When I was lost and directionless, unable to make sense of all the intricacies of what separated the real players from the rest of herd – Robert was the guy responsible for helping me lay down the foundational bricks of my worldview.
He is one of the sharpest minds in the world- and his ability to accurately de-construct the hidden inner-workings of human motivation and behavior through the lens of a master strategist is only rivaled by Sun Tzu himself.
I only have a handful of people I look up to.. and given that Robert is one of them – It’s always a pleasure to chat with the guy.
Did I mention he’s such a cool motherfucker?
With his latest installment Mastery on the horizon, it’s about time I post some of the chatter.
The following is a recent conversation I had with Robert.
DW: How’s the new book coming by the way?
RG: Well, it’s pretty much finished. I finished the writing of it - around the end of March. And then I’ve been into the editing of it in the month of April so it’s pretty much 99.9% done. You know, a little bit of copy editing and extra little filler to do but it’s practically ready to go.
DW: I See…..I don’t know if you remember the talk you gave at Yale in 2010 - You talked about mirror neurons and our ability to basically imitate the experiences, beliefs and actions of others. I think you related it to this idea of “Machiavellian intelligence” or “Machiavellian reality”. Why is it that - even though we are more advanced and resourceful today than ever.. why is it that most people don’t really focus on important matters like strategy and dealing with conflict effectively in business and in life?
RG: Well, Everybody wants power and control in their life. Nobody that I know really likes the feeling of having no power and not being able to influence people. But most of us aren’t too conscious of what we are trying to do and get that control and that power so people end up sort of playing all kinds of unconscious manipulative games or they’re sort of half aware, they have an idea of a strategy or goal they want to use and they think about it. But then in the heat of the moment, it kind of all flies out the window. Most of this is because no one’s really taking it seriously enough, being more kind of careful and cautious in planning your life out and trying to reach a goal. It takes a great deal of effort - and this cannot be taught.
DW: Right. Would you agree that it’s learnable?
RG: It’s not something that’s going to come naturally to you. It’s not something we’re just born with. We have consciousness and rational powers but unless you’re willing to spend the time to gain control of yourself, gain control of your emotions, to think deeply about what you want in a year or two, or where you want your business to be, you’re going to be swept away by every new event that occurs in the course of the day or the week and the small amount of time that you plan, that you address to conscious planning, is never enough to overcome the constant tide of emotions and new things happening. So to answer your question, to be strategic in life is like any skill whether it’s basketball or learning a language, it takes effort and practice and I think most people don’t think that it’s something that they could just do, you know, naturally.
DW: So would you agree that most actions that the average person engages in on a daily basis, be it work or school, almost useless and irrelevant in the context of power and influence?
RG: Well, it really depends, you know. I mean, to the degree that you can think ahead a little bit - I compare it in The 33 Strategies of War. I have a metaphor where, let’s say you’re in a battlefield, like some sort of a battle. And if you’re on the ground, it’s all very chaotic and you really have no sense, you’re one soldier among a thousand, fighting an enemy. You elevate yourself ten feet above, you suddenly see a little bit of what’s going on. You have a better perspective of how the battle’s going. If you would elevate a hundred feet, suddenly you have a more interesting and better perspective, a thousand feet up - even clearer, and so on. If you’re only ten feet above, then you’re better than when you’re on the ground. People who are reading my books, or who are thinking about it, have some general idea about the concept of strategy. They’re better off than somebody that has none. So I would never say it’s useless. Some people are a little bit better than others, some people are great, some people are superior. It depends on the level of effort. Now, I will say some people are a little more natural at it. It is a way of thinking that doesn’t come naturally to some who are more of the emotional type..and so there are people, Napoleon Bonaparte, 50 Cent, maybe myself, to some degree, it’s sort of more natural way to think but it still requires years of mastering yourself and learning about strategy. So it’s always good to at least make the effort to try and raise yourself up a little bit from the battlefield.
