ton of women and did so in what was a very sexually conservative society. One of the keys to his success was power: he was a wealthy nobleman, and one of the main ways he conveyed his status was with his clothes.

But today?

Today, almost anyone can afford to dress well.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t dress well. 
I love dressing well, and it’s a huge tool of personal influence and persuasion.

But today things have changed, and the rules invert at the very top. At the very top, a disdain for appearances can become a power display.
Nothing screams “I don’t need your approval” like a disheveled man mounting a Ferrari like he has not a care in the world.


Because not caring for what others think is either the sign of a low-quality individual or… The sign of power and superiority.

In today’s world, dressing poorly and/or simply has also become a status symbol for entrepreneurs, who are so consumed by their visions that they can’t find the time for “appearances”.
Avoiding suits and fine clothes makes the entrepreneur look monk-like and consumed by his lofty goals.

Example: Steve Jobs’ Evolution of Style

Nassim Taleb makes the case that rich people cuss and dress down as a power display.


Because cussing means you don’t need to follow PC etiquette and you’re not afraid of pissing off anyone (both major signs of “f*ck you money” and independence),

Dressing down is similar, sending the message that you don’t need to obey the rules that the herd must obey.

See how Steve Jobs style changed over time:

law 34 example
Powerless Steve Jobs on the left; powerful Steve Jobs on the right

Steve Jobs, on the left, didn’t have the power to dress as he wanted (the name tag is another indicator of low power).
Steve Jobs, on the right instead, was the top dog, and he could dress as he pleased.

Law #38: Behave Like Others When Learning, Then Switch: Power Makes Others Adapt

 Law 38: Think as you like, but behave like others.
✔ Law 38: Behave like others while you are still climbing the ladder. Once you’re on top, make others adapt to you

Law of Power #38 Explained

The original law from “The 48 Laws of Power” is good for climbing to power.

But it’s not good for established power players.

From a mindset point of view, even while climbing the true Machiavelli knows that his “fitting in days” are numbered.
The true power player wants to shape cultures, not adapt to them.

Because, if you think about it, what’s the alternative?

If all you worry about is fitting in and dancing to someone else’s tune… Guess what, your future is written.
And it’s the future of a sheep.

Also read:

How to Fit In to Acquire Power

Let me repeat this:

You do want to fit in as a trainee, a junior employee, a manager, and even maybe up to an executive role.

This is something I describe in “How to Become A Leader“, which I recommend you check out if you’re serious about leadership.

But as you get closer and closer to the top, you want to focus less on fitting in and more on influencing the culture.

And the same for what we said for personal style, a display of quirkiness going against the grain is also a display of power.
It says that you can allow yourself to be you.

Example: Gianni Agnelli & Sprezzatura

Gianni Agnelli was a cool man.

Born into money aristocracy, he was known as the “rake of the Riviera” even while he kept a steady and (seemingly) happy marriage.

He wasn’t the type of rake who only slays because of his power and money though, and his conquests included equally powerful women.
Jackie Kennedy, JFK’s wife, flew to the Amalfi Coast just to spend the holidays with him, and a defensive US president hat to plead her for “more first lady, less Agnelli”.

But Gianni wasn’t “just” a womanizer.

He enjoyed women but wasn’t the type of man to let women steer him off his path.
With a mix of business acumen and charm, he led his family business to become Italy’s biggest industrial complex.

Famous for his conquests, business success, and style… Why would such a man wear his watches on the outside of his shirt?

There are a few rumors as to why he did it.
But ultimately, it’s because he could.

Where you wear your watch is purely cultural. 
Nobody says it must be inside the shirt or on your left. People wearing it “the proper way” are fitting in.

But Agnelli didn’t need to fit in.
And he didn’t want to.

The watch on the outside of his shirt was his way of saying “I got f*ck you money and f*ck you power, so f*ck your rules, you follow them”.

law of power 38
The watch on Agnelli’s wrist cuff says “I have the power to buck the social rules”

Law #39. Strategically Roil Your Opponents & Lead Them to Overreact

✘  Law 39: Stir up waters to catch fish.
Law 39: Roil your opponent whenever a clear mind provides an edge, but be careful that an emotional opponent will not instead gain an edge

Law of Power #39 Explained

This rule actually works even better in modernity.


Because we condemn violence and overreactions even more so than we did in the past.

However, it’s still a big mistake to generalize.
Greene says that “anger and emotions are counterproductive”, but that’s now always true.

We will see two examples for each to learn how to properly use the law of power #39.

Example: Successfully Stirring Fish (Marco Materazzi)

Raise your hand if you know Materazzi.

Unless you’re into football, like really into football, then you probably don’t.
And it makes sense.
You see, Materazzi is not a great player.

Not with his feet, at least.

