Pete recently got early access to Mastery, the new book from Robert Greene, author of 48 Laws of Power, The 33 Strategies of War and The 50th Law – This week he talks with Robert about the new book, and the paths people take to become a master.
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Conversation with Robert Greene
Dom Goucher: Hi, Dom here, and welcome to this week’s edition of PreneurCast. Recently, Pete got early access to a copy of Mastery, the new book from Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, The 33 Strategies of War, and The 50th Law, with rapper 50 Cent.
You might remember we’ve mentioned a few of these up before on the PreneurCast. Now, this new book is about how to become a master of a particular skill or area, and we have a recording for you of a conversation Pete had with Robert about the new book, and the path people take to become a master.
If you want to become at great at something in your life or in business, you should listen in—and pick up a copy of the book when it’s released soon. And make sure you visit Robert’s blog over at PowerSeductionAndWar.com because if you get there before the book’s released, there are some pre-order bonuses if you order through that site.
[Pete’s interview with Robert starts]
Pete Williams: Robert, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.
Robert Greene: Oh, thank you, Pete. My pleasure.
Pete: I’ve really loved your earlier books—The 48 Laws of Power and The Art of Seduction, and particularly the 50 Cent book, which was really cool. We might touch on that a little bit later. But obviously, the whole context of today’s conversation is about Mastery, the new book, which is very exciting.
Robert: Yes, I consider it in some ways sort of the synthesis of all of my four previous books, which deal, in one way or another, with various forms of power; and I’m calling this the ultimate form of power—when you’ve mastered your field.
You have a kind of creative spirit and an intuitive grasp of the field that no matter what you do, no matter where you’re thrown, you’re going to figure out how to solve problems and come up with interesting ideas; so this is sort of the ultimate book in the series.
Pete: Yeah, absolutely—and I’ve really enjoyed it. I was able to get a prerelease copy and have thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve read. I guess to give some context to a listener who wouldn’t have heard about Mastery yet, given that it’s only coming out in the next couple of days, what’s the book about in an overall frame, to set the frame for this conversation?
Robert: Well, I’m trying to debunk the idea that, among other things, success or genius or anything like that has to do with something you’re born with. Like there’s a genetic component, or people have actual gifts, or they’re just lucky. I want to show, very, very clearly, that to master a field, to gain the kind of power that a Da Vinci has or an Einstein, or a Steve Jobs, or whomever; you have to go through a process.
A process that I can explain in detail that entails a lot of work and effort, hours of practice, but has an incredible pay-off, which is Mastery. So, I’m going to show you in six clear chapters, with an introduction, this process; and the chapters move sequentially through time, more or less; taking you from the first steps when you must look at yourself and look at the skills and the natural inclinations you have towards particular subjects.
And then moving you through the various parts of what I call the ‘apprenticeship phase,’ which we all go through, and which is, I think, the key, the foundation for all future success. I end up in the final chapters talking about the creative phase you then enter when you have spent several years going through this. And then finally, mastery. That’s basically how the book is structured.
Pete: And you mentioned the word ‘process,’ which is something that I really took away from the book. Compared to your other books where they’ve been more fragmented, in terms of The 48 Laws of Power—it’s an amazing book, and 48 distinct, separate, almost essays you could kind of call them.
They’re not necessarily interlinked or a process to gain power. Whereas, in this book, you’re going into the process of making it a process. Was there a conscious decision for that as opposed to other books you’ve done?
Robert: Well, the only other book that is actually similar is the 2nd half of The Art of Seduction. In The Art of Seduction, I take essentially 24—I guess you could call them seduction strategies, but they’re organized sequentially from when you first meet this person you’re going to seduce to the very end.
But this was a very conscious decision for this book because you can’t divorce the actual process and the time element from the goal from what this book is about, which is mastery. And I make it really clear with examples, like Mozart or Albert Einstein, the examples that people often choose to show someone who was born a genius.
I make it very clear that, no, I can explain to you the process that they went through, that we talk about. Ten thousand is kind of a legendary number, and it’s actually very true and very interesting. It’s easy to demonstrate that by the age of 16, Mozart had gone through his 10,000 hours; that Einstein, by the time he came up with his theory of relativity at the age of 26, had definitely gone through his 10,000 hours and more.
It is a process; and no matter if it’s some incredible genius or it’s somebody working as an entrepreneur, you’re going to be going through an apprenticeship phase. You are the product of the amount of hours and practice and skill that you have built up. There’s no kind of shortcuts to this mastery and to success.
Pete: I think ‘apprenticeship’ is a perfect word for it, and I really want to talk about that in a moment. But the 10,000 hours thing is something that you’re probably going to get a lot—throughout the promotion of the book and just the conversation around the book, the comparison to Gladwell’s Outliers.
