Photo: Robert Greene
We recently wrote about Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power, with Machiavellian tips on how to conceal your intentions, manipulate people and destroy your competition. To learn about what inspired his book, we caught up with Greene over the phone, who shared with us why most people are ignorant of the dark side of human nature.
What inspired the book?
Working in Hollywood, I was disturbed by the fact that people were operating by these laws, using psychological gamesmanship. It’s like a dirty little secret. Power seemed to be this incredible taboo. Sex is no longer. People have used these hardcore tactics. I’ve read a lot of history, and the same types of maneuvers used back then are used now. Technology doesn’t really alter human nature.
People are using and violating the laws in a dramatic fashion. I wanted to show people that what you might be encountering today in New York is what you might have encountered in China, Ethiopia, centuries ago.
This is a huge book based on tons of history. What was your process?
I often tell people that in business, organisation is 95 per cent of success. I was extremely motivated to make the book a success. I didn’t have a feeling that anyone was going to steal the idea. I am a great believer in sharing things, in the openness on the Internet. I want it to be distributed. I have this philosophy that if your idea really works, you’re the only person who can do it. It was always going to be a reflection of my uniqueness or weirdness.
What great thinkers did you draw from?
Machiavelli was the principal one. He wrote about power in an extremely realistic manner. He was my model and had the biggest influence on the book. I also looked to Carl von Clausewitz and Baltasar Gracián y Morales, and other philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche.
What’s the biggest thing you learned while writing this book?
It was a tremendous therapeutic release for me, some of it painful. I was the victim of some of these laws, by people who I thought were very manipulative. The problem we have in our culture is that things are softened. Just look at self-help books. Then people are blindsided. We are not aware of these things going on. If my book was wrong or inaccurate, it wouldn’t have reverberated with the public. 90-eight per cent of emails are from people who say I opened their eyes to reality.
How do you use the laws in your everyday life?
About a third of the laws deal with sketchy manipulative behaviour; I would never do that “sharky” stuff. They don’t apply to the circumstances that I’m in. But it’s interesting knowing that a company like Microsoft or Google eventually will have to adapt that mentality of “crushing the enemy totally.”
How did you get to advising American Apparel CEO Dov Charney on the laws of power?
I’m now on the Board of Directors at American Apparel. Prior to being on the board, Dov was a big fan of the book. He’d call me and contact me with various issues and problems. Because of that he [recommended me to] the board.
Lately the requests [for consulting] are piling up — from people in academia, in sports, executives. All of it really deals with political people problems — this person I don’t know how to deal with, I hired the wrong person, I have a boss person I can’t understand. It’s all dealing with psychology. In business people are very well-educated when it comes to numbers, but nobody is out there explaining political issues and complex management.
Are you religious? What is your view of the overall human condition?
I’m Jewish but I don’t have a hardcore spiritual practice. I’m not hardcore Atheist; I’m sort of how Einstein was: He wasn’t a believer in the Jewish God. I’m intrigued by the sense that there’s something there.
I think it would be good for people to be honest about human nature and about life and how people operate in the world. We have too many myths that make it very complicated for us. Something like envy, which is a chapter in the 48 Laws, is a fact. All of us feel it. Some feel it in a way that makes us dangerous.
I want to make people more realistic about the human animal and how we behave sometimes. We are still primates. We are not descended from angels.
So human nature is neither basically good nor basically bad?
I don’t want to reduce things to black and white. All of us have tendencies to be passive aggressive. All of us have dark sides. That was a sub-theme in the 48 Laws. I had this idea that we’re entering a world where power used to be more barbaric or direct, and it’s slowly become more indirect, gentle, disguised. A form of power and manipulation such as seduction is extremely [pervasive].
When I was writing the Art of Seduction, I didn’t see [the concept] as just sexual, but something to do with marketing and politics. The ultimate form of indirect power is seduction.
What sort of research did you do for the Art of Seduction?
I ended up reading biographies of the greatest seducers — Cleopatra, Casanova, Duke Ellington. I also read about JFK. A writer described him as an incredible seducer of the American public. I had to read all of these biographies and find the patterns.
People who can be somewhat charming in the work environment are always going to be effective. You can go too far and depend only on charm; and people who don’t have real substance behind it eventually get in trouble. I would hesitate to say being seductive is the only thing you need in life. Women are generally better at social skills, which is a distinct advantage they have in the business world. People think it’s all about numbers, but it’s just not.
NOW WATCH: Ideas videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.