Three-time New York Times best-selling author Robert Greene speaks with Hugo D. Aviles, in depth, on the dark side of Self Reliance, and what it takes to be a young entrepreneur.
Robert Greene is the writer of such works as, The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, The 33 Strategies of War, and The 50th Law, an elaboration of his ideas on power in context of the life of the rapper 50 Cent.
Can you tell us a little about your personal writing style, what were some of your main influences and motivations while growing up, that made you want to write such classics as the 48 laws Of Power, 33 strategies of War, and Art of Seduction?
I have wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid, I read a lot when I was a boy, and in high school, I had some teachers that encouraged me in that direction. I liked so called, “Hard Core Philosophy.” Things with a little bit of an edge. I was drawn to writers such as, Nicha and Machiavelli. I guess I had several jobs in journalism and later on in Hollywood, but to sort of answer your question. I always liked writers who have a clear and precise and hard edge to their style. I really do not like people who pull a lot of attention to themselves in there writing, who it convexly becomes about their ego, who show off and use fancy words, and images. I like people who get to the point who make it clear, who kind of get you in the gut with what they’re trying to say. You can have inspiration in how you write, I try to do that as much as I can, and I often write with a little bit of anger to me, but it has to be under control and with discipline. If you play basketball and you write music, or with anything, you have to learn to keep things under control, and be effective in anything you do. People do not understand that the same rules apply to writing. It is a discipline, so I have always set the style that I wanted to create, and when I got the opportunity with the “48 Laws of Power”, about 14 years ago now. I have accumulated all these ideas, the workings in the world, seeing how the world operates and many things that I have read over the years, and it all just sort of burned out of me like a cloud, that I worked very hard in making the style something that I thought was unusual, that kind of reflected my own personal tastes and likes like Machiavelli, and Gracidon, and the Art of War, and things like that.
In your book titled the “50th Law”, your chapter’s headings act as commandments for today’s young Entrepreneur. In your opinion, what differentiates the “50th Law” from the “48 Laws of Power”?
There related, but I kind of presented it as the ultimate law of power. In my other book, all of the three books, I have looked at some very powerful people in history. I often use the example of Napoleon Bonaparte, and with him, I tried to figure out what makes him so powerful and what makes him so different from any other general. And when I had the opportunity to write this book with the rapper 50 Cent, who wrote it with me, I wanted to do the same thing I did with him as I did with Napoleon. I wanted to figure out why he turned out the way he did when 99.9 percent of the people he grew up with ended up dead or in prison, or wherever. I decided after spending time with him, and thinking about it deeply, that there was a quality that he had. He can actually reduce it to this one quality, “His Fearlessness.” The more that I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that this is really sort of where everything stems from. You can read the “48 Laws of Power” and learn a lot, but if you’re fearful and you have never dealt with some of these basic anxieties, you won’t be able to apply them. So the more I thought about it, this is sort of the ultimate law of power. It’s not really specific actions that you do, which is sort of what the “48 Laws of Power” is about. It’s not about specific strategies; it’s more like your mindset, how you should think about life, and how you should think about the game of power. So in that sense, it’s kind of underneath everything in the “48 Laws of Power”, it’s sort of essential in the understanding, so you can apply the laws in life in a more effective way.
Do you believe that society today has created robots, and that young Entrepreneurs need to see, “Things for what they are? “
Yes, I can agree with that….but as far as robots? I will have to think about that a little bit more. I don’t like the appropriate way in some level, but the way I would signify it. By nature human beings are kind of born conformant. I think it is something engraved in us in sort of our primate heritage. Since we are very social creatures and we look at what other people are doing. If you’re not careful, your whole life becomes about always looking what other people think about you. Your standards become something that you have no control over, that is sort of external to you. So you have to be very much aware of this and completely reverse that dynamic. To be an Entrepreneur, you depend on your customers obviously as your life line, you depend on the number of people you have working for you, maybe you depend on other Entrepreneurs, ect. But the more that your inner-directed, you gain your values and your sense of self from yourself, the more powerful and the better Entrepreneur you will become. It’s weird if you look at it, but sometimes.. This might be a little hard to phantom, but if you think about it in the course of the day how many times you’re basing your ideas on what other people are thinking of you. By doing A…B.. & C… How are they going to judge me? Will I be popular? Will people like me? Will they think I am this, or that? You are doing this constantly throughout the day, and the problem with that is… and often times it leads to actions that appear to make people like you or living up to what they think. But they don’t satisfy you, and they don’t bring you power, and there not effective, and there not aligned with your goals and aspirations. Just on a daily basis you need to be aware of how much of your ideas and your realities are defined by other people’s opinions, and if you can cut yourself free from that, it is quite liberating, and it is quite powerful, and I have a chapter in the “50th Law” that can maybe help you exercise and even practice that in your daily life.
