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Hello and welcome. I'm Shane Parrish and this is the Knowledge Project, this show explores ideas, methods, mental models and frameworks that will help you expand your mind, live deliberately and master the best of what other people have already figured out. You can learn more at F-stop Blogs podcast.
My guest today is author and strategist Robert Green Roberts, the author of New York Times Best Sellers, The 48 Laws of Power and the 33 Strategies of War. He's also written on mastery and seduction. His books have been called amoral, cunning and even ruthless for what they reveal. In our conversation, we talk about his research and writing process, including his famous notecard system, how he applies, what he's writing about and learning and explore his unique mindset.
You'll walk away with not only a deeper understanding of a power and how it actually works, but how you can read more effectively. Enjoy the conversation.
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Welcome to the show. I'm so happy to have you. Oh, thank you. My my pleasure. Your first book, The 48 Laws of Power, was a slow burn, if I understand that correctly. I mean, it didn't sell all that well initially, but six or eight years later, it suddenly began to take off and now it's sold over a million copies in the US alone. What happened?
Well, it actually was selling well at the very beginning, came out in nineteen ninety eight and we got a lot of press, which is unusual for me because I don't get a lot of press. So it's actually selling pretty well in the beginning. I can't complain. And I think because of that initial push with all the media that we got, it kind of got out there in various different areas like it started. The rappers started reading about people on Wall Street.
It kind of spread throughout the culture. And the thing about the book is, is that it just keeps selling steadily. So there'll be articles and media is what now? Almost 20 years. My God. You know, every now and then there'll be an article and suddenly the sales spike or when Trump got elected, suddenly the sales spiked. But it's just been unbelievably steady since it first came out. So, you know, I'm obviously very happy and very surprised that because a lot of books, you know, to be honest with you, I mean, we've sold it's actually inching up more towards two million these days.
A lot of books, you know, they sell really well in the beginning and then they just die. So it's been it's been a remarkable ride.
What do you think gives it such longevity? Well, it's hard. It's better for readers to to weigh in on that. But if I were to speculate, I designed the book to be timeless. I looked at a lot of history. I kind of mind all cultures and all periods of history to sort of give it a feel like I've uncovered something very real about power. And so it's not timely. I'm sure in one hundred years it'll start looking a little bit timely as people, you know, have some distance.
And it definitely reflects the period, the history that we're going through now. I don't doubt that. But I made it. I tried to make it as classic as possible. And the thing about it is, is that I tell people a lot because there's a lesson in this. I had an idea about Power Macchiavelli, mostly because a lot of the books out there that talk about power in this world, I feel like really unrealistic. They're very wary of the truth.
And the truth is, as I discovered in all my different jobs, is that people are can be very manipulative. They don't show it. It's all a sort of this hidden language that goes on. And the books don't really expose it in any way. That's practical and it's real. And I felt like there was personally I felt a real hunger and anger. And the anger was, why are people so skittish to talk about what really happens in offices and in politics and in all areas of life, this kind of stuff that we all we know when we work in an office, it goes on all the time.
And I was kind of angry that no one was really covering this, you know, and I maybe made it a little bit harsher than I than reality in some ways. I don't I'm not going to say that for sure. But there is some literary license here, what I'm describing. But I think people are attracted to it because it's not like what other things are out there. It's it's delivering the truth, the reality as straight as can be.
And we don't have enough of that in this culture and the sort of correct times. So I think that's given its its its appeal and its longevity. He certainly didn't sugarcoat anything. I mean, you kind of like open the curtains and let people let this concept lay bare for people to digest and all of its rawness. Yeah. And I think what that does to complete my thought is that the people have a tremendous taboo about this. So we want to think of ourselves as these just wonderful, angelic creatures.
But there's another another reality out there, and it's kind of delicious to sort of immerse yourself in something that's not what you normally read, particularly in a self-help book. But, you know, every time I wrote a chapter in that book, I was reflecting on my own life. I was reflecting on what I knew in Hollywood, what I read in the news. I've had many different kinds of jobs, so it's not exaggerated. I've seen these.
Other people have seen it, and I think, you know, you're right, there's no there's no sugarcoating going on. There's no kind of little sweet little moral less than at the end of every chapter to make you feel better about human nature. And I mean, not everybody likes that. There are a lot of people who don't like the book for that very reason. They think that I'm contributing to the to the badness that already exists in the world.
And I understand that. But there are a lot of people who find that very appealing in writing that book would change. After what? How did you conduct your life differently after writing that book and learning about power?
You know, it wasn't like a dramatic change. Of course, I was a little bit older when it came out. I mean, when the time came out, I was actually quite older. Thirty nine years old. So, you know, it was I really wasn't I had no success prior to that. I mean, I worked in Hollywood in various areas. I made a good living, but I was not successful. I was not happy. So the the big radical change was suddenly I had attention and I had success.
And that was actually very helpful for my self-esteem and for where I was from my parents who were beginning to really get worried about me. But the change as far as other things was subtle. And it took time. I began to consult very powerful people in music and politics and business began to seek me out for advice. I started talking to them, meeting them, actually working as a consultant. And it was an eye opener to see, to see my laws reflected through their world and to see kind of the harsh environments that a lot of people live in.
And, you know, I mean, the one I can talk about, obviously, is 50 Cent, because I wrote a book with him. The others, I try and not disclose who they are. And so he's obviously lived through an environment that's a lot harsher than what I went through with in Hollywood or the other places. So it was very exciting and it kind of enriched my knowledge of the power game. And I suppose in the long run, it's it's it has altered me.
It's made me a little more sophisticated. I was a little bit green when I first wrote the book. I wasn't really prepared for the attention and and and all that. So I've learned I've learned an awful lot in these interactions that came about because the 48 laws of power were successful. And a lot of that things that I've learned are now going into my latest book and gone into my subsequent books as well. What's your latest book? Well, I'm finishing it, so it'll hopefully, if all goes well, I'll be out this fall.
And it's a book on human nature and in Mastery. I had a chapter on social intelligence that people responded to very well. The idea was that in order to be good in your field, you have to know how to deal with people. That's well over half the equation in any kind of power situations that you could be brilliant at coding or whatever it is that you're good at. But if you don't know how to deal with people, you're not going to get far in this world.
