Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, 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 ~

Saturday, December 03, 2011

The 48 Laws of Power: a Review

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers is one of my favorite books on strategy. First of all, the hardcover is a beautifully produced book. Mr. Effers is an artist who was responsible for the presentation of the material.

Where The Art of War by Sun Tzu is an overview and basically a textbook on the subject, and the 36 Strategies tries to impart the knack of strategic thinking by way of a number of maxims, the 48 Laws of Power is more focused on the psychology of personal interaction; what Greene calls "Power".

Greene illustrates each of the "Laws" with example drawn from both Eastern and Western history and literature. Among my favorite examples are those of famous con-men and con-jobs, such as the swindler who posed as an official of the French government and sold the Eiffel Tower to a scrap dealer. Green also includes counter examples for most of the Laws depicting situations where the Law simply wouldn't work, or a reversal of the Law would be more in order.

Below is an extract from a book review a friend sent me. The whole review may be read here.

American Apparel's in-house guru shows a lighter side

'48 Laws' author Robert Greene acts as chief Dov Charney's informal older brother, preaching 'crush your enemy' but practicing tolerance. His books are big with rappers, executives and prison inmates.

August 30, 2011|By Andrea Chang, Los Angeles Times

When author Robert Greene wrote his bestselling book "The 48 Laws of Power," his win-at-all-costs message turned him into a cult hero with the hip-hop set, Hollywood elite and prison inmates alike.

Crush your enemy totally, he wrote in Law 15. Play a sucker to catch a sucker, he said in another. Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit.

Greene's warrior-like take on the quest for power, written more than a decade ago, would eventually attract another devotee: Dov Charney, the provocative and sometimes impish chief executive of Los Angeles clothing company American Apparel Inc.

The 52-year-old Greene — a former screenwriter who speaks five languages and worked 80 jobs before writing "The 48 Laws" — has become Charney's guru, a trusted confidant to the 42-year-old entrepreneur and, insiders say, a voice of reason on American Apparel's board of directors.

"There's definitely an older-brother, younger-brother dynamic," said Allan Mayer, a public relations man and fellow board member. "Dov is a very brilliant, creative guy and he can also be mercurial and very impulsive, which are excellent qualities, but sometimes he needs to be reined in. If Robert says,
'Well, hold on, buddy,' Dov generally will."

Charney refers to his close friend alternately as a genius, El Señor and Jesus. The American Apparel founder says he was hooked on "The 48 Laws" the moment he opened its burnt orange cover, with its straightforward philosophies of Machiavelli, the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu and others. He's handed out hundreds of copies to friends and employees, and readily quotes the laws during board meetings.

One of Charney's favorites: "Enter action with boldness" — Law 28.

"Everybody practices it every day," he said of the book's principles during a recent dinner of Korean barbecue and beer with Greene in downtown Los Angeles. "These are the rules that govern human interactions.... Robert's book is as much a documentation of your flaws — you just score yourself on each one."


Bernard Kwan said...

Hmmm... I found 48 laws of power difficult reading, as it dealt a lot with the dark side of power... but it is definitely provocative and perhaps I will get my kids to read it when they are older so they will know how to deal with such people

Rick Matz said...

It is amoral, but I didn't have any difficulty with it.

Even if you aren't intending to take over the world, understanding strategy is important. You want to know when someone else is trying to execute a strategy that effects you.

Anonymous said...

In a world of black and white, there is a great divide of greyness that lies between.

Rick Matz said...

Strategy is like a technology. It can be used for good or ill.