Today’s Entrepreneur knows that to make it in this world, you have to be Self-Reliant. Explain what this means to you?
Wow, well self reliance is a huge toot to me; I can spend about four hours talking about it. There is an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson that I encourage everyone to read on self reliance. It will inspire you. But the idea is basically that you are born alone in this world and that you are going to die alone in this world. You have family, you have friends, they are important, but in the end there is no one that is really there that is going to 100% back you up or support you. You find out now a days that the company you work for will fire you on the spot, the state is short of shriveling away, there losing money, there not gonna be able to pay for your un-employment checks. You’re not going to be able to depend on them for anything. Your family should be there, but often times, they have their own problems and they can’t pay for everything that you want, ect. And maybe there sometimes not there for you in certain moments. So you have to learn early on in life that you are the last sort of safety net. You have to depend on your own skills, your own attitude. If you’re sitting there waiting for other people to help you, you are a loser! You are going to miss all of the opportunities that are out there. So you develop a mindset that I have to get things for myself. I have to be strong and occasionally if people are going to help me that’s great. If there is that contact out there that promised me to put me in touch with someone important and he comes through, fantastic. But I’m not going to be sitting there waiting for that to happen, and I’m not gonna be upset, depressed, or disappointed if it doesn’t happen. I am going to get things done by myself, and I’m going to learn how to do it at a very early age. I have the metaphor in the book of a guy that was on a desert island, who the story of Robison Cruso is based on. Living alone for nine months, whining to himself and feeling sorry. Then he suddenly decides that he is going to make the best of the situation. So he learns all these skills, he teaches himself how to hunt and build things. He ends up leaving the island, and after he is rescued, he looks back at how this was the greatest period of his life. Because he finally learns the skills that he needed to live, and it was a very exciting adventure. That is kind of the way you should see it for yourself. You are on an island, and you have to learn how to fish, hunt, and make your own hut. Do it for yourself, and it makes being an Entrepreneur, which can sometimes be a daunting task, be something that is actually a lot of fun.
Based upon your vast knowledge of leadership, what three qualities would you say that todays entrepreneurs need to emulate, in the cut world of business today?
Well, you’re kind of putting me on the spot there…I don’t know if I have enough time to think about this. Hmmm.. I guess I will just start thinking out the top of my head. Number one, you really need this in the world today; you need to be really fluid. So, it helps obviously if you’re young. The old business model, the old ways of doing things are kind of dying. We’re seeing what’s going on in the Middle East right now. A lot of turmoil a lot of change, it is sort of in the air. The old way of doing things in business and in politics, there on the way out. People that are kind of dependent, that went to business school, and depend on the process of A..B..& C. Are kind of the people that do not know how to operate in a very fluid environment. So successful entrepreneurs now a day’s need to be very fluid and open. That’s definitely quality number one. Quality number two..is actually something that is in the basis of the “50th Law” which is Fearlessness. And what I mean is, if you are going to be an Entrepreneur you’re going to fail. They have done studies about people who become successful entrepreneurs, and I mean really successful entrepreneurs. They’re the ones that have tried 5 or 6 times, and the 7th time, succeed. Or they have had a significant amount of failure in their life. So in other words, you cannot be afraid of making mistakes. You start a business, you have an idea of something that you have always wanted to do since you were in high school, and most people wait. They wait for, and they golly gag for a check or something. No you need to go out and decide that you are going to do it, and it takes capital and some balls and a little bit of fearlessness. That if you fail, you have learned an incredible lesson about what works and what doesn’t work and what you can apply the next time. So not being afraid of failure, not being afraid of trying, not being afraid of what people think of you if you fail. Is not being afraid, makes quality number two. The third quality is persistence. All three of these are kind of related. I remember talking to 50, and I remember he would say, “I just keep going at the point when all other people are just gonna quit.” So in the book it says that he was shot nine times and he really died. He was dying in bed at home; he became a little bit depressed. He couldn’t do anything. His music career crashed, it looked like he couldn’t hustle in the street, and he was finished. Instead of giving up, he decides to martial every last bit of will power and energy and he actually decided to do what no one thought he can do, and that is to get back to music. That is the mix tape campaign that I described. Then again and again and again in his life, when things got bad, he just persisted. He kept doing it, he kept trying, he kept getting back at his feet, and not let anything bother him and get him down. Thomas Edison says, “That it’s 1% inspiration, and that its 99% perspiration.” I don’t think it’s quite like those numbers but its definitely persistence and effort that will get you through almost anything in life. So particular, now days in life, I think that those are the three qualities that you really need.