And in that chapter, I kind of listed these seven deadly aspects of people that you have to be aware of. And I've got so much feedback from that. People really found it interesting, but they wanted more. And it's a subject that fascinates me and it's sort of expanded into something much larger and ambitious than I originally thought. But I'm looking at human nature at these. I end up having 18, not seven deadly sins, but really kind of eighteen, eighteen aspects of kind of timeless elements in human nature and going deep into them, digging deep so that the end the goal is you'll understand yourself better, you'll understand what makes you tick and maybe why you might have some problems and some issues dealing with people.
And it's really deep in your knowledge, I hope, of other people, particularly difficult people in your life, because I maintain we really don't understand what motivates others or even ourselves. It's all kind of mysterious books, really practical books really aren't written on the subject. So there's a lot of misconceptions. You're not really you're misreading when people say something or do something. And whenever you operate in the dark like that, you're going to make mistakes. So I'm trying to shed some light.
A lot of it deals with the darker aspects of of human nature. I'm doing a chapter right in. Finishing on aggression and passive aggression, I have chapters on envy and irrationality and narcissism, all that juicy stuff, but but it's not all negative. I'm trying to show that if you take what is your natural qualities, that you are aggressive, you are narcissistic and you're aware of it, that you can begin to perhaps improve yourself in certain areas.
So, you know, I'm giving you a kind of a long winded explanation of the book. I could go on for a lot longer, but that's sort of the gist of it. I can't wait to read that. Oh, thank you. I can't wait. I can't wait to finish it.
To be on your books are so unique and that they're drawn like dozens and dozens of examples. Many of them are unique. They're not the same examples that people use in books. I want to talk about the process you go through pulling all of that together and maybe we can start with your reading process. I mean, what makes you pick up a book and what keeps you reading and what stops you from continuing? Well, you mean when I'm researching?
Yeah, well, that's a great question. It's kind of complicated, but when I'm starting to research, I kind of cast a wide net because I don't really know exactly what the book is going to be. And that's there's a lesson in that, that in any project, you need to keep things a little bit. You have to keep things open ended so that you just constantly discovering and that keeps you excited and energized and creative. So I never kind of close the book.
I'm always open to new ideas. New people know a lot of what I read or biographies. But in the beginning, I'm also reading material about human nature. In this particular case, reading about anthropology and our roots and a lot of books on psychology and psychoanalysis and things like that.
That's very exciting. And then I go into biographies and a lot of books are bad. They're badly written. I don't I'm not boasting or saying that I'm superior, but to me it's just the truth. I when I encounter a good book, my eyes light up and there are plenty of great books out there. Don't get me wrong. And what makes a great book is the fact that the writer, you can tell has put a lot of effort.
They know their subject really well. They've thought about it deeply. They're not afraid to speculate their ideas. What makes a bad book, and I hate to say it, but there are more bad books being produced now than I think ever. But I could be wrong on that. Bad books start off with a kind of an interesting idea, and that's it after the first chapter, you know what the author is going to say and it just repeats itself or they have some stupid axe to grind.
And you know that they're not really they're only really kind of reflecting their own prejudices. Those are the books that could be like 20 pages. You read the introduction, you understand? Yeah. Yeah. And the reason books are like that is people are very distracted these days. They're not. They have other jobs. They're teaching. They're doing whatever. They don't put a lot of thought into it. I like Walter Isaacson. I think he's a very fine biographer.
But, you know, even like the Steve Jobs that he's rushed, he's got to write it because he just died. And like, I don't really feel like when I read that book, I understand the man, Steve Jobs, that well, it was kind of shallow. It was sort of skimming on the surface. I like people who go into the depths. They don't you don't have to lie. You want to get to the truth. But what is the psychology that made Steve Jobs who he was when I wrote my war book, my book on strategy?
Clearly, the main character in that book was Napoleon Bonaparte, somebody who fascinates me. And I read probably five thousand pages worth of biographies. And they were great stuff, but nobody really nailed what made that guy tick. And I wanted to figure out in my modest way what I felt made Napoleon tick. And I felt like I had my interpretation. Well, I really, really loved books to do that, because you can accumulate facts and data.
I could go on Wikipedia and do that. What I want is someone who's delved into the subject and now starts cranking out interesting ideas. And I went through that. I describe that in mastery of that whole process. So I like writers who show that kind of mastery. Obviously, someone like Robert Caro with the Lyndon Johnson series, those massive tomes. Yeah, there are brazing. And his book, Master of the Senate, which I use extensively in my new book, is just an incredible treatise on power filled with amazing thoughts and interpretations and analysis and speculations.
It's fascinating. I just read for the chapter I'm writing now. I'm read Brian Chernow's book on Rockefeller. And although Titans Titans, it's a good it's a good book, a very good book. But it didn't quite go to the level that Carrow went to. So I look to the Karros. And then when it comes to source material like a Macchiavelli, that's a lot easier because you can find, you know, these are the great philosophers and thinkers out there and occasionally you find somebody that's surprising.
But after this is my sixth book, I would hate to speculate how many books that equals, but it's close to maybe two thousand books, I think. I know I have a sense I can tell almost from reading the back cover or the first five pages whether book's going to have that that juice. There are great biographies that are being written now, and I'm using them in my new book. So I don't mean to say that that's a. Genre that actually is doing very well these days, so it's not all bad.
What are the examples come to mind that are like great biographies of great books? Well, you know, I'm happy to think of some of the research that I've just been doing, so one of the chapters I really made an attempt to have more stories about women in this book, because you can't write a book about human nature if it's all white men. So I have one of the one of the figures is Coco Chanel, who's a great businesswoman.
And it's an amazing story to hear her name go. Well, I don't want to be about that, but it's an amazing story of a woman who was basically an orphan and who just clawed her way to the top. And she's very admirable in her climb to the top and a great biography of her. I can't read something like Mademoiselle Coco.
I don't remember the name, but and this woman who wrote the biography, what I loved about it was very ambitious. And she's Coco Chanel ended up being kind of a Nazi sympathizer. It's the main black mark on her story, a very large black man. And the woman writer speculates about the fusion, the intersection of fascist fashion and fascism. And that was great. I loved it. Be a little bit wild like that. Martin Luther King is a character that I cover.