DW: Speaking of the 33 Strategies of War, by the way, you talk about “..how one should force oneself into adversity to force the mind to become stronger and be more in control of ones emotions..” Several years ago, following your advice, I became homeless to force myself into unfamiliar territory and it was an interesting experience. Any thoughts on the notion of simulating adversity in a world where resources are abundant?
RG: That sounds very interesting. I hope you wrote about the experience.
DW: I did. I thought it was very interesting how most of us are not required to face adversity - and when I mean “adversity”, I am not talking about it in the “traditional” sense, what I mean is: adversity that pushes you so far off the grid, there’s a chance that you might never come back. Adversity at this level has very little to do with what most people experience on a day to day basis. How can you evolve your mind without experiencing severe adversity? Should one conciously run towards it?
RG: Well, you know, there are people that don’t need to run towards adversity. They grew up in circumstances where it’s forced upon them. Other people lead, pushier lives. So there are all kinds of forms of adversity in the world. There’s physical adversity, that if you are someone that likes exercise like I do, I exercise everyday. When you exercise, there’s pain involved and so you’re putting yourself through adversity in that situation. It’s never totally pleasurable and there are moments where it’s kind of boring or painful and you know that in doing that, you’re making your mind and body tougher and more resilient. So must be able to deal with the boredom that happens in life. In other words, expand your notion of what adversity is. I think the homeless thing is very interesting and I think is an incredible exercise. But you know, a lot of, a big problems that people have nowadays is that they can’t stand moments of no stimulation in their life so they’re constantly lurking, looking for entertainment, video games…
DW: Facebook, YouTube, Porn…Essentially, passive forms of entertainment that requires no effort..
RG: Exactly. So a great form of adversity, as I said to expand your concept is to literally put yourself in boring situations where you, you know, there’s a quote I have in the 50th law of from I believe it’s Pascal, that the problem with human beings is that they can’t sit alone in a room for for more than an hour. So, you know, things like reading a book or learning a language, or taking a walk - they’re not stimulating. Your mind has to sort of learn how to deal with that kind of stimulation on its own. So that’s a very important form of adversity. Another thing would be, you know, to force yourself, to engage yourself on a very difficult project that’s a little bit above your normal skill level or what you normally take on in life and it’s going to force you to now perform and you’re going to be utilizing the Death-Ground strategy1 you know, it depends on your circumstance. One could draw up all different kinds of adversity depending on what your weakness is.
DW: I see, that’s a interesting strategy…
RG: And that’s the main thing, like, for instance, for me, I’ve had problems, I mean, I’m not going to go deeply into it, but I have sort of issues with my claustrophobia where being on an airplane or if I force myself, to put myself in these circumstances that I kind of, am afraid of, that can be a way to toughen me up. The point of the adversity is to toughen your mind so that you can handle difficult circumstances in life. Your mind, toughen just like you toughen your body. So it really depends on what you need. It really depends on the individual.
DW: Right. That’s interesting, yeah. Tying back to that, these days, it’s like college education, for example. It’s something that’s, most people consider to be something valuable. Do you think college education is going to stagnate in the future? and..Why is there so many bright kids that end up in the wrong relationships or careers? I think you said something like 80%-85% of the people are involved in the wrong career? How does this happen and how do you avoid these traps?
RG: Well, you know, some of these issues are being dealt within the books that I have just finished writing. You know, a lot of people go into careers for all the wrong reasons and it’s all linked up to something you brought up earlier about strategy and our inability to think longer term. And so what I’m trying to do in the new book is to make you focus on something really, really deep inside of you. And I have the point that everybody essentially have these unique set of DNA you have. There’s something different about you genetically. You are unique is what I am trying to say - the combination of experiences and emotions you have felt are never repeated.
DW: That’s a interesting way to re-frame individuality..
