Robert Greene – the 50th law.
I love all of Robert Greene’s books, but this one, the 50th law,is my favorite. It deals with an emotion that all of us struggle with daily. Fear. I encourage all to get a copy and read it, and you will discover how this emotion of fear, control our lives. A great and inspiring read.
Here is an interview Robert Greene did recently with Sonshi about the book.
Sonshi.com: Last time you were here, you introduced our readers to your book “33 Strategies of War” and of course discussed the “48 Laws of Power.” Now you have another hard-hitting book called “The 50th Law” (available September 8, 2009), and it’s a collaborative effort with rapper Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent. Would you mind giving us the background on the book’s title?
Greene: The book is a blending of two disparate worlds.the writer and the hustler. The 50 in the title obviously refers to Fifty Cent, and the Law refers to my book, The 48 Laws of Power.
In talking to Fifty and observing him in action, I had the idea that I wanted to get at the essence of his success, why he was able to emerge from one of the most hopeless corners of America and reach the top. Most people are crushed by such circumstances, but he wasn’t.
At one point in our discussions, I had the realization that it was his fearlessness that elevated him above his peers. Most people remain tied to the same circle of actions because they are deeply afraid of change, of something unfamiliar. This keeps them locked in a kind of invisible prison of their own making. Because of Fifty’s experiences and something in his character, he learned to move past the deepest fears that inhibit most of us. He learned to not be afraid of being alone (he never knew his father and his mother was murdered when he was eight), and to develop self.reliance. He taught himself to not be afraid of change, to leave the hustling world at the age of 20 and enter with full force into music. He found a way to embrace adversity and reverse it into power. Overcoming the fear of death, he feels he has nothing to lose by taking risks. This fearlessness on his part gives him a much greater range of action than others and translates into freedom and power.
In reflecting on the research in my other books, I realized that almost all powerful people in history share this quality.an adventurous and fearless spirit. It is in fact the foundation of any kind of success in this world. You could have a lot of money at your fingertips, the finest education and intellectual knowledge, but if you are governed by fear none of that will matter. You will remain tied to dead ideas and stale strategies. You will not be able to adapt. You will lose what you have. You cannot master the 48 Laws until you have gained control over yourself, confronted and overcome your fears. That is the essence of the 50th Law.
Sonshi.com: You compared your collaboration with 50 Cent to the role that Niccolo Machiavelli played while analyzing Cesare Borgia (and others involved in Florentine politics and military affairs) in writing The Prince. That leads us to ask these two questions: What is 50 Cent’s intent in publishing “The 50th Law”? What is your intent?
Greene: Fifty is a master at the 48 Laws, a living, breathing example of the types I analyzed in the book. He lives by the precept .conceal your intentions,. so I can never be quite sure what his intent might be in doing this book. But I will hazard a guess: He is a very intelligent, thoughtful person as well as a master strategist. He also has his flaws as any human does. As a celebrity, he finds himself locked into this simplified character he has to portray for the public.the thuggish, aggressive rapper. The public does not see the other dimensions. After several years of this, he has become tired of playing this role. He has the desire to reveal the more reflective side of his personality and the lessons he has learned in life. It was a relief for him to be able to talk about larger issues and his philosophy, rather than answering the same boring questions about his life as a celebrity. Also, such this book will help glean his image, cast him in a new light and make people take him more seriously. Of course, this is all speculation on my part.
As for me: Fifty had originally approached me to do this book and at first I was hesitant. I like to work on my own, without any hindrances from others. Also, I am not interested in celebrity culture; I am more intrigued by the actions of everyday people than the puffery surrounding stars. But when I met him I could see he was different. We shared the same interest in power and strategy. He was surprisingly normal and down to earth. And the more I began to contemplate doing the book, the more I became excited by a simple idea. My other books involved massive amounts of research and thinking, but it was all in my head. Fifty is a master practitioner of the game and I could study him in action.
Also, I became intrigued with the idea of moving into a world.that of the urban hustler.that was so different from mine. It would be an exciting task to bring that world alive, and show how hustling is in fact a life skill, a very human attribute. I believe that for both of us this book was a way to challenge ourselves and try something different. The 50th Law might fail, who knows, but we can honestly say no one has really attempted anything quite like it.
Sonshi.com: When we saw a video interview with 50 Cent on BusinessWeek, we were blown away by his rather quiet and gentle demeanor. Perhaps we were expecting the tough guy image portrayed by many rappers. (For the reader’s benefit, 50 Cent recently profited $100 million from his investment in Glaceau, the company that makes VitaminWater.) From what you observed, how is 50 Cent’s mindset different from successful businesspeople in traditional industries, if indeed the mindset is different?
Greene: People generally have their mindset formed by a mix of their early experiences in life and their formal education. People at the top in business most often come from relatively similar backgrounds of privilege and entitlement. If they do come from a different culture or from poverty, their attitude is quickly shaped and altered around them. The few who start out as adventurous entrepreneurs are under tremendous pressure to conform to the usual patterns of action, particularly if they have success and their business grows. They succumb to all of the conventions in place, many of which are based on models from decades past, or from certain ideas promoted in business schools.
