Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, October 19, 2012

The 48 Laws of Power, #4: Always Say Less Than Necessary

One of my favorite books on strategy is The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers.  Where The Art of War, by Sun Tzu is written as an overview of the whole topic of strategy, seeking to provide an overall understanding of the subject; and The 36 Strategies tries to impart the knack of strategic thinking through 36 maxims related to well known Chinese folk stories, Mr. Greene focuses on how we influence and manipulate one another, ie "power".

Mr. Greene draws from both Eastern and Western history and literature as his source material. Sun Tzu and Machiavelli as cited as much as wonderful stories of famous con men. Among my favorites is about a scrap metal dealer thinking he bought the Eiffel Tower.

Each of the 48 Laws carries many examples, along with counter examples where it is appropriate that they be noted, and even reversals.

It is a very thorough study of the subject and the hardback version is beautifully produced.

Law #4 is: Always Say Less Than Necessary.

There are so many facets to this one.

"Better to remain silent and thought a fool than open one's mouth and remove all doubt." - Mark Twain

Did you ever see the movie, Being There? Chance, the simple minded gardener who is forced to leave his sheltered life and go out into the world rises to the heights of power be simply not saying much and having the few things he does utter regarded as profound and insightful.

If others don't know what you are up to, they have fewer opportunities to thwart your plans. Also, by being mostly silent, you may have the element of surprise working for you.

By not saying much, you don't have to worry as much about your own words coming back to haunt you.


walt said...

"If others don't know what you are up to, they have fewer opportunities to thwart your plans."

We started our business surrounded by yuppies in California. Sometimes we'd be asked about our "business plan." We'd always reply, "Work hard and keep a low profile," and we meant it in the spirit of what you wrote above.

One of our employees was from Mexico, and once he was trying to describe another fellow to me, and as per usual, we were speaking in mutually broken English/Spanish. He blurted out, "That guy ... that guy ... says too many things!" I don't know what he meant in Spanish, but I know what he meant in English.

Rick Matz said...

I think that two of the biggest factors in forming and executing a strategy are secrecy (the competition doesn't know you) and intelligence (you know the other guy).

In martial arts terms, getting into a fight with a stranger is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get.

Patrick Parker said...

I would comment on this post, but...

Rick Matz said...


RunBikeThrow said...

A story about Calvin Coolidge (a.k.a. "Silent Cal") comes to mind. Various versions exist, but here's the gist of it.

A young woman was sitting next to Coolidge at a dinner party. She said to him, "Mr. President, I bet a friend that I could get you to say at three words to me this evening." Coolidge replied, "You lose."

Rick Matz said...


Paul said...

We all pleaded guilty...:):)

Compass Strategist said...

So what is the exception to that rule?

Rick Matz said...

Sometimes, being silent arouses suspicion. Your very silence can draw unwanted attention.

Sometimes silence simply isn't an appropriate strategy. A silent salesman probably isn't going to book much business.