What’s your take to people who maybe read that book and think, “Oh, how is this different?” How do you separate what you’re writing about—I’ll give you my idea and my takeaway in a moment. What’s your way to verbalize the differences between the two books?
Robert: Well, I consciously made the decision not to actually read Outliers when I knew I was doing this book, because I wanted to keep myself totally fresh and have my own perspective. I’m a great admirer of his work and I read Blink and The Tipping Point. But now I can read his book. But I’m very aware of the ideas in it. This book is about 10,000 hours; but it’s really about 20,000 hours.
So in 10,000 hours, you’re usually going to reach that in 8 to 10 years of good work. The masters that I’m profiling, they’re getting there after 15 to 20 years, and the incredible creative and intuitive powers that come from all of that experience. But from what I’ve heard of his book, first of all, his book doesn’t go in through this kind of sequencing that I am, and such heavily on process.
My books have more of a self-help, a conscious self-help angle. I’m very practically oriented. I want you to read the book and I want you to say, “This is how I can precisely apply it to my life,” and make you reflect and go, “Here’s how I can measure where I am right now.” I know that Malcolm Gladwell’s book doesn’t do that. He’s much more into contemporary examples and statistics and studies.
I have a little bit of that and I have nine contemporary people I interviewed for the book. I very much make a book to relating it to our times, but I’m suffusing it in what I call three million or six million years of human evolution. So, I’m showing you that the brain has evolved in a certain way and you’re going to maximize this evolution. I’m dealing with such deep history that I have to do a lot of delving into human history and even into prehistory, which he obviously doesn’t.
Pete: And that’s one thing I really love about all your books. In high school, history just didn’t—I couldn’t relate it to what I was doing. Obviously, that was the teacher’s fault, or my fault, or definitely a mixture of both. Reading your books has really, over time, given me that passion again to be completely open about the actual relevance of history. I never really had that bridge, but the book has weirdly, in an indirect way, gave me that.
Robert: Oh, that’s very exciting to hear.
Pete: Yeah, so, in terms of like, obviously, you must read a lot…
Robert: I’m sorry, Pete, but I didn’t hear your take on the Gladwell book and the difference.
Pete: I was going to say, yeah, basically exactly what you said. The two things that I took away is that it’s much more action-orientated. It’s definitely that implementation-type approach to the writing as opposed to Gladwell’s books—which are great, but they’re very theoretical. They leave you thinking more than actually taking action.
There’s definitely a time and place for consuming content that leaves you thinking. People need to have a book or an article or an essay, or whatever it might be, that leaves them with actual implementation tactics. I think that’s what your books really do, which is definitely a differentiator for sure, particularly for me.
Robert: Yeah, I agree.
Pete: So from a rating perspective, Outliers must be about the only book you didn’t read for researching the book. Just out of interest, how much time did it take to write the book, and how much research and effort and how many books did you actually consume putting this one together?
Robert: Well, it took about two and a half years. You must realize that in writing the other books and throughout all my life, all of my accumulated experience has been on and writing it. But literally, it took two and a half years, and that’s working day and night, Christmas, birthdays; pretty much very little time off.
I read, probably upwards of 200 books for this. And I don’t just read books, I like read and reread them, and break them apart, and take extensive notes. Now, I didn’t do that for every single one of those 200 books. They’ll be some, half of them, in which I will really, really take them apart in that method.
And when I’m reading the book, I’m taking extensive notes; I’m putting everything on note cards, and then I’m organizing these note cards into seams, because organization is a huge part of pulling a book like this up, but on top of it, I had the nine interviews with contemporary people, and that meant going through the transcripts, taking notes on the transcripts; kind of finding a way to weave all of that into the other notes I had taken.
So I don’t mean to reveal how all the sausage was made, but it was kind of a gargantuan project more than the other books as far as organizing all of this material and then putting it into a book that is not only going to be kind of fun to read, but is organized and helps inform you about, it’s a practical guide. So there were many challenges.
Pete: And I think that’s definitely the hardest part, I would assume. Just the writing of the words is probably the easiest part of the whole process. I know that from my own book I’ve written and my new book I’m working on, and Ryan’s definitely articulated this to me—Ryan Holiday, in a number of conversations and even in an interview we had for his book.
That it’s the organization and the research which is the hardest part. And once you get that framework and that road map of all the themes and things put together, the actual writing is the easier part.
Robert: Well, that’s true—I have a slightly different experience in that once I sit down to write, I don’t just simply start writing. I have to take all of my cards and material and organize it right there in that moment, and then try and make it seem like I’m not being so anal and uptight, and make it seem like it flows.