Fifty has no formal education. His mind was formed on the streets, as a hustler. The hustler is a character that I analyze in great depth in the book. Hustlers learn early on to make the most of what they have. They don’t wait for better resources or more gadgetry. They take everything at their fingertips and find ways to transform such things into money and power. They are not afraid of adversity or risk; they are trained early on to deal with chaotic situations and exploit them. They also learn to get as close as possible to their customer base, to have a great feel for what the public desires. For Fifty, hustling on the streets served as his MBA.
We make the case in the book that we are entering a new world order. You can throw out the old rules and conventions. In fact, the world is coming to resemble the environment of southside Queens during the crack epidemic.chaotic and highly competitive. In the crack cocaine era, the old large.scale gang networks that were very hierarchical could not meet the demand of their customers, and so corner entrepreneurs entered the fray. Those who could think on their feet and not be tied down by worn.out ideas were the ones who thrived. They exploited the apparent disorder for power by being fluid and fast.
The streets had such a strong influence on Fifty that he was able to withstand the leveling.down impact of the business world. He had learned that his power came from being different, from moving in his own lane.a hustler expression. He would not grow conservative or do things the traditional way. He would break the mold. This meant, like any hustler, experimenting with different ventures, not afraid if one or two of them failed. It meant taking risks, going in directions that were not predictable. It meant exploiting changes in the music business instead of fighting them. Embracing the chaos of the times. This makes him a very powerful figure.what Machiavelli would term as the New Prince, the man who can move beyond his fixed nature and truly adapt to circumstance. People in business are maddeningly conventional. They think that because something worked for someone else, at a different time, it will work for them. This is a great hindrance to any kind of creativity. To the extent that Fifty is able to stay true to his hustler past, he will continue to do well in circumstances that make others flounder.
Sonshi.com: If people understand, study, and take action on “The 50th Law” how do you think they will see their life change (once they conquer their fears)? In other words, how will it make their lives better?
Greene: The first thing the book will do is to make people aware of how deeply their lives are governed by fear. When you stay at a job or a relationship, despite the fact you are not too happy there, you will often justify this action by telling yourself you have a plan, or you will get a promotion soon, or you need to just wait, or you are being loyal. In fact, it is hidden fear that is governing these choices and these fears become a habit. They inhibit your mobility in life. You become afraid of doing things that will displease other people, even though you cannot gain power in this world without breaking a few eggs. You don’t take on challenges because you are afraid of failure, but you cannot learn anything unless you are willing to fail. You come to depend on other people, afraid to do things alone. The book will make you aware of the problem, which is half of the solution. You cannot go through life avoiding your fears. One day something bad will happen and you will not have the ability to cope or attack the situation, because you only know how to retreat.
Once aware of the problem, the book will help you explore that realm beyond fear. You need to confront what makes you afraid. If you are afraid of conflict and battle, you need to force yourself to deal with this instead of running away. Each time you move past a fear, you turn a negative into a positive. For instance, if you overcome the fear of being alone, you become self.reliant and entrepreneurial. If you move past the fear of being criticized, you gain the power of using people’s feedback to make your work more alive. If you get past your fear of boredom and drudge work, you become disciplined. If you overcome your fear of death, nothing can really shake you. The book will give you countless ideas on how to do this, many inspired by those in history who used such strategies.
You can never get rid of all of your fears. Some are necessary and a part of life. But most of our fears are illusory, based on risks or threats that exist only in our minds. Such fears constrain and make us miserable. The feeling of moving past a particular fear is one of liberation and freedom. You are willing to explore and be open to life. The book cannot make you move in that direction, but perhaps inspire you. And it is our hope it will have such an effect.
Sonshi.com: We often hear that Wall Street is governed by greed and fear — two opposing emotional extremes that somehow keep the financial markets delicately balanced, adjusting to the natural societal forces of supply and demand. You probably know where we are going with this. Are there risks, detrimental to society perhaps, if people are truly without fear?
Greene: I suppose what you are saying is that it was people on Wall Street, operating without fear of the consequences of their greedy actions, who created the mess that we are in. In that argument, such people need to have more fear, not less. But let us look at this more closely.
Greed stems from impatience. A greedy person does not have the discipline or the faith to spend years accumulating knowledge, power and money. They want it all now. They cannot think long.term, only months ahead. As we describe this phenomenon in chapter 8 of The 50th Law, such impatience is in fact a form of hidden fear. To make anything that lasts or that is solid requires learning the craft, spending years at it, and patiently building up a power base. There are no real shortcuts. What comes fast, leaves fast. When you succumb to greed and impatience, you really have a fear of process, of sacrificing something in the short.term for long.term gain. That is the real fear governing those on Wall Street who respond so nervously to the quarterly report. If they were to have more of such fear, it would only make them more impatient and grasping for things in the present.
This is a tremendous problem in our culture. We have become used to everything coming to us with tremendous speed and ease. We can get whatever food we want in record time. We can Google for some bit of information, not having to resort to books or libraries. We can use our credit cards to pretend we have the money that is not there. It is a culture where discipline and patience is almost impossible to develop. From my relative inside position in the business world, I see this speed and impatience infecting the smartest executives and causing them to take all kinds of foolish actions. The pressure also comes from the bottom.shareholders are nervous and want instant results, growth at any cost.