And there's a great biography of him by the names of scaring me like and Guarente, something like that eight hundred page biography of him and of the Southern Leadership Council. That's really good. Really great. There's this book biography of this woman to sports, who is kind of the the bourgeois female portion of her time and a great biography called Tiger of New, a new book I could go on. I managed like Nixon was somebody I covered, and I found a hard time finding the right Nixon book.
But eventually I hit upon it. A relatively recent book like The Divided Nixon or something like that. I don't remember the exact title, so I could go on a good story to death. But there are some really good biographies out there and thank God.
So you find a good book. What does it look like when you read that? Like, can we get a little bit on your like do you read it cover to cover? Are you making an index in the book itself?
Well, I hope people are interested in this because to me it seems like a rather boring process. But what I do is it's all very simple. I've had a system pretty much since the 48 laws of power. I've kind of refined it, but it's pretty much the same. I read the book fairly carefully. I thought if it's a bad book, I skim like hell. But if it's a good book, I dig and I read carefully. And as I'm reading it, I make little notes in the margins to come back to this section.
It's a great book. Like practically every paragraph is marked up, but I try not to do that.
And then I go through the whole book and then I later, maybe a couple of weeks later, I go back to the book and put it onto notecards. So I start from the beginning on the pages where I made little notes and I create themes. Now, in this new book, I have eighteen themes, eighteen chapters. It started out more, but that's what it is now. And so at the top of the card I'll write envy or grandiosity or whatever the chapter is, and I'll and I'll take little notes so that each book I'm able to make me to kind of categorize by theme break each book down into these themes.
And if a book yields like nine cards on one theme, well, that's a lot. And maybe that could be a main story in the chapter.
And so then I have and end up with thousands of note cards, which I could I've had people photograph them before, all organized by theme. So if you look at my little note cards section under irrationality, which is a large chapter because there's so much material about human irrationality, is over one hundred cards and over 50 books in that in there with all sorts of different ideas and material. And that's where the chapter will grow out of it. All of the ideas inspired by these biographies and by this other source material.
And then when I come to write the story, let's say I'm writing about Rockefeller, which I'm doing now, I now take the cards and the book and I kind of even go deeper. So by the time I finish, I've spent a lot of hours with this one individual and I try and get to a point where. Like I can say, I actually know Napoleon really well, I feel like it could be grandiose on my part, but I really know this character now in a way that's not superficial.
And I feel like I can say something very interesting about what I use an electronic system like Evernote or something like that that's more searchable because I'm an old guy and I've got I've got my limitations.
I'm I'm fifty eight. And I came to age writing these books in my late 30s. So your patterns are set. But I'll tell you something, I don't advocate this. If I could do it digitally, I probably should. It would. But I will say this and I something I covered in mastery. Writing things out by hand has a logic to it. Yeah. So when I'm, when I'm going through a book and I'm taking notes and I'm scrolling with my fountain pen on a card, I'm actually thinking more deeply than when I'm sitting there typing stuff on the computer.
I don't know how to explain that, but I really, really feel it, that the handwriting process kind of links closer and faster the way my brain works. And I love the computers. I obviously write my final drafts on them and editing. I would die if I couldn't edit like I can on the computer would be useless. But writing things out, there's a logic to it. And I know Ryan, who's a friend of yours, who I taught the system to, essentially he does the same thing.
He writes them out. He might have progressed now to doing it digitally. I can't say that for sure, but it probably would save time to do everything digitally. But the other aspect of it is having in a box two thousand cards that I can now shift through with my fingers. And I could I can move the cards with incredible speed. I can go through them like that. I can't do that on the computer. I can't look at five cards at the same time or go through things.
I don't know how to explain it the same way. It's not the same process. Every time you have something on the computer screen, it's flat, it's there. It's the one thing you're looking at. Yeah, I could put five cards on the screen at the same time, but I write on the back as well, so I can't look at the back. At the same time I've got more. It gives me a visceral material feel for what actually the book is and it gives me this power with my fingers to look through what my material is.
So I'll come up with the themes. Well, it's been this way since the forty eight laws. Wow. You're really going into the fan. Yeah I hope, I hope people aren't in a coma is that year. That's a start for the forty laws. Because what I did is to, to, to reveal a little bit that about that book is I didn't know what that book would be. I had a man who was going to be my producer on it yourselfers who was basically paying me because he loved my idea to write a proposal that we would sell.
And I didn't know what the book would be. So I read Machiavelli, I read Substrata, I read von Clausewitz, I read Nietzsche. I read all sorts of things. And as I'm writing it, I'm going, well, these are themes that keep showing up. And originally I probably had like 80 themes. And then slowly I'm whittling them down. I compare it to like, if you're a cook and you have a sauce, you want the sauce to reduce itself to this perfect quantity that it's not too strong and it's not too weak.
I'm whittling down the eighty themes to what ended up being forty eight, the right amount for the sauce. So it's the same here. I did all this research and here are these elements of human nature and I ended up with probably about thirty and then I ended up with twenty four when I started writing the book. You know, some of them are obvious, like envy and grandiosity and irrationality, but some of them weren't so obvious and the research revealed stuff I had thought about.
And so it's a growing process. And I said, you keep it open because if you go into a book, oh, I know exactly what it's going to be and how many chapters and what it dies on the vine. You ask me originally about what makes a good book. A good book is you can feel it alive, you can feel it vibrating. The character comes alive. You can sense the brain matter of the writer is like it's like flickering on the page.
They're alive and a dead book. It just sort of the author does. Have any energy, the person they're writing about doesn't come to life, the ideas have no sparkle to them. So you have to talk about this mastery if you bring energy and aliveness to the process, it shows in your writing. So I have to keep things open. And as I'm writing the book, I draw up chapters or I add them not to that often, but that's that's what happens.
And so the themes I allow the material, the research to sort of reveal to me what they need to be.
Are you always reading history and biography or you reading new non-fiction books?