In the very volatile world of business today, you need to have the vision to quickly adapt and overcome. Do you believe that this mantra is true? If so, how is momentum important?
I’m not sure how to really answer that, but I have always been interested in the psychology of momentum. So for instance, it is very sinful and obvious when you watch a sport like football or basketball. In basketball you will see this all the time in the course of the game, suddenly the team gains this incredible force of momentum and they either carried it out all the way to the end or it switches back to the other side, and I’m thinking... “Why does that happen?” It is so weird that sports run in these cycles. I think about it a lot, and obviously in sports there is a physical component, but there is a very powerful mental component that when you feel, the wind behind your back and everyone is sort of in the same page and the shots are going in. It has this sort of contagious effect, and everybody sort of gets swept up in it, and it creates this little tiny edge. Enough for you to come back from a twenty point deficit, or whatever that is. So, I always thought, why can’t you achieve this in the course of the game? ….just pretend that you have this feeling or act as if they have this feeling..and that answer is that they can’t all because this is a very tiring game, and gaining that momentum, is very hard to keep it going and it is very exhausting. Business, you know… momentum, what would that mean? It could mean several things, in the beginning when you are starting your business, half of the work that you are doing is exciting the people that are there on your side. Your investors if there are any, the six people that are working for you, and those who you really depend on in the beginning. If it looks like your idea is phizziling or you’re hitting resistance, or maybe it won’t work. The ground will sink and the people will lose faith, and that might mean that the credit line won’t open and the people will not work as hard. It is a delicate moment, and so I guess the answer to your question is that it really depends on the minds of the leaders. I have been around a lot of business leaders and even some political leaders and even some sports figures, and you have to have this kind of intense self believe that radiates out, and convinces everybody that these minor setbacks don’t matter and that it’s a long season and that were doing fine, and that I have a great plan. Your level of confidence is actually a critical component for keeping whatever momentum you have. Later on, if you are successful and you are in the public of eye. That means something else; it’s keeping that hot thing going. There is a whole other issue with that. I could address that with another answer, but speaking in a entrepreneurial sense. It’s that critical moment when you are keeping the baby alive, so it can turn to a grown adult and walk on its own, and it’s really up to the leader to feel that there is that momentum. To feel confident and know that you have a plan, and that will carry, and kind of create your own momentum. I think that is how I would answer that question.
Do you believe that today’s young Entrepreneurs have what it takes to lead from the front?
Well, I don’t know…You know it depends on the individual, but leading from the front is the idea of basically.. the idea that there are two kinds of leaders, two types of generals. The person that just sits back in the tent ten miles from where the fighting is going on giving orders trying to control everything, but is sort of a little bit afraid of seeing the action. There’s him, and then you have the other kind of leader, who is out there working harder than anybody else. Who is there with the foot soldiers seeing and having direct contact with customers, with people who are working out in the street, whom sort of lead by example. People see him or her working hard, being fearless, being resolute, not giving up, and that example keeps everyone else in line. It is an amazing quality for a leader to have and maybe today’s entrepreneurs are going to develop this more because by nature being an entrepreneur, you do not have that much bureaucracy that is there to protect you. If your little company or your business fails you do not have ten or twelve other people you can point your finger at and say it was really their fault, or the governments fault, or this persons fault, it’s your fault! You’re going to have to take the blame for it, so you have to learn early on if you’re an entrepreneur, to be strong and to be responsible and be accountable. So maybe today, because there are so many young people doing that and they learn through experience and the hard way. Maybe there will be more people who are leading from the front. There are a lot of people out there who refuse to take responsibility for their actions and that is the opposite of what we are talking about here, who always point fingers and whine and say, “I didn’t have this and I didn’t have that.” There are a lot of people out there who are the strong types that refuse to go down that path, and be tough minded and entrepreneurial. So hopefully I like to be a little bit hopeful like what you are saying.
In your book the 50th law, what do you mean by “Confronting your Mortality?”