Basically we have a misconception about fearlessness. It does not mean being aggressive, bold and even reckless. It means having self.control and balance. People who are fearless have a kind of mental center of gravity.they are not swayed by the pressures or panicky actions of others around them. They have the strength of mind to look years down the road and take the right action. If you think that does not require fearlessness, try being the CEO or president of the United States and withstand the intense pressures to produce results now, no matter the long.term consequences.
Sonshi.com: Here’s a question we neglected to ask last time. Why do you think 50 Cent and other rapper and hip hop artists are so drawn to “The 48 Laws of Power,” and which one of the 48 laws did many of them tell you they relate to the most?
Greene: A lot of it was luck and timing. The 48 Laws came out at a time when many hip hop artists were becoming aware of the real dynamic at play in the music industry: they do all of the work, but the major labels basically control the fruits of their labor. They may be paid well, but in the end they have no ownership and when the industry decides they are no longer so hot, they are discarded as quickly as they were hyped. For decades, black musicians have been the most exploited of all. But to gain power in the music industry, as anywhere else, you can’t simply get angry, protest, or organize. You have to be strategic. You have to understand the intense political games going on. You have to be aware of how they seduce you with money and perks and attention, blinding you to the power realities.
Many of these rappers came from the streets. They have a sense of the game and how manipulative people can be, but their ideas are not organized or coherent enough. The book came out at just the moment when they were looking to have more ownership, more control. The 48 Laws articulated ideas they had felt or intuited, but in a way they could use in their daily business interactions. They appreciated the honesty in the book.revealing the manipulative tricks people have used for centuries, often against African Americans. (Power until recently has been a white man’s game in this country.) The book’s popularity gained some momentum as a few of the artists such as Jay-Z publicized their use of the book, but well before then it was in the hands of their managers who spread the word among themselves.
Fifty uses many of the laws. He crushes his enemies totally. He conceals his intentions. He enters action with boldness. He talks about using such laws. But the one he mentioned the most to me and that I have seen in action is Law 21, Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker. He makes it seem that he is just another violent rapper, aggressive but dumb. This blinds people to his clever maneuvers and manipulations.
Nas has quoted a few laws in some of his songs. Jay-Z mentioned being influenced by Law 18, Do not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself. I think more than specific laws, however, these rappers relate to the overall world depicted in the book, which matches the dog.eat.dog reality of the music business.
Sonshi.com: You mentioned that even in Los Angeles, where you live, people tend to gravitate toward other people like themselves, whether on race, social status, etc. Conversely, you mentioned you like to go out of your way to meet and learn from people from varying backgrounds because they tend to have different perspectives, without which your old ways of thinking never get challenged. Along those same lines, we’re fairly certain it has crossed your mind at least once how extraordinary that the black community, quite different from the one you grew up in, was drawn to you and your work. For example, how Busta Rhymes and Kanye West treasure your words and how 50 Cent reached out to you. Perhaps there’s karma and natural reciprocity going on here? Are we making too much of this? What are your thoughts?
Greene: I have always been drawn to other cultures and other ways of thinking. For me it is a kind of therapy and way to expand my contact with reality. We are not aware of this happening, but because we tend to associate with our own kind, our world becomes narrower and narrower as we get older. We live among conventions and symbols that we mistake for reality. Our thoughts tend to revolve around these conventions, to follow the same paths over and over. When we travel, if we have an open spirit, we become aware of how deeply asleep we are. There are other ways of looking at the world, other ways of thinking and experiencing. I have brought this into my life by living in other cultures, reading books in other languages and immersing myself in the ideas of people who think differently.
One of my first experiences on this plane was in junior high school in Los Angeles. Suddenly, one day, black students from the inner city were bussed into our school and for me this was very exciting. I was intrigued by this apparent alien culture from within my own city. The black students seemed so much more alive and real to me. This change in our student culture caused me to do some exploring. I developed an interest in certain forms of jazz music. One of the first albums I purchased was Bitches’ Brew by Miles Davis, and then A Love Supreme, by John Coltrane. I devoured books by Richard Wright and James Baldwin, and read Malcolm X’s autobiography in my high school library. What excited me was the honesty of these writers, expressing something about human nature and the harshness of life that seemed more real to me than the stuff in more fanciful literature. Over the years this appreciation has only grown to include writers such as Frederick Douglass, Iceberg Slim and the filmmaker Oscar Michaux. With The 50th Law I have been able to express this appreciation for black culture more fully. Many of the historical figures in the book, the icons of fearlessness, are African American.in dealing with so much negative energy, they have had to overcome their deepest fears.
I believe something like a book has a spirit to it that stems from something deep within the writer. This draws or repels people to his or her book in ways that cannot be put into words. For me, in the first few pages of a book I can tell something about the writer, his or her attitude, that annoys or delights me. Perhaps my own interest in their culture and something about the spirit from within has drawn African Americans to my books. I will never know but I like to think of it that way.