I read new nonfiction, but I try sometimes to avoid that for a reason. I have there's a method to that. So, for instance, like Malcolm Gladwell is a writer, a very fine writer. People compare me to I do. You know, he's he's much more successful than I am. He's a great writer. But I try not to read his books because I don't want to be covering or overlapping or being inspired by what's already out there.
I want to hit something new. I want to be original. I want to say something that comes from my brain dead writers is easier for me to do that with. Obviously, not everything comes just for me. I mean. Ninety five percent is from other writers. That's the process involved. But that five percent of me is really important. So I try not to read too much of contemporary nonfiction. Some of it, quite honestly, is really bad.
I just say it outright. I read books about about envy or I have them on my shelf. I have dozens of them and they're so thin and there's so unthought through and they're so irritating that I much prefer the way people write biographies now than non-fiction. There are some exceptions. I know if I thought deeply enough, I could come up with some really great nonfiction books that are recently, I must say, for instance, the books and anthropology that I read are fantastic.
So Jared Diamond, all of his his books are great. I have no problem with that. And I read a book called War Before Civilization. This book came out in the nineties, a great book about warfare among hunter gatherers, etc.. So there are plenty of great scientists and anthropologists writing very fascinating books. But I don't like to read too much contemporary popular nonfiction so that I can make sure I'm not repeating what's already out there like that.
What what is researching and writing a book about something like The Thirty Three Strategies of War do for you personally? Like what did you take away from the plot of your own life to business or relationships? I'm wondering if you can give us some examples, because I think a large percentage of people who read books like these love them and feel them and they're like, oh, finally somebody sees something that's way I do. And then they struggle really to put some of this stuff into action.
Well, I try to design the book so that you can put them into action. I understand the war book. It's a difficult book to write because frankly, Napoleon is a fascinating subject. But if you look at his main strategy, which is the flanking maneuver to always attack from a side or from behind so that the enemy is caught by surprise and then becomes disorganized, how do you apply that to my life? Working at a software firm in Silicon Valley, I struggled because I wanted to make that connection.
If the book succeeds, it's because I did manage to do that. If it fails, it's because I didn't. And the idea then that I pull from that chapter on the flanking maneuver of Napoleon is that when you approach people indirectly, it has tremendous psychological advantage, power. So when you hit people from the side with an attack, there's no punch that's more powerful than boxing than the one that comes from the side and is unexpected. It has relevance to if you're planning to counter arrival in your business, if you hit anybody frontally, they know what you're up to.
They they can put their best defenses forward and then it just becomes who can out slug the other. But if you surprise people, if you surprise them with your seduction, if you surprise them with your sale, if your approach comes from an unexpected angle, it has the same basic psychology that Napoleon used in the battle at Austerlitz or wherever. That's what I'm aiming for is what's the psychology? You know, I went deeply into Sun Tzu. I can begin to explain to you how deeply I spent several months with Sun Tzu.
I don't read Chinese. I don't pretend to, but I read books that annotated books that went through the Chinese characters and each of his chapters so that it would explain to me the psychology behind something. Sometimes the translations don't really express what's really behind it so that I figure out we're all fascinated by the art of war, but how do you apply it? So I went in and kind of. Figured out what what is he trying to say about what really creates force in the world, what makes an action more forceful than another, what is momentum?
We all talk about momentum, but it's a powerful thing. What is it? I went at it trying to make it as practical and actionable as is humanly possible. It was very difficult. It was exhausting. But I really had a kind of a euphoric feeling near the end that I had uncovered something that hadn't been covered before. Now, it could be, as I said, grandiose on my part, but I really felt like the effort yielded some some some truths in that as far as a changing me, I've always been kind of a sort of a strategic approach to life.
So it just maybe only made me more that way. But it was mostly the struggle to make Miyamoto Musashi and his ideas for sword fighting relevant to everybody out there.
It's well worth a read if you guys are listening and you haven't read it. You are one of the most productive people I see from the outside kind of looking and I think you've written it. Don't give me, I think, five or six kind of classic books that will all kind of live on for a prolonged period of time and a very short period of time. How do you do that? Like what sort of routines and habits do you use to propel that forward?
Well, actually, I take a long time to write a book. I mean, by the end of it, this book, six by six book was giving me nearly four years, which is a little too much. But so I'm not fast, but I'm very thorough and I've described it before and in several blogs, which I haven't done in a while. But when I was writing about the process and mastery in writing the book is that they're very physically demanding in that I'm going through very you know, I'm thinking about it night and day.
And if you've ever done mental labor like that, it's more tiring than physical labor. Oh, yeah.
You end up like three or four hours and you just like a vegetable and all you can do is watch cheap entertainment on TV just to veg out. So if you're trying to sustain that for two, three, four years, it can be really tiring. So I do have routines, as you asked, I, I meditate every morning. I've been doing that now for about eight years, very rigorous, a long meditation every morning that really helps clear the mind and not make it so, so I can relax a little bit and not get too frantic.
I exercise every single day. Even if I'm sick, I still exercise. So I mean, if I'm really sick, maybe not. But that does hardly ever happen. So I and some of that is intense exercise like swimming is long distance swimming that really takes the stress off and release your mind. And then, you know, I, I just do three hours every day of the writing because that's about all I can stomach. And the rest of the time I might take notes I think, or I might just go online and and read mindless stuff just to just to decompress.
But what happens is when you do it every day, there's no letting up is you'll be taking a shower or you'll be going to sleep or you'll be dreaming and ideas or constantly coming to you. And the book, the chapter just starts getting deeper and deeper and deeper because you're thinking about it all the time. But I make sure that it doesn't kill me, that I'm able to maintain some freshness through these these various routines. And that's kind of it sort of boring.
It's a boring life. But when the book is finished, it's very satisfying. And then I know that I'll be I'll take some time off and start to be a human being again. What does the exercise look like other than swimming? Do you lift weights? Do you run? Do you know?
I never lived I've never lifted a weight in my life. So it's every three days I swim and that's like a mile and a half and I don't stop. So it's very aerobic. The other thing used to be mountain biking because I live near some very nice trails, but I've had a couple of accidents, broke a foot broken elbow. And and it's also very tiring. And I found that swimming and mountain biking was was just making me too wiped out.
So for the year now, I've cut up the mountain biking so I don't have another accident. So I take hikes which are safer, can't kill myself, and they're very pretty rigorous hikes, then the third day is a kind of a yoga politesse type routine that I've developed because I do a lot of sitting as I'm writing. And the body needs stretching. I wish I could run. I used to run track when I was in high school, but I it was hurting me.
I have like back issues. I think I'm going to get back into running because I've I fixed my back. I can say one thing I don't have this is this is still interesting to people, but I've had a lot of problems on this new book, Physical Ailments. And one of them was I just went out and I was like, I couldn't even stand up for a couple of days. And I just was determined that this was never going to happen to me again.
So I've incorporated this rigorous back stretching of the back every morning before my meditation, and it's been miraculous. I have absolutely no pain anymore. And I think I'm going to take up running again. I don't know. Is it like a yoga routine that you're doing before?
It's like twenty minutes of. Yeah. Some basic stretches of every problem area of the back. The so as muscle, the sacrum, the pair of formas that you and a chiropractor say you have to do each thing for 40 seconds in order to have a benefit. So I make sure that I do them each like a minute long down dog and insanely intense down dog. And I can feel the stretch. But it's more like every day, every day, every day that, you know, it's not completely gone, but it's gone to such an extent that I finally feel like I can start running again.
And that's kind of how I approach some of the other stuff. I have a physical problem. I'm not going to let it stop me. I'm just going to work my way through it.
How do you prevent other people from I mean, you're a much sought after in demand author, speaker, strategist. How do you prevent other people from dictating how you spend your time?
Well, you've got to be a bit of a tyrant. You know, you have to know how to say no. And it's not easy at a certain point. I really want to finish the book. I feel confident. I really wanted out there. I want people reading it. And every distraction is just like, get away from me. I don't have the time. I can get kind of grumpy and cranky and I just don't want anything to disrupt because I've got a built up momentum.
But it's not easy because it gets lonely. It means there's no there's no interviews really going on except for you and a couple other people. You're hiding out from the world. You feel kind of like nobody thinks about me any more ego things that aren't so great, but everybody goes through. So it's not easy. And I'll be very happy when it's over in a few months. And I'll feel like I've been cooped up in a cabin and I'll finally be let out and I'll shave my beard.
I don't really have a beard, but it's the equivalent of a long beard. But it's you know, you have to you have to cut out all of the distractions or the or the process won't work for me because as I said and as I disclosed and mastery, the way the human brain works is your best ideas come to you when you're not thinking about them. You know, if you're if you're sitting there always doing other things and chatting with people and texting them, the brain won't have the mental space to unconsciously process ideas.
That's why I like to kind of veg or take naps or watch mindless television. Things are going on in the brain. And then when I suddenly I'm showering or shaving, whatever great ideas come to me, but I'm continually distracted. I'm going out every night that kind of short circuits the process and it makes me think of other things. So I don't want to think about other things. I just want to think about the subject I'm dealing with.
One of the things I get out of reading your books is kind of this almost biological sense of what was happening around me or in the world. And I think a lot of people take that away. I write the unvarnished truth. It seems like a large part of making effective decisions boils down to dealing with that reality. How do you how do you go about making sure you're you are dealing with reality? Well, you know, this is how many hours do we have here?
You want to give it? That's a deep question. It's a good question, but it's know the reality is a complicated issue. I don't think a human could ever really know. Reality is and. Ninety nine percent of what we perceive is a perspective that is ours and isn't reality. So what really matters is that small margin in which you can be more connected to to what is real is what I would call realism. So if ninety five percent of your mental processes are unconscious, then you're really not aware of what's going on around you.
But five percent is if you can increase that to six or seven percent, you're a realist and you're connected to something. So part of that reality is you you are obviously the source of all reality, but you don't understand yourself. And I went into that deeply in mastery. You don't know why you like something. I'm going to be writing an essay soon if I can ever get the time to post about a single power. That's the greatest power any human can have.
And that's the power to ask questions. And I'm going to derive a philosophy around it in a five page essay. But asking questions about yourself, why do I like this book? Why do I why am I attracted to this woman? Why did that film appealed to me? Why am I going and starting a business or pursuing this field? You don't know. You're a automaton. You're a robot. You're not thinking about it. You're just reacting to stimuli.
If you start to ponder why, if you start to say, well, why do it? Why am I attracted to this? What does it say about me? And you go into your childhood and you think about it and you think about what it says about you. Suddenly you're uncovering a little bit of that reality about yourself. And the power of that is immense because now you can choose a career that fits your your weirdness, your uniqueness. Now you can avoid people who are just going to suck your energy because they're not interested in the same things you are.
You can it just has immense power to know who you are, that those were the words inscribed on the threshold of the Oracle of Delphi thyself. And so that's reality then. The reality is also other people you're walking around and you don't understand the people you deal with. You can be married to someone 30, 40 years. You don't really know them because you're not listening. You're not paying attention. You're not asking questions. You're the other people in your life are just projections of your own emotional, of your own emotions.
So stop and think about them and try and not project and try and get inside their skin and try and understand what their world from their point of view. Now, you're connected ever so slightly to their reality, which is much which is powerful because it gives you the power to influence them and it builds up your empathy, which is an immense human potential that people rarely tap into. And then the other reality is the world that you live in, the culture that we're in.
If you don't understand the times that we're living in the zeitgeist, it's very hard to create a book or a business that taps into where people are right now. So you have to know the cultural environment, the climate, the world we live in. You have to know the business environment. What does it mean to the competition that you're facing? So you know that world, you're a little bit more connected to that reality. So those are the three zones of this reality.
And if you can just start piercing a little bit more, then you're more of what I would call a realist. I like that answer a lot. It's really deep. One of the things I wanted to follow up on is how do we learn to ask better questions not only of ourselves, but the people around us? Well, that would be part of this essay that hasn't been written yet. It was the idea that I had when I was showering a couple of days ago.
But you don't want to if you're asking questions of people, I mean yourself, it's it's it's quite easy or the word.
It's quite easy to ask the questions yourself. People not so easy, because you can be very you could very easily become irritating and intrusive if you're sitting there. Well, you know, tell me about your mom and your dad and why why are you going out with this person? People will start hating you. There's a way to make to do it where you're not so intrusive. People love to talk about themselves. I mean, that's law number one in human psychology.
The favorite subject for anybody, myself included, is myself, because we never really get to talk about it enough, we never get to be the star in our own show. People are dying to talk. So there's an art to asking the kinds of questions. What is it that they want to talk about? It changes with each individual. Some people I'm always fascinated and want to know about their childhood and their parents, because to me that holds keys to their psychology.
And it's endlessly fascinating to hear about people's peculiar backgrounds, often so very different from my own. And there's a way to do that that's kind of fun and not so heavy. And you don't go well. Did you dream about sleeping with your mother? No, I don't go that. I said, oh, what are you. I don't know. There's always an elegant way to broach the subject, but getting people to talk about the things they don't normally get to talk about their their desires, their ambitions, their experiences, their childhood, it's really not difficult to do it.
It's just the elegant way of doing it in the course of a conversation. So you don't look like a spy or somebody who's writing a book and you wanted to find out their underlying values. What somebody thinks about what their value is determines their psychology. If I value my work in my writing, in my books, everything I think about tends to revolve around that. Some people, it'll be denigrating it for some people to be pleasures and sports or whatever.
I mean, I love sports, but that could be their main physical exercise. And there's something. So what, you value your body and exercise. Now I want to understand more why you're that way. There's a great book by Howard Gardner, you know, going back to non-fiction books that I recommend called The Five Frames of Mind. And he is basically saying that there are five kinds of intelligence that a person will tend to have one of them as their main intelligence.
It could be patterns and math. It could be the body and kinetics. It could be words.
So I don't remember off the top of my head. So some people are like that. And I want to know why and where that came from and what's underneath it. I'm trying to get underneath it and see what kind of motivates people while also carry on a conversation that doesn't get too deep so that they're not depressed is you know, that these are the kinds of of questions. The other thing is you people often ask questions. This is part of my essay and they assume they know the answer or they ask questions and they don't really listen.
And I want people to have the Socratic idea that this person that you now are having coffee with, that you've known for several years, started with the assumption that you don't know them, that everything's fried, all the things that you've assumed about them. Like Socrates says, the only thing I know is that I don't know anything. And so when you asking a question, you're like a child. You don't know. You feel weak and vulnerable and you don't know and you're curious.
So you ask a question to understand them and you listen deeply and you ponder what that could mean. It's a great way to make people feel connected. They get to open up to, you know, probably ask you things about your life as well, but it's more to, like, loosen up. I think the worst sin in the world today is people feel like they know everything. They've they've got Wikipedia, they've got their smartphone. They've got they can figure anything out.
And I want this essay that I write to return you back to your ignorance. You don't know you don't know about the world. You're not really connected to zip code. You don't really know what's going on in your work world. You don't understand people. And that's a good thing to admit that, because then you're going to ask questions and then you're going to listen and you're going to learn. So that was sort of the idea behind this essay that hasn't been written.
I like that. I think that's definitely worth writing.
And one of the things you said was talking to people who think they they know something. I mean, one of the problems that I see that traverses personal professional lives is separating the people who know what they're talking about, from the ones who pretend they know what they're doing or what they're talking about. How do you have any how do you do that? Well, it's like I guess you'd call it bullshit radar, and it's kind of a hard thing to verbalize because you know it when you smell it like this person doesn't really is just like bullshitting.
And they don't. I mean, obviously, actions are what you're paying attention to because people can talk a lot.
What had this what does this person actually accomplished? What have they actually achieved? What businesses did they start that succeeded or what or whatever, or are they just talkers? So a lot of that is cutting out the verbiage and actually figuring out what people have done because you can't bullshit your achievements in life. So, you know, that's the the old thing that Machiavelli called the effect of truth, which he applied to the pope of this time. I don't listen.
I don't listen to what the pope says about religion and Christianity and goodness and stuff. I look at his actions and his actions are he's a rapacious warlord, referring to Rodrigo Borsos, the pope, one of the popes at the time, or Pope Julius that came after later. So you don't listen to people's words. You focus on on their actions. And then non-verbal stuff obviously is very important. I have a whole chapter in my new book about non-verbal communication, because it's very it's an untapped zone of knowledge that I try to go into.
But I mean, really, several books could be written about it. But, you know, people reveal things through their body language. They reveal the fact that they're they're not sincere. They reveal the fact that their confidence is mostly a facade, but they don't they're not really competent. They're talking so much. But that's always a sign of insecurity, a kind of a quietness, a seriousness. People who kind of admit that they're not always right.
You generally are signs of of the non bullshitter. But, you know, we all bullshit. It's part of social life. So you have to accept that. It's just how do you detect if you're hiring someone? And this is a critical skill and. Then you really need to focus on their best man, what they've accomplished, but you also need to focus on how they interact with other people and whether they're going to be toxic or not. And that gets into the whole non-verbal zone.
But you ask a kind of question that I could go on for hours. It's very complicated, but those are some of the things I would say. Thank you. I appreciate you going into such detail. And I think, you know, speaking on behalf of listeners, we love the sort of stuff. So the more the better.
OK, what's the what would you say is the biggest mistake you've ever made and how would you recover from that? Well, you know, I've I've made several mistakes in my life. But then Ryan wrote a great book called The Obstacles the Way. And I've written about similar subjects in the fiftieth law and in other books of more 40, which is basically embracing your fate and not looking at life as if you actually have made a mistake. Well, you have made a mistake and you have to learn from it, but there was a reason behind it.
So mistakes are good. Failure is good if you're able to kind of glean a lesson from it. So, you know, when I was working in journalism in New York, when I was in my 20s, there was this not really a mistake. The mistake for me was that I chose the wrong profession. I wasn't really suited for it. And it cost me several years of my most creative period and I got out. That's like a huge mistake.
And then a similar thing with Hollywood I can't really think of like an egregious kind of huge mistake that ruined my life. I can think of 20 little mistakes like law. Number one of the book is Never Outshine the Master. And I probably violated that law maybe three or four times prior to writing the book, where I'd be the researcher on a television show. And I was so good at it that everybody hated me. I was like I was the only one that came up with the right kinds of stories.
And instead of making me popular and making the giving me a huge salary and being fired because I was outshining the master, made them, I made mistakes like that, you know, and then a lot of mistakes from getting emotional and getting upset and realizing that that's not the proper answer to life. So, you know, little things more than any kind of man. I did that really enormous, you know, egregious mistake. And it set me back for somebody years.
I don't really have stories like that. I'm sorry.
How did you go about reflecting on that? They pursued to becoming less emotional. It's a switch.
You just flip around sometimes, you know, as you get older, that's it's easier or you calm down. Some of it's not good. Some of it's like you kind of dry up and you're not as affected by things. That's not a good thing. But so you try not to have that happen. But as you get older, you get more perspective. Hopefully the meditation has helped me an awful lot in controlling my emotional responses. 90 percent of the meditating.
I do a practice, a form of Zen meditation. And what you're doing is it's hard to concept, to relate. But the idea is you're thinking of your thinking as if you're a spectator of yourself. You're looking at yourself and you're going, oh, this is my mind and how it's has these anxieties and these obsessional thoughts. And you're looking at it as if you're another person. Can't explain it any other way. But it's really an interesting thing to go through.
And so you end up having distance from yourself and you end up seeing that you're kind of a program person to respond to certain ways. And with that distance, you find it easier to not react. So with the meditating, I made it it's much been much easier for me to not react to situations and to kind of hang back and go, wow, that's that's just life. That's just how things are. Then we wait and see what what plays out.
So the meditating has helped a lot. Getting older has helped a lot. And just kind of an awareness of in the past how getting angry or emotional can be very destructive and can ruin your life. And so learning to control that because of mistakes you've made, etc. this kind of kind of what's going on. Let's talk about some other laws.
I think law number four is always say less than necessary. I'm going to read you something you wrote. Maybe you can expand upon or respond to it.
You said when you're trying to impress people with the words, the more you say, the more common you appear and the less in control. Even if you're saying something banal, it will seem original if you make it vague, open ended, and things like powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.
And simply want me to say, I hope seen you over to talk hours on how to say this, that this is a way of explains itself. I mean, you know, the more you talk, the more likely you are to say something stupid. That's pretty obvious. The nonverbal way people who talk a lot indicate kind of nervousness and insecurity. So you look a bit weak. And if you kind of hold your tongue, if you only see kind of slightly enigmatic things, people start wondering, well, this person, there's more to him or her that I thought, which is always a powerful impression.
Like he said this one, since I don't really know what it means. Then you go home scratching your head, thinking about him. That's a power that you have to make people think about you. Unless you say the more mysterious you are, the more interesting you can become. The less you say, the more other people talk, the more other people talk, the more you learn about their weaknesses and you learn about their hidden desires and what makes them tick.
And the less they know about you and the less they know about you, the better. So you can surprise them. I mean, endlessly, it's it's it's contagious. So much power that it's sort of surprising that people don't need to have that explained. I mean, we live in a culture of transparency and Facebook where we want to tell people everything. We want to tell them what we had for breakfast and what we think about the news that just happened and what kind of clothes we like to buy.
So we think that's great, but in fact, it's not so great because it makes you seem very familiar. It's really not very interesting. I don't really want to know where you went to lunch this afternoon. It's not interesting except to yourself. I don't want to know your latest dating adventures. It's kind of boring. So stop being so transparent. It's actually kind of irritating. And I don't need to know. It cultivates mystery in your life.
Don't let people know everything about, you know, how to withdraw. These are other laws and power as well and get control of your tongue. You don't have to be silent, but talk less, particularly in business settings. But even in a romantic setting, you can talk yourself out of out of out of a relationship the more you talk. I mean, I understand in the end you want to be honest and you want people to know who you are.
So in a relationship that's you don't want to always say this in this. I get that that's very true. But in general, people are not mysterious enough and there's tremendous power in talking lists. And so in that spirit, I've been to shut up and let that stand is my answer, Lord. Twenty nine is plan all the way to the end. You say the ending is everything. What does that mean?
Oh well it's basically that you're not thinking far enough ahead.
You're locked in the moment. Very human thing. It's actually one of the chapters in the Human Nature book about short and how we're always reacting to what people are giving us. I call it one of my blogs. I call it tactical. Hell, you're locked in tactical hell. You're never able to rise above to the level of strategy. You're always just reacting what people give you so you can never plan anything, can never really be strategic, which requires that you think at least at least two moves in advance.
So plan all the way. The end is a way to force you to think further ahead. Now, if you think I've got this plan to get rid of a rival business or to outdo this opponent, all right. In one year, I'm going to get to this point. I'm going to destroy them in sales and I'm going to get market share, etc.. All right. How do I get able to get that word in a year? How do I get there?
OK, all right. Now, I've got a plan now that's power, because if you keep reacting to what your opponent is giving you in this rivalry to get market share, you're never your mind never rises high enough above the battlefield to come up with a reasonable plan that actually is more strategic and involves things that aren't just reactions to what your arrival gives you. So thinking of the ending is very powerful and it just forces you to get out of the moment and think longer term.
I talk in my new book that we're animals, we have consciousness, but we don't use it right. If we have consciousness, if we're aware, we should be using it not just to react like an animal reacts to every little tweet or every little thing that occurs on the news cycle. We need to use that power to go further into the future to imagine possibilities and options and consequences and to game out. What we do in depth is the proper way to use our intelligence.
So that's sort of what that loss is, a very important law law.
Forty one is avoid stepping in to create Manchus, which is what happens first always appears better and more original than what comes after ever. Can you talk to me a little bit about that and how people should be conscious about what jobs that they take, what jobs they take? Well, I don't know so much as a job. I mean, in the job sense it would be, which doesn't happen very often. But some important, powerful CEO is retiring.
This person is famous and did a great job and now you're replacing him or her. That's a dangerous position to be and that's fraught with peril. And you need to read chapter forty one forty one in the forty eight loss in which I tell you to. Don't try and repeat what the other person has done. You're going to get lost in their shadow and swallowed up and it's going to be bad news. You're always going to be compared to the person who came before you, but it has metaphoric reach.
