This post is the summary of “The 48 Laws of Power”, a book by Robert Greene.
The 48 Laws of Power is generally tagged as a personal development book. To my mind, however, it’s actually applied history.
Greene takes an unflinchingly critical look at the past 3000 years of human civilization.
With this broad research, he came up with 48 laws to amass power in the modern world.
Summary of The 48 Laws of Power
So, which are these laws? How can you apply them in the modern world?
Read on to find out.
1. Never outshine the master
A person is expected to always put in their best effort, especially at work. A job well done is bound to get you showered with praise.
But make sure you never display all of your talent in one go. Because that way, your boss or mentor might feel overlooked.
And that can be detrimental in the long run.
It’s always a good idea to keep others comfortable, especially those above you.
You invite goodwill and avoid destructive confrontations this way.
2. Beware your friends and use your enemies
For those in positions of power, friends are often more dangerous than enemies.
Because those that know you well will also be well-aware of your weaknesses.
Should any disagreement arise, the people close to you will be the best positioned to take you down.
On the other hand, try to use your power to attract your enemy. You’ll make them indebted to you with this approach.
Remember this: It is within former enemies that the greatest allies reside.
3. Conceal your intentions
Never reveal all your cards in one go.
That would make it very easy for others to think of ways to defeat you.
Keep your cards close to your chest.
Never let you opponents prepare. Make sure your enemies (and your friends) are never able to guess your next move.
4. Always say less than is necessary
Keep up an aura of mysteriousness about you.
For with mystery comes intimidation. Everybody around you will get captivated by this veil.
They’ll convince themselves that you’re not someone to play with.
Additionally, the less you say, the less likely you are to blurt out something stupid. You avoid making a fool of yourself by being quiet.
5. Guard your reputation with your life
Your reputation is the very cornerstone of your professional life.
The kind of projects and contracts you get are directly dependent upon how well-known you are.
Always make an effort to make your reputation unassailable, bulletproof.
And when you’re fighting enemies, go after their reputation first.
6. Court attention at all costs
Never be content with becoming just one face among the crowd.
Work on your image so that you stand out.
Ask questions, discuss options and suggest solutions so you become conspicuous.
You should aim to become the first person people think of when trying to solve a problem.
Make yourself famous, and power will gather at your feet.
7. Make others do your work, then take the credit
This is a valid strategy to upgrade every area of your life. Here’s how it works.
Hone your communication skills to the point that you can convince people to willingly give you the credit. At work, make superiors think that you are the most efficient worker ever.
And coworkers/underlings should believe that you’re a benevolent god who hands them the best assignments.
8. Bait others into coming to you
Always try to be the one who holds all the cards.
Don’t be someone that initiates negotiations.
Rather, engineer situations so that others come to you for a talk.
That way, you will be bargaining from a stronger position.
9. Never argue – act, and win
You’re bound to offend when you argue with someone. And logically debating is never enough to change people’s opinions.
Rather, focus on solving the problem behind the scenes. Then, demonstrate your solution. You will prove your worth without ever needing to fight.
It’s the best way to win without having to fight with fools.
10. Avoid the unhappy and the unlucky
Humans are social creatures.
And as such, one person’s mood can affect another’s.
Traits like discontentment and self-pity are highly infectious.
In order to live a happy life, avoid the downers and the naysayers. Your productivity will begin increasing immediately.
11. Make others dependent on you
The more people depend on you, the freer you are.
Think of it this way — people like to put their trust in reliable individuals.
For example, at work, if you can build a base of staunch supporters, your position at the workplace will grow.
12. Disarm opponents using selective benevolence
Begin all relationships by putting on an honest, benevolent façade.
Gain others’ trust.
And then you can move them around like chess-pieces to further your goals.
13. Leverage your opponents’ self-interest to get help
You’re never going be able to handle every eventuality on your own.
At times, you’ll need to enlist even your rivals’ help.
Appeal to their self-interest in these situations.
Show them how helping you is ultimately beneficial for them. When people have an incentive, they’re more likely to respond well.
14. Pose as a friend, work as a spy
Appear open and friendly so people come to you.
Forge a bond, and nurture the relationship. Soon enough, people will start opening up to you.
Now you begin behaving as a spy. Learn everything about them.
Even their weaknesses. You can use this knowledge as leverage later.
15. Crush enemies completely
Whenever you’re in a dispute, make sure you totally annihilate your opponent.
Destroy their reputation and legacy so they can’t ever rise up to challenge you again.
16. Use the power of absence
Powerful people are rarely seen in public.