RG: Well yea..so you have a set of skills, a way of looking at the world, and often in childhood it was revealed to you by things that you were just kind of naturally drawn to. For me, perhaps, writing books or whatever. In the book I show all of these great masters of history and how they saw their natural inclination was early on. And if you deviate from that, you’re going to be in a lot of pain in your life. Now you can take little tangents and side paths and it could take a while to discover it, you can kind of make mistakes here and there. But if you’re meant to do something like writing and you end up going into banking or finance, your going to be miserable. You’re trying to fit something into a square peg and a round hole. It’s just never going to work. And most people have no sense of self-awareness. They’re not aware of what they really want. They knew it when they were younger but then as they get older they listened to parents, they listened to peers and they think that, for instance, money is the most important thing when it really isn’t. And you look at all the most successful people nowadays who are truly successful and innovative in their field are not people motivated by money. There’s something else, a little deeper going on. And so people go into things for the wrong reasons. So you know, your college education is a key moment in life. Now, it’s okay to be lost in college. It’s okay to be kind of looking for what you want and trying out all kinds of different ideas and different course work, etc. The wrong way to look at your university life is to say it’s like job training, unless you’re going into something very specific. And so, you know, one of the people I interviewed for my new book, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Paul Graham?
DW: Absolutely… His essays are fantastic..
RG: Right. Well Paul Graham..I interviewed 9 contemporary masters to go along with all the historical ones and he’s one of the 9 and .. you know all about Y-Combinator and all that?
DW: Absolutely, yeah.
RG: Well he, you know, he says that he’s now interviewed and brought into his group thousands and thousands of young people and where they got their degree, let’s say Yale or whatever has absolutely no bearing on whether they’re going to make it in his group and in life. He’s determined that. It’s not that going to Yale is a negative, but it has no bearing whatsoever. It’s all about your character and about your level of persistence and your tenacity. And you’re not going to be persistent and tenacious enough if you don’t love what you’re doing. If it’s not something that excites you, that appeals to you deep down inside. So a lot of people in college go astray at that point because they choose something that doesn’t really, really connect to them. And if it doesn’t connect to you, you’re not able to put in that 10,000 hours that people talk about. You don’t have the focus. And you start off in life on the wrong foot and you never get back.
DW: So..it seems like you’re saying a lot of people are kind of lost as far as connecting with their true self from their childhood. Is there a science or best course of action as far as finding oneself back and steering according to the right roadsigns? Let’s say, you’re thirty five, you just hate your life, hate your job, whatever. Is there a way back home? Or is that pretty much a lost game?
RG: No, it’s not a lost game and I talked in the book I have examples of people who find their way back later on in life, in their 30’s, 40’s, it can happen in your 50’s, I’m sure it can. It’s not really a science. It’s maybe more of an art and I talked, you know, I give you things in the book.. ways of kind of finding your way back. But it’s not that complicated. It’s not like you’re having to figure out the Theory of Relativity..
RG: It was pretty clear, when you were younger, that there was something that you knew that you were drawn to. That you had a kind of a certain type of skill at. There’s a book called Frames of Mind by Howard Gardner, he talks about this extensively about five different types of intelligence(s). And there’s spatial intelligence. they’re, which end up being, people going into math or music. there’s mechanical where you work well with your hands. There’s an intelligence with language that would lead someone into writing. So it’s not necessarily that you’re six years old and you know you’re going to be a lawyer Or you’re going into tech startups or computers. It’s something more elemental than that. It’s that this is a skill, a way of thinking that comes naturally to me that I was drawn to and it was very clear in childhood. Over the years it gets obscured. There are things that you study, classes you’ve taken, activities you’ve done that feel right, that feel like they’re in your power zone. So it doesn’t take incredible amount of effort for you to do it - it just comes more naturally to you. For me, I’d have to say there were two things. There was writing and foreign languages. I always had an ease with foreign languages. So the both are related, both language related kind of mind. You have to know that bent of your mind in a very elemental way so.. if you’re in, you know, business and you’ve got a mind made for music, you got to..
