The most important of these skills, and power’s crucial foundation, is the ability to master your emotions. An emotional response to a situation is the single greatest barrier to power, a mistake that will cost you a lot more than any temporary satisfaction you might gain by expressing your feelings. Emotions cloud reason, and if you cannot see the situation clearly, you cannot prepare for and respond to it with any degree of control.
also key components in the acquisition of power. If deception is the most potent weapon in your arsenal, then patience in all things is your crucial shield.
“The value of a thing sometimes lies not in what one attains with it, but in what one pays for it—what it costs us.”
Never waste valuable time, or mental peace of mind, on the affairs of others—that is too high a price to pay.
Never take your position for granted and never let any favors you receive go to your head.
Commit harmless mistakes that will not hurt you in the long run but will give you the chance to ask for his help. Masters adore such requests. A master who cannot bestow on you the gifts of his experience may direct rancor and ill will at you instead.
All working situations require a kind of distance between people. You are trying to work, not make friends; friendliness (real or false) only obscures that fact. The key to power, then, is the ability to judge who is best able to further your interests in all situations. Keep friends for friendship, but work with the skilled and competent.
Without enemies around us, we grow lazy. An enemy at our heels sharpens our wits, keeping us focused and alert. It is sometimes better, then, to use enemies as enemies rather than transforming them into friends or allies.
Deep down inside, they often sense when they are being seduced, but they give in because they enjoy the feeling of being led along. It is a pleasure to let go, and to allow the other person to detour you into a strange country.
she even enjoyed her jealousy and confusion, for sometimes any emotion is better than the boredom of security.
If you yearn for power, quickly lay honesty aside, and train yourself in the art of concealing your intentions.
In seduction, set up conflicting signals, such as desire and indifference, and you not only throw them off the scent, you inflame their desire to possess you.
Use this tactic in the following manner: Hide your intentions not by closing up (with the risk of appearing secretive, and making people suspicious) but by talking endlessly about your desires and goals—just not your real ones.
If you believe that deceivers are colorful folk who mislead with elaborate lies and tall tales, you are greatly mistaken. The best deceivers utilize a bland and inconspicuous front that calls no attention to themselves.
In such cases it is better to own up, to appear the honest rogue, or, better, the repentant rogue. Not only will you be admired for your frankness, but, most wonderful and strange of all, you will be able to continue your stratagems.
As Kierkegaard wrote, “The world wants to be deceived.”
When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you appear, and the less in control. Even if you are saying something banal, it will seem original if you make it vague, open-ended, and sphinxlike. Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.
One oft-told tale about Kissinger … involved a report that Winston Lord had worked on for days. After giving it to Kissinger, he got it back with the notation, “Is this the best you can do?” Lord rewrote and polished and finally resubmitted it; back it came with the same curt question. After redrafting it one more time—and once again getting the same question from Kissinger—Lord snapped, “Damn it, yes, it’s the best I can do.” To which Kissinger replied: “Fine, then I guess I’ll read it this time.”
Power is in many ways a game of appearances, and when you say less than necessary, you inevitably appear greater and more powerful than you are. Your silence will make other people uncomfortable. Humans are machines of interpretation and explanation; they have to know what you are thinking. When you carefully control what you reveal, they cannot pierce your intentions or your meaning.
In most areas of life, the less you say, the more profound and mysterious you appear.
It is easier to cope with a bad conscience than with a bad reputation. Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844–1900
In the beginning, you must work to establish a reputation for one outstanding quality, whether generosity or honesty or cunning. This quality sets you apart and gets other people to talk about you. You then make your reputation known to as many people as possible (subtly, though; take care to build slowly, and with a firm foundation), and watch as it spreads like wildfire.
As they say, your reputation inevitably precedes you, and if it inspires respect, a lot of your work is done for you before you arrive on the scene, or utter a single word.
Make no distinction between kinds of attention—notoriety of any sort will bring you power. Better to be slandered and attacked than ignored.
One of the first oddities Barnum toured around the country was Joice Heth, a woman he claimed was 161 years old, and whom he advertised as a slave who had once been George Washington’s nurse. After several months the crowds began to dwindle, so Barnum sent an anonymous letter to the papers, claiming that Heth was a clever fraud.
At the beginning of your rise to the top, then, spend all your energy on attracting attention. Most important: The quality of the attention is irrelevant.
Burning more brightly than those around you is a skill that no one is born with. You have to learn to attract
This image can be something like a characteristic style of dress, or a personality quirk that amuses people and gets talked about. Once the image is established, you
Once in the limelight you must constantly renew it by adapting and varying your method of courting attention.
Be ostentatious and be seen…. What is not seen is as though it did not exist…. It was light that first caused all creation to shine forth. Display fills up many blanks, covers up deficiencies, and gives everything a second life, especially when it is backed by genuine merit.
This is the essence of the Law: Learn to get others to do the work for you while you take the credit, and you appear to be of godlike strength and power.
Find people with the skills and creativity you lack. Either hire them, while putting your own name on top of theirs, or find a way to take their work and make it your own. Their creativity thus becomes yours, and you seem a genius to the world.
There is another application of this law that does not require the parasitic use of your contemporaries’ labor: Use the past, a vast storehouse of knowledge and wisdom. Isaac Newton called this “standing on the shoulders of giants.”
“Fools say that they learn by experience. I prefer to profit by others’ experience.”
When you force the other person to act, you are the one in control. It is always better to make your opponent come to you, abandoning his own plans in the process. Lure him with fabulous gains—then attack. You hold the cards.