But when it comes to stirring up the waters, he pulled the biggest and most feat ever football ever -or maybe at par with Maradona’s handstrike goal-.

Italy and France, two countries with a strong sports rivalry, were battling it out in the World Cup final, the biggest sports event ever.

The two teams were tied 1-1 but France, led by its best player ever Zinedine Zidane, was going on the assault.
Zidane was a legend-level player who had already won a World Cup -the first-ever for France-. 
He had come back after a 2-years retirement just for the World Cup.
This was going to be his last match ever.
Ending with the biggest possible bang would have consecrated him into the Olympus of the best players ever.

Zidane seemed on his way into legendhood already.

He had already scored the first goal.
And did so with a “panenka” penalty kick, a football power move that embarrassed the Italian goalie.

It’s hard to overstate the significance of that panenka.
Zidane scored it against keeper Gianluigi Buffon. Buffon was the captain of the Italian squad, the main alpha male of the team, one of the best players in that tournament, and widely considered to be the best keeper ever.

Buffon represented the Italian team, and Zidane made a mockery out of him.

See the panenka here:

Embarrassing the Italian captain with a panenka kick was a highly significant power display by Zidane. Captain VS captain, it was the equivalent of saying “I’m the true master here”. And embarrassing the best goalie ever was a statement as to “who” was the real best player.

Yours truly was on the edge of his seat for the whole night.
It all seemed set to be Zidane’s crowning night. And a searing defeat for the Italians.

And it might have worked that way.

If it wasn’t for Materazzi stirring up water.

Nobody knows exactly what Materazzi said to Zidane.
But it changed the course of history.

Zidane overreacted, lost his head, and sank it deep into Materazzi’s chest.

Materazzi then played the game, pretending he was about to die. And Zidane was thrown out of the game.

See the video here:

A shameful end to a glorious career.

Some people defended Zidane and roasted Materazzi.
And, honestly, Materazzi was a dirty player.

But in that game, Marco Materazzi sent a message of possibility and inspiration.

Materazzi was the modern David that defeated Goliath.

A mediocre player dethroned the legend, and made himself king.
Marco was a true Machiavellian hero for all the world’s underdogs.

Reverse Example: McGregor Stirs Up the Wrong Water, Finds a Shark

Stirring up waters can lead to violence or war.

When that’s the case, it might be that both sides lose.

Anger and rage in contact sports can be an advantage for your opponent.
For example, many have argued that Khabib destroyed McGregor thanks to the rage that he brought into the ring.
And that rage was there because of McGregor trying to stir up waters.

McGregor’s “stirring water” technique likely made his opponent stronger (and sure made him look like a big mouth after the bout)

Even in non-contact sports, people who are good at channeling that anger can turn your stirring into motivation.

Legendary coach Phil Jackson shares in his biography the story of Derrick stirring up waters with Michael Jordan.
The Grizzlies were winning against the Chicago Bulls, and Derrick thought well of stirring waters and taunting Michael Jordan.

Big mistake.
This is what Michale Jordan told him:

michael jordan let a sleeping dog lie
Stirring water with individuals like MJ is counterproductive

And then proceeded to unleash hell.
MJ led the Bulls to turn around the match and to inflict a historical beating on the water-stirrer.

What does it all mean to you?
What should you do, stirring or not stirring?

Stirring Up or Not Stirring Up?

As we’ve seen, stirring up water can be dangerous.

As a rule of thumb, do this:

  • On pure mental games of concentration where rationality and coolness rule, stir your enemies
  • With opponents who know how to channel their rage appropriately use the opposite strategy and induce them into a false state of tranquillity instead (play a sucker to catch a sucker)

Law #41. Learn From The Best Leaders, Leverage Them As Mentors

Law 41: Avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes.
Law 41: Seek great leaders to learn from 

Law of Power #41 Explained

It’s partially true what Greene says.

It will always be a challenge being the leader after a great leader.

But what’s the alternative?

Waiting it out?
Who knows when your next chance will come.

Moving somewhere else?
Even if nobody knows, deep down you will know that you’re quitting out of fear.

Again, this is a terribly defensive mindset.
Even more, this is a defetist mindset.

I invite you to take the opposite view.
A great predecessor is a great man to learn from

You might be able to recruit your great predecessor as your mentor as you take over, and you can use his great work and achievements to spur even bigger achievements.

Even if you aim at being “remembered” as the best -a really hollow mindset you should overcome-, remember this:

A dynasty always beats a single good ruler

A good CEO manages a turnaround, or gives a company a good run. Dynasties create empires.

So don’t be a scared bitch: take the challenge and run with it.

Example: Maldini Follows a Legend, Becomes a Bigger Legend

Baresi was the captain of AC Milan, and he was one of the finest defenders to have ever played.

Maldini, a promising football rising star, was a born and bred Milan player, coming up from the junior teams of AC Milan.