You don't want to you always want to set off in a fresh direction. You want to do something that's original, that's you. You don't want to be lost in other people's shadow. If you're writing a book, you don't want to present yourself as Malcolm Gladwell junior creating kind of a book kind of like him, because then people are just going to compare it to Malcolm Gladwell. If you're never going to come off well and you're lost in his shadow, you want to write a book that reflects you that's different and then there's no shadow swallowing up.
So the the laws are not just the literal meaning. There's psychology, greater psychology behind it, which is wherever you add to whatever you do, there's a predecessor. There are other people who are more famous for rebound. You want to get out of their shadow when you want to create something original and you don't want to be following exactly in their footsteps. It's kind of kind of the idea behind it and the overall import of it.
It's really hard to pick a favorite. But what would what would you think is the most applicable law for people to learn?
It's an impossible I'm sorry, I don't mean to quibble with you, but it's an impossible question to answer. And so the answer then, because it's an impossible question to answer. The answer is law. Forty eight. And that paradox means law. Forty eight is some formlessness and that means all forty seven laws are can be kind of nonsense that you should just ignore them and you should just be in the moment and not go into situations thinking of oh I better do law.
Forty one must be alive to the circumstance. You must be formless, you must be willing to throw out the forty eight laws, you need to be alive to the moment and you need to be flexible and adapt to every situation in every circumstance is a very important law. But the idea is everyone's different. So for me, I work at home and I, I have, I've work for myself. So the law that's important for me isn't going to be the same law for someone who's in an office job, know, kind of stuck sort of in a middle of the zone and is trying to break out or someone who's a CEO of a company with five hundred people.
Everything depends on where you are right now and the drama of your life as it stands. So it's important to plan all the way to the end wherever you are, and have a plan. Yeah, I could say that there are maybe a dozen laws that kind of transcend that and that are key to keep people dependent on you make it so that your people need you. They don't love you. They need you to get rid of you is painful.
It's not a law that applies to me because I don't work for other people.
But but it's important. Yeah. I always say, listen, necessary. You know, they'll be if you're a host of a television show on MSNBC, always say less necessary is not a good idea. You need to talk and talk. But in general, it's a good, important law. Never outshine the master. I don't have a master, really, unfortunately. Fortunately or unfortunately, so everything depends on your circumstances, and I find that when people crack open the book, their eyes gravitate to particular chapters.
I myself learned not to put too much trust in friends, make use of your enemies. Wow. You know, man, I've really violated that one. I better read that. That's usually how it works. Or they open it up and I go, this book is evil and I don't want anything to do with it. And they they get rid of it. I want to talk about one more thing that you wrote about, which is a lifetime versus dead time.
Can you expand upon that and explain that to listeners? Wow. Almost.
I can read the quote that I was reading, which is the worst thing in life that you can have is a job that you hate, that you have no energy and that you're not creative and you're not thinking of the future.
To me, you might as well be dead. Well, yeah, it's like, you know, you could put it this way, other philosophers have put it this way You really don't own anything in life when you're bored and you come out of your mother's womb and you're kicking and screaming and you go through your 60, 70, 80, 90 years of life, you think that you own stock and money and there's you really don't own anything because it all disappears.
It all goes away and you die. There's nothing left. The only thing the only thing that you own, the only thing that we can say is that you own time. You have so much time to live at your birth in the old way of thinking about it, your time set your fate. Is you going to die when you're eighty five years old? That's a little silly, but let's just say you have eighty five years to live. That is yours.
That's the only thing that's yours. I know you can say your body, but you know what? Somebody could put you in prison. Somebody could torture you, you can lose that. But they can't take away the time that you have. That time could be spent thinking and enriching yourself a lifetime to go expand a little beyond what I wrote is time. That's your own. Nobody tells you what to do. Nobody is commanding you how to spend it.
You're not taking that time going over obsessive thoughts that have been instilled in you because you're anxious about this subject. The other taking ownership of your time means I only have this much time to live. I better make the most of it. I'd better make it alive time. I better be purged and have a bit of an edge, kind of be aware of each moment as it's passing and not kind of in a fog. When you're working for someone else and you're flipping burgers at Burger King, it's dead time.
They own you. And but if you're working at Burger King and you've just read Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil and you're thinking about it or you're working at Burger King and you go, I have a plan in a year, I'm quitting this ridiculously awful job and I'm going, I'm saving my money and I'm going to night school and I'm going to kick ass in this field that dead time. A Burger King is now a lifetime because you've got a plan and everything.
It has a purpose. My purpose here is, all right, I'm going to get a great job after this crap job. All right. I better learn while I'm doing the shift. Well, what can I study? I can study people. I can ask questions. Some of the customers that come in at 2:00 in the morning, I can kind of be alive to my circumstance, my situation. I go home and read books and I can prepare for that time when I quit.
Now, suddenly you own your own time is yours because you are making it your own and suddenly it goes from being dead to alive to that kind of answer the question.
Yeah, I think that's that's perfect. That's a perfect way to wrap up this interview. Oh, OK.
OK, good working people find out more information about you. You have a website called The Power, Seduction and War dot com the and spelled out. Those are the first three books of my power, seduction and war dot com. There's a link there to my site that has to do with mastering my fifth book, which we didn't talk much about. But if I may plug it, I recommend it for anybody. I was going to try to get you on for another episode and talk all of it, master.
All right. All right. Well, give me a little bit of time, but we'll get to that. But yeah, I mean, that's an important book. If you're kind of not sure where you're going in life. It's not such a Machiavellian book. So maybe, though, that puts you off, it's more about figuring out your your your career in a grand arc and what it means to master something and become creative in your field. So anyway, empower seduction and come there's a link to also a mastery side.
We talk about all of the books, so and then there's links to a place to email me into the Twitter and to all the other of the other social media stuff. Awesome. Thank you so much, Robert Spinneret.
You're very welcome, Shane. You're very welcome.
Hey, guys, this is Shane again. Just a few more things before we wrap up. You can find Schnitz from today's show at F-stop Blogs podcast. You can also find out information on how to get the transcript there. And if you'd like to receive a weekly email from me filled with all sorts of brain food, go to F-stop blogs, newsletter, the newsletters, all the good stuff I found on the Internet this week that I've read and shared with close friends, books I'm reading and so much more.
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