All's Fair?

One author draws legions of business lessons from warfare and power games.
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This story appears in the November 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

With his books The 48 Laws of Power and The 33 Strategies of War, bestselling author Robert Greene distills the success strategies of generations of rulers and generals. Fans of the books include hip-hop moguls Jay-Z and 50 Cent. How can the concepts that work for rappers and rulers help your business?

Entrepreneur: Why have your books struck such a chord in the rap community?

Robert Greene: These are big entrepreneurs, these rap artists. They came from nothing--50 Cent came from the worst possible circumstances and [now] has a multihundred-million-dollar empire. A lot of people who've traditionally been disenfranchised have incredible curiosity about the power game. These rappers know the manipulative end of the power game well, because they've been on the raw end of that deal for years.

Entrepreneur: Both books highlight deceptive tactics such as concealing your intentions. Are you telling people to lie?

Greene: You need to be aware of the machinations your rivals are up to. You can't be naive. I see more companies using deception because [they're] always looking for an edge. The way you differentate your product through advertising--you're not revealing the truth.

Entrepreneur: Are there battle strat-egies that would be useful to entrepreneurs?

Greene: In war, there's this structure that's loose yet firm, where you unleash the creativity of your lieutenants. I call it controlled chaos. Napoleon would give his field marshals a clear idea of his goals, and then unleash them to [operate] in the field as they saw fit. It vastly increased his power.

Whether the chain of command is loose or tight determines how quickly you can respond to the constantly changing landscape.

Entrepreneur: Several of your laws of power seem applicable to personnel issues. Can you highlight a few?

Greene: One is "strike the shepherd." If employees are spreading disaffection, stop being liberal and understanding. Just get rid of them.

There's danger in hiring your friends. Better to hire a rival who worked at a competitor or the big company that could swallow you up.

Another is to avoid stepping into a great man's shoes. This doesn't mean you should never take over dad's business, but you have to bring your individuality and personality to it and chart a new course

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