So, the writing is not as easy as it would be if I didn’t have so much research to incorporate; but I don’t mean to give people the impression that it’s like this massive headache, because there’s a lot of pleasure involved, and particularly in the writing. I enjoy getting out my enthusiasms and a lot of my anger. I use a lot of anger when I write books, so there’s something cathartic about the experience.
Pete: Very, very cool. Well, in terms of your effort of writing, you talk a lot about the importance of apprenticeship in the book and things like that. I’d love to get you to articulate that much better than I can given you’ve obviously put the book together, but also talk about your apprenticeship.
Because now, you’ve written a number of fantastic New York Times bestselling books. What was your apprenticeship like? I know you’ve spoken about having 80 jobs, historically, but how did you go through that apprenticeship process to become the master author that you’re perceived to be and I believe you are today?
Robert: Well, that’s very nice of you to say that. It was an elaborate apprenticeship that probably stretched over a good 20 years and made my parents really worry about me. I knew that when I was really young I wanted to be a writer, and I was also very interested in history. After I graduated college, I kind of spent a few years wandering around Europe, like a lot of writers do—at least back then.
I had so many different jobs: construction, washing dishes, working in hotels. I had a real working-class experience of Europe. Then I came back and I worked in journalism in New York and wasn’t very happy, and I had other jobs. Then I worked in Hollywood as a writer and I wasn’t happy.
I was writing, but it wasn’t the right fit and I knew it—and I kept trying. I would get depressed, but I didn’t lose hope. The good thing was that I had accumulated a lot of worldly experience, I had practiced the craft of writing over many years, I had developed working in Hollywood as a researcher (it was one of my jobs).
I had developed, really, a high-level organizational and researching skills. Then in 1995, ’96, when I was already the advanced age of 36, 37—and as I said, my parents were really starting to wonder—I met this man who asked me if I had some ideas for a book, and I just realized at that point that that was my opportunity in life. You don’t get very many.
That this was the fit, I knew this was the fit. I pitched to him the idea of The 48 Laws of Power, he loved it, he encouraged me to write a treatment. Once he loved the treatment, he paid me money to live while I actually wrote half of the book, and then the rest is history.
But I’ll say that—and I saw it in the stories of a lot of the people I researched, and I’m not to include myself in the group of masters I’m profiling, but a lot of them have a similar story, where they’re not people who knew right away when they’re 18, “This is what I’m going to be doing the rest of my life.”
There are people like that; but a lot of these people have a kind of inner radar that directs them to things that are good experiences, that their eyes are open, they’re learning, they’re observing. And then when the chance comes, they have all of this knowledge and wisdom and actually several different skills to draw upon, and it all comes, it all fits. If I hadn’t met this man, where would I be?
I don’t know, I probably would’ve eventually figured out that writing books was what I was meant to do, but there would be no books like The 48 Laws of Power. All of that elaborate apprenticeship that I had gone through—and I make the case in the book there are different kinds of apprenticeship, there’s no cookie-cutter way. Some people are going to have a more direct path than I did.
They’re going to know out of college that this is where they’re headed and they’re going to figure it all out, and that’s fine and that’s good. And then there’s the other path that’s more kind of wandering, and that’s also good. But the only thing that is not good is to think that you don’t have to learn skills in this world, that you don’t have to develop patience and discipline—that’s where you’re going to fall apart.
Pete: I couldn’t agree more. This is something I kind of rant on quite a bit on the show here to the listeners, and they’re probably used to me saying this, but I completely agree that the apprenticeship in its various forms is very important. But so many people ignore the relevance of an apprenticeship in this day and age. What’s your take on that?
Robert: Well, it’s a beautiful concept that developed essentially in the Middle Ages—it has roots going further back. But there’s a reason why the apprenticeship system developed, and this is: we humans, the way our brain is constructed, are naturally gifted for learning by actually doing things, by practicing them, by looking at how other people are doing it and imitating them.
This applies as much to building something as it does to writing. Reading books and looking at how other people write is just as important, and you learn by doing. You don’t learn by—how we learn in school—where you just sit there and passively listen to someone’s lecture, and then take notes, and then write an essay. You learn by getting your hands dirty.
If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you ‘re not going to be successful with just your MBA. You’re going to be successful if you go out and start a business and it fails. That failure that you had that took the course of a year and may have cost a lot of money is 80 times more worthwhile than 3 years of an MBA. So the apprenticeship system is built on the concept that you learn by doing, trial and error.
It’s just a whole other way of looking at the learning process and you have to get away from the process that you were sort of inculcated in school, in just sort of reading books and absorbing theories and ideas. It’s practice, practice, practice—that’s how you build skills and that’s how you really learn. That’s why I think the apprenticeship system is so important, and it’s interesting to note that a lot of people—it’s in the air right now, I really feel it.
