Initially, the only content of this essay was the review of the Book: "The 48 Laws of Power". Frankly, I was unhappy after reading the book. I was unsure why someone would apply rules from this book to gain Power because the examples used to explain the impact of these rules are outdated. The world has changed, and we now have independent environments, the internet, access to information, super-intelligent tools etc. And that has allowed anyone to use them to gain Power at individual/group levels without hurting or defeating others. As a result, I disagreed with almost everything in the book. And therefore a review to ensure that none of these power laws got inside my head.
Since I disagreed with the laws followed by the world to gain Power, it was a natural extension to ask myself these questions: Suman, what is Power to you? What kind of Power do you value, and how would you like to gain Power? To clear the air, I believe Power is a necessary aspect of human society, and if utilized properly, it can solve complex problems, eliminate inequality, bring equilibrium, create positive unintended consequences, and solve society's problems. More questions followed more content, and there was a time when it was 2,000+ words. Therefore, this essay.
First, we will start by defining the power, the book review, and then we shall explore the rest of the topics.
Let’s face it we would like to have some sort of Power. It allows us to have control and make decisions that can influence the final outcomes of someone or something. I think everyone in this world desires Power because it activates certain neurons in our minds that give us a realization of control over someone or something. And once that control influences the final outcomes, we feel rewarded thanks to the flow of dopamine. At the same time, externally, Power strengthens humans' position in the hierarchy. In some cases power also keeps an individual separate from the crowd. You want that position in the hierarchy (power) because you know you can do a better job than others (because the folks in Power are creating a net negative for societies). This is one of the reasons I love capitalism because almost all capitalists are rational people and they would use their wealth to do good, solve hard problems, invest in startups, invest in R&D, etc., unlike most politicians who would stack money for their next multi-generations without realizing that the value of that money is diminishing every single day.
After reading the book, I thought that Power could be categorized into two types: good and bad. But I quickly corrected myself. Power is neutral, more like science or technology. It is the state of the mind of the holder (power holder) and the usage of the power to influence the final outcomes that define whether Power would be called good or bad. It is not the holder who decides whether the Power would be called good or bad. It is rather the observers who decide based on outcomes exerted due to the influence of the holder. Almost always, from the holder's point of view, the outcome due to the influence of power is for the purpose for the good. Even Hitler thought he was using his Power to do good, but all his actions created net negatives for humanity. This makes Power super interesting, doesn't it? If the holder is simply aware of their environment and ready to listen to the observers: they can understand whether Power is being utilized for Good or Bad.
Take a moment and consider that all leaders in the world can prevent themselves from misusing their power and causing harm to organizations, nations, and humanity as a whole, simply by:
Being aware of their surroundings
Keeping a diverse set of observers across the hierarchy who are unafraid to express the truth
This means that almost all negative outcomes due to the influence of the holder can be prevented, with only a few exceptions.
Now that you understand Power, a quick book review of "The 48 Laws of Power":
In a nutshell, power has the ability to influence and change the final outcome. After reading the initial few chapters, I only continued to understand why the world behaves the way it does. But after reaching chapter 36, I had to stop, write my own thoughts, and decided to write this review. It is astonishing that this book is an "International Best Seller."
In this intersection of time and space, we should read to understand the root causes of the behaviours behind historical events and holders rather than using these laws to understand or gain Power. Here's why I might be right:
Most of the laws are to gain power for Zero Sum Games. (You can’t disagree, the world is not a Zero Sun Game anymore :))
Most of the laws indirectly tell us to lie, make fool others, Play to people's fantasies and Needs, apply deception, destroy enemies, control our emotions, keep other people dependent etc.
50 or 100 years ago more things were Zero Sum Games. But thanks to the advancement of explanatory knowledge, technology, capitalism, and human enlightenment except for a few things - Sports, Politics, or anything that has only two parties or teams - the world is not a Zero Sum Game.
The world was a Zero Sum Game when, Pops used to control all the knowledge, keeping that knowledge in a language that was not understandable by the rest of the humans, and anyone who tries to access that knowledge was treated as a culprit or considered a sin (There is a beautiful story of Anne Boleyn - she risked her life and read English translation of Latin books and uncovered the truth that the king was the ultimate decision maker even above pops. According to me, she sparked the English Reformation - political and religious)
The world used to be a Zero Sum Game where only one Super Star could exist at a time, and the only way to become one was by replacing the existing Super Star. However, nowadays, anyone can become a Star - internet stars, OTT stars, creative stars, etc.
In the past, becoming an actor required breaking through Bollywood's wall (in the Indian context). Today, a YouTuber can become an actor and release their web series on the world's best OTT streaming platform.
Access to the smart minds of the world used to be concentrated within a narrow circle or to a few humans, such as the royal societies. Today, with just one click, I can ask questions from David Dautch, listen to the best theoretical physicist on Lax Friedman Podcast, or learn the nuanced observations of daily life from Nidhi Narwal's Podcast. This is true for everyone, although it is not evenly distributed.
To an extent, the world is no longer a Zero Sum Game. The entry barriers to information, knowledge, skills, great minds, fans (a better word would be audiences), etc. have been destroyed. This means it is a good time to establish new rules and laws of Power. We should read this book only to understand the magnitude of the scale, changes, and progress we as a society have made in the past 5000+ years. However, it is not recommended to read it to apply these laws to gain Power.