Eventually, Maldini was old and talented enough to start playing with Serie A teams.
As the up-and-coming young gun, if he wanted to “avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes”, he should have left Milan.
He could have sought greener pastures somewhere else and, strong of his talent, become captain soon after and be the undisputed N.1 of a smaller team.

But that would have been a typical “big fish in a small pond” mentality.

And Maldini was better than that.

He stayed and built a great relationship with Baresi, learning all the tools of the trade from the best of the best.

Maldini grew to be one of the finest defenders to have ever played, winning everything there was to win, being part of one of the best teams ever, and eventually becoming captain after Baresi retired.
Strong of his model-like looks, Maldini also became the (pretty) face of the club and a true “flag” for Milan since he never switched teams.

In terms of skills, it’s hard to say whether or not Maldini surpassed Baresi.
But it doesn’t matter: his name only shone bigger because of the partnership at the top.
The two of them are the best defending duo to have ever played together.

law of power 40
Maldini wasn’t afraid of stepping into a great man’s shoes and became an even bigger legend

Law #42: Purge The Troublemakers

✘  Law 42: Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter.
Law 42: Bad influences spread. Make sure you spot and fire the troublemakers early

Law of Power #42 Explained 

This law applies well to modernity as group dynamics stayed the same.

The caveat is that you must strike early, because rotten apples can spoil the bunch very quickly.

If you’re looking for team performance, troublemakers take on a much wider meaning, including people who:

  • Avoid work
  • Don’t buy into the vision
  • Aren’t unsupportive of the team

There are good resources on this website grounded on both psychology and power dynamics.
Check out:

Example: When It’s Either Them Or You (Kobe VS Jackson)

Phil Jackson, whom we already saw earlier shares a story all leaders should do well to heed.

Jackson was eventually ousted from the Lakers in good part because of his souring relationship with the team’s star: Kobe Bryant.

Jackson implied that Kobe Bryant was too rebellious and uncoachable. 
In this interview, Bryant implies that Jackson was sneaky and talking too indirectly:

It’s difficult getting to know the truth.

Having listened to both I tend to believe that Jackson’s approach was too much on the “finessing” side and he might have been more forceful and more direct.

However, once he realized he couldn’t fix the rift, he had one option only if he wanted to remain the leader of a healthy team; get rid of Kobe Bryant.

Law #43 Make People Want to Follow You

✘  Law 43: Work on the hearts and minds of others.
Law 43: Make people want to follow you

Law of Power #43 Explained

Law #42 is the opposite of Greene’s “air of terror” law.

And albeit they both might have a place, law #43 works better on most occasions and with most people.
And especially so in our modern world of democracy and personal freedoms.

Also read:

Law #44. Use The Mirror Effects To Oust The Established Power

✘  Law 44: Disarm and infuriate with the mirror effect
Law 44: Use the mirror effect when you are the upstart and you are trying to unsettle more powerful and more established players

Law of Power #44 Explained

The “mirror effect” can be very powerful, but it has a limited scope.


Because, while it can infuriate, it also shows you are overly invested in your opponent (rather than your own life and goals).
And over-investing in someone is a clear sign your opponent is holding sway over you.

There is however one use of the mirror effect. 

And that’s when you are dealing with legends and/or opponents who are obviously better than you are.

In those cases, it’s OK for you to over-invest in them because it’s already obvious to everyone they are better while you still need to prove yourself.

Example: Unsettling The Established King (Valentino Rossi)

Valentino Rossi had been the dominant figure of motorbike racing for years.

Dominant here not just in wins, but in attitude as well: Rossi was (covertly) obsessed with power and dominance.

During my formative years, Rossi is one of the guys from whom I learned the most about dominance, power, and power dynamics.

But here is a truth of life: no lion reigns forever on sheer force.
And eventually the upcoming young guns started claiming the throne.

Jorge Lorenzo was the first aspirer to the throne. 
And to unsettle his rival, he used the mirror effect. 

Valentino Rossi, extroverted and exuberant, was famous for mocking his opponents and staging post-race theatrical celebrations.
Jorge Lorenzo, reserved, introverted and somewhat socially awkward, wasn’t the type.

But he forced himself and started copying Rossi’s post-race celebrations. Here is one example where Lorenzo indirectly mocked Rossi for finishing the race much farther behind.

The most dramatic example of the “mirror effect” though was with a later upcoming young gun: Marc Marquez.
Marquez never admitted it, but he was obsessed with being the new (and upgraded) Rossi.

He copied Rossi not with his celebration, but with what hurt the most: his wins, his riding style, and his on-track aggression.

The apex of the mirror effect came in the Laguna Seca race.

Years prior Rossi had pulled in Laguna Seca one of the most legendary overtakes ever in the history of motorbike racing by going on the off-track gravel with a bike on slick tires.
See it for yourself here.

