Summary of Law #1 “Never Outshine the Master” of the book “the 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene. This review offers practical real-life examples and strategies on how to apply this stratagem, as well as reversals of the rule, quotes and an in-depth analysis of the meaning & definition of never outshine the master.
Warning!This is a work of fiction and does not offer advice of any kind. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. The presumption of innocence applies to everyone mentioned in this article.
Examples on how to apply the 48 Laws of Power
In the 17th century during the reign of Louis XIV, his finance minister Nicolas Fouquet found himself on the verge of becoming a persona non grata (a person who has fallen from grace). He amassed wealth by using shady tactics (not all of them were in accordance with the crown) and didn’t keep quiet about it but instead made the mistake of living quite a decadent lifestyle.
Sometime before ascending the throne, Louis was driven out of his palace, by the parliament, during a revolt called the “Fronde” and was forced to live like a common plebeian. An insult going so deep that he would never forget about it. Never outshine the master who has developed an inferiority complex, since he tends to become offended much easier.
Now Nicolas Fouquet decided to build himself a palace (forgetting that you should never outshine the master, especially not if he is the king) worthy of an Egyptian pharaoh, the Chateaux Vaux-le-Vicomte and again decided to show off his wealth and style whenever possible. France at that time was troubled by financial worries and the king had to lead a much less decadent lifestyle than would be fitting for his majesty. Another factor that aroused envy in the king.
Having the Damocles Sword right above his head, he made an unforgivable mistake. Since Nicolas Fouquet wanted to secure his position in the court of the king, he decided to throw the biggest and probably most lavish party the world had seen in the year 1661. Full of luxury goods and dishes from exotic lands that have never been tasted by even the highest regarded French nobles. Every guest idolised the party and if back then mobile phones had already existed, you could have seen the selfie-flashlights from outer space.
The metaphorical light shone bright enough to cast a huge shadow onto the king. While 23-year-old Louis stood in the shadow, outshined by the magnificence of Nicolas Fouquet, even more envy crept into his heart and the wish for Vendetta formed in his mind. Revenge for this disrespect was inevitable, and King Louis decided that the logical consequence of this affront was to throw his finance minister into the darkest hole in prison, claiming that he had misappropriated state funds. A rather subtle method compared to openly insulting Fouquet or acting hurt during the party. This guarded the king’s reputation and stopped people from assuming he suffered from inferiority complexes. Speaking of inferiority complexes: This incident arguably led to the construction of Versailles.
Nicolas Fouquet wanted his king to admire his taste, connections, wealth and impress him, but it backfired and led to his demise.
Galileo Galilei a great mind with a pathetic pocket. His whole life he was troubled by financial shortcomings and instead of getting peanuts from working for multiple monkies, he decided to dance on one wedding exclusively. He managed to put his chosen master in the spotlight and make him appear greater than he was.
In 1610, he discovered the “Galilean Moons,” Jupiter’s 4 biggest moons. He dedicated this discovery to the Medici family whose symbol was the Jupiter, and after the discovery, the Galilean Moons were said to represent the 4 sons of the Medici family, revolving around their patriarch.
Usually, the Galilei’s procedure was to dedicate one small part of the discovery to one patron and receive gifts in return, rarely monetary support, but this time, he chose a different path and dedicated all of his discovery to one family. The Medici family enjoyed standing in the spotlight and being praised, leading them to become Galilei’s biggest supporter and rewarding him with a steady job and constant financial support.
Galilei decided to stop dancing at multiple weddings and chose one ally to gain their full, undivided support, by praising them and making them appear glorious.
In “House of Cards” the main protagonist Frank Underwood abided this law par excellence. During his position as the vice president, he pulled the strings behind the president and subtly made suggestions and advised the president to take actions that aligned with Frank’s goals; framing them in such a way that made the ideas look like they were his master’s ideas all along.
Frank didn’t act too bold or too aggressive; an important part of his bigger scheme. Despite pulling the strings and being more powerful than the president himself, he made his master shine and feel in control. The rule to never outshine your master served him well and paved his way to the highest office, coming from the shadows.
Always remaining calm and in control. Don’t play the arrogant know-it-all. Pretending to be on the side of the president, making him look good while simultaneously influencing him, helped Mr. Underwood achieve his goals.
Negative Example & Reversal
Dumbo Pretendiavelli considered himself to be a funny and exalted person of worth and influence. Glowing with confidence, charisma, humour and of course the god-given arrogance that comes with it. Pretendiavelli managed to snatch a good job and there was no doubt in his mind, that he was going to crush it and make a killing in the new company.