Here is an interesting self-observation. Even though I hate all these power laws, somehow, these laws have found a space in some of the neurons. And I see folks applying them in a crazy amount, without even asking the basic question. Today, for me, it is easy to spot those who are trying to gain power using these laws - people playing power games using outdated power rules (I might be wrong). :)
As I strongly disagree with all of the above power laws, I asked Suman, "what is power for you?" and "What laws do you think should be considered as Power?" If I am being honest, I don't have a clarity of thoughts around laws of Power. In fact, I am not a suitable person to write new laws of Power. However, I do have some personal sense at this point (I am sure, the meaning would be different just 6 or 12 months in the future). Let me paint a picture for you.
For me, the power is to use these amazing technologies and generate massive conviction or bring out the courage to make some folks dance (with almost zero resources, connection, network, etc.) for their inhuman behaviour. They use power to play with the needs and fantasies of these billions of beautiful humans, yet to absorb their fundamental enlightenment. One of the reasons I can empathize and connect with them and feel this massive anger, emotion, and rage is that I understand what it feels like to lose even as little as INR 100 by someone making you a fool by lying or giving you false hope. The incredible part of this power is that I was one of them just a few months ago. And in my last essay, I already told you that I am personal and emotional for my family/people/nation.
Also, one of the stupid laws in this book is to control your emotions. (Why?) Can other species express our (human) emotions? No, they can't. So why would you want to control the beautiful aspect of being human - emotions? In the past four months, I have fallen in love more than in the rest of the years (lol). Emotions are beautiful! <3 Okay, I wanted to make this lighter :)
The bottom line is: the power is the fact that I can make these folks dance so hard that in the future when someone tries to play with someone's needs and fantasies they would think twice. Today, probably, it is easier to do that because
We can reach out to 65% of the world's population in a matter of months or years.
We can remove subjectivity, which is the biggest demon of society, from the system.
We can bring enlightenment probably at zero cost.
We can give access to the world's best professionals at affordable costs.
We can provide a super-intelligent device in everyone's affordable mobile phone connected to a data network.
And we can accomplish all of these things with just a few tools, a few technologies, a few people, and a few supporters. For me, that is power - this belief, this conviction, this visualization of the future, and the imagination of prosperous lives for our people. All of these things are Power to me.
I also find kindness super powerful, and I would like to use Vir Dash's (standup comedian) words: 'The biggest failure of my life is when I have been unkind. My version of God is an aspiration to kindness. It is everything to me. I am an obsessive madman to work with, and in my madness, I can be incredibly unkind if we are not in the creative zone that I think we need to be. I would count those moments as my failure.' It is beautiful no? I am sure that if you pause and think for a second on these lines, you will realize that you have been unkind because you are an obsessive madman to work because you enjoy your work like anything else. And in that obsessive madness, you were unkind subconsciously. (Do you know YC also considers the fact whether partners would like to have dinner with the funders or not?) I have been there many times in the past. So, for me, power is this kindness, asking for water from the Swiggy boys who deliver my food, saying hi every time to the uncle who is running his Kirana Store with all passion, unaware of the fact that the world has become so infinitely different from the year of his birth. He is doing his work with the simple purpose of bringing food to the table for his family members. For me, power is the fact that Google Pay used UPI's QR code and based on that data, landed money to that uncle and helped him to earn an extra few hundred daily. And for him, that is almost 100% growth in his daily income. That is the power to me, folks - building products that can bring life-changing impact, which for you and me might look small or we may not think about for a while (unfortunately).
But why am I angry in the first place? Why is there a fire burning inside me that can make these folks dance? Let me explain:
Every year, the Indian Life Insurance industry has been making a profit after tax worth INR 7500+ Cr. And out of all these profits, here are a few points:
This profit doesn't include the interest earned by allocating funds or unclaimed premiums ($29 billion of the unclaimed amount just from one insurer and growing year on year).
A significant percentage of these profits (around 60 to 70%) are called Lapse Profits. Lapse Profit is premiums paid by policyholders who missed even one premium during Policy Serving or Surrender Charges.
This Twitter thread by Monika Halan: Author of the Book "Let's Talk Money" can give you more detail.
Now, imagine INR 4000 Cr of profits after tax per year. This is the combined profit of the entire Indian startup ecosystem, no? And this entire profit is due to subjectivity. Imagine this situation: A family purchased a life insurance policy of ten years and paid all their monthly premiums but missed just one premium in the middle/end that they had no idea about. When it comes time to get the benefit, they hear that they would get nothing because they missed just one monthly payment.
This is the world's biggest scam, and I can tell you that you wouldn't understand the heartbreak, loss of hope, and moral decay of a family that had hoped to benefit from it. They waited for 10 years, paid almost all the premium amount, and then found out they would get nothing (cry).
To me, this is the power. I will make these folks dance for their inhumane behaviour and manipulation of human needs and desires. To accomplish this, I need to build some tools by using available technologies and seek help/support from a few humans.
I will repeat this again: this is the true power to me. I can conceive of these ideas and bring strong conviction without resources, connections, or networks. I feel this sensation of power every day, every hour, every minute, and every second...
It is a good time we ask ourselves - is this the Power we want or should we create new power laws for this new world?
Thanks for reading, if you think we need new laws of power - do share this in your network! :)