It’s kind of a philosophical issue, and you might not think it has a lot of relevance to business or being an entrepreneur, but actually it has a lot. It’s pretty simple; it’s related to an idea in the “33 Strategies of War”, chapter four I believe, “The death grounds strategy.” The idea behind that...unfortunately life is short; I’m 50 years old now, so I’m up there. When you’re young, you don’t think that. You think you have all the time in the world. That you can waist time and things will happen and maybe in 5 or 10 years you will get your act together or whatever. You don’t realize that the days fly by and any moment your life could end. You know your mortal and your days are numbered. It’s actually, to think about it deeply, is a very good thing. It’s a warrior’s mindset; it’s the art of thinking that a bullet can hit you at any time now. What it translates to is that you have to make the most of every moment. You have to have a sense of urgency and dedication to you so that you make the most of these hours and days. So you know that you have…..to put it simply…if you die tomorrow will you be satisfied? Did you have the life that you wanted? Did you reach your goals? And probably not, and if you think that way then you will probably start thinking more of today. It can be very energizing to be aware of your mortality, and I think people avoid it. Then to waste a lot of time and they actually secretly get quite depressed because there not confronting something very basic, and in the war book I make it clear in a different way. Armies fight better when their backs are against the wall. They know if they don’t fight like hell they will all die. So this is how you have to think about yourself in life. If you don’t fight like hell, you’re in trouble. But you know, I don’t mean to be like this 24/7. No…. that would be very tiring and you need time off and you need entertainment and such. This is sort of a general philosophy that I talk about in that chapter in the 50th Law, and it’s also a beautiful philosophy that will make you appreciate life more. If you are a little bit more aware of death itself.
While working side by side with 50Cent, describe what it was like, and what would you say is the most important quality that makes 50Cent the Self -Made Entrepreneur that he is today?
It was really a lot of fun. You know he is a big time celebrity, and living here in Los Angeles, I have met several celebrities before, but no one is like him. I’m not someone that likes famous people, I would prefer hanging around regular people. He is different so that is why I agreed to do the book; he looks you in the eye. He treats you like an individual and he listens, and he is almost like a friend. Somebody you would want to talk to if you were hanging around in a bar or something. I really appreciated that quality. We spent a lot of time together, I hung out with him. I went to his home, he bought the house that Mike Tyson used to own, and it was really a strange place. I hung out with him in New York and I went to Vegas with him to the video music awards. He is not a partying guy, he is actually a guy who likes to work out, do body building, and make business deals. He is a little bit shy, but he is powerful. So from the beginning I felt really comfortable with him, he doesn’t have a big ego, and it’s very nice to see. Like I said before, the quality that separates him is fearlessness, and it is also his confidence. There were times when I would be hanging out with him and I would be going through my own thing and I would get a little down on myself, then I would be like, “WOW, this guy had to overcome a lot worse things than I ever had to in my life. Why should I be feeling this way?” …I noticed that in his office, and he has hundreds of people working for him, I noticed that he had this effect on everyone and that everybody feeds off of his energy. His self confidence and his calmness, and I think it comes from nearly dying I believe. You know he really was a half inch from dying and it kind of made him develop calmness, like death doesn’t matter. Like having 9 bullets in your body doesn’t matter, he developed a calmness, and it was very contagious. You know it affected me personally, and it made me think that maybe I should deal with my own fears and my own insecurities a little bit here. Those are sort of the main things that I observed.
What future projects can we expect from the famous Robert Greene?
Well,… I guess immediate projects, would be my next book. Which is definitely titled, “The Master Players”, basically I’m looking at…..I’ve done these four books about power and success in life, and I have noticed that all the people that I have discussed about, from Napoleon to 50 Cent to the Google guys or whatever, they all follow this kind of path, this one pattern, this sort of common denominator read through all their stories, and I’m really deeply going into that in this next book. It’s not necessarily about the political gaming ship that I have described in the other books. It’s more about the thinking process. I have this idea, that this is where we all have to work more for ourselves, in on so many levels. We have to be much more creative in the way that we think, and there is a way to do that. There is a potential in every one of us that were just not tapping into. So, I’m looking at all these types of geniuses, people very talented who think in a very creative way, and I’m going to show you through examples, how that can be a part of your life through historical examples. I have about 10 contemporary people that I have chosen to represent, what I call mastery. People that are masters in their field and skill sets, and I’m going to make this real clear. You know there is that thing called the “Secret” that a lot of people go really into. I’m calling this kind of the “Anti Secret”, in the fact that it’s something that you can really learn, and you will have tremendous power, but it’s not easy. It’s not like…ohh, I just take a pill, and I just accomplish certain things. It’s difficult, you have to be ready to do hard work, and if you take these ideas and you apply them, five or ten years down the line, you’re going to have an empire or something like it. That is sort of what the new book is about.