I was just reading an article, for instance, where law schools are now changing their methods and instead of that third year of law school, which is kind of meaningless, where you take all sorts of silly classes—they’re actually making you go out in the real world and have an internship and kind of learn some other skills besides law. But you’re going out into the real world and working. I think we’re heading back towards it because it fits so naturally into how the human brain evolved and how we really learn things.
Pete: I completely agree. Peter Thiel, with his Thiel Fellowship. He’s one of the founders of PayPal. He’s doing that similar type of thing. I think there is definitely that, particularly in the Silicon Valley area. Sort of, ‘don’t go and get college degree, go and work for pennies for 12 months and really learn.’
I know Ryan Holiday did that with yourself and obviously, a number of other places to get where he’s gotten. Only a couple of days ago I was having a conversation with the Dean of Deakin University, which is one of Australia’s leading universities.
I’m on the Advisory Board of the curriculum there and we’re discussing some stuff about changing some curriculum things. They’re very much driving their commerce degrees and things like that to be much more practical rather than that textbook-style of learning, which I think is a much smarter way to go because it’s going to be more congruent with the skills people need to have when they go out into the real world, so to speak.
Robert: Yeah. And the other thing I would say is, you have to think of yourself and your life with a particular attitude, which is nothing is wasted. Nothing you’ve ever done is really a waste of time if you look at it right. So, I went to university and I got a degree in Greek and Latin classics. There’s no more irrelevant a major in the world, but I have no regrets about it.
I know that I really learned how to write in the real world, but that education really helped me become disciplined and organized, and learn how to analyze something, and break it down, and be patient. It’s a real painstaking thing. So I’ve looked at everything I’ve done in my life as some kind of skill that I’ve developed that has come to help me later on.
Now, if you end up studying some of these ridiculous postmodern subjects that are just there so that you can get a good grade, then that’s a totally different thing. But you have to look at everything that you’re doing, in education or wherever, as some kind of skill. You’re getting some kind of skill out of it, and what is that skill, and be sort of aware of that.
Pete: I completely agree. It’s also not even just college; it’s also sort of, you come out of university and you get a job in the real world and people stop thinking that their 20s is also an apprenticeships in a certain context. Even when you get a real job, you still have to consider yourself as an apprentice, and you don’t necessarily deserve the $200,000 paycheck and the raises, and the accolades. You still need to go through that apprenticeship in the real world as well, which people sort of lose sight of, I think.
Robert: Well, in fact, that is the beginning of your apprenticeship. That’s the start of it. Your learning doesn’t start until you get out of college. That’s when reality finally slaps you in the face. I had the example in there of Paul Graham, I’m sure you’re aware of Paul Graham and Y Combinator, and the success he’s had. I was fascinated by his apprenticeship.
He kept telling me when I was interviewing, “I didn’t have an apprenticeship. I always wished I had, I didn’t have one!” But clearly as we talked about it, he did have one, and what he had was a hacker’s apprenticeship. He tried everything that he wanted to try. He went to Harvard and did computer engineering and artificial intelligence.
He then went into consulting, which he hated. He then decided to study painting and art history, and he went and lived in Italy and then in New York, and was an artist. Then finally he’s turning 30 years old and he’s like, “What am I doing with my life?” He hears on the radio an ad for Netscape about how Netscape is going to be creating this new world of internet commerce.
A lightbulb goes on in his head, “Well, maybe I could take all the skills that I’ve developed and come up with something for that.” And that leads to him basically inventing the first (I’m not going to get into it technically); but what he invented sort of started the whole internet commerce movement where you could set up your own store on the internet.
He sold it for $50 million, and the rest is history. But in looking back on it, it was sort of like a hacker’s apprenticeship—cut and paste, cheesy hacks, try this, try that, it fails, it doesn’t work. And then finally, the right hack comes about. That’s how you look at your 20s. As long as you have a general idea of what you want and you’re excited and you’re motivated and you’re learning skills, it will all come to work in the end.
Pete: Where do you think luck plays a part in this? A lot of people will actually take the cop-out and just say, “Ah, there’s luck involved,” in terms of your conversation with—I know I’m going to pronounce his name incorrectly—is it Joost?
Robert: You got it right the first time.
Pete: Ah, perfect. He was the book packager who made The 48 Laws of Power happen. A lot of people will say, “Ah, that’s luck.” There was no real knowing your calling and apprenticeship; that was just luck. You had someone who had some funds to invest in time for a book. How would you tackle that complaint, that crutch people often lean on?
Robert: Well, first I would punch them in the face, because I really, really hate that. It’s a total cop-out. It’s just silly. Of course there’s an element of serendipity involved in life. We don’t choose the historical era we’re born to, our parents, our income bracket, that kind of determines what university we go to, the people we meet.