Catching even a glimpse of someone like a celebrity feels like an achievement to most of us.
You can implement this in your own life.
Try not to show yourself to your coworkers very often.
When you’re not a common sight, people will come to believe your time is valuable and your attention noteworthy.
17. Be unpredictable
Never telegraph your move before you make it.
Your rivals shouldn’t be able to figure out your next step. That way, they can’t prepare contingencies.
Do this consistently enough, and no one will ever rise to challenge you.
18. Never isolate yourself
Collaboration is key to success, in every area of your life.
Make friends, then use their help in achieving your goals.
Furthermore, having a lot of allies means that it’s dangerous for enemies to attack you.
19. Know who you’re dealing with
There’s always bigger fish in the pond.
In your quest for power, make sure that you don’t make the wrong enemy.
Some people will be too strong, and crush you immediately. Eternal hate will fuel others. They’ll become a lifelong foe.
20. Don’t commit to anyone
Commitment brings about a loss of independence.
When you’re pledged to one side only, there won’t be any fallback options.
If that person loses favor, your reputation will burn alongside theirs.
21. Seem dumber than your mark
The goal of any negotiation is to gain the upper hand.
Make your opponent think they’re smarter than you. They’ll subconsciously give you easy terms out of pity.
22. Turn weakness into power by surrendering
When the odds are stacked against you, surrender. The aggressor will get thrown off-balance.
But don’t let yourself be content with the defeat.
Use the breathing room you gained to rest and recover. Learn their tactics and weaknesses. Then, attack again.
23. Concentrate your forces
You need to find your niche and exploit it to its fullest potential.
Don’t get hung up on multitasking or diversification. Figure out just one practice or habit that makes you unique.
It’ll set you up for life.
24. Play the perfect courtier
You need to master the art of subtle indirection.
Use flattery to keep superiors happy.
And assert rightful authority over your underlings. Your job will run smoothly and you will build a great image.
25. Recreate yourself
Never let your life stagnate. Don’t accept the mold society wants you to fit into.
Rather, evolve and improve yourself constantly.
It’ll be much easier for you to handle the ever-changing dynamics of life.
26. Keep your hands clean
No one should be able to associate you with negative traits like failure, delay and conflicts.
Be smart, and proactively delegate the responsibility and blame for any missteps.
Never let your own image get tarnished.
27. Become a cult-leader
Humans have a need to believe in things bigger than themselves. Capitalize on this.
Make vague, dreamy promises to establish an emotional connection.
Then deftly change goalposts to seem ever-unfailing. You’ll soon have a cult-like following.
28. Act boldly
The goal is to always appear brave and unflinching. Being unsure of something makes you hesitant, and people will notice that.
That’s why you should only take the steps that make sense to you.
Appear bold, and you’ll gain much respect.
29. Plan for the end
The ending is the most important part of any endeavor. If you can just stick the landing, any fumbles along the way will be forgotten.
That’s why you must make complete plans.
Think up multiple contingencies so you can deliver a good solution. And make sure you take all the credit.
29. Slide into success
Everything you do must appear effortless. Even if it isn’t.
All your successes should be clearly visible. At the same time, take care to conceal the actual work that went in.
Build and grow a narrative that you are a god-like savant whose touch turns everything into gold.
30. Control all the options
Learn to engineer situations in a way that all outcomes are ultimately beneficial for you.
Let’s take salary negotiation as an example.
You can simply put work-from-home at a lower wage on the table. It’s extremely likely that the employee will accept your offer.
You’ll retain a good worker, and keep costs low, all at the same time.
In every professional situation, there will be opportunities to give people an illusion of choice.
Find a way to do that, and they’ll play right into your hands.
31. Play to people’s fantasies
Reality is often drab. It’s the exciting fantasy that keeps people interested in an endeavor.
You can exploit this tendency to further your cause.
Whenever you want something done, present your proposal in a fantastical manner.
Use flowery language, exaggerate potential outcomes, and wax eloquent about the journey.
32. Discover each man’s thumbscrews
Nobody is perfect, and everybody has skeletons in their closets.
You need to be discerning enough to figure out your opponents’ weaknesses.
Once you have this information, you can make them dance to your tune.
33. Act like a king to be treated like one
We judge people based on their appearance and behavior. Someone that appears shabby or can’t speak confidently will never command much respect.
You need to avoid the trap of humility. Be bold.
Make quick, decisive actions.
Dress well and exude confidence. Only when you act like a king can you expect to be treated like one.
