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Here’s your program.
Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. Joining me is author, Robert Greene, whose books include “The 48 Laws of Power” and “The Art of Seduction.” Like a modern Machiavelli, he explains the dynamics of power in frank terms with chapters like “Crush Your Enemy Totally” and “Play the Sucker to Catch a Sucker.”
His work has inspired and guided ambitious upstarts like Dov Charney, founder of American Apparel and rapper 50 Cent, who co-authored a book with Robert, and me, too. Robert Greene, welcome to Mixergy.
Robert: Thank you for having me, Andrew. Thank you very much.
Andrew: So, you write about power. You study it. Do you use what you teach?
Robert: Most definitely. I mean, I don’t crush my enemy totally. I don’t really think I have very many enemies, at least none that I know of. So, some of the laws, some of the really heavy laws I don’t use. I’m more of the seducer type. I use the softer laws in the book, but I occasionally have to play hard ball. You know, writing books and dealing with publishers and editors and agents and now dealing with Hollywood and all of that, you have to learn how to be tough, how to negotiate. So, I’m definitely using the laws in my daily life, yeah.
Andrew: Can you give me an example? I see lots of examples of others who are using your books, but I haven’t read too many examples of how you’ve done it.
Robert: Well, it’s a little bit different now, now that I’ve got success with the books, and I’m in a different kind of category. So, I have less really tough power issues to deal with. People are a lot nicer to me, which can also be very tricky. But originally, for instance, when things were in the balance and I hadn’t written the book and it was a proposal and my partner, Joost Elffers, who was the book packager, I had to do a lot of power maneuvering with him.
When I was given the opportunity to write “The 48 Laws of Power,” there’s a law called Concentrate Your Forces, which is something I use a lot. It means essentially you only have so much energy in life, and the problem nowadays is you tend to be very distracted with all of the things going on with the Internet and your phones, etc. And power lies with people who really know how to concentrate on one thing and just do it all the way to the end with a lot of intensity and passion.
So, when I had the chance to do “The 48 Laws,” I dropped everything. I borrowed money. I worked 14 to 15 hours a day, Christmas, birthday, etc. because this was like my one chance, and I concentrated everything on there. You know, there were other examples. I had to play the perfect courtier, particularly with all the different people who were in my life at the time and with Joost, who was my partner. I mean, I’ve used all of them, but that’s probably the one that sticks out the most.
Andrew: Focusing intently on one thing, concentrating your power.
Robert: Yeah, and it’s actually a problem I have now because people come to me with a million different requests. They want to do a game version. They want to do a film. They want me to speak. You have to learn to like cut things off and focus on what is really, really important. And that happens if you’re an entrepreneur, a businessman. You tend to have too many ideas and try to do too much at once. So, yeah, focus and concentrate on the one key, what I call the center of gravity of any issue or problem.
Andrew: I see. What about this? You write about people who’ve gone on to become incredible leaders, I mean, the top leaders in history. And at the same time you’re reading, you’re studying, you’re writing. I feel like these are two different . . . what am I trying to get at? I’m trying to understand. Do you ever feel like you want to be like the people who you’ve written about, that you want to conquer America and be the leader of this country or be the leader of some other country or . . .
Andrew: Be more than an author?
Robert: No, to answer your question directly.
Andrew: Why not?
Robert: Because it’s too . . . I love writing. I’m an observer. You know, I kind of pattern myself after Machiavelli. I’m not as brilliant as he was, not as influential. But Machiavelli was, basically, a low level diplomat in Florence in the very beginning of the 16th century. He didn’t have power himself. He was a tremendous observer of power as he watched what was going on with Caesare Borgia and the return of the Medicis.
That’s sort of how I figure I am. I’m more like a writer that observes other people in action. I have the distance and the objectivity to write about these things. It would take somebody like a Henry Kissinger who personally, experientially knows power better than I do, a lot better than I do from what he’s dealt with in life. He could never write a book like “The 48 Laws of Power.” He’s too close to it. He has too many secrets to keep. He can’t reveal 90% of what he’s done.
You talk to a lot of people in power, your Bill Gates, et c., they can’t talk about these things. They’re secrets. They have their public face that they try to show, which is also part of the game of power. I have no secrets. I can let it out. I can be as nasty and realistic as I want. If I was President of the United States and probably I can never be President because I’ve written “The 48 Laws” and no one would ever let me. Now, I’m under a lot of scrutiny, and everything I do seems to be Machiavellian. So, that will never happen. I would never be able to have this openness about what I’m doing. That’s essentially it, and I like being the writer who is able to observe what everybody else is doing.
Andrew: How can you study people who intentionally are hiding the reasons that they’re successful and powerful and understand what essentially makes them successful and power? How do you draw that?
Robert: Because they leave clues. I have a quote in several of the books, I believe, about Freud saying, “People try and conceal who they are, what they’re up to, but it leaks out. It leaks out in their gestures and things that they do on the side.” Bill Clinton can’t help having an affair with Monica Lewinsky. It comes out in things that you can read between the lines.
So, someone like Barack Obama, whom I admire very much, I voted for, etc., he’s a very interesting character. He obviously knows the power game. He’s not sitting there showing his cards, but now after two or three years, we can read between the lines. Machiavelli has a thing called the effect of truth, and what it means is that the truth of people is revealed through their actions. You can lie with your words. You can say anything. I could say that I’m the most brilliant seducer in the world, but it means nothing. What matters is the actions and what you can actually see and feel and talk about in history. So, I forgot what your question was.
Andrew: If they don’t tell you why they’re powerful, how do you know it?
Robert: They reveal it. They reveal it in their actions. So, people might claim to be moral and claim to be all to this cause or that, but through their actions they reveal something else. So, I read the tea leaves of what they do, not what they say.
Andrew: I see. Have you always done that?
Robert: Pretty much so, pretty much so. I’ve always been interested in strategy. I was really into sports when I was a kid, but I wasn’t into the drama of who won or who lost. I was into the mind games going on. And then, when I got into the work world, like we all do. You’re 22 or so. I was kind of shocked at all of the politicking going on. Actually, at first it disgusted me. Then, I came to accept it and even love it.
I always wanted to see what was really going on. I worked in Hollywood where people are very tricky and very deceptive. Everybody loves everyone. Oh, that’s the greatest film you’re ever made. Your screenplay’s fantastic. It’s a lot of bullshit. And so, I had to sit there and figure out, oh, this guy’s saying the screenplay is great. What’s he really thinking? What’s the game behind the game?. So, yeah, I’ve always been doing that.
Andrew: You know, you mentioned Bill Gates earlier and other successful people I’ve seen are giving away their money, pledging to give away their money by the time they die or soon afterwards. What they don’t want to do is give away their secrets to success, what essentially they did that others could duplicate to have successful lives themselves. Is there a way, do you think, to get them to be that open and to share that, the way that they’re giving away money?
Robert: No. I mean, Bill Gates has always been a pretty secretive, close to the vest, kind of guy. Some people like to talk. I know I talk in the seduction book about a very famous journalist named Oriana Fallaci who interviewed powerful people, Kissinger included, Anwar Sadat, all of the people in the ’60s and ’70s in particular.
She had secrets. She had tricks for getting powerful people to confess and reveal their secrets, and I talk about, in the book, her strategies. A lot of it was to get them angry, to challenge them. And then, as Kissinger had to defend his policy, suddenly as he got angry and more emotional, things would slip out that he normally would keep hidden.
So, there are ways to get these people to talk, but generally if someone wants to be secretive, there’s nothing you can do. And so, you can interview those who know them. There are ways to find anything out, I mean, if you’re a crafty journalist or writer.
Andrew: But there is no interest for them to reveal this, even towards the end of their lives, or do you think there is?
Robert: Well, probably not because, let’s say, take a Bill Gates, for example. You know, how many billions he worth. He’s doing things that we all admire as far as with his money and his charitable organization, but quite frankly he’s a hard ball player. He and his company have done some pretty nasty, talking about crushing your enemy totally, the whole thing was Netscape in the ’90s.
Who knows the other strategies that have been used from “The 48 Laws” and beyond? He doesn’t want anybody to really ever know about that. And, in fact, there will be historical figures that we don’t know what they were up to until 50 or 60 years later when suddenly the archives have opened up and we can read the letters of Franklin Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy was a bit of a cipher when he was the president. Nobody really knew. I love John F. Kennedy. I think he was a fabulous president, but in the years afterward, suddenly all of these things were revealed that he had kept hidden and kind of tarnished his reputation. You can keep things secret while you’re alive. Usually, eventually they’ll come out.
Andrew: I see. Who has used your book well? Do you have an example of somebody who read the book, was transformed, and is now acting on it in a way that just makes you proud as an author?
Robert: Well, it’s hard to say. And then, some of the people that I know have used it, I’m not really able to talk about. But, let’s say 50 because I’ve written a book with him. It’s all out there, and we’ve discussed this publicly. I feel confident talking about that. And he, as you’ll read about him in “The 50th Law”, he was somebody who had naturally in his makeup and in his background understood power, growing up on the streets, being a hustler, dealing crack which he’s admitted. He’s not proud of, but it’s just the way of the truth there.
But then when he left rapping and actually became a celebrity and entered the music business, suddenly the world was so much harsher, so much more violent in an indirect way, dealing with the music industry, dealing with Interscope Records and all of the really nasty political games that they played. He wasn’t prepared for that. Oddly enough, the streets didn’t prepare him for that.
And so, he found, as other rappers have discussed with me, but he’s the most notable one, he found the book really, really helpful in dealing with some of these sharks. He’s also very much a seducer. If you’re ever around him, you see that part of his business and political strategy is he seduces everyone. So, he’s a big fan of ‘The Art of Seduction.”
So, I’ve seen him. He’s talked to me in meetings, for instance, when he goes into a meeting with somebody, some high powered person who wants to, perhaps, invest in the company that 50 is sponsoring. He’ll make a point of playing it very cold and not looking necessarily at the person, the target who they’re trying to interest and make them kind of come to him. All the time, make people come to him and make them feel insecure. Oh, maybe, 50 doesn’t like me. Maybe, he’s not interested in actually partnering up with me. So, he’s very aware of playing these games, and I think all I can take credit for is my book made him more aware, maybe a little better at the games that he already played.
Andrew: So, that makes me wonder this. Is this something that comes naturally to some people, and the book just reinforces it in them and makes them better at it, or is it something that can be learned and transform someone from an ordinary schmoe into 50 Cent who can make people come to them with seduction?
Robert: There’s only one 50 Cent. There’s only one Robert Greene. There’s only one Andrew Warner. So, the trick in life is to figure out who you are and make that come out and not be like somebody else. That’s the worst thing you can try. It’s a terrible thing. You can have role models. You can say, “This is what 50 did. I can maybe follow him.” But you’ve got to figure out what your own particular genius is.
Most definitely. I mean, you can learn about the laws of power. Obviously, I’m going to say that because that sells my books. If I believed you were born a certain way, it would be useless to read “The 48 Laws of Power.” But actually, I sincerely believe that people are inherently lazy. They want to believe I was born that way.
Bill Gates was born a nerd. He understands computers. I could never be like that. 50 was born this tough street guy. You want to believe in these myths, and, in fact, you have so much room to change yourself. It’s more a question of desire.
So, you’ll find people who come from backgrounds like 50 or who come from countries like India or China where they feel the energy and this hunger to improve themselves, to get power that the motivation is what changes you. If you’re motivated, you observe things. You see what other people are up to. You say, “Ah, this person made a mistake. I’m not going to make that mistake.” Your eyes are open to the world, and you’re looking and following things, and then you learn. And you can learn for your whole life, 10, 20, 30 years. I’m still learning about the power game. It’s just who you are and whether you’re open to learning and whether you actually are motivated to change your life.
Andrew: You mentioned earlier that you need to find the essence of what makes you great. How does somebody do that?
Robert: Well, it’s kind of what I’m writing about in my next book. I’m calling it “Your Life’s Task.” It’s something that interests me very much. So, everybody is born completely unique, and what that means is your DNA will never be repeated in the past, in the future, anywhere in the universe.
You are the one Andrew Warner. There will never be anyone with exactly your kinds of genetic makeup nor the experiences that you have. So, you are truly born a completely unique individual. You have certain kinds of skills and talents that set you apart, and you generally know this when you’re younger, although some people can find it out a little bit later in life.
And so, the task is finding out what it is that you’re naturally drawn to. In the War book, I call it finding your level. It’s like when you’re swimming and you’re not creating resistance against yourself and everything is sort of easy and flowing in life There’s something that you can do that feels natural to you. For me, it was writing. For 50, it was music, but he’d only discovered it until he was, maybe, 18 years old.
You’ve got people like Charles Darwin who didn’t discover what they wanted until they were 21, 22. But then, when they discovered it, it made sense going back into their childhood. There is something in there, and you can be 30, 40 years old and you can discover it at that point. It’s never too late. It’s something you can’t really put into words. It’s a feeling that you have when you’re doing it.
I think we’re living in a period where entrepreneurship is going to explode. Working for the large corporations, people don’t want to any more. They hate authority. They don’t like working for other people increasingly, although some people are different. And by the nature of business nowadays, you have to be an entrepreneur.
This gives you the chance to run your own business, to run your own life and to do that kind of unique thing that you are meant to do. So, it’s something I very much believe in.
Andrew: The power center of gravity, you say that’s something that you look for when you talk to someone, when you meet them. What is that?
Robert: I’m not sure I know exactly what you mean. I’m looking in any situation, in any kind of problem area where the center of gravity of that problem is. You know, when I was writing the book, I saw that the main difficulty that I was going to have was focusing intensely on the one thing. So, that was sort of the center of the problem.
With people, people are more complicated than that. I’m talking mostly about . . . so, I would analyze the Iraq War, Afghanistan, and I’d say this is the center of gravity. This is where the United States needs to focus its energy. I don’t know if people have a center of gravity so much.
Andrew: Here’s what I got about . . . it’s a quote from you that I think I might have read. Sorry?
Robert: You mean, you have a quote of me which I’m contradicting myself just now.
Andrew: No, you’re not contradicting yourself at all. You just happened to probably mention it somewhere, and you can’t remember the exact words that I’m using here. You say, “What I do when I write a book, whether it’s about power, seduction, or war, I take the most powerful people . . .
Andrew: . . . in their field and I break them down. I figure out what’s the essence of them, their core of success. I call it their power center of gravity.”
Andrew: What I’m wondering is, how do you do that? How can I size somebody up like that and figure out what makes them so good so that I can really learn from them and not just happen to inhabit their world?
Robert: I see. I see what you mean. I stand corrected. You know, what I meant originally was the idea came to me just to backtrack a little bit when I was researching Napoleon Bonaparte and he’s a weird person. I don’t know if you’d ever seen the movie, “Rashomon,” by Kurosawa, and there’s an event that occurs in this Japanese village. They interview 12 people, and everybody has a different idea of what actually happened.
With Napoleon, he’s like that. You read one book, he’s an evil despot who’s just into power. You read another book, he’s this warm gentle poet. He was a mystery. So, I really wanted to understand what was at the center of him. What made him tick? I went and read a lot of books that went into his psychology, and I discovered what made Napoleon tick, what was the core of his being that made him powerful was his organizational skills. He had an incredible mind like a computer. He could absorb incredible amounts of detail and organize it.
Now, so everybody who I think becomes powerful has something that kind of is the core, what makes them so successful and everything else branches out from that. When I met 50, I thought, hmm, I did that with Napoleon in a book. Here’s a living human being. I’m going to figure it out with him. After several months and talking to him and reading about his life, I discovered that it was the fact that he was fearless.
It’s basically a matter of knowing a person very well and then thinking and going deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper. Oh, he’s someone who is very calm in the face of a crisis or whatever, but where does that calmness come from? It comes from the fact that he almost died, and now that he almost died when he was shot, nothing fazes him.
Well, that’s really a form of not being afraid. It’s fearless. The deeper I dug, the more that was at the core of everything else that you saw in his daily life. And once you discover it, then everything else that you see him do makes sense. Maybe there was something deeper than the fearlessness. Maybe, if I went even deeper, I would find something in his physiology. I don’t know. But that was as deep as I could get with him.
With someone like Barack Obama, I would say that it’s this character that always had to find a middle ground between other people. So, his essence, what his power game is, how he relates to people was to always find the middle ground and the compromise. I could go deeper and find out what’s underneath all of that. That’s sort of the method that I think you’re asking about and how I do it.
Andrew: And with Napoleon, it’s his organizational skills is what you’re saying.
Robert: Well, you know, you could go deeper than that. But the question I ask myself is here’s a man who was so brilliant at warfare. This is the center of gravity for warfare. Maybe, for politics it would be something else, but I think they’re all interlinked. Nobody could explain why he was so different from others, and yet I know that the man was very different. There’s never really been a Napoleon in history before.
When I read and read and read, I read 4,000 pages on this man, 5,000 pages, it became clear to me that he had a mind that was incredibly powerful. He was so meticulous with details. He would study things in depth. These are the things that they don’t reveal in books, and it’s something I’m talking about in my next book.
We think that a person of power, a celebrity or a Napoleon or a politician, they just magically appear on the stage and through their charisma and their natural gifts, they charm us or they get powerful. But when you study the real people, you discover that it’s a lot of mostly hard work, drudgery, studying, discipline.
And that’s what I discovered with Napoleon. It wasn’t some magic that he had. He was better prepared than any other general. He understood more about the battle than the opposing general. He knew from his spies the morale of the enemy. He used every little detail that he could find in his battle plan. He was better prepared, and that made him much more creative.
Andrew: What’s your power center?
Robert: Well, that’s a good question. It’s almost kind of what we’re talking about right now. I don’t accept things for their surface value. I’m looking underneath, and I want to figure out what is really going on. So, when I’m writing a book like “The 48 Laws of Power” back in the day when I was younger, I had no other book. The tendency would have been to write something kind of popular, trying to make a lot of money, sort of going into power in sort of a general way and being sensational, but I’m not interested in that. I wanted to like really understand this phenomenon of power in the deepest sense, like you have a plant and I’m going to dig deeper and deeper and deeper until I get the earth and I smell four feet underneath what made that plant grow.
That’s what motivates me, so it makes me work really hard. It makes me, you know, not sleep very well. But every book is like that. So, that’s sort of it. I want to get underneath and figure things out.
And I’ll do that when I read the news. You read about this happening with the Republicans, or you read about the Wiki Leaks, or you read about this or that. I’m not interested in the surface. I’m not interested in what all the pundits are talking about. I want to know what’s really happening underneath.
Andrew: Joost Elffers, you mentioned him earlier. He’s not the co-author of the book. His name is on the cover because, I think, he’s the producer of three of your books.
Robert: That’s right.
Andrew: Why did he front you money so that you can research and write this book when it didn’t seem like it was going to be a popular book? It didn’t seem like it was going to be the seven secrets of highly effective people or seven magical solutions to everyday problems. You’ve got references to people in there who I don’t know how to pronounce their names. Wikipedia doesn’t know how to pronounce their names. So, why do you think he did it?
Robert: He’s a very unique man. I love him dearly. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be here talking to you. Who knows where I’d be? I could be homeless in downtown Los Angeles. I met him. It was luck, a good opportunity. We were in Italy at the same time working for some project. We were both kind of unhappy, and I pitched this idea that turned into “The 48 Laws of Power.” He thought it sounded interesting.
What he did was he gave me money to live. After I turned into treatment, he gave me money to live while I wrote the book. That’s not usual. That’s not normal, but he had an intuition. And if it didn’t work out and he lost $30,000, he’s a risk taker. He’s not American. He’s Dutch. I’m not saying that Dutch are necessarily risk takers, but he’s not the normal businessperson. He likes taking risks.
Sometimes, they fail and he’s had failures in his life. Sometimes, they succeed like this one did. There used to be a model in the world going back to the Renaissance where people like the Medicis, patrons of the art would support people when they were first coming up. So, it’s not that unusual in history, but with a book it is quite unusual. And he’s a very remarkable person for it.
Andrew: So, he invested essentially $30,000 in you and in your writing.
Robert: Is that how much it was? I think it was that much. Yes, but, of course, if the book sold, which it did, he recouped that money.
Andrew: How did he do? How well did he end up doing?
Robert: Well, we’ve sold, you know, in the United States over 1.1 million copies of “The 48 Laws,” and then with the three books, he’s done very well. I don’t know. I can’t put a number on it, but he’s done very, very well, hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Andrew: You seemed to have revealed your advance to The New Yorker. Was it $350,000 that you got as an advance for writing “The 48 Laws of Power”?
Robert: I think it was more. I think it was like $400,000, maybe, $450,000.
Robert: Something like that. I’m not keeping the advance secret, but to know how much money we’ve made, both of us since then, I don’t even know how much I’ve made. I wouldn’t be able to calculate it, but you can do the math yourself if you knew how many books have been sold.
Robert: I’m not trying to hide it though. No.
Andrew: I’m wondering why you’re not trying to hide it. That’s why I asked the question.
Robert: I don’t have anything really to hide. That’s the brilliance of my life. I work with other people. I hide their lives. If they want to consult with me, if they have problems with power, I have, you know, a dozen people who come to me with their problems. Their names, I can’t mention. I don’t talk about them. I’m rather transparent. I’m not sitting there . . .
You know, some things I’ll keep secret, of course, but it’s the beauty of my life. It’s the beauty of being a writer. I’m the man behind the throne, so me personally I can talk about whatever it is. What do I have to lose talking about how much the advance is? People generally are a little too paranoid in life. I think it’s perhaps the Internet age. I don’t know.
Andrew: Are you a millionaire as a result of this book now?
Robert: I suppose I am, yeah. I suppose so.
Andrew: What’s your life like? You’re in L.A. You’re a single guy, right?
Robert: I have a girlfriend.
Andrew: Girlfriend, okay. So, what do the two of you guys do together? What kind of life does the author of “The 48 Laws of Power” have?
Robert: Well, it’s probably at first glance kind of boring, you know. I’m not going to the clubs in Hollywood and hanging out with Paris Hilton, although I have met her once. So, I’m mostly working. I love what I do. It’s such a blessing not to have to work at a 9 to 5 job, and I had many, many of them. So, every day I wake up. I’m so happy that I can do my books. I read. I take notes. I write. I respond to e-mails, and then we go out and do things. We watch movies, and then I travel a lot.
So, I go to New York three or four times a year. I have a lot of friends there. I tend to do more exciting things when I go to New York. I don’t know why. Los Angeles is kind of boring, but I travel a lot and that’s my fun.
But the main fun that I get is creating a book. It’s such a great thing. It’s almost like you’re a child, and you’re given a Lego set, and you can make whatever you want with your Lego set, and that’s your life. That’s what you get paid for. Wow, what could be better than that?
Andrew: How many hours a day do you write?
Robert: Well, I’m not writing right now. This new book is intense research. I’m been reading for about nine months, and then for the new book I’m interviewing eight or ten people that I consider kind of master players at the game of life, mostly creatively, not in a political sense. So, I’ve been interviewing these people, running around the world going and finding them and interviewing them.
But, when I’m writing, I only write about three or four hours a day because it’s too much. If I write for three hours in the morning, that’s it. I’ll go work out and watch a Laker game or whatever, and that’s it for the day because writing is so intense that you can’t put eight hours of that in.
Andrew: What’s been standing out for you in the interviews that you’ve done so far for the upcoming book?
Robert: What do you mean by that?
Andrew: Is there a common trait that you’re seeing over and over again in these successful people who you’re interviewing?
Robert: Yes. That’s the whole point of the book. You know, I started with this idea about what it is that makes people kind of, I’m calling it mastery. And I had an idea about what brought them all together based on reading about Napoleon and interviewing 50 Cent and reading about FDR. I had come up with this sort of formula of what makes a person creatively superior, and they’ve mostly confirmed it. In fact, 99% of the interviews have confirmed that, and then they’ve revealed things that I hadn’t thought of before.
The idea in this book isn’t so much the Machiavellian gamesmanship which I covered in the others and which will be in this book a little bit. It’s more about . . . I think the problem that people face nowadays is they’re not creative enough. Their ideas aren’t strong enough. They start a business, but they haven’t thought it through. The foundation is weak.
I want to show you where brilliant ideas come from, how they germinate in the mind and how you follow through and create something. And so, these people I have interviewed have been amazing. I interviewed, just as an example, in New York, I consider the greatest architect of our time, a man named Santiago Calatrava. He’s an engineer and an architect, and he creates buildings that nobody would have thought were possible to make. These buildings, where things move and change and giant wings open up and close.
It’s basically because I figured out his secret, which was he, just like Napoleon, just knows more than other people. He knows more about engineering, about materials, about structure, about the history of architecture, about what makes concrete concrete. And then, he’s able to play with it in a way that no other architect had.
All of the people I’m interviewing have the same kind of things. Some of them are in business, etc., and I’m going to reveal to you their secrets.
Andrew: Can you give me another one? Another formula for mastery?
Robert: Another formula for mastery? Well . . .
Andrew: Another piece of the formula?
Robert: You want another person or just . . .
Andrew: Another person or another characteristic. I want to learn from one other person who you’ve interviewed.
Robert: Well, the other person that I’ve interviewed . . . I’ve interviewed five so far. I’ve got about three or four more to go. It was a gentlemen named Paul Graham. I don’t know if you’re familiar with him.
Andrew: Y Combinator.
Robert: Yes, and Hacker News, yes. He’s really brilliant. So, one of the things I’m talking about in the book is the power of being a non-conformist, and it comes to what we were talking about earlier about your life’s task that you’re unique. There’s something different about you. When you find it, there’s power in that uniqueness. It’s almost like Harry Potter or something. When you find what makes that what it is about you, you’ve got this little diamond that’s going to give you power.
So, Paul Graham, what I liked about him was he’s always been a complete non-conformist and has gotten away with it, not because his parents had money or he was privileged, but because he didn’t care and he took risks and he just followed what he wanted to do. And that’s sort of the end of this book. That’s like the ultimate thing.
So, when he first started out, he didn’t really want to get into business, but he needed to make money because he was living in a really crappy apartment in New York. He came up with this other friend who was a great hacker. His name eludes me right now. You might know his name, and they came up with Viaweb, basically, because he was so good at this one code which name also eludes me that he writes in.
So, he kind of backs into being a successful businessman, and he doesn’t really care. Then, when Yahoo buys out Viaweb, he doesn’t suddenly try and morph into a conventional businessman working for Yahoo. He quits after a year. He becomes a writer. He writes articles that create a great following, and then he kind of backs into Y Combinator, which is a brilliant business model, I think, for the future for entrepreneurs, for tech startups.
But he doesn’t give a damn about what other people think. He doesn’t follow what other people do. He does what he thinks is right for himself, and I just think it’s a brilliant formula. I’ll be more explicit in the book and make it more, something you can understand. But that’s sort of the gist of it.
Andrew: You know what? I see a lot of people who don’t give a damn about others, and they don’t do very well in life because they don’t know how to respond to people. They don’t know how to interact with people. They don’t . . . sorry. Go ahead.
Robert: No, no, no. It’s true. That’s why I meant I’ve got to fill in the thing that I’ve created there. It’s not that that alone will lead to success. It’s a component. So, you’re right. You have to be able to get along with people. It’s not that he doesn’t give a damn about the people he’s working with, etc.. And it goes along with being brilliant at computer engineering and detail work and reading and studying things in depth.
But then, the opposite happens. You’ll have people who are brilliant, who are very good at handling people, but they’re too conservative and they’re too afraid of stepping out and they’re too afraid of making their business or their idea unique. More people fail by being conventional than those who fail by trying something and not caring about the consequences.
It’s the standard makeup of any entrepreneur. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to fail. If your first business succeeds, it’s luck or something is wrong, actually, and you’re in trouble. You learn by your failures. You made a mistake. I’m going to get back up and try again and again and again. That’s the makeup of it. It’s more like a kind of rebellious . . . I don’t know if I can say it here, fuck you attitude. I’m going to make it work, and I don’t care what other people think. You have people who fail that way. You’re right. But you’ll have many more people who fail the other way, who are much too timid and much too worried about what other people think about them.
Andrew: Do you have an example of somebody who you’ve talked to, studied, who has failed, failed, failed and then finally made it? Those are always very inspiring.
Robert: Well, it’s a little bit my story. I mean, I don’t mean to talk about myself, but I didn’t write “The 48 Laws of Power” until I was 37, 38 years old. And up until then, I had tried . . . my girlfriend and I counted once, about 50, 60 different jobs from digging ditches to working for a detective agency to working in Hollywood, etc. I was pretty much a failure. My parents were starting to get really worried about me. I was living in a really bad apartment in Santa Monica. It was a nice apartment, but it was very small in Santa Monica. I was 36 years old. You know, I was treading water.
I had failed at writing screenplays. I always had a little bit of success but nothing really enough. And then I had the book. Some of the people . . . are you talking about people I dealt with personally? It’s hard for me to talk about them, because I’m not really supposed to. But if you read “The 50th Law,” 50 Cent had a lot of horrific things happen to him. At one point, he got a record deal. Let’s say he’s 19, 20 years old. He got a record deal finally, which seemed to be what his whole life was meant for. Up until then, he had constant failure. There were difficulties as a hustler.
And then, he gets in the music business, and he figures out it’s really not that great. He kind of hates it, and he sees that he’s not going to get any power. And he leaves it, and he starts . . . he doesn’t leave it, but he starts going back to hustling on the streets again because he wants money. And that’s when he gets shot. Then after he gets shot, the record company cancels his contract, and it looks like his life is finished. He can’t go back to hustling because there’s a contract out on his head. He can’t go into music because not a single record label will go near him. He’s through. His life is through, and not only that, he’s got nine bullets in him. He can’t move. He can’t go out in the streets. He can barely eat.
How can you come any closer to the end right there? And he resurrected himself. He resurrected himself basically because he got angry. He got angry that people tried to kill him. He got angry at the record company for dropping him, and with all of that nasty energy he said, “I’m getting back on the streets, and I’m going to do a mixed tape campaign that’s going to destroy the world,” and he did it. He had a complete turnaround from the bottom all the way to the top.
Andrew: You said in the book that you co-authored with him, “The 50th Law,” that he tests his songs. The way that he tests is similar to the way that entrepreneurs who I’ve interviewed here on Mixergy test their ideas. Can you tell people about that? How does he test his music?
Robert: Well, he did it from the mixed tape campaign that he had, that I just mentioned. He would put out a mixed tape on the streets but in a limited run to people that he knew, in spots in New York where he knew people were really hip and understood what’s going on in rap. He heard back from them. We didn’t like that sound. That wasn’t working so well. He would pull it. He wouldn’t let out any more copies of it, and he would kind of mold his sound on what he heard from the people on the street. He cultivated these contacts with these guys who would sell the mixed tapes on the streets.
So then, when he got back into the business years later, he started his own website called ThisIs50.com. But this is back in the day when people weren’t doing it. He was pretty much a pioneer. I don’t know how long it’s been. It’s been around four or five years now.
He would launch a song in there just on the website on Friday evening at 9:00, knowing that only his hard core fans would be the ones that would be on ThisIs50.com on a Friday night at 9:00. They didn’t have a life or something. And they would respond saying, “50, this is brilliant. We love it, man.” He knew it, okay. Oftentimes, they would say, “We don’t like your soft sound. We don’t like you with Justin Timberlake. We want the old 50.” And he would kind of go with these people that he trusted. They were like a voice from the street, but he now had been able to do it on his website.
Sometimes, he goes a little too far. Sometimes, maybe, he should just trust his gut a little more and not listen so much to what people say, if I can make a very small criticism of a person I greatly admire. But, in general, it’s helped him a lot, kind of mold his sound and keep in touch with his hard core fans.
Andrew: Looking back on your life before the book, you called it a failure. Why do you think you failed?
Robert: Because I hadn’t found what I naturally was supposed to be doing in life, which is what we were talking about earlier. I know when I was a kid that I wanted to be a writer. But I just couldn’t figure out what kind of writing. So, I started off in journalism, and I hated journalism. I really didn’t like working for magazines. It just wasn’t me.
Then, I tried working for Hollywood, and I’m not naturally gifted as a screenwriter. I’m too . . . I don’t know what the problem is. I heard criticism that I kind of understand a little bit. I know why I didn’t succeed there, but then I tried writing novels or things like that. It was only until this man asked me about an idea and I was able to talk about it that I realized this was the perfect thing for me. This was the perfect outlet for my work.
So, you can kind of know what you want to do. You can know that music is the thing for you, but what kind of music? Should I produce? Should I write? Should I back up? I want to be in business. But what kind of business? What kind of entrepreneur? These are hard questions to find out, and some of it’s luck. You hit a moment where it resonates.
We were walking in Venice, Italy. The sun was shining. We were walking along a canal. I improvised this idea about power. I tell him the story that opens “The 48 Laws of Power” with Nicholas Fouquet who throws a great party for Louis XIV. The party’s a great success, and the next day he’s thrown in prison. Why was he thrown in prison? Because he outshone the master.
I told him that story, and I could see his eyes light up. And I could see that it resonated. Ah, this was my moment. This was that thing I had, the soft spot. There is where I could hit, and then I made it work. So, I didn’t know where to put my talents, you know.
Andrew: You know what? It seems like it’s happenstance. If you could manufacture this or speed it up, if you could go back in time and say, you know, the decade and a half or so that it took me to get to that point, if I could compress it, how would you do it? In your life personally? I know this is tied into the book you’re writing.
Robert: How would I do what? You mean, how would I not have wasted all that time?
Andrew: Yeah. How could you compress that search so that you can find your passion, find your right path sooner?
Robert: Well, I don’t think in my case I could of, because it all made sense the way it made sense which was . . . you know, if I had been 25 years old and I’d had this with Joost in Venice, Italy, it wouldn’t have worked because I wouldn’t have had the experience. I wouldn’t have had the frustration. I wouldn’t have been so motivated to make this happen. I wouldn’t have the life experience enough to write the book.
So, it all came together the way it was meant to come together. It’s more the fact that I hadn’t given up on myself and that I knew that there was still something I could have done. It’s more like recognizing these moments in your life. Maybe I could have recognized it earlier, a few years earlier that writing a book was what I should have done instead of writing screenplays. I don’t know.
Everybody has to kind of live their life, and it’s oftentimes out of failure and frustration and not getting what you want that you realize, that you reflect upon yourself and you come to an awareness about it. It’s more just being self-aware and thinking about your life, and a lot of people don’t like to do that.
Andrew: So, am I understanding you right? You’re feeling like you needed to go through that in order to get to the book.
Robert: Me personally but I wish I could tell you if you’re younger so you don’t have to waste ten years of your life mulling around, figuring out what you want to do. I believe my next book will give you a clue about that. But as I said just now, I will tell you the clue, which is searching in your childhood, searching for things that you were drawn to.
I read about these kinds of icons in history, like Einstein or Darwin. I’ve got many examples of how these people discover their task, and the people who are alive right now how they did it. It’s usually the secret is in your childhood. It was something you were drawn to. It was something that you were good at. It’s really primal. It’s like your own energy deep, deep, deep inside. It’s almost like you can’t put it into words, but the key is you have to be able to think about it.
If you don’t want to think about it, if you want it easy, if you want Robert Greene to tell you right now, ah, you should be doing this, then you’re lost. You’re a loser. You have to do it yourself, and you have to put the energy into it.
Andrew: You mentioned earlier that entrepreneurs and others come to you for advice personally. Is there a common issue that they have?
Andrew: What is it?
Robert: Well, in a very broad sense, these people are generally very gifted on business. I don’t really know much actually, personally about business. I can barely figure my way through a spreadsheet. I’m practically illiterate, but I understand people and politics. These people generally understand business and the spreadsheets. They don’t understand people, and they’ll have a political problem.
Oh, I partnered with someone who was my friend, and now he’s causing me all kinds of problems. I think he’s doing these things behind my back. I don’ trust him any more. What do I do? It’s usually the people they’ve hired or people problems, political problems. They feel like not everyone likes them. There’s a conspiracy within the company to get rid of them or whatever, on and on and on. It’s people problems, political problems. And that’s the general blind spot of most entrepreneurs, because if you’re an entrepreneur, generally you don’t like working with a lot of people. That’s what an entrepreneur is. You like working for yourself.
So, oftentimes your blind spot is this very issue, and I’m there as a totally objective voice to say the truth. Well, maybe, the problem is you. Maybe you’re too trusting. Maybe you’re too naive. Maybe you’ve hired people because they’re your friends, because you’re not tough enough to hire the best person you want, the nice person. And now, you’ve made a terrible mistake. Maybe it’s envy. You look too good, and people are envious of you. I’m that voice.
Andrew: Can you illustrate that by giving an example without mentioning a person’s name or any details that would reveal who they are? I learn better with specific examples.
Robert: Well, there is this one case that’s going to be hard to like keep it abstract here on the spot of someone who had basically gotten into a problem, and there really was no solution. They had brought in a protege to their business who they had first really liked and thought this was kind of a younger version of myself, and I’m going to teach this person the business that I’ve learned. And maybe they’ll inherit it, or maybe they’ll be a key player in it.
They brought this person in, and the person was much more independent minded than they had anticipated. After two years of this protégé stuff going on, it became clear that the person was just simply gaining information to go off on his own. He was using this person, and, in fact, when they came to consult me, he had already moved off with all of the information and contacts that he had garnered working for the original person.
So, they came to me What should I do? I want a lawsuit. I want to fuck him. I want to . . . anger, etc. Essentially, there was a no-win situation, because they probably wouldn’t have won the lawsuit. It was too murky. The publicity would have been terrible. You go after this person, they’re going to keep fighting with you over and over. My advice was walk away. People don’t know when to walk away. They think like the Iraq War. We’ve already put in $5 billion dollars. 5,000 American soldiers have been killed. I can’t walk away because that means it’s a failure.
You have to know when to walk away from something that isn’t working. You’re not going to win. Just let the person go. There were a few little things that he could do legally that would protect him, which I signed off on, but let it go. Walk away. Don’t get entangled in one of these battles that will go on for years and ruin you.
Andrew: That’s great advice. And it’s hard to accept it or to . . . it’s hard to realize when you’re in it, when you’re in that situation.
Robert: An example came from me. When I was doing “The 50th Law,” we had had a publisher, Simon & Schuster, that was basically from 50’s camp because I’m normally with Penguin. I was writing the book. I was eight months into it, maybe three-fourths of the way through, and Simon & Schuster canceled the project because it was just when the economy was crashing. The book was late, and they were freaking out about the money.
So, we found another publisher really quickly, which ended up being the publisher of the book. But the guy who published it said, “You know, I don’t really think what you’ve been doing is working so well. I want kind of a different book. I’m not asking you to get rid of everything. I just want you to change it.”
I started doing that, and I realized no, that’s not going to work. I have to start from scratch. I had to realize the point where you put so much energy into it you’re emotionally attached. You have to be able to separate it and say, “No, it’s lost. I’m going to start over” And in essentially six months, I had to redo the whole book and just get rid of what I had done for eight months. It was very difficult because you’re emotionally attached to the fight, to the wanting to get rid of this person, to the book that you wrote. But you have to know, it’s not working, walk away.
Andrew: Well, that’s a great place to leave it. How can people connect with you? Do you have a website that we can direct them to? Is it PowerSeductionandWar?
Robert: Yes, PowerSeductionandWar.com. I did a lot of blog posts at one point, but now because I’m working so hard on my book, I’m concentrating my forces and I’m not . . . it’s a little bit fallow, but I do have posts up there. I posted a speech that I gave recently at Yale University. There are things on there.
That’s probably the best way to connect with me, and then there’s an e-mail address where you can write me on the website. And then, through the website you can find my Facebook as well. So, that’s another good way.
Andrew: Well, hang on with me as I say good-bye to everyone. Thanks for doing this interview. I’ve loved your books for so long. I used to have them behind me in Santa Monica. Now, I don’t have a bookshelf. Sorry?
Robert: Where are they now?
Andrew: Actually, now all my stuff is in storage. I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately.
Robert: Oh, okay.
Andrew: So, there’s just a white wall behind me.
Andrew: Thank you all for watching. Thanks.
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