DW: Yeah, it’s quite a mismatch.
RG: Well, and you’re in your forties, it’s too late for a major switch then maybe you’d have to think of somehow combining your interest in business with something like the music business. You have to be a little bit more creative than just, “oh I’m going to drop everything and just, you know, go into my inclination here. We’re not hippies. But it’s not as difficult as it sounds. It’s there. The information is there and you know it. Everybody knows what they were kind of drawn towards or what they’re gifted at and it’s more of courage and looking at yourself and saying, “I’m going to try something and move back in that direction.” So it’s less of an intellectual problem and it’s more of an emotional problem because as you get into your 30’s and 40’s you get addicted to a paycheck and a comfort and you delude yourself into thinking this is what my life is and you lack the guts to be honest with yourself and to make that change.
DW: Right. Robert, How does this apply to you? I mean, after you graduated from Madison - would you agree that it took you a long time to figure out your path in life?
RG: Well, that’s a very good example. You know, because literally, I didn’t start the 48 Laws of Power till I was basically about 37 years old. So that took a long time. So early on in life I knew that I was a writer, that I just wanted to write, I love books, I love literature and after graduating college, I kind of wandered around in Europe learning languages and writing novels and never led anywhere. And then I got into like journalism in New York as a way to kind of maybe find my way into the field and it wasn’t a good fit. It just wasn’t right for me. I didn’t like writing just articles and things. So then I wandered around. I tried my hand at film and television and that was a worse fit because I don’t really have a mind for that. I’m okay for things like theater and stuff but for film, I just didn’t think in the right way and I didn’t like the business. So I was unhappy. So I was in something that was moderately related to my, what I call my calling or my life’s path, which is writing, but it wasn’t like the right fit. And then when I had, I met this man
DW: Joost Ellfers? (Pronounced “Yoh-st”)
RG: Yeah. Oh you pronounced it right..(laughs). Well…When I met him, and he gave me an offer and he said: “..You know, do you have an idea for a book..” Immediately after he said that, a light went on in my head saying, wow this is an opportunity ‘cause this is a person that can make it happen. This is an opportunity to do what I was meant to do and I’m not going to screw this up. I’m going to work at this with everything I’ve got. So it’s a moment when I knew that I was a writer and when the right thing came my way, I was ready to make the leap. And so that’s a lot of what happened. You kind of know it, you go astray or in something sort of related or a little bit off. And then, and you’re unhappy. And your unhappiness is a way of speaking to you, it’s telling you something isn’t right. And then you’re given this opportunity. The problem is that I was 37. I was desperate and I ran with it. A lot of people have the opportunity. Somebody like a Joost cross your path and you’re not aware enough, and you’re not thinking enough that this is your one opportunity in life. And nothing is given to you. It may have been a good fortune that I crossed his path but I had to work so hard to make it happen. So there are many variables that go in and I think people have these opportunities like I have but they’re not paying attention and they’re not seizing them. Another example. Are you familiar with Freddie Roach?
DW: The Boxer?
RG: Yea..He’s a boxer. He’s now probably the best, he’s considered the best boxing trainer in the world. He trains Manny Pacquiao. and he is the subject of a HBO show right now ‘cause he’s a very interesting man. He’s around 52, he’s got Parkinsons disease and he was a professional boxer for many years. It’s a similar to myself in that he was boxing since he was 6 years old. His father made him go in to boxing. And he was very successful. He became a professional, he did very well, but he took kind of a beating and he retired at the age of 26. He was sort of bitter and like, “..you know, this is all my whole life and now I’m retired..” He started drinking and got a bunch of shitty jobs and basically he wandered back into the boxing ring to go back to where he used to train and for free, he started helping out the man who used to train him. And slowly started working under him and then he realized, this is what I’m meant to do. I can’t box anymore, but actually I’m better at training than I ever was at boxing because I’m a natural born teacher. And I’m very strategic, I’m brilliant at strategy but I’m not good at enacting it in the ring. I’m better at teaching it. He found his calling which was related to boxing but it was more of being a teacher. So, you know, these are the many paths you take. It’s never simple but it depends on how ambitious and receptive you are ‘cause you’re getting signals from the world about what you should be doing and you’re probably not paying attention.
