Introduction To ‘The 48 Laws Of Power’: Guidelines For Dominating Your Competition

This world is not designed for the weak. This is true of the natural world and doubly so for the world of business.

Competition is a real thing. It’s something that will always exist no matter how long we sit around debating socio-economic philosophies or dreaming up utopian visions of equality. As long as there are a finite amount of resources, there will be competition. It’s inevitable. It exists in every species of fauna and flora on this planet.

We humans are no exception. In fact, we’ve taken the game to a whole new level.

Understand, that’s what life and business are — a game, a game of strategy and wits, a war for civilized people. Make no mistake, your participation in the game is not voluntary. For as the 16th century Italian political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli said in his much celebrated work The Prince:

“Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a Prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity requires.”

Power is awarded to the strong, and the strong often go outside the understood rules to win. Again, the purpose of this discussion is not to establish if these actions are right or wrong, only to comment on what are observable realities.

Perhaps in no other arena of life is the game of power more pronounced than in the world of business. As Abraham Zaleznik said in Power and Politics in Organizational Life, Harvard Business Review, 1970:

“Whatever else organizations may be (problem-solving instruments, sociotechnical systems, reward systems, and so on), they are political structures. This means that organizations operate by distributing authority and setting a stage for the exercise of power. It is no wonder, therefore, that individuals who are highly motivated to secure and use power find a familiar and hospitable environment in business.”

In his best-selling book The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene compares it to the aristocratic courts that formed around the king, queen, emperor, or leader throughout history, and the comparisons to today’s business environment are uncanny! In striving to increase their power, courtiers faced the challenge of not being too overt in their maneuvering lest the other courtiers turn against them and thwart their efforts.

From these courtiers, we can learn how to increase our own power amid a climate as equally hostile toward our success. Greene says it colorfully in the book’s preface:

“The successful courtier learned over time to make all of his moves indirect; if he stabbed an opponent in the back, it was with a velvet glove on his hand and the sweetest of smiles on his face.”

Therein lies the premise behind The 48 Laws of Power: If you get people to bend to your will without them realizing what you have done, they will neither resent nor resist you.

On the surface, some of these “laws” may seem to go against your sense of morality, but understand that power is neither moral nor immoral. How you use your power, for the good or to the detriment of others — that’s where morality creeps in. Remember, the most powerful being in the Universe is also the most good.

Since its first publication in 1998, a virtual cult has developed around the book. Business leaders, Hip Hop musicians, celebrities, and prisoners have all embraced the book as a roadmap to professional success and personal freedom. Dov Charney, founder and former CEO of American Apparel, was known for quoting the laws during board meetings and went so far as to appoint Greene to the board in 2007.

Each week we’ll be examining one of the 48 laws of power. Whether you agree with them or not, it’s important to be aware of them and understand them, because you have adversaries that do. And if they are using the laws correctly, you may mistakenly believe these people are your friends.

Next week: Law 1: Never outshine the master.