He asserted himself as THE alpha male of his new work environment and hustled everyone he deemed inferior (including his imbecile masters). He knew every study, every guideline, every example from the textbooks and believed that nobody could one-up him and that he would convince his new masters and equals of his worth.
What worked with his drinking buddies, former employers and employees and girls he picked up in a bar, was sure to work in this new environment. So the self-proclaimed alpha male thought. He came into his new job cocky as a cock can be, telling jokes, trying to show off his refined tastes and superior knowledge, believing to be on the right path to conquering the throne of the company.
Whenever someone told a joke, he followed it up with a joke of his own. Whenever someone told a compelling story, he followed it up with a more glorious story of his own. Whenever someone suggested an idea, he followed it up with an (in his mind) even better idea. Whenever someone discussed a topic, he proceeded to straighten that person out and give them the “real facts.”
Soon after his entry, shocking to him, everyone hated him. Everybody hated the arrogant know-it-all asshole who could not stand other people receiving as much or even more attention, around him and always tried to trump not only his equals and inferiors but also his masters. Problems arose because the people who hire you, want you to shine, but not too brightly and not too soon. Not having achieved anything so far but still walking around like you have a 10-inch cock (how Ben Affleck put it in the marvellous movie “Boiler Room”) is a dangerous mindset to follow.
Despite knowing everything there is to know and delivering great work, achieving and even surpassing all of his goals, everyone started to nitpick his every mistake. They picked the smallest deficit and blew it up to look like an unforgivable affront.
Soon after, Dumbo Pretendiavelli got fired and lived unhappily ever after, all because he violated Law 1 – Never Outshine the Master. A lesson he will never forget.
Don’t let your ego, the size of the Grand Canyon, become your downfall. Instead, be patient, be submissive and play your cards when the time is right.
Be humble and thankful for every opportunity to learn and help out your fellow men.
Don’t be a Narcissistic prick. Don’t be Narcissus.
The meaning of “Never Outshine the Master”
Analyse the Terrain
An extremely important aspect – your starting point – needs to be finding out who your masters and other players are and where they stand. Everywhere you look, a social hierarchy exists and you will have to find out the dynamics of said environment. Be it your parents, your teachers, your professors, your middle-management, your customers?
Yes, also your customer. I have a background in marketing & PR, and the best advice I can give is to always give the customer what they want. Even if their idea is about as useful as a dick without a shaft, you have to deliver just the way he expects. He couldn’t care less about your fancy idea if it violates his wishes. In such a situation you will want to deliver one project just like he wanted it, and maybe if you feel like your idea is a million-dollar idea, you can work it out and present it additionally.
Knowing the micro- and macro environment is mandatory for every successful business. Read more about the PESTEL-Analysis here.
Important influential factors in the business environment
Outshining your Master
Whenever a master takes you under his wings, by either becoming your patron or hiring you, they do want you to be a success. Just not that huge of a success so you cast such a lurking shadow that makes them disappear within.
People hire you for two reasons and two reasons only.
They want you to make them money, achieve goals or use your connections.
They like you and want you to stroke their egos and make them shine.
Bonus reason: They hire you to take revenge on someone, or they are forced to hire you for some reason. Ignore this for it doesn’t or at least, shouldn’t apply to you.
The smart Strategos knows this and works hard on achieving both goals. Do not let them slide or you will find yourself looking for new work or a new network sooner rather than later. Reason #2 is more important than Reason #1. If you don’t achieve results but are liked and appear to achieve results, you will run circles around those who merely work hard, while ignoring the social aspect and who shine too bright in the wrong moment. Unfortunate, unfair but a God-given-given fact.
Learn to listen, learn to restrain your tongue. When your master tells a joke, he is looking for positive feedback and not for a joke that one-ups his. Your masters don’t want you to come into the company and tear it apart because you believe your ideas to be better. Even if your ideas happen to be valuable, they simply don’t want the status quo challenged too fiercely. Never should challenge your master’s ideas and make sure if you do, you do it subtly.
Mimic your master’s ideas, make sure you like the same things and hate the same people like your master. Act alike.
Your ego is your biggest enemy while also being your best ally. Don’t let it interfere with your grand strategy for short-term victories. Making someone feel or look bad might feel amazing that moment, but ultimately it won’t do you good. Whenever someone claims something to be true, that you know is wrong; whenever someone has an idea, you believe to be inferior to your idea; do not let your ego show its’ ugly face, instead think like a Strategos and either restrain your tongue or frame your response in a way that echoes their thoughts or start by disarming them, before you present your ideas.