When I have laid bait for deer, I don’t shoot at the first doe that comes to sniff, but wait until the whole herd has gathered round. Otto von Bismarck, 1815–1898
Any momentary triumph you think you have gained through argument is really a Pyrrhic victory: The resentment and ill will you stir up is stronger and lasts longer than any momentary change of opinion. It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word. Demonstrate, do not explicate.
The military engineer was the quintessence of the Arguer, a type found everywhere among us. The Arguer does not understand that words are never neutral, and that by arguing with a superior he impugns the intelligence of one more powerful than he. He also has no awareness of the person he is dealing with. Since each man believes that he is right, and words will rarely convince him otherwise, the arguer’s reasoning falls on deaf ears.
As Baltasar Gracián remarks, “The truth is generally seen, rarely heard.”
You do not have to have the talent of a Michelangelo; you do have to have a skill that sets you apart from the crowd. You should create a situation in which you can always latch on to another master or patron but your master cannot easily find another servant with your particular talent.
Real dependence on your master’s part, however, leaves him more vulnerable to you than the faked variety, and it is always within your power to make your skill indispensable.
When people choose between talk about the past and talk about the future, a pragmatic person will always opt for the future and forget the past.
Self-interest is the lever that will move people.
Ask indirect questions to get people to reveal their weaknesses and intentions. There is no occasion that is not an opportunity for artful spying.
All great leaders since Moses have known that a feared enemy must be crushed completely. (Sometimes they have learned this the hard way.) If one ember is left alight, no matter how dimly it smolders, a fire will eventually break out. More is lost through stopping halfway than through total annihilation: The enemy will recover, and will seek revenge. Crush him, not only in body but in spirit.
The solution: Have no mercy. Crush your enemies as totally as they would crush you. Ultimately the only peace and security you can hope for from your enemies is their disappearance.
Too much circulation makes the price go down: The more you are seen and heard from, the more common you appear. If you are already established in a group, temporary withdrawal from it will make you more talked about, even more admired. You must learn when to leave. Create value through scarcity.
At the start of an affair, you need to heighten your presence in the eyes of the other. If you absent yourself too early, you may be forgotten. But once your lover’s emotions are engaged, and the feeling of love has crystallized, absence inflames and excites. Giving no reason for your absence excites even more: The other person assumes he or she is at fault.
What withdraws, what becomes scarce, suddenly seems to deserve our respect and honor. What stays too long, inundating us with its presence, makes us disdain it.
Absence diminishes minor passions and inflames great ones, as the wind douses a candle and fans a fire. La Rochefoucauld, 1613–1680
A man said to a Dervish: “Why do I not see you more often?” The Dervish replied, “Because the words ‘Why have you not been to see me?’ are sweeter to my ear than the words ‘Why have you come again?’”
A warning: Unpredictability can work against you sometimes, especially if you are in a subordinate position. There are times when it is better to let people feel comfortable and settled around you than to disturb them. Too much unpredictability will be seen as a sign of indecisiveness, or even of some more serious psychic problem.
The world is dangerous and enemies are everywhere—everyone has to protect themselves. A fortress seems the safest. But isolation exposes you to more dangers than it protects you from—it cuts you off from valuable information, it makes you conspicuous and an easy target. Better to circulate among people, find allies, mingle. You are shielded from your enemies by the crowd.
These frescoes were visual equivalents of the effects of isolation on the human mind: a loss of proportion, an obsession with detail combined with an inability to see the larger picture, a kind of extravagant ugliness that no longer communicates.
Shakespeare is the most famous writer in history because, as a dramatist for the popular stage, he opened himself up to the masses, making his work accessible to people no matter what their education and taste.
Machiavelli could write The Prince only once he found himself in exile and isolated on a farm far from the political intrigues of Florence.
It is the fool who always rushes to take sides. Do not commit to any side or cause but yourself. By maintaining your independence, you become the master of others—playing people against one another, making them pursue you.
Subliminally reassure people that they are more intelligent than you are, or even that you are a bit of a moron, and you can run rings around them. The feeling of intellectual superiority you give them will disarm their suspicion-muscles.
Conserve your forces and energies by keeping them concentrated at their strongest point. You gain more by finding a rich mine and mining it deeper, than by flitting from one shallow mine to another—intensity defeats extensity every time. When looking for sources of power to elevate you, find the one key patron, the fat cow who will give you milk for a long time to come.
THE GOOSE AND THE HORSE A goose who was plucking grass upon a common thought herself affronted by a horse who fed near her; and, in hissing accents, thus addressed him: “I am certainly a more noble and perfect animal than you, for the whole range and extent of your faculties is confined to one element. I can walk upon the ground as well as you; I have, besides, wings, with which I can raise myself in the air; and when I please, I can sport on ponds and lakes, and refresh myself in the cool waters. I enjoy the different powers of a bird, a fish, and a quadruped.” The horse, snorting somewhat disdainfully, replied: “It is true you inhabit three elements, but you make no very distinguished figure in any one of them. You fly, indeed; but your flight is so heavy and clumsy, that you have no right to put yourself on a level with the lark or the swallow. You can swim on the surface of the waters, but you cannot live in them as fishes do; you cannot find your food in that element, nor glide smoothly along the bottom of the waves. And when you walk, or rather waddle, upon the ground, with your broad feet and your long neck stretched out, hissing at everyone who passes by, you bring upon yourself the derision of all beholders. I confess that I am only formed to move upon the ground; but how graceful is my make! How well turned my limbs! How highly finished my whole body! How great my strength! How astonishing my speed! I had much rather be confined to one element, and be admired in that, than be a goose in all!” FABLES FROM BOCCACCIO AND CHAUCER, DR. JOHN AIKIN, 1747–1822
The story of Wu is a paradigm of all the empires that have come to ruin by overreaching. Drunk with success and sick with ambition, such empires expand to grotesque proportions and meet a ruin that is total. This is what happened to ancient Athens, which lusted for the faraway island of Sicily and ended up losing its empire. The Romans stretched the boundaries of their empire to encompass vast territories; in doing so they increased their vulnerability, and the chances of invasion from yet another barbarian tribe. Their useless expansion led their empire into oblivion.
“If you are not in danger,” says Sun-tzu, “do not fight.”
The best strategy is always to be very strong; first in general, then at the decisive point…. There is no higher and simpler law of strategy than that of keeping one’s forces concentrated…. In short the first principle is: act with the utmost concentration. On War, Carl von Clausewitz, 1780–1831
Single-mindedness of purpose, total concentration on the goal, and the use of these qualities against people less focused, people in a state of distraction—such an arrow will find its mark every time and overwhelm the enemy.
Casanova attributed his success in life to his ability to concentrate on a single goal and push at it until it yielded. It was his ability to give himself over completely to the women he desired that made him so intensely seductive.
Concentrate on a single goal, a single task, and beat it into submission.
It is enough to strike oil once—your wealth and power are assured for a lifetime.
Whereas Leonardo da Vinci interested himself in everything—architecture, painting, warfare, sculpture, mechanics. Diffusion was the source of his power. But such genius is rare, and the rest of us are better off erring on the side of intensity.
Great courtiers throughout history have mastered the science of manipulating people. They make the king feel more kingly; they make everyone else fear their power. They are magicians of appearance, knowing that most things at court are judged by how they seem.
Practice Nonchalance. Never seem to be working too hard. Your talent must appear to flow naturally, with an ease that makes people take you for a genius rather than a workaholic. Even when something demands a lot of sweat, make it look effortless—people prefer to not see your blood and toil, which is another form of ostentation.
Never Be the Bearer of Bad News. The king kills the messenger who brings bad news: This is a cliché but there is truth to it. You must struggle and if necessary lie and cheat to be sure that the lot of the bearer of bad news falls on a colleague, never on you. Bring only good news and your approach will gladden your master.
You must learn, however, to couch your advice and criticism as indirectly and as politely as possible. Think twice, or three times, before deciding you have made them sufficiently circuitous. Err on the side of subtlety and gentleness.
In court, honesty is a fool’s game.
Never be so self-absorbed as to believe that the master is interested in your criticisms of him, no matter how accurate they are. Scene
Beau Brummell’s devastating wit was one of the qualities that endeared him to the Prince of Wales. But not even he, the arbiter of taste and fashion, could get away with a joke about the prince’s appearance, least of all to his face. Never joke about a person’s plumpness, even indirectly—and particularly when he is your master. The poorhouses of history are filled with people who have made such jokes at their master’s expense.
In matters of taste you can never be too obsequious with your master.
Taste is one of the ego’s prickliest parts; never impugn or question the master’s taste—his poetry is sublime, his dress impeccable, and his manner the model for all.
Fulfilling a task that has not been asked of you just makes people suspicious. If you are a crown-keeper, be a crown-keeper. Save your excess energy for when you are not in the court.
Never ask for too much, then, and know when to stop. It is the master’s prerogative to give—to give when he wants and what he wants, and to do so without prompting. Do not give him the chance to reject your requests. Better to win favors by deserving them, so that they are bestowed without your asking.
How many of the great have been felled by envious colleagues! Better temporarily to dull your brilliance than to suffer the slings and arrows of envy.
Never risk being caught in your maneuvers; never let people see your devices.
LAW 25 RE-CREATE YOURSELF JUDGMENT Do not accept the roles that society foists on you. Re-create yourself by forging a new identity, one that commands attention and never bores the audience. Be the master of your own image rather than letting others define it for you. Incorporate dramatic devices into your public gestures and actions—your power will be enhanced and your character will seem larger than life.
Understand this: The world wants to assign you a role in life. And once you accept that role you are doomed. Your power is limited to the tiny amount allotted to the role you have selected or have been forced to assume.
The second step in the process of self-creation is a variation on the George Sand strategy: the creation of a memorable character, one that compels attention, that stands out above the other players on the stage.
Your own entrances and exits should be crafted and planned as carefully.
Our good name and reputation depend more on what we conceal than on what we reveal. Everyone makes mistakes, but those who are truly clever manage to hide them, and to make sure someone else is blamed. A convenient scapegoat should always be kept around for such moments.
Occasional mistakes are inevitable—the world is just too unpredictable. People of power, however, are undone not by the mistakes they make, but by the way they deal with them. Like surgeons, they must cut away the tumor with speed and finality.
A queen must never dirty her hands with ugly tasks, nor can a king appear in public with blood on his face. Yet power cannot survive without the constant squashing of enemies—there will always be dirty little tasks that have to be done to keep you on the throne. Like Cleopatra, you need a cat’s-paw.
Appeal to all the senses: Use incense for scent, soothing music for hearing, colorful charts and graphs for the eye. You might even tickle the mind, perhaps by using new technological gadgets to give your cult a pseudo-scientific veneer—as long as you do not make anyone really think. Use the exotic—distant cultures, strange customs—to create theatrical effects, and to make the most banal and ordinary affairs seem signs of something extraordinary.
From all over Europe, the blind, the crippled, and the desperate came to visit Borri, for word had spread that he had healing powers. He asked no fee for his services, which only made him seem more marvelous, and indeed some claimed that in this or that city he had performed a miracle cure. By only hinting at his accomplishments, he encouraged people’s imaginations to blow them up to fantastic proportions.
For this reason you may often prefer to deal with people one by one. Isolating them from their normal milieu can have the same effect as putting them in a group—it makes them more prone to suggestion and intimidation. Choose the right sucker and if he eventually sees through you he may prove easier to escape than a crowd.
ENTER ACTION WITH BOLDNESS JUDGMENT If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid.
Ask for the moon and you will be surprised how often you get it.
Always set to work without misgivings on the score of imprudence. Fear of failure in the mind of a performer is, for an onlooker, already evidence of failure…. Actions are dangerous when there is doubt as to their wisdom; it would be safer to do nothing. BALTASAR GRACIÁN, 1601–1658
Arm yourself with bigness and boldness—stretch your deceptions as far as they will go and then go further. If you sense that the sucker has suspicions, do as the intrepid Lustig did: Instead of backing down, or lowering his price, he simply raised his price higher, by asking for and getting a bribe. Asking for more puts the other person on the defensive, cuts out the nibbling effect of compromise and doubt, and overwhelms with its boldness.
The world is full of boyars—men who despise you, fear your ambition, and jealously guard their shrinking realms of power. You need to establish your authority and gain respect, but the moment the boyars sense your growing boldness, they will act to thwart you.
PLAN ALL THE WAY TO THE END JUDGMENT The ending is everything. Plan all the way to it, taking into account all the possible consequences, obstacles, and twists of fortune that might reverse your hard work and give the glory to others. By planning to the end you will not be overwhelmed by circumstances and you will know when to stop. Gently guide fortune and help determine the future by thinking far ahead.
Bismarck’s next move was his boldest: In 1866 he convinced King William of Prussia to withdraw from the German Federation, and in doing so to go to war with Austria itself.
Now all of Europe feared the next move of the Prussian monster, led by Bismarck, the “Iron Chancellor.” And in fact a year later Bismarck founded the German Empire, with the Prussian king as the newly crowned emperor and Bismarck himself a prince. But then something strange happened: Bismarck instigated no more wars. And while the other European powers grabbed up land for colonies in other continents, he severely limited Germany’s colonial acquisitions. He did not want more land for Germany, but more security. For the rest of his life he struggled to maintain peace in Europe and to prevent further wars. Everybody assumed he had changed, mellowing with the years. They had failed to understand: This was the final move of his original plan.
The person who goes too far in his triumphs creates a reaction that inevitably leads to a decline. The only solution is to plan for the long run. Foresee the future with as much clarity as the gods on Mount Olympus, who look through the clouds and see the ends of all things.
From the beginning of his career in politics, Bismarck had one goal: to form an independent German state led by Prussia.
The ending is everything. It is the end of the action that determines who gets the glory, the money, the prize. Your conclusion must be crystal clear, and you must keep it constantly in mind.
Bismarck overcame these dangers because he planned to the end, kept on course through every crisis, and never let others steal the glory. Once he had reached his stated goal, he withdrew into his shell like a turtle. This kind of self-control is godlike.
If you are clear- and far-thinking enough, you will understand that the future is uncertain, and that you must be open to adaptation. Only having a clear objective and a far-reaching plan allows you that freedom.
And yet, Castiglione explains, the courtier must execute these gestures with what he calls sprezzatura, the capacity to make the difficult seem easy. He urges the courtier to “practice in all things a certain nonchalance
Finally, because you achieve your accomplishments with grace and ease, people believe that you could always do more if you tried harder. This elicits not only admiration but a touch of fear. Your powers are untapped—no one can fathom their limits.
KEYS TO POWER Words like “freedom,” “options,” and “choice” evoke a power of possibility far beyond the reality of the benefits they entail.
Under a beneficent republican government, Venetians enjoyed liberties that few other Italians had ever known. Yet in the sixteenth century their fortunes suddenly changed. The opening of the New World transferred power to the Atlantic side of Europe—to the Spanish and Portuguese, and later the Dutch and English.
To gain power, you must be a source of pleasure for those around you—and pleasure comes from playing to people’s fantasies. Never promise a gradual improvement through hard work; rather, promise the moon, the great and sudden transformation, the pot of gold.
The Reality: Change is slow and gradual. It requires hard work, a bit of luck, a fair amount of self-sacrifice, and a lot of patience. The Fantasy: A sudden transformation will bring a total change in one’s fortunes, bypassing work, luck, self-sacrifice, and time in one fantastic stroke.
The way you carry yourself will often determine how you are treated: In the long run, appearing vulgar or common will make people disrespect you. For a king respects himself and inspires the same sentiment in others. By acting regally and confident of your powers, you make yourself seem destined to wear a crown.
Understand: It is within your power to set your own price. How you carry yourself reflects what you think of yourself. If you ask for little, shuffle your feet and lower your head, people will assume this reflects your character. But this behavior is not you—it is only how you have chosen to present yourself to other people. You can just as easily present the Columbus front: buoyancy, confidence, and the feeling that you were born to wear a crown.
Coming to expect less from the world, we accept limitations that are really self-imposed. We start to bow and scrape and apologize for even the simplest of requests. The solution to such a shrinking of horizons is to deliberately force ourselves in the opposite direction—to downplay the failures and ignore the limitations, to make ourselves demand and expect as much as the child. To accomplish this, we must use a particular strategy upon ourselves. Call it the Strategy of the Crown.
The Strategy of the Crown is based on a simple chain of cause and effect: If we believe we are destined for great things, our belief will radiate outward, just as a crown creates an aura around a king. This outward radiance will infect the people around us, who will think we must have reasons to feel so confident.
Be overcome by your self-belief. Even while you know you are practicing a kind of deception on yourself, act like a king. You are likely to be treated as one.
Authority: Everyone should be royal after his own fashion. Let all your actions, even though they are not those of a king, be, in their own sphere, worthy of one. Be sublime in your deeds, lofty in your thoughts; and in all your doings show that you deserve to be a king even though you are not one in reality. (Baltasar Gracián, 1601–1658)
Finally, Fouché had remarkable patience. Without patience as your sword and shield, your timing will fail and you will inevitably find yourself a loser. When the times were against Fouché, he did not struggle, get emotional, or strike out rashly. He kept his cool and maintained a low profile, patiently building support among the citizenry, the bulwark in his next rise to power. Whenever he found himself in the weaker position, he played for time, which he knew would always be his ally if he was patient. Recognize the moment, then, to hide in the grass or slither under a rock, as well as the moment to bare your fangs and attack.
First there is long time: the drawn-out, years-long kind of time that must be managed with patience and gentle guidance. Our handling of long time should be mostly defensive—this is the art of not reacting impulsively, of waiting for opportunity. Next there is forced time: the short-term time that we can manipulate as an offensive weapon, upsetting the timing of our opponents. Finally there is end time, when a plan must be executed with speed and force. We have waited, found the moment, and must not hesitate.
Better to stand patiently on the sidelines, even for many years, and then be in position to seize power when the time is right—exactly what Ieyasu did, with great artistry.
To build your power’s foundation can take years; make sure that foundation is secure. Do not be a flash in the pan—success that is built up slowly and surely is the only kind that lasts.
The deadline, then, is a powerful tool. Close off the vistas of indecision and force people to make up their damn minds or get to the point—never let them make you play on their excruciating terms. Never give them time.
Patience is worthless unless combined with a willingness to fall ruthlessly on your opponent at the right moment. You can wait as long as necessary for the conclusion to come, but when it comes it must come quickly. Use speed to paralyze your opponent, cover up any mistakes you might make, and impress people with your aura of authority and finality.
THE FOX AND THE GRAPES A starving fox … saw a cluster Of luscious-looking grapes of purplish luster Dangling above him on a trellis-frame. He would have dearly liked them for his lunch, But when he tried and failed to reach the bunch: “Ah well, it’s more than likely they’re not sweet—Good only for green fools to eat!” Wasn’t he wise to say they were unripe Rather than whine and gripe? FABLES, JEAN DE LA FONTAINE, 1621–1695
MAN: Kick him—he’ll forgive you. Flatter him—he may or may not see through you. But ignore him and he’ll hate you. Idries Shah, Caravan of Dreams, 1968
Crying “sour grapes” is sometimes seen as a reflection of the weak; it is actually the tactic of the powerful.
You too can play with images like these, weaving visual clues into an encompassing gestalt, as Diane did with her colors and her insignia. Establish a trademark like these to set yourself apart. Then take the game further: Find an image or symbol from the past that will neatly fit your situation, and put it on your shoulders like a cape. It will make you seem larger than life.
Because of the light it shines on the other stars which make up a kind of court around it, because of the just and equal distribution of its rays to all alike, because of the good it brings to all places, producing life, joy and action, because of its constancy from which it never varies, I chose the sun as the most magnificent image to represent a great leader. Louis XIV, the Sun King, 1638–1715
power. The symbol has the same force, whether it is visual (the statue of Diana) or a verbal description of something visual (the words “the Sun King”). The symbolic object stands for something else, something abstract (such as the image “Diana” standing for chastity). The abstract concept—purity, patriotism, courage, love—is full of emotional and powerful associations. The symbol is a shortcut of expression, containing dozens of meanings in one simple phrase or object. The symbol of the Sun King, as explained by Louis XIV, can be read on many layers, but the beauty of it is that its associations required no explanation, spoke immediately to his subjects, distinguished him from all other kings, and conjured up a kind of majesty
As Gracián said, “The truth is generally seen, rarely heard.”
Most effective of all is a new combination—a fusion of images and symbols that have not been seen together before, but that through their association clearly demonstrate your new idea, message, religion. The creation of new images and symbols out of old ones in this way has a poetic effect—viewers’ associations run rampant, giving them a sense of participation.
De Gaulle knew that a leader has to locate himself literally at the head of his troops. This visual association is crucial to the emotional response that he needs to elicit.
Always find a symbol to represent your cause—the more emotional associations, the better.
The best way to use images and symbols is to organize them into a grand spectacle that awes people and distracts them from unpleasant realities. This is easy to do: People love what is grand, spectacular, and larger than life. Appeal to their emotions and they will flock to your spectacle in hordes. The visual is the easiest route to their hearts.
You pretend to disagree with dangerous ideas, but in the course of your disagreement you give those ideas expression and exposure. You seem to conform to the prevailing orthodoxy, but those who know will understand the irony involved. You are protected.
Martyrdom serves no purpose—better to live on in an oppressive world, even to thrive in it. Meanwhile find a way to express your ideas subtly for those who understand you. Laying your pearls before swine will only bring you trouble.
Wise and clever people learn early on that they can display conventional behavior and mouth conventional ideas without having to believe in them.
The only time it is worth standing out is when you already stand out—when you have achieved an unshakable position of power, and can display your difference from others as a sign of the distance between you. As president of the United States, Lyndon Johnson would sometimes hold meetings while he sat on the toilet. Since no one else either could or would claim such a “privilege,” Johnson was showing people that he did not have to observe the protocols and niceties of others.
and his gestures eventually brought his overthrow. The truth is that even those who attain the heights of power would be better off at least affecting the common touch, for at some point they may need popular support.
This is the essence of the Law: When the waters are still, your opponents have the time and space to plot actions that they will initiate and control. So stir the waters, force the fish to the surface, get them to act before they are ready, steal the initiative.
DESPISE THE FREE LUNCH JUDGMENT What is offered for free is dangerous—it usually involves either a trick or a hidden obligation. What has worth is worth paying for. By paying your own way you stay clear of gratitude, guilt, and deceit. It is also often wise to pay the full price—there is no cutting corners with excellence. Be lavish with your money and keep it circulating, for generosity is a sign and a magnet for power.
In the realm of power, everything must be judged by its cost, and everything has a price.
Greedy fish are the con artist’s bread and butter: Lured by the bait of easy money, they swallow the ruse hook, line, and sinker. They are easy to deceive, for they spend so much time dealing with numbers (not with people) that they become blind to psychology, including their own. Either avoid them before they exploit you or play on their greed to your gain.
On top of that, the bargain item they do buy is often shabby; perhaps it needs costly repairs, or will have to be replaced twice as fast as a high-quality item.
The worth of money is not in its possession, but in its use.
Whole Spanish towns were depopulated as their menfolk left to hunt gold. Farms fell into ruin, and the army had no recruits for its European wars. By the end of the seventeenth century, the entire country had shrunk by more than half of its population;
Understand: With one exception—death—no lasting change in fortune comes quickly. Sudden wealth rarely lasts, for it is built on nothing solid. Never let lust for money lure you out of the protective and enduring fortress of real power. Make power your goal and money will find its way to you. Leave El Dorado for suckers and fools.
Aretino understood two fundamental properties of money: First, that it has to circulate to bring power. What money should buy is not lifeless objects but power over people. By keeping money in constant circulation, Aretino bought an ever-expanding circle of influence that in the end more than compensated him for his expenses.
Second, Aretino understood the key property of the gift. To give a gift is to imply that you and the recipient are equals at the very least, or that you are the recipient’s superior.
That is strategic generosity in a nutshell—the ability to be flexible with your wealth, putting it to work, not to buy objects, but to win people’s hearts.
The story shows, first, an essential aspect of money: That it is humans who have created it and humans who instill it with meaning and value. Second, with objects as with money, what the courtier most values are the sentiments and emotions embedded in them—these are what make them worth having. The lesson is simple: The more your gifts and your acts of generosity play with sentiment, the more powerful they are. The object or concept that plays with a charged emotion or hits a chord of sentiment has more power than the money you squander on an expensive yet lifeless present.
For a small sum, sell them advice on how to make millions (P. T. Barnum did this later in life), and that small sum will become a fortune when multiplied by thousands of suckers. Lure people in with the prospect of easy money and you have the room to work still more deceptions on them, since greed is powerful enough to blind your victims to anything. And as the Yellow Kid said, half the fun is teaching a moral lesson: Greed does not pay.
What happens first always appears better and more original than what comes after. If you succeed a great man or have a famous parent, you will have to accomplish double their achievements to outshine them. Do not get lost in their shadow, or stuck in a past not of your own making: Establish your own name and identity by changing course. Slay the overbearing father, disparage his legacy, and gain power by shining in your own way.
Louis XIV had many mistresses, but their power ended in the bedroom. He filled his court with the most brilliant minds of the age. The symbol of his power was Versailles: Refusing to accept the palace of his forefathers, the Louvre, he built his own palace in what was then the middle of nowhere, symbolizing that this was a new order he had founded, one without precedent. He made Versailles the centerpiece of his reign, a place that all the powerful of Europe envied and visited with a sense of awe. In essence, Louis took a great void—the decaying monarchy of France—and filled it with his own symbols and radiant power.
The pampered, indulged son almost always squanders the inheritance, for he does not start with the father’s need to fill a void.
As Machiavelli states, necessity is what impels men to take action, and once the necessity is gone, only rot and decay are left. Having no need to increase his store of power, Louis XV inevitably succumbed to inertia. Under him, Versailles, the symbol of the Sun King’s authority, became a pleasure palace of incomparable banality, a kind of Las Vegas of the Bourbon monarchy.
Legend had it that any man who could undo these cords—the Gordian knot—would rule the world. Many had tried to untie the enormous and intricate knot, but none had succeeded.
Alexander represents an extremely uncommon type in history: the son of a famous and successful man who manages to surpass the father in glory and power. The reason this type is uncommon is simple: The father most often manages to amass his fortune, his kingdom, because he begins with little or nothing. A desperate urge impels him to succeed—he has nothing to lose by cunning and impetuousness, and has no famous father of his own to compete against. This kind of man has reason to believe in himself—to believe that his way of doing things is the best, because, after all, it worked for him.
If you cannot materially start from ground zero—it would be foolish to renounce an inheritance—you can at least begin from ground zero psychologically, by throwing off the weight of the past and charting a new direction. Alexander instinctively recognized that privileges of birth are impediments to power. Be merciless with the past, then—not only with your father and his father but with your own earlier achievements. Only the weak rest on their laurels and dote on past triumphs; in the game of power there is never time to rest.
Never let yourself be seen as following your predecessor’s path. If you do you will never surpass him. You must physically demonstrate your difference, by establishing a style and symbolism that sets you apart.
The problem with the overbearing predecessor is that he fills the vistas before you with symbols of the past. You have no room to create your own name. To deal with this situation you need to hunt out the vacuums—those areas in culture that have been left vacant and in which you can become the first and principal figure to shine.
Most people are afraid to break so boldly with tradition, but they secretly admire those who can break up the old forms and reinvigorate the culture. This is why there is so much power to be gained from entering vacuums and voids.
The great Baroque artist and architect Pietro Bernini was a master at sniffing out younger potential rivals and keeping them in his shadow. One day a young stonemason named Francesco Borromini showed Bernini his architectural sketches. Recognizing his talent immediately, Bernini instantly hired Borromini as his assistant, which delighted the young man but was actually only a tactic to keep him close at hand, so that he could play psychological games on him and create in him a kind of inferiority complex. And indeed, despite Borromini’s brilliance, Bernini has the greater fame. His strategy with Borromini he made a lifelong practice: Fearing that the great sculptor Alessandro Algardi, for example, would eclipse him in fame, he arranged it so that Algardi could only find work as his assistant. And any assistant who rebelled against Bernini and tried to strike out on his own would find his career ruined.
When the tree falls, the monkeys scatter.
A key element in games of strategy is isolating the enemy’s power. In chess you try to corner the king. In the Chinese game of go you try to isolate the enemy’s forces in small pockets, rendering them immobile and ineffectual. It is often better to isolate your enemies than to destroy them—you seem less brutal. The result, though, is the same, for in the game of power, isolation spells death.
“Any harm you do to a man should be done in such a way that you need not fear his revenge,” writes Machiavelli. If you act to isolate your enemy, make sure he lacks the means to repay the favor. If you apply this Law, in other words, apply it from a position of superiority, so that you have nothing to fear from his resentment.
Marie-Antoinette’s greatest pleasure was the creation and designing of a private Garden of Eden at the Petit Trianon, a château on the grounds of Versailles with its own woods. The gardens at the Petit Trianon were to be as “natural” as possible, including moss applied by hand to the trees and rocks. To heighten the pastoral effect, the queen employed peasant milkmaids to milk the finest-looking cows in the realm; launderers and cheese-makers in special peasant outfits she helped design; shepherds to tend sheep with silk ribbons around their necks. When she inspected the barns, she would watch her milkmaids squeezing milk into porcelain vases made at the royal ceramic works.
She never learned to charm or please other people, to become attuned to their individual psychologies. She never had to work to get her way, to use calculation or cunning or the arts of persuasion. And like everyone who is indulged from an early age, she evolved into a monster of insensitivity.
In the realm of power, such attitudes are disastrous. At all times you must attend to those around you, gauging their particular psychology, tailoring your words to what you know will entice and seduce them. This requires energy and art. The higher your station, the greater the need to remain attuned to the hearts and minds of those below you, creating a base of support to maintain you at the pinnacle. Without that base, your power will teeter, and at the slightest change of fortune those below will gladly assist in your fall from grace.
Finally, learn to play the numbers game. The wider your support base the stronger your power. Understanding that one alienated, disaffected soul can spark a blaze of discontent, Louis XIV made sure to endear himself to the lowest members of his staff. You too must constantly win over more allies on all levels—
The mirror reflects reality, but it is also the perfect tool for deception: When you mirror your enemies, doing exactly as they do, they cannot figure out your strategy. The Mirror Effect mocks and humiliates them, making them overreact. By holding up a mirror to their psyches, you seduce them with the illusion that you share their values; by holding up a mirror to their actions, you teach them a lesson. Few can resist the power of the Mirror Effect.
In ancient Greek mythology, the Gorgon Medusa had serpents for hair, protruding tongue, massive teeth, and a face so ugly that anyone who gazed at her was turned into stone, out of fright. But the hero Perseus managed to slay Medusa by polishing his bronze shield into a mirror, then using the reflection in the mirror to guide him as he crept up and cut off her head without looking at her directly.
Gazing at an image in the waters of a pond, the Greek youth Narcissus fell in love with it. And when he found out that the image was his own reflection, and that he therefore could not consummate his love, he despaired and drowned himself.
Marie Mancini played the seducer’s game to perfection. First, she took a step back, to study her prey. Seduction often fails to get past the first step because it is too aggressive; the first move must always be a retreat. By studying the king from a distance Marie saw what distinguished him from others—his high ideals, romantic nature, and snobbish disdain for petty politics. Marie’s next step was to make a mirror for these hidden yearnings on Louis’s part, letting him glimpse what he himself could be—a godlike king!
Communication depends on metaphors and symbols, which are the basis of language itself. A metaphor is a kind of mirror to the concrete and real, which it often expresses more clearly and deeply than a literal description does. When you are dealing with the intractable willpower of other people, direct communication often only heightens their resistance.
Sen no Rikyu went on to become the most famous tea master of all, and his trademark was this uncanny ability to harmonize himself with his guests’ thoughts and to think one step ahead, enchanting them by adapting to their taste.
The mirroring of reality offers immense deceptive powers. The right uniform, the perfect accent, the proper props—the deception cannot be deciphered because it is enmeshed in a simulation of reality. People have an intense desire and need to believe, and their first instinct is to trust a well-constructed facade, to mistake it for reality. After all, we cannot go around doubting the reality of everything we see—that would be too exhausting. We habitually accept appearances, and this is a credulity you can use.
In this particular game it is the first moment that counts the most. If your suckers’ suspicions are not raised by their first glance at the mirror’s reflection, they will stay suppressed. Once they enter your hall of mirrors, they will be unable to distinguish the real from the fake, and it will become easier and easier to deceive them.
Remember: Study the world’s surfaces and learn to mirror them in your habits, your manner, your clothes. Like a carnivorous plant, to unsuspecting insects you will look like all the other plants in the field.
PREACH THE NEED FOR CHANGE, BUT NEVER REFORM TOO MUCH AT ONCE JUDGMENT Everyone understands the need for change in the abstract, but on the day-to-day level people are creatures of habit. Too much innovation is traumatic, and will lead to revolt. If you are new to a position of power, or an outsider trying to build a power base, make a show of respecting the old way of doing things. If change is necessary, make it feel like a gentle improvement on the past.
