Power, Seduction & War: The Blog of Robert Greene

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Mastery paperback is out now + FREE book (US only)

The paperback of the #1 New York Times Bestseller Mastery is in stores now and available on Amazon.

And as a thank you to my fans who made Mastery such a success, I have released in the US a special Interviews with the Masters: A Companion to Robert Greene’s Mastery, a free eBook (other regions to follow) containing selections from my interviews with the nine living masters that appear in Mastery.

I sat with these Masters for many hours, extracting their stories and their individual paths to greatness. I met with Paul Graham in Palo Alto. Santiago Calatrava in New York. Freddie Roach in Los Angeles. I met with the various masters in their studios, in their offices, and in their homes. You have seen their stories in the book. What you have not seen are the transcripts of our time together, where the Masters provided valuable information and lessons that I was not always able to include. This companion to Mastery is a playbook to the lives of today’s Masters that you can use to guide you on your path to Mastery.

Also, here are a few quick updates:

*I recently spoke at TEDx Brixton about the key to transforming yourself. Please watch the video on Youtube.

*I posted two new Slideshares to my powerseductionandwar.com blog: 20 Quotes for Acheiving Mastery and 8 Strategies forn the Ideal Apprenticeship

*Mastery now has its own Facebook page. Please like the new page to get updates and news about Mastery.

You can buy Mastery from anywhere, including from the following links:


Barnes & Noble




For those of you that have already read Mastery, thank you for your support and I hope it has guided you on your path to becoming a true Master. And enjoy Interviews with the Masters. (iBooks)(Nook)



LIVE with Chase Jarvis: Mastery, Power and Seduction

Robert Greene will be live on cjLIVE in about 15 minutes. Catch the show and ask Chase and Robert your deepest questions. Check back to this post for an archive of the video later.

It’s free — anyone can watch and we’ll be taking YOUR questions via Twitter, hashtag #cjLIVE


Official Book Trailer for Mastery by Robert Greene

The trailer for Mastery is here:

The guys at SimpliFilm put this together and it captures the book perfectly.

If you haven’t preordered the book, hopefully the trailer will convince you. And as a thank you to all my fans, there are special bonuses from me if you preorder the book today.

Announcing…Mastery (with special preorder bonuses for you today)

The time has come to officially announce my fifth book, Mastery.

In early 2007, I had an epiphany. For the previous eleven years I had immersed myself in a study of the most powerful people in history. I had read one biography after another about great political figures, strategists, scientists, artists, and inventors. And on that particular day, as I was reviewing some old material, it finally struck me: all of these people—no matter their field, culture, or moment in history—followed more or less the same pattern or pathway to power.

The result of that epiphany is Mastery. In analyzing stories throughout history, like Darwin’s rise from middling schoolboy to one of the greatest naturalists the world has ever known, Cesar Rodriguez’s journey from a struggling Air Force cadet to a top fighter pilot triumphing in a dogfight with two Iraqi MiGs, and Mozart’s transformation from repressed child prodigy to revolutionary composer, the book distills universal ingredients of the world’s greatest masters. I’m excited to share it with you.

My offer to you:

To make this release special for all the fans that have supported me from The 48 Laws of Power onward, there are some incentives (and thank yous) for you to pick up this book. They consist of supplementary material used to create Mastery, bonus material you can’t get anywhere else and a live Q&A webinar hosted by me. I’d love for this book to be seen by as many people as possible so there are additional incentives to order more than 1 copy. If you choose to order additional copies, the book makes an excellent Christmas present for budding masters.

If you preorder 1 copy of the book ($17) before November 1st, I’ll send you:

-1 expanded Bibliography for all the books consulted in writing Mastery
-1 supplementary ebook, “6 Keys to Mastery”
-The extended 4400 word “Hidden Powers” blog post that details the story of Mastery’s completion, including how I used Zen meditation and endurance-based exercise to meet the incredibly tight deadline of this book.

If you preorder 3 copies of the book (roughly $50) before November 1st, I’ll send you:

-A 1,000+ page document complete with full interview transcripts that take us deeper into the thought processes of all 9 living masters, including Paul Graham, Freddie Roach, and Temple Grandin
-1 supplementary reading guide—similar to the side material included in my previous books—that includes all relevant quotes, marginalia, and notes from Mastery
-1 expanded Bibliography for all the books consulted in writing Mastery
-1 supplementary ebook, “6 Keys to Mastery”
-The extended 4400 word “Hidden Powers” blog post that details the story of Mastery’s completion, including how I used Zen meditation and endurance-based exercise to meet the incredibly tight deadline of this book.

If you preorder 5 copies of the book (roughly $85) before November 1st, I’ll send you:

-90 minute Q&A webinar with me where I’ll answer questions live about Mastery, my previous books, and anything else you’d like to ask
-A 1,000+ page document complete with full interview transcripts that take us deeper into the thought processes of all 9 living masters, including Paul Graham, Freddie Roach, and Temple Grandin
-1 supplementary reading guide—similar to the side material included in my previous books—that includes all relevant quotes, marginalia, and notes from Mastery
-1 expanