For my Machiavellian readers. A summary of the book by Robert Greene, the 48 Laws of Power and this time we analyze and expand upon Law #3 – Conceal your intentions.
Keep people off-balance and in the dark by never revealing the purpose behind your actions. If they have no clue what you are up to, they cannot prepare a defense. Guide them far enough down the wrong path, envelope them in enough smoke, and by the time they realize your intentions, it will be too late.
Contents of the 3rd Laws of Power
Part 1: Video Summary
Part 2: Examples
Part 3: Negative Examples
Part 4: Spirit of the Law
Part 5: Most Important Learnings
Examples & Applications
17th century France. The Marquis de Sévigné fell in love with a young countess but was unable to win her affection. In his obsessive mission to win over the object of his desire, he turned to the infamous courtesan Ninon de Lenclos. The letters of the prostitute to the Marquis can be found here (free) and reveal many pearls of wisdom about women’s needs and desires. While aimed at a specific case hundreds of years ago, the wisdom and maxims in dealing with the ladies, still ring true today.
Ninon instructed the marquis to always appear in public with one or more beautiful women and cultivate a nonchalant attitude. This got the young countess curious since she expected the young marquis to be interested in her; female megalomania at work. The Marquis de Sévigné did an excellent job at concealing his intentions and thus arose the interest and attraction of the young countess. Reverse psychology at its’ best.
One day when they were alone, the marquis broke his frame of nonchalance and confessed his eternal love for her. The countess instantly lost interest and the relationship was doomed.
Always carry a mask to conceal your intentions and never break your frame
Have you ever heard of a skillful general, who intends to surprise a citadel, announcing his plan to his enemy? Conceal your purpose and hide your progress; do not disclose the extent of your designs until they cannot be opposed, until the combat is over. Win the victory before you declare the war. In a word, imitate those war like people whose designs are not known except by the ravaged country through which they have passed. (Ninon de Lenclos, 1623-1706)
Otto von Bismarck, Deputy of the Prussian parliament, had a mission, and it was to loosen Austria’s grip on Prussia and reunite the empire. He couldn’t be open about that intention since the Prussian military would have been crushed by a swift Austrian counterattack, resulting in heavy reprisals for the Prussians. Bismarck had to be more subtle and use cunning & deception instead of pure force.
Therefore, Otto von Bismarck praised Austrians and slammed his fellow Prussians who wanted to go to war. This made Austria feel at ease, and Bismarck was promoted to cabinet minister.
If he had been open about his intention of modernizing and strengthening the Prussian army, and then going to war, two things would have been very likely. Number 1: The people would have called him a coward, thinking that the Prussian military was superior to the Austrian army, and the war could be won. They would have driven him out of office and waged war without him. Secondly, the Austrians, feeling the eminent threat lingering above them like the Damocles Sword, would have invaded Prussia preemptively.
After some time had passed, the Prussian military turned into a respectable army and the Austrians feeling at ease with their guard down, Prussia started the war against their Austrian brothers, loosening the grip of the Austrian empire and uniting Prussia.
Conceal your intentions by engulfing them in a sea of lies. For example take General Schwarzkopf. Shortly before the invasion of Kuwait, he spoke about invading by sea, then when the invasion actually went down, he took the land route to invade.
Iago used fake sincerity to deceive and ultimately destroy Othello, by voicing seemingly valid concerns about the infidelity of Desdemona. He did it in a subtle way without coming off as too aggressive and hence was able to deceive Othello.
Henry Kissinger followed a simple but effective game plan of boring his enemies to death with dry facts and boring speeches, before slamming the fist on the table and hitting them with a fierce iron fist, making demands, threats and turning the tables of the negotiation in the course.
In 1711, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough wanted to invade France during the War of the Spanish Succession and crafted a plan to achieve his goal. There was a fort in his way, and he knew that by destroying the fort, protecting the road into the heart of France, he would arouse suspicion and the French would know what he planned. Instead of destroying the fort himself, he captured and held it, leading to the fake appearance of the fort being an asset of strategic value to the Duke. The French recaptured the fort and burned it to the ground, believing that they crossed the duke’s plan of fortifying himself in that position. The Duke of Marlborough planned this all along, and now the path into France was unprotected, and the French didn’t expect him to take that path with his invasion force.
Dumbo Pretendiavelli wanted to switch jobs and let that fact be known among his colleagues. His coworkers and bosses insulted that he wanted to leave them, naturally gave him bad reviews he couldn’t use looking for a new job and made his last remaining days at the company hell, prior to firing him before he could find a new job, leaving him broke in the gutter.
He also had ambitions on the throne of the prime minister, making his coup publically known, when his supporter base was too weak. This resulted in his fellow politicians plotting against him and further weaken his position which made it impossible for him to rise the ranks. If he had been smart and concealed his intentions, while subtly undermining his enemies and rallying supporters behind him, he could have dramatically improved his odds of becoming the prime minister.
Spirit of Conceal your Intentions
Conceal your intentions by deception
Conceal your intentions via information overload. An old banking saying tells us to push the background to the front and the facts underground. You want to send out signals and let your false or futile intentions be known to the public, providing them with an abundance of useless information. If you constantly talk about your seemingly genuine goals and believes, people will start to believe them and can be suspectable to your power plays.
Likewise as a sales person, you don’t want to rush things by being upfront about wanting so sell your potential clients something. Violating this, gives them a chance to shoot your offer down before you even had the proper opportunity to present your product/ideas. Frame it as wanting to discuss important developments/achievements/time-/money-savers with them. Soften them up first and sell second.
Netflix & Chill is another – though not that subtle – example of concealing one’s intentions. Invite a woman over to your place to watch a movie or took cook dinner, as means to offer her a way out of feeling like a slut. You know what Netflix & Chill means, as does she, but there still is the element of plausible deniability that permits her to rationalize her behavior.
Bait your opponent by concealing your intentions and acting disinterested. When others feel like
you want a piece of information and could benefit from it, they are likely to restrict it. Act like you do not care about that information and they are going to bombard you with it.
Another thing to keep in mind is that by always being open about your intentions, you lose the air of mystery and unpredictability that should engulf you. People won’t respect you for being too open, and they will never consider you a master strategist if you are always upfront about your plans.
Begin as readable as a closed book will make enemies despair and pull people towards your persona. If people don’t know your intentions, you appear mysterious, and they want to obsessively take a peek behind your mask.
Conceal your intentions by acting like a harmless friend
When you are in a situation where a fight seems inevitable, pretend like you don’t want to fight, show that you are scared and pose no threat to your enemy. When he drops his guard, drop him on the ground.
Another effective way to put enemies at ease is to use noble gestures to disarm them and trick them into believing that you are their friend or at least a stranger with no malicious intentions. Praise them, temporarily ally yourself with them and mock their enemies, ask them for advice, use any means necessary to make them lower their guard. When they are distracted by your friendly appearance, take out the big stick and club them with it, as soon as they are not looking.
Alway carry a mask, blend in, be like a social chameleon to deceive your adversaries. Rule number 1 in the spy playbook. If you act like you belong, most people will trust the initial appearance and believe you to be just like them; an ally.
As people grow up, they start adapting to the treacherous environment, that is our modern business world, by showing less and less emotion and facial expressions. Also known as keeping a poker face. The poker face is as useful in poker as it is in negotiations and when lying, and we all know the power of it. Kids aged around six are extremely easy to catch when they are lying. Teenagers are better at concealing their lies, but usually also show clear indicators of deception. Most young adults are adapt at having a poker face, and you will barely find any high-level executive without an almost constant poker face, only showing emotions when it benefits him and to trick others.
Behind a poker face, many a deception can be hidden. Don’t openly show your cards, neither to friend nor foe.
Most Important Learnings
- Always carry a mask and never drop it. Act like a social chameleon
- Push the background to the front and the facts underground
- Conceal your real intention by engulfing them in a sea of lies
- Only drop your poker face to express emotions when beneficial
- All warfare is based on deception
- Trick your enemy into undertaking a wild-goose chase
- Never openly show your cards, neither to friend nor foe
I congratulate you on taking action to improve your power base and life, and hope you enjoyed reading my interpretation of the law. If you have more examples of the possible applications or questions of any kind or wish to share your thoughts and experiences, please feel free to do so. Grab the book here and support the author if you don’t already own it and don’t forget to sign up on the homepage to continue learning about the power dynamics.