DW: Would you say that, we have a lot more paths open now and they’re multiplying at staggering rates now than ever?
RG: Yes, that’s another thing that I talked about in the book. Because, you know, in the past, Being able to follow what you’re naturally “should” be good at was limited to a very few people in a country like the United States, It was white men who basically had the privileges - or, you name whatever country it is, there’s some group of elites who, through various processes of democratization and things like the internet and the information that’s available. It’s exploding! And it’s exploding in the way that there’s no more of an excuse for someone not being able to follow what they want to follow in life because A) to a large extent, the political walls are crumbling and then B) the information walls are completely crumbling. .. and you know, in the past, you know, these people that I talk about in the books of history are like Leonardo da Vinci. Their access to knowledge was extremely limited because there wasn’t very many books available and the elites or the people who control the particular craft or form of knowledge controlled where that information was disseminated, you know, something like warfare, only the generals and the top 0.001% of people in the military ever even thought of strategy!
DW: Hm, right. And it was obviously counterproductive for them to teach the lower level serfs strategic warfare while trying to maintain a controlled structure..
RG: Right. Because they could form a revolution. So now that’s gone - If you are interested in a form of science or interested in a particular kind of business or whatever - or if you want to be a writer, there’s so much information out there, it’s almost too much.
DW: Yeah, too much.
RG: So there’s no, you know, I just said, there’s no more of an excuse for blaming other people or the world for at least not trying what you should be trying.
DW: Right. When you were 37, when you met Joost in I think it was Venice, Italy - prior to that, did you take notes on power dynamics and just people in general or did you just always have an eye for being objective about people’s motivations, conflict and the overall psychology of strategic warfare?
RG: Well, No I didn’t, I don’t know if I took notes on that per se because I wasn’t thinking of – before I met him, of writing this kind of book, really. It’s a combination of things. I think it’s a sort of way of thinking that is slightly natural to me. I’ve always been kind of a strategic thinking person - I love sports for instance, but my interest in sports is ‘cause I love watching strategy in action or playing it. I’m not into the drama so much, of the physical action. I’m interested in the coach and how he’s strategizing. So you know, I’ve always been interested in that. Then as most people when I entered the work world, suddenly people are playing games, being manipulative, being a little bit nasty, you get tricked or you’re kind of naive and you do something and people come steal your idea. And so I’m the kind of person that wants to analyze and I think having a background in, strangely enough, in like literature and languages, I’m always analyzing things.
DW: That’s Interesting.
RG: You know, this is what I go back to when talking about education. It looks like I had the most irrelevant education than anybody in the planet could have.
DW: (laughs) That sounds like most college graduates these days…
RG: No, I’ll probably take the prize for the most irrelevant degree. Although some of the things now where they study, you know: “post feministic colonial film theory” - those kind of majors, yeah, that’s probably worse. But I was, you know, classics, Greek and Latin, like what’s more irrelevant than dead languages, you know? But actually learning ancient Greek was a brilliant practice of mine because you’d sit there and you’d read a sentence and sometimes it would take you a day, an entire day to figure out one sentence. But it really trains you to be analytical, to think in a certain way to try and interpret what something means. So I’ve been thinking like that my whole life and then I love Machiavelli and I love thinking about politics that way. So it’s sort of all that put together and then the good luck to meet a man who is sort of interested in the same thing. I wish I had a simple answer like I’ve been plotting to write the book and I had notes but it’s not really true.