Now what does Marquez do?

He overtakes Rossi himself in the exact same spot, going outside the tarmac exactly like Rossi had done.
See the overtake here.

Marquez would go on antagonizing Rossi in undercover ways and trying to prevent him from winning a 10th title.

But Marquez did it with a smile on his face, which infuriated Rossi and prompted the old lion to overreact in one of the most dramatic scenes any sport has ever seen.

Watch for yourself:

Law #46: Focus On Doing Your Best First – Learn Strategic Vulnerability Later

 Law 46: Never appear too perfect.
Law 46: Show strategic vulnerability when appropriate. If you’re not sure when to stick to always do your best no matter what the envious will think

Law of Power #46 Explained

This law works differently for the ancient world and modernity.

In the past, appearing perfect for kings and masters was advisable for kings and masters, but dangerous for underlings (“never outshine the master”).

Today, it’s different.
We live in democracies where (on paper) everyone is the same. But we also live in an iconoclastic culture that does not respect ranks and authority nearly as much as it did in the past.

Today everyone is invited to feel the same as their bosses and masters, which creates a ripe environment for envy and jealousy.

In this environment, “never appearing too perfect” can make sense. Even for an already powerful individual.

Perfection funnels envy and resentment and does so especially in certain types of individuals.
For example:

  • Men can be jealous of a successful woman when said men feel that women are inferior
  • As Taleb correctly points out, an ivy-league educated man will be resentful of a self-made man without education because some ivy-league individuals feel “superior” to uneducated men
  • Rich-countries’ citizens can be jealous of immigrants who become successful because they (secretly) feel like immigrants should do menial tasks

In these cases, it might make sense to appear less than perfect IF you want to be accepted and welcomed by the group that feels envious of you.

But there are important psychological caveats to this rule.

It does not apply If the envious people have little power over you and if you could care less about them.

And it does not apply to people who admire you deeply, care for you and are not ambitious (or dickhead) enough to feel superior to you.

In all these cases, don’t heed the advice of “making mistakes on purpose”, which is one of the most stupid “social skills” tips I’ve ever read.

Focus less on making mistakes and more on producing mistake-free work

This is the truth:

It takes a lot of emotional intelligence to understand when strategic weakness is called for.
People who haven’t reached that level and/or haven’t acquired enough power yet should not focus on this rule.

Also read:

Law #47: If You’re Doing Better Than Expected, Double Down

✘  Law 47: Do not go past the mark you aimed for; in victory know when to stop.
Law 47: If you were aiming for 90 and getting 95, try to go for 100, too

Law of Power #47 Explained

This is another law that applies more to the war fields that Greene loves so much than to modern social life.

In the old battlefields over-stretching your supply lines and entering too deep into enemy territory was dangerous (see Operation Barbarossa and Napoleon’s invasion of Russia)

But in normal life, if you are doing better than you expected, you should likely double down your efforts instead of stopping earlier.

That’s how power players act.

Real power players, especially the ones who climb fast, think in terms of “faster, bigger, greater”.

Example: Go For The Bigger Deal

Below is a movie based on the real story of George Jung.

And sure, Jung he was in the drug business and that didn’t end up well.

But it’s the mindset here that is common to all power players, including the ones in legal businesses.

And this is the mindset of how some individuals acquire power fast.

In Jung’s career, when the business was going well with the weed the average guys in the team were happy with a good, but not life-changing sum of money.
They would have stopped there.

But Jung smelled the opportunity for real money and power.

Jung saw the business had potential, and he immediately thought about overshooting his goal and supplies and going directly to the sources.

And this is exactly how many fast-climbing power players think and act.

To stay within movies, it’s how Tony Montana in Scarface thinks and behaves.

But it’s also how Trump thinks and behaves.
In his movie “The Art of The Deal” Trump shows the typical “more, more, more” attitude of the fast-climbing power player.

It’s the attitude of going past his mark that allowed Trump to win the presidency while most people laughed at his campaign and called him unfit for the presidency.

Law #48: Remain Open to New Ideas – The Law of Teachability

✘  Law 48: Assume formlessness
Law 48: Never assume you have “arrived”, but remain teachable and open to new ideas

Law of Power #48 Explained

Remaining “adaptable” is one of those suggestions that’s easy to give but difficult to apply.

What does it even mean, and where, when and how do you apply it?

The best interpretation in our modern world of fast change is to remain teachable and learnable.

Idiots repeat the same thing over 30 years and call it “experience”.
Fools end their training, get their diplomas and feel like they have arrived.
Real wise men keep searching for new answers and new wisdom until they d


The 48 Laws of Power is a wonderful book about power and social strategies.

But the laws are too rigid -not real “laws”- and the examples are too old to apply to the modern world.

This article adds nuances to the laws and adds modern examples and interpretations.

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