Yes, we don’t control all of that; but Louis Pasteur was the one who said you create your own luck. He was sort of the master at it because a lot of his discoveries were based on luck. But it was through preparation, and having kind of prepared himself and learned a lot, and having his mind opened that he reached that.
I have the story in there of Michael Faraday, one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century, probably the greatest experimental scientist ever, really. He came from a poor background in a time in which nobody from that class could ever hope to become a scientist. Through a series of what appears to be luck, he ended up finding the absolute perfect mentor.
He wandered into a bookstore, and the man who ran the bookstore kind of liked him a lot and gave him an apprenticeship as a bookbinder. This allowed him to now be surrounded by books, which was a very unique thing. And then he happened to find a book that instructed him about how to learn on your own called Improvement of the Mind, and it suddenly made him very disciplined. He gave himself an education in science.
Then a man wandered into the store who had a position at the Royal Society; on and on and on. But the actual point of the story of Michael Faraday is that through his intensity, through the desire he had to learn, through the love that he had for science, through the patience and persistence he had in doing this and this and this, he made it so other people were impressed with him.
And then when the opportunity came, a lot of people had heard of Michael Faraday—this kid was so disciplined and so smart that naturally something good was going to happen to him. So it’s the whiners, it’s the people who never get off their butt and do something who have this belief that it’s all about luck. There is luck, but why don’t you not think about it? Why don’t you just think, for a change, that actually a lot more is involved from my own will power? And if you think like that, you’re more likely to make it happen.
Pete: Absolutely, and I couldn’t agree more. You touch on there about the mentorship—’requirement’ is probably not the right word; but in the book, you talk about the third phase you go through in mastery is to have that mentor relationship. You touched on that with Michael there. How do you go about approaching and getting them to talk about a whole bunch of different ways in the book?
Ryan Holiday is probably a good modern day, contemporary [example] in terms of going out and getting an apprenticeship and mentoring under yourself, and now being a very successful author in his own right and publicist (for want of a better term). So, how does that play into the whole mastery development through a mentor relationship—approaching mentors, and going about and getting a mentor and finding somebody?
Robert: I make the point in the book that there are really no shortcuts to mastery, but the only thing that comes close to a shortcut is finding the right mentor. Because if you’ve got the right mentor, their experience becomes your experience and they can kind of give you real-time feedback.
They can tell you what your strengths and weaknesses are. They can give you—not shortcuts—but they can streamline the process and say, “Avoid that experience, do this, this is more valuable.” Two or three years with a mentor can be worth 10 years struggling on your own.
The other thing is, you’d be surprised; people whom you might admire as a writer, an entrepreneur, a business person, a politician, whomever—you might be intimidated to approach them, thinking, “I could never hope to interest them in becoming their student,” or whatever. But in fact, it’s really the opposite. A lot of people in power are looking for—it’s a very satisfying relationship on both ends.
It’s a good feeling to impart the skills you’ve learned to someone else—I know in my case, having Ryan now helping me publicize the book, he’s obviously a lot younger than I am and he understands the internet and what’s happening in the world now much more than I can. So it’s a very satisfying, mutual interest kind of relationship. Basically Ryan—I met him five or six years ago through a mutual friend.
Pete: Tucker, yep.
Robert: I was impressed by his seriousness. I could tell he wasn’t a slacker, he wasn’t all talk, and he was a big fan of my books. I just sensed that he was serious. The fact that you could mentor someone who has good character and is going to work hard, is actually sometimes more important than what kind of degree they have or how intellectual they might appear or whatever.
Not to say that Ryan wasn’t smart; but I was really impressed by his eagerness and his character more than anything, so I gave him a simple task. My Wikipedia page was a mess and he said he could fix it, and he fixed it. He delivered what he said he could do and he did a great job. Okay, Dov Charney had a Wikipedia page (Dov is the CEO of American Apparel).
Okay, go fix Dov’s page. He did a great job, and not only was I impressed, but Dov was impressed and hired him. On and on down the line, he proved himself, he delivered what he said he could do, and he showed that he had the spirit and the demeanor that would get results. You can tell these things.
After a while, then it becomes a really satisfying relationship for both. Ryan has really done it mostly on his own, but I’ve been in a position now to really help him with his own writing and help him launch his career as a writer. It’s a very satisfying relationship if you find the right mentor. I talk in the book, some people are wrong mentors for you. You’re attracted to them because they seem charismatic or something.
You want to find a mentor who has the skills that you really want to have yourself. It doesn’t matter whether they have a sparkling personality or whether they are making a lot of money. They have the skills and knowledge, that’s the right mentor for you, and also maybe a spirit that kind of is congruent that’s a good fit. I talk a lot about that, and I instruct you in all the ins and outs of how to find the right mentor.