DW: Haha. Post feministic colonial film theory? (laughs) Alright Fair Enough. So you mentioned interviewing Paul Graham in your latest book. Who else did you interview? And what’s the book called?
RG: It’s called Mastery….By the way Have you heard of V.S Ramachandran?
DW: Absolutely, yeah.
RG: Oh ok. I interviewed him as well…and the reason I interviewed him is, first of all, he’s incredibly brilliant. One of the most interesting minds you’ll ever encounter. But also the book has a lot of neuroscience in it so I’m very interested in discussing my concepts and relating them to really how the brain functions. So it was important for me to actually interview a neuroscientist and I liked him because he’s not into high tech, he’s just into very creative forms of thinking and he is a character. He’s very unconventional. And all the people I interviewed, I tried to interview people who are unconventional. But he was great. He was a really interesting man. And then, Paul Graham, then there’s a man named Daniel Everett who’s an anthropologist and a linguist.
DW: Interesting. How did Daniel Everett fit in?
RG: Well, he was actually a Christian missionary who was sent to Brazil to learn what was considered the most difficult language on the planet - because nobody, there was this tribe of some 300 hunter gatherers in the Amazon who have a spoken language that was not related to any other known language and nobody could figure it out and his job was to try and figure it out and then translate the Bible into their language. It literally and probably is the most impossible living language that there is.
DW: Hmm. Fascinating.
RG: He lived there off and on for twenty some years with his family and he ended up figuring out this language and in the process, he came up with the theory about the origins of language that have kind of become a very controversial and kind of changing a lot of our notions about the sources and the origins of the human language. So what interested me about him was the mental process of figuring something out that nobody else was able to figure out. And I was intrigued by how he did that and that’s sort of why I chose him. He’s a brilliant man and super gifted at languages so it’s sort of a little bit narcissistic of me ‘cause I’m interested in languages as well.
RG: I mentioned Freddie Roach, the boxer. The strategy genius. I wanted to get a strategy genius in there. And then I interviewed an architect who is probably the most interesting architect in the world..
DW: That’s quite a diverse array of fields.
RG: Yeah, I chose all fields, all different ethnicities, all different ages, genders, etc. ..and his name is Santiago Calatrava. He’s from Spain and he does these incredible buildings. He’s trained as an architect and as an engineer so he makes buildings that literally change shape. The roof comes off, things move and they’re very sort of futuristic but kind of mythic like buildings. so I was very excited to interview him just as someone who builds things. Then there’s this Japanese woman named Yoky Matsuoka (wiki) and she’s just a insane genius with robotics. She now works in Silicon Valley. She worked at Google in their secretive X division and now she’s working in a very interesting startup that’s going to be incredible in the next ten years. She’s working with the man who basically developed the iPod and she’s just a genius at - I don’t even know how to explain it, but basically it’s a form of electrical engineering that goes into robotics but it’s linked up to a specialized form of artificial intelligence and neuroscience. So she’s kind of like a Renaissance person that’s combining all sorts of different fields.
DW: Right. I guess singularity is a lot closer than we anticipated. I can’t wait to see how Matsuoka’s latest projects unfold. Who else did you interview?
RG: I interviewed an artist, just a visual artist named Teresita Fernandez who does really interesting large scale works. Have you heard of a woman named Temple Grandin?
DW: No, I haven’t, actually. Who is that?
RG: She’s a woman who had autism who then went on to become a very successful scientist and works with animals. They made a movie out of her life on HBO, that’s where a lot of people heard of her. But she’s very interesting because she overcame autism and for the first half - her life was considered hopeless. But she’s now incredibly brilliant. And the final person was an air force pilot named Cesar Rodriguez who’s considered the last great American ace fighter pilot who was in desert storm. So this was in the 90’s and I wanted to get somebody in the military aspect, Mostly because piloting a fighter jet is so incredibly complicated - so beyond anything we can imagine. The level of the many different things you have to master..
