Filthy rich. From New York. Hair slicked back with about 10 quarts of Prestone. (No, make that Quaker State.) Swanky pad in the Hamptons. Girlfriend half his age and twice his height. Poetic appreciation for sunrises and insider trading. You know, you know, the greed-is-good guy from the movie Wall Street.
Well, when advising his protégé Bud Fox on the best survival training in business, Gekko didn’t cite The Wealth of Nations, or The Harvard Business Review, or even Forbes magazine.
“Read Sun-tzu, The Art of War,” he tells Bud, referring to the ancient Chinese tome on military strategy. “Every battle is won before it is ever fought.”
If they ever remake that movie—please Lord, not another sequel, but a remake—they need to bury that book deep and permanent and far way. Next to the Terracotta warriors would be nice.
And replace it with The 48 Laws of Power.
Because this self-described self-help guide can teach you more about surviving the gauntlet of corporate politics than anything Sun said more than 1,000 years ago.
Power, as we will abbreviate it from now on, was written by Robert Greene and published in 1998. Greene is also the author of The 33 Strategies of War and The 50th Law, proving: A) he’s no one-hit wonder; and B) he needs help coming up with better titles for these books.
Truth be told, there’s a bit of fluff in Power’s 459 pages. Not all laws, the literal ones or the literary ones, are created equal. For example, did you know it’s illegal in Alaska to awaken a bear in order to take its picture?
Then there’s assault and murder and arson and such.
Same goes for this book. There are laws, and then there are laws. So, in the spirit of Reader’s Digest and in deference to ADHD sufferers everywhere, let’s whittle these 48 down to the top seven.
Never Outshine The Boss
For some of us, this has never been an issue worth worrying about. But if you are in fact more gifted and talented than the person signing your paycheck—or writing your annual review—you’d better watch out. Greene argues many successful folks are riddled with insecurities, and while you think your growing prominence and popularity in the organization makes them look good, it may instead be sealing your doom.
Resist. As satisfying as it is to run your mouth and show everyone how smart you are, resist. As fun as it is to traffic in juicy rumors, resist. When others persist, you resist. And if you’re doing it now, cease and desist.
Silence always makes you appear thoughtful and interesting, and if used properly, intimidating. It is indeed the secret weapon of the successful. Use it.
You try. You’re a decent person with a good heart, so you try. You try to help a friend. Or a family member. Or the friend of a family member. Maybe you recommend him for a job. Maybe you loan her a couple of bucks. Anything. But in the end, it’s your money that evaporates and your reputation that deteriorates.
It sounds cruel, but just steer clear of these fire starters. Some people, for a myriad of reasons, are cursed. Jinxed. Plagued. Hexed. We’re talking some badass juju. And the more you try to save them from self-immolation, the more likely that you’ll go up in flames as well.
Don’t Be A Jerk
Be careful how you treat people, especially if you are in a position of power. Swat 100 flies and 99 will buzz away. But there’s always one that will come back, pissed off, and lay its eggs in your ear. And if self-preservation isn’t enough, how’s this? Just be nice.
If you’re lucky enough to be good at something, make it seem easy. Downplay preparation and formal training. Tell people you just have a knack for numbers, product development, sales, whatever. The prodigy, the natural, they’re the ones we find intriguing. Just as a magician never lets anyone see how he does a trick, you should never let anyone see how hard you actually work.
Seem Dumber Than You Are
Hmmm. Not sure what the author is getting at here.
Madonna knows this. Justin Timberlake, too. Ditto Will Smith. Michael Richards—aka Kramer—of Seinfeld fame? Meh. Not so much.
In order to remain relevant, you must be nimble enough to change with the times. Or, as is the case with truly epochal stars, be inventive enough to make the times change with you. And if there’s anything harder to alter than yourself, it’s other people’s perception of you.
Chalk it up to first-impression syndrome. For the most part, folks are going to think about you the way they way they thought about you when they first met you. Even if it’s, like, 20 years ago. That’s why it’s so hard to go from the mail room to the board room, from the outhouse to the penthouse. It’s why you call your high-school friends by their old nicknames like Eggbert or Tankus McBig. It’s why people freak out when former Mouseketeer Britney Spears stands on stage, dripping sweat and wearing only a smile, some body glitter and a six-foot-long albino python.
In business, show or regular, you must reinvent yourself if you want to stay relevant. Challenge yourself every year to learn a new skill. Sharpen up the old ones. Dress better. Groom better. Network better. Set new goals. Make new friends. Bury old axes.
Just not in your enemy’s head.
And, if all else fails, move. Take your talents, as that basketball player once said, to South Beach. Or North Shore. Or Singapore. Or Widnes. Or Los Angeles. Or Sydney. Or Gibraltar. Or, well, wherever.
Just don’t stay in the same place, or stay as the same person, forever.