Pete: Yeah, it’s brilliant. The one thing out of the book that leads on after the mentor is something that kind of—I’ll use the word ‘surprised’ me a little bit. Because I think if most people from the outside (and I’m not saying you shouldn’t read the book because of this) but look at the path to mastery and just try to articulate it themselves without doing any core research: it’s sort of, find a nice niche or a love or a ‘calling,’ as you call it.
Do an apprenticeship, find a mentor, apprentice under that mentor, start creating your own things, and then become a master. That’s a very overview arch, which is the main flow of the book. But the extra thing in the book that I really didn’t see coming, so to speak, was the social intelligence angle that you talk about. Do you want to explain that a little bit? Because I’m sure you can articulate it better than I can.
Robert: I want to take this, the idea that we have of mastery, out of this intellectual realm and show that it’s actually a very practical thing; that it’s practical in Einstein and Da Vinci, to Paul Graham or Henry Ford. Basically, there’s no such thing as living in a world that’s isolated from other people. So you could know your calling, you could go through a rigorous apprenticeship, you could learn all the necessary skills that you need, you could become talented and smart as ever, and you won’t ever get anywhere.
You will not advance on the chessboard in life because you have no social skills. You don’t understand the political game, you don’t know how to get along with other people. You don’t’ have empathy, you have no sensitivity to the thoughts that other people might have about you, about your own weaknesses. You’re going to be useless.
You’re going to be tripping over your own feet and getting in your own way left, right, and center—and so, A) not only do you have to pay as much attention to learning about people and learning about these skills (which I’m going to show you how to do it in the book) but B) you have to think of the brain and intelligence in a different way.
It’s not like there are these separate modules in your brain of ‘learning to play the piano’ and then ‘getting along with people in the office’ or something. They’re all interrelated, interconnected. Having social skills, being empathetic, being sensitive to the signals that people have, becoming intuitive like that, is actually very much connected to other forms of intelligence, what we normally consider even ‘intellectual’ intelligence.
And I show in the book how a lot of great scientists—Benjamin Franklin is the icon of what I call ‘social intelligence,’ who happened to be a great scientist and an inventor as well, that his development of this really sensitive appreciation for the fine elements of dealing with people and also dealing with the dark side, was related to how his spirit and his open-mindedness and his fluidity in dealing with scientific issues.
The two are interrelated. So you’re not going to advance in life or in mastery unless you understand the importance of working with other people, learning how to cooperate, being empathetic, and also how to protect yourself from the dark sides of human nature. To take that element out is to not write a book on mastery, in my view.
Pete: I absolutely agree. Once you do read that chapter in the book itself, you’ll need to jump back into The [48 Laws of] Power, and The [33 Strategies of] War, and The [Art of] Seduction stuff to really pad out those skill sets; so it’s a smart marketing ploy as well, if that was a nice by-product.
Robert: Well, it might’ve been, but you know, from the beginning, I’d always planned this to be The 48 Laws of Power chapter within the book, because I enjoy writing about that and you can kind of tell that I enjoy writing that chapter. But I really genuinely believe in this.
And my research about the development of human intelligence shows how much our brains developed in the social realm. You can’t disconnect the two, so I really wanted to make that point.
Pete: I love it. And speaking of those other books; if you look at the books in isolation, you could kind of say that the champion of The 33 Strategies of] War book would be Napoleon, The Art of Seduction would be Cleopatra, The 48 Laws of Power, Louis XIV.
Pete: Who’s the icon, the champion, the hero of Mastery? Because you cover a lot, like you do in every book. Who’s the one, the hero of this book do you think?
Robert: Well, I think there’s one, maybe two. I’d always intended Leonardo da Vinci as sort of the icon. He opens the book, and for the fact that he was just so awesome. His inventions, just alone. We know him as an amazing artist, but the list of inventions that he had and discoveries that he had is just mind-boggling. It’s almost like something out of science fiction.
And then you go to his artwork (which, there isn’t much of it that we still have) and the power of it, and the name and the aura that Leonardo da Vinci has is so masterful. What I wanted to do was to show you that that aura is not anything mysterious. Da Vinci was an illegitimate son of a notary, who just happened to discover that he had a love for drawing.
But he also had a love for nature, and just a really curious mind. He went through an elaborate apprenticeship that I can show you. He’s the icon. The other one I really like a lot is Charles Darwin because Charles Darwin debunks the myth that it’s all about genetics and talent. He was not a good student, he was a mediocre student. His father thought he was a failure.
He basically learns the skill, as a biologist, on this incredible voyage to South America. That essentially is his apprenticeship. And I consider what Darwin did on that boat as the model for any kind of apprenticeship. I don’t care where it is, if it’s in the tech business or in art or whatever; that’s the model that anybody can learn from. So, Da Vinci is the icon, but as a close runner-up there would be Darwin.
Pete: With Darwin though, obviously, a lot of his apprenticeship was on the boat trip. Would you say he had a direct mentor? Obviously, there was the captain of the boat who almost contradicted Darwin’s findings. Can you have a mentor who is actually contradictory to where you want to head and what your beliefs are?
Robert: Well, no, that man wouldn’t be his mentor. That was the captain of the ship, FitzRoy, was this madman, sort of a raving Christian who believed—and I don’t mean to disparage Christianity; it’s just that he believed in the literalness of the Bible. He wanted Darwin to go to South America to find evidence for the flood and find evidence of the Garden of Eden.
And of course, Darwin went and did the exact opposite—one of history’s great ironies. But Darwin had mentors in college, in Cambridge. He had a particular botany professor who showed him that—he was not a good student; he didn’t enjoy academics. But he could see that a subject like botany could fit him very well. He had a really good instructor who then got him this job on the boat, the Beagle, that sailed around South America.
But beyond that, Darwin had a few other mentors early on in his life. He was largely self-taught, which is a phenomenon that we have in the world. Thomas Edison, I say, is the most interesting example of a man of power and mastery who had no mentors at all. He literally had 0 mentors, and it’s not easy. It’s not an easy path, but it can be done—and I show how you can actually follow that path.
Pete: Speaking of Edison, there’s lots of folklore or stories about Edison actually ripping off his apprentices and claiming their research as his own, which is a whole another can of worms. We probably don’t have time to chat about. But is that a fair statement?
Robert: Yes, he wasn’t, perhaps, the nicest man, nor was someone like Steve Jobs. I’m not saying that masters are necessarily people you want to have over for Thanksgiving or Christmas. They can be often difficult people. But Thomas Edison was an absolute genius in my book, a true master. You’re talking about the story with Tesla that I described in The 48 Laws of Power, so he had a dark side.
But my god, this man was really brilliant. The story of his invention of the electric lightbulb is one of the greatest stories you’ll ever read. Talk about persistence, painstaking effort mixed with intuitive insight. And talk about one invention that has had a greater impact on the world?
I know we like to think of Steve Jobs and the smart phone. I’ll ask you to find me one invention like the electric lightbulb that changed how everyone around the world has lived. I don’t think you’ll find anything equivalent to that—maybe the wheel, you know.
Pete: I was going to say, you could argue the wheel, but that’s sort of…
Robert: But it’s an amazing story, and it’s an example of everything I talk about, where your motivation, your patience, your persistence, the energy you bring and the love that you bring to something is what will make you successful, and he certainly fits the bill.
Pete: Well, let me ask you this question, and I’m going to word it in a particular way: out of all the books you’ve read, out of all the people you’ve studied, who is your favorite character from history?
Robert: Well, it’s a really hard choice. I would have to say of the people that I researched for the book, the richest one, the one that was the greatest challenge and reaped the greatest rewards for me, personally, was Napoleon Bonaparte—and he’s sort of the icon of The 33 Strategies of War—only because it’s such a classic, dramatic story of a young man.
It’s not that he emerged from poverty, he actually came from aristocracy in Corsica (which doesn’t mean anything, he really was kind of from a middle class, even relatively poorer family). But somebody emerging, not from the top of society to slowly inching his way there to become the preeminent military strategist of his era, probably in history, with a 10-year run that we have never, ever seen, nor will we ever witness in history.
I was presented with a challenge: why? Why was Napoleon’s brain different? What made him the way he was? And oddly enough, I read books. I read an incredible 1,600-page biography of him and his battles. I read 20 books on just Napoleon himself—nobody answered the question to me. Nobody!
They hinted at it, they hinted at the fact that he had a very organized mind, that he had a mind like a computer, that he had a very fluid form of thinking, that he was an opportunist, yada yada yada. But they didn’t go deeper and deeper and deeper until they came to the core of what made Napoleon Bonaparte the greatest strategist, the Mozart of warfare. And to solve that riddle and to go so deeply into it was very satisfying to me. So, I would have to name him as my favorite.
Pete: Ah, fantastic. Well, two final questions and I’ll let you go. One question I always ask guests is: what’s the one question I haven’t asked you that I should have?
Robert: Wow! Okay, I’ll tell you. I’m usually asked, “Robert, do you actually practice the laws that you write about?”
Pete: There you go! Here we go: do you practice the laws that you write about?
Robert: “Do you practice all the 48 Laws? Do you do all of the 24 Strategies of Seduction and 33 Strategies of War and follow 50 Cent’s advice in The 50th Law? Um, no, the answer is no. If I did, I would probably be in a lunatic asylum or in prison.
There’s no way you could follow all the things in those books; that’s not a personal book, I’m not saying this is how I run my life. I’ve used a lot of the laws. I’ve used a lot of the things in the seduction book, but I’m not this monster that has tried out everything that I write about.
Pete: Fair enough. Now, speaking of 50 Cent, this is the one story that I read, reading about your product, jumping on the call, was the story about him seducing your 80-year-old mother. You’ve got to share a bit of that tale, that’s just intriguing. Kind of ties everything in together, doesn’t it?
Robert: You know, my mom—God bless her soul, she’s now 86 or so. She never really understood, “Why are you doing a book with 50 Cent? He seems so kind of violent and thuggish.” And she would see pictures of him on television and stuff like that, and she just didn’t understand it and she was a little concerned.
I kept telling her, “He’s not like that, he’s a nice guy,” but I knew she didn’t believe me. Then we had a book signing together here in Los Angeles, 50 and myself. My mother was there, and she just totally melted in his presence. “Oh, he’s so handsome, the smile on his face, he’s so charismatic! What a nice boy he is!” I’ve seen him seduce just about everyone— he did it to me!
Half of it is you go in expecting this kind of hip-hop monster, kind of with bullet wound in his mouth and all the bling, and you end up meeting someone who’s really polite, and sweet, and nice, and attentive—so that kind of disarms you. But he’s also got true, true charisma that comes through. If he could do it to my mom, then you just know—there’s nobody out there who wouldn’t melt before 50.
Pete: Love it—very cool!
Robert: I’ve seen him do it with women, my god. What a great seducer.
Pete: How does he compare to Neil, Neil Strauss?
Robert: Well, they’re much different. Neil’s a great seducer, but Neil’s more that—he’s in the Mastery angle. He studied it with Mystery and it’s like a craft.
Pete: I’ve gone out with him a couple of times and it’s impressive to watch.
Robert: It is very impressive to watch. I personally witnessed it. He’ll acknowledge it; he didn’t start out in life as a seducer, he’s not a natural. He learned it, and he learned it really well. I would say that 50 is the total natural. And a total natural—because I’m more in the Neil cab—I’m not in Neil’s, he’d be above me; but I’m more like Neil.
It’s something that I kind of learned and developed. But 50 is born that way. I don’t know if he’s born that way, but he has true, natural charisma. He’s so relaxed with himself that it makes other people around him relaxed. It’s kind of like how I describe Errol Flynn or Duke Ellington in the book, and that kind of masculine, relaxed, unselfconscious energy is massively seductive.
Pete: And he definitely did his apprenticeship. There’s no question about that. Particularly in the start of The 50th Law, you talk about 50, his apprenticeship (not yet call it an apprenticeship at that point) but you can definitely see he clearly went through an apprenticeship to get to where he’s gotten, in every path he’s taken, whether it’s right or wrong.
Robert: Well, most definitely. In fact, 50 was sort of one of the main inspirations for the book on Mastery. I know you’ll find that counterintuitive, to put in Leonardo da Vinci and 50 Cent in the same sentence there. But in fact, he actually inspired the book for the reason that once he decided to get out of hustling—he had an interest in business but he saw hustling as a dead end—he got into music.
But he approached what he did in music like a university, it was an apprenticeship. He wasn’t in there for scoring women or drugs or getting fame and bling and money; he was in there to learn. And it totally altered how he approached it. So he found the right mentor and Jam Master Jay was the perfect mentor for him.
Then when he signed a deal at Columbia, his first deal, he went there every day that he could and he watched people in various elements of the business, even the production side, and he treated it like it was a university, because he knew some day he would need all that education—and he does that to this day.
He’s always learning. It wasn’t like, “Get me that one album, make money, and then go party.” He doesn’t drink, he spends his time working out, he’s very disciplined. He completely fits the mold of Mastery as I describe it. He’s an intriguing example of it.
Pete: Very, very cool. Well, Robert, thank you so much for your time—I know you’re a busy man, got a lot of books to read and things like that. Do you have a new book already planned? I know how most authors sort of have the next one in the idea space already.
Robert: I do, but I’m in the process of crafting the treatment, and it’s very bad luck to talk about something that’s in such a preliminary stage. I don’t want to jinx it.
Pete: Oh, I wasn’t going to ask you what it was, I was just intrigued if you got the next idea. So, Robert, thank you so much. The book is Mastery, it’s available in all good bookstores, online and offline, I’m sure. Thank you very much for your time.
Robert: The only thing I would say, Pete, is the website PowerSeductionAndWar.com. The ‘and war’ is spelled out. You can get my blog posts and there’s a special offers for pre-ordering the book.
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