DW: ..Was there any influence from Boyd’s OODA loop?
RG: The OODA loop? Yeah, a little bit. Definitely. I’ve always been intrigued by fighter pilots and strategy because it occurs in like, milliseconds, you know.
DW: Right. That’s a fuckin’ stressful job.
RG: Yea..so he was fascinating. He’s really interesting. Very different from the other people I interviewed. So those were the 9 people.
DW: I see. Compared to your other three or four books, - how does the new book differ from them? My impression is that it’s almost like an interview style, nine chapter unit. Is that how it’s structured?
RG: No, it’s not interviews at all. It’s structured actually like the other books but it’s different in that a lot of it is history - so I write about great masters of history but there are actually only 6 chapters and I’m taking you through a process leading from the beginning where you discover your calling in life and you go through an apprenticeship where you learn how to learn. Basically learning how to learn, how to observe, how to master skills. Then I have a chapter on mentoring, on working with teachers, and learning how to learn from other people. A chapter on social intelligence because that’s sort of a 48 Laws of Power type chapter. Master anything if you’re bad with people and then I go on to a chapter on creativity and then a chapter on mastery. In the mastery chapter, I don’t know if you’re familiar with a concept I talked about in the 33 Strategies called fingerspitzen gefühl?
DW: Absolutely, yeah. “Fingertip Feel”
RG: Right. The fingertip feel that I talk about. That’s what chapter 6 is all about.
DW: Oh, so you dig deeper into the notion of fingerspitzen gefühl?
RG: Very deep. I have a hundred pages on it.
DW: Oh shit.
RG: You know, that happens to someone when you’ve completely mastered something and you have a feel for it. And so the book is related to the other books completely because this is something that a military person like a Napoleon possesses and this is sort of the ultimate recipe for having power - is this book, but it’s not so much about manipulating or the social aspect, it’s more geared towards your mind and how you yourself learn something and master it and in the process master yourself. So the chapters are organized and I tell stories just like in the other books. No interviews at all, it’s just stories and theory and I’m showing you in great detail how to go from the very beginning of knowing who you are to mastering a subject to having that fingerspitzen gefühl.
DW: You’ve said that “..what matters is not your ego or appearing right or being admired, but winning…” Because it essentially gets to the point. It gets to the essence of what we’re all after. Why is it that more people aren’t winning? Is there an easy answer?
RG: Well, you know, there’s going to be a pyramid here. You know, like, Paul Graham is into those pyramids, he’s very good at it. I’m not so good at it but the pyramid would start at the bottom: you don’t know who you are or what you’re intended to do in life. And so, the X factor - the ingredient that will make you powerful, that will make you successful is your energy and drive and your tenacity. If you’ve got that, there’s nothing in the world that’s going to stop you. You know, nothing. I have this woman in here who’s got autism, who at the age of three is said to be so severely brain damaged, she’ll never do anything. And she was tenacious and she’s now a very successful scientist. So at the bottom of the pyramid, at the widest point, is your level of energy and if you’ve got that, if you’re really driven and you want something deep, hard enough in life, you’re going to get it. So in order to have that energy, you have to be connected to something that’s right for you, that you love to do. So if you love music and it requires hours of practice that can be boring, you can survive the boredom, you’re not going to love it but you can survive the boredom because you’re connected to something that excites you. So if you’re not connected to that bottom of the pyramid which is your, what you love and your energy, then everything will go astray. All of your values, all of your decisions in life will just get screwed up.
DW: I am going to take a quick U-turn and ask you a completely random question…What are your thoughts on marriage? Is it (marriage) an outdated concept and any reason why you are not married?