34. Master the art of timing
An achievement, no matter how momentous, won’t have much impact if there are no witnesses.
Be patient. Bide your time.
And strike when the world is watching.
Master the art of perfect timing, and your fame will grow.
35. Disdain the things you cannot have
You shouldn’t waste time pining after unreachable things.
Learn to discipline your thoughts. And you’ll be able to disregard what you cannot have.
Don’t allow them to have any power over you.
This lets you focus all of your attention on what you can achieve at the moment.
36. Create compelling spectacles
A major portion of the human brain is dedicated to the visual cortex.
Our perception of the world is largely determined by what we see.
Try to create a grand spectacle with whatever you do. You’ll make a lasting impression on everybody around you that way.
37. Fit in, but keep your thoughts independent
Never make yourself a pariah. Don’t be so outspoken that you end up pushing people away.
At the same time, make your thoughts bigger.
Work on your unconventional ideas behind the scenes. And let your success speak for you.
38. Stir up waters to catch fish
Humans are emotional creatures.
And emotions don’t mix with rationality.
You can use this to mount an offensive against your enemies — find their thumbscrews, stir up their emotions, and watch their game crumble.
39. Reject the free lunch
When you accept charity, you become indebted.
You become lazy and you lose the drive to grind.
Try to be self-reliant in all facets of your life. And you’ll never have to depend on anybody else.
40. Avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes
At the current stage of human civilization, new inventions are rare.
Most of what we do is either maintenance, or an enhancement to an existing system.
What this means is that a majority of us are only filling in someone else’s position. And we end up living in their shadow all our lives.
Avoid this trap. Strive to throw off the shackles of the past.
Forge your own identity. Become a shining example of modern innovation.
41. Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter
Life is an eternal contest. Just as you are gathering power, so are your opponents.
They’re building their own support base. And you’ll see pockets of resistance forming.
It’s best to strike at the source of such upheavals. If you can destroy the leader, the faction will topple.
42. Work on the heart and minds of others
Appealing to the sense of belonging is the best way of gaining allies. Never force people to follow you. Rather, create emotional connections with people.
Establish a common cause. And make them think that flocking to you is the best way of fighting for the said cause.
44. Leverage the mirror effect
This is a strategy where you act exactly as your enemies do.
You become a mirror, and shine a spotlight on them. You let them see how they truly are and that makes them feel embarrassed.
The scrutiny unsettles people. It makes them feel like an object.
With their control slipping, they’ll fumble soon enough. Then you can swoop in and seize all the glory.
45. Make sweeping reforms, but slowly
Humans are creatures of habit.
Too much change made too fast is traumatic for us. The key lies in taking things slowly.
If you try to impose overnight reforms, people will rebel.
You’ll have a much easier time if you talk to all parties, and make steady, incremental changes.
46. Never appear too perfect
You should always aim to achieve greatness.
But never seem so perfect that you become completely unrelatable to the masses.
For too much perfection makes people envious.
Display the occasional flaw to avoid becoming totally isolated.
Remember, isolation is dangerous.
47. Don’t get too greedy in chasing success
Chasing your dreams is thrilling.
Oftentimes, people get carried away with the chase, and over-extend themselves.
They might even become arrogant. This provides an opening that enemies can exploit.
Therefore, it’s vital that you never let success get to your head.
Learn to be happy with what you achieve. Set clearly defined goals.
Work hard towards attaining them. And when you realize said goals, stop and take a breather.
It’ll clear your head and let you make strategies for further expansion.
48. Assume formlessness
This is the last rule of our 48 laws of power summary.
Most of us have a set pattern of behavior. This is detrimental for long-term growth in a competitive work environment.
That’s because it’s easy to counter predictable moves. In order to survive — and thrive — you must assume formlessness.
Adapt and evolve constantly so you can easily leave your enemies in the dust.
When you are always on the move, your opponents will never be able to catch up.
The 48 Laws of Power Summary – Conclusion
Our world is a harsh place. People that take things lightly, get consumed. Only those that fight can hope to win this game of life.
The 48 Laws of Power is a manual for surviving our cruel world. The book provides the reader some tactics they can use to win.
These are strategies that seem almost underhanded at times. But famous historical figures have used them to great effect.
However, Greene’s prose is not the most engaging. His writing rambles. Combined with the overall cynicism, it may become an uncomfortable read.
That’s what prompted me write a summary of The 48 Laws of Power. This post covers all of the ideas presented in the book. I wrote about the life lessons I derived in a separate article.
So, are you ready to apply the 48 Laws in your life?
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