The lesson is simple: The past is powerful. What has happened before seems greater; habit and history give any act weight. Use this to your advantage. When you destroy the familiar you create a void or vacuum; people fear the chaos that will flood in to fill it. You must avoid stirring up such fears at all cost. Borrow the weight and legitimacy from the past, however remote, to create a comforting and familiar presence. This will give your actions romantic associations, add to your presence, and cloak the nature of the changes you are attempting.
It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. Niccolò Machiavelli, 1469–1527
Change in the abstract, or superficial change, they desire, but a change that upsets core habits and routines is deeply disturbing to them.
Understand: The fact that the past is dead and buried gives you the freedom to reinterpret it. To support your cause, tinker with the facts. The past is a text in which you can safely insert your own lines.
NEVER APPEAR TOO PERFECT JUDGMENT Appearing better than others is always dangerous, but most dangerous of all is to appear to have no faults or weaknesses. Envy creates silent enemies. It is smart to occasionally display defects, and admit to harmless vices, in order to deflect envy and appear more human and approachable. Only gods and the dead can seem perfect with impunity.
Only a minority can succeed at the game of life, and that minority inevitably arouses the envy of those around them. Once success happens your way, however, the people to fear the most are those in your own circle, the friends and acquaintances you have left behind. Feelings of inferiority gnaw at them; the thought of your success only heightens their feelings of stagnation.
Either dampen your brilliance occasionally, purposefully revealing a defect, weakness, or anxiety, or attributing your success to luck; or simply find yourself new friends. Never underestimate the power of envy.
He rode a mule instead of a horse. He never spoke out on matters of public import, even though he controlled Florence’s foreign affairs for over thirty years. He gave money to charities and maintained his ties to Florence’s merchant class. He financed all kinds of public buildings that fed the Florentines’ pride in their city. When he built a palace for himself and his family in nearby Fiesole, he turned down the ornate designs that Brunelleschi had drawn up for him and instead chose a modest structure designed by Michelozzo, a man of humble Florentine origins. The palace was a symbol of Cosimo’s strategy—all simplicity on the outside, all elegance and opulence within.
Cosimo finally died in 1464, after ruling for thirty years.
Never be so foolish as to believe that you are stirring up admiration by flaunting the qualities that raise you above others. By making others aware of their inferior position, you are only stirring up “unhappy admiration,” or envy, which will gnaw away at them until they undermine you in ways you cannot foresee. The fool dares the gods of envy by flaunting his victories. The master of power understands that the appearance of superiority over others is inconsequential next to the reality of it.
Of all the disorders of the soul, envy is the only one no one confesses to.
According to the Elizabethan statesman and writer Sir Francis Bacon, the wisest policy of the powerful is to create a kind of pity for themselves, as if their responsibilities were a burden and a sacrifice. How can one envy a man who has taken on a heavy load for the public interest? Disguise your power as a kind of self-sacrifice rather than a source of happiness and you make it seem less enviable. Emphasize your troubles and you turn a potential danger (envy) into a source of moral support (pity).
To deflect envy, Gracián recommends that the powerful display a weakness, a minor social indiscretion, a harmless vice. Give those who envy you something to feed on, distracting them from your more important sins.
DO NOT GO PAST THE MARK YOU AIMED FOR; IN VICTORY, LEARN WHEN TO STOP JUDGMENT The moment of victory is often the moment of greatest peril. In the heat of victory, arrogance and overconfidence can push you past the goal you had aimed for, and by going too far, you make more enemies than you defeat. Do not allow success to go to your head. There is no substitute for strategy and careful planning. Set a goal, and when you reach it, stop.
There is nothing more intoxicating than victory, and nothing more dangerous.
The greatest danger occurs at the moment of victory. Napoleon Bonaparte, 1769–1821
First, you owe your success to a pattern that you are apt to try to repeat. You will try to keep moving in the same direction without stopping to see whether this is still the direction that is best for you. Second, success tends to go to your head and make you emotional. Feeling invulnerable, you make aggressive moves that ultimately undo the victory you have gained.
“When you have won a victory, tighten the strings of your helmet.”
People who go past the mark are often motivated by a desire to please a master by proving their dedication. But an excess of effort exposes you to the risk of making the master suspicious of you.
Finally, the moment when you stop has great dramatic import. What comes last sticks in the mind as a kind of exclamation point. There is no better time to stop and walk away than after a victory. Keep going and you risk lessening the effect, even ending up defeated. As lawyers say of cross-examination, “Always stop with a victory.”
Image: Icarus Falling from the Sky. His father Daedalus fashions wings of wax that allow the two men to fly out of the labyrinth and escape the Minotaur. Elated by the triumphant escape and the feeling of flight, Icarus soars higher and higher, until the sun melts the wings and he hurtles to his death.
Unlike Sparta, Athens had taken to the sea, not so much to create colonies as for purposes of trade. The Athenians became great merchants; their currency, the famous “owl coins,” spread throughout the Mediterranean. Unlike the rigid Spartans, the Athenians responded to every problem with consummate creativity, adapting to the occasion and creating new social forms and new arts at an incredible pace. Their society was in constant flux. And as their power grew, they came to pose a threat to the defense-minded Spartans.
Be like a vapor. Do not give your opponents anything solid to attack; watch as they exhaust themselves pursuing you, trying to cope with your elusiveness. Only formlessness allows you to truly surprise your enemies—by the time they figure out where you are and what you are up to, it is too late.
This is the premier pose of power: ungraspable, as elusive and swift as the god Mercury, who could take any form he pleased and used this ability to wreak havoc on Mount Olympus.
Xerxes’ eventual defeat at the hands of the Greek allies was an immense disaster. The story is emblematic of all those who sacrifice mobility for size: The flexible and fleet of foot will almost always win, for they have more strategic options. The more gigantic the enemy, the easier it is to induce collapse.