RG: Oh no, no, I don’t think so. Everything is personal. What’s good for me is certainly not good for other people. It’s fortunately a kind of society we live in where we can be diverse. People can take different paths and not feel like they’re doing something wrong. So, you know, if marriage isn’t something for me, but I like living with someone or being committed, I can choose this other path as long as she’s okay with it but I would hardly say that that should be what other people do. Some people want that, that written paper, that commitment and that means something to them..and I don’t in the least look down on it. I just know who I am and what’s comfortable for me and I don’t personally do things in life because others do it or because that’s what society tells me I should do. I just do what I want to do without hurting other people and you know, I wish other people would do the same.
DW: I agree. By the way, during your (brief) break, what are you up to these days? Any interesting books you’ve gotten your hands on?
RG: Hmm..I’m reading a book right now about the history of Zen Buddhism in Japan. The subject fascinates me because I find the training of the mind that Zen puts people through is by far to me, the most interesting, one of the most interesting disciplines.
DW: That sounds fascinating, yeah.
RG: And this is a book that goes heavily into the, how it connects to samurai mentality and to swordsmanship.
DW: Is it related to Musashi’s work?
RG: Well, I don’t think Musashi was particularly connected to Zen but the point of this writer is that it’s such a Japanese way of thinking that Zen permeated the culture and so the way of thinking of Musashi was permeated with this way of thinking. So he’s very much related but there’s a man in there like Tae Kwon who I’ve quoted in the 33 Strategies and others. So you know, I’m reading it and it’s a fascinating book but it’s also like, wow there are ideas in there for me to go think about. So if I’m trying to like totally take my mind off of I might read sports or strategy. You know, just read about the Lakers ‘cause I’m a big basketball fan. Something like that. But even then I’m thinking like, wow, maybe they should be playing the game differently. I’m always thinking that way so I’m afraid I’m just too intense to have soft ideas, you know, about what to read when you’re trying to pass the time.
DW: What’s your overall philosophy of life? Like, what’s next for Robert Greene, ten years, twenty years down the line? How do you process the future, what are your plans?
RG: Well, you know, I’m in my 50’s now so …(laughs)
DW: Oh, you’re a young man.
RG: Well, yeah and I exercise a lot and I love it. I’m fine. But you know, I’d like to be alive in ten years, that’d be my first priority.
DW: (laughs) Of course.
RG: ..but beyond that I don’t know, I mean writing books and writing more books. And you know, the problem is the book business is changing so we’re in a difficult moment now and if the business model is changing, I don’t know if I’m going to have to look what’s in store for me at that level but fortunately, I broke in earlier. So maybe I have a little more leeway but you know I have a couple of more books I want to follow up or write that I have decided - and I know other people … like I’m friends with Neil Strauss..
DW: Right. Great guy..
RG: Yeah, he’s a great guy and a great writer and you know, he’s got a huge business. He teaches and coaches and have seminars and I’ve had the opportunity to do something similar but it doesn’t feel right to me. I’m more into writing.
DW: Every commitment comes with a price…
RG: Exactly..I like lecturing and going around the world and giving talks and I like doing consulting and helping people. But I’m not into running a business. I want to be able to write, that’s my first love and I don’t want to deviate from it even though I probably could have made a lot more money. So I’m probably, if I might, if I stray I might write, go into screenplay or do something in film. Something like that but I think I’m pretty much going to stick to what I’m good at.
DW: Well, it’s almost lunch time, so I think it’s perfect timing to end right here so we could grab some grub. Thanks for putting up with all my questions..
RG: (Laughs) Oh, thank you. This is my first day of freedom because it’s the first day I had off in almost a year so I’m very happy to chat. And you know, it’s a shame that the book isn’t out yet so I could tell people to go buy it.
DW: When are you planning on releasing it, by the way?
RG: Well, it won’t be out until probably, early November.
DW: Early November, well, I’ll be the first to pre-order it. I can’t wait for it.
RG: (laughs) Yeah. But that’s pretty much it as of now and thanks Dilanka!
DW: It was a pleasure Robert, Thanks again.
The Death-Ground Strategy: When there are no other options, people fight harder. If the choice is life or death they have nothing to lose ↩