For example, you might say: “An interesting idea, I might be wrong, but I thought that lowering the prices might actually lead to lower sales rates because we depend on being viewed as a premium product, as our analysis has pointed out. What do you think about this?” instead of “Bullshit, we are a premium priced brand and only an imbecile would even think about lowering the prices.”
I know, it is hard to be humble when you are as great as I am, you might say, but make sure that your ego doesn’t sabotage you.
Outshining your Colleagues & Hostile Superiors
Another thing you will have to keep in mind is that you will be confronted with opposition if you outshine people other than your master. Never come out guns blazing if you disagree with anyone, especially not your boss. Be submissive and meek but get a feeling for the line between being a good little asset and being a spineless pushover.
Let us suppose one has a new incompetent superior. Be careful to never outshine the master or colleague in a situation where they hold the cards. Trump them subtly. Remember that not every superior of yours is your master. Attach yourself to the boss of your superior and you shall have an easier life. Another way would be to seek this boss’ advice, flatter him and try to make an ally out of him. He might soon start asking you for advice and as soon as he believes your advice to be of value, he is going to follow it. This opens him up for ill-advice that damages him and lures him into a trap. Always keep law #3 in mind: conceal your intentions.
The 48 laws of power are amoral and how they are used decide about ethics & morals. Influencing superiors can be used for both good or bad. Knowing the stratagems and being able to defend them is priceless and helps you avoid getting played and making tactical missteps.
Outshining your masters is a vile misstep, as is outshining your colleagues. Sometimes though it is inevitable to constantly belittle your equals, aiming to look better in the eyes of your master. The name of the game is patience. You don’t want to attack anyone who is stronger than you, has more connections and a stronger fortress, so to say. You do not want to outshine the master if he is stronger than you. You are supposed to wait for the right time, either if you are stronger than him, or he opened himself up to attacks and revealed weaknesses. As soon as you find yourself in a position where you are more likely to succeed, have gathered enough support or stand little to lose, you can openly challenge your master or competitor by outshining him.
Slander & Compliments
Praise and charm competitors in private settings. People love compliments. If you have not read the book How to Win Friends & Influence People you need to buy & devour it as soon as humanly possible.
“I will speak ill of no man and speak all the good I know of everybody.”
― Benjamin Franklin
Just like you should never outshine the master without a strong reason, don’t offend and belittle others either, if there is no good reason for doing so. Whenever you are confronted with a group and your aim is to impress a woman, don’t do so by insulting and belittling your competition. They are very likely to seek revenge and sabotage your attempts. Instead, focus on giving value to the whole group while inflating your own value and charming them with your finesse and presence.
Self-improvement is an interesting field study. We have all been there, tightened our boots and worked on ourselves. We started lifting, learning, constantly improving and demanding the respect that is due. We changed our habits and ways and asserted dominance. One huge problem arises, though. Humans are programmed by nature to resist change in their social circle. If they believe themselves to be more alpha than you, you are going to have a very hard time.
Fact: People in general and your friends, in particular, are going to try to keep you down. They feel threatened by the new you and feel that the status quo is at peril. Therefore, they are going to try their best to prevent you from bringing a disturbance in the force of the already established group. They don’t like being outshined and therefore will lay bricks in your way.
It is much easier to become a person of influence and respect within a new group of friends/people. Know when to cut loose ties, make tabula rasa and start all over.
If you decide to change too much too quickly (see law #45 and #46) you are going to be confronted with resistance. Try to change subtly and don’t openly outshine your friends at every possible opportunity.
Quotes of Power
“Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. In your desire to please or impress them, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish the opposite – inspire fear and insecurity. Make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power.”
– Robert Greene
“The prince, Machiavelli writes, must always keep his mind on war. While hunting in the countryside, hardening his body for the physical rigors of war, he must also study the landscape for prospective fields of battle. The prince needs to “learn the nature of the terrain, and know how mountains slope, how valleys open, how plains lie, and understand the nature of rivers and swamps.”
– Niccolò Machiavelli
“It’s hard to be humble, when you are as great as I am.”
– Muhammad Ali
I congratulate you on taking action to read & learn and want to thank you for visiting my blog. If you have examples of the possible applications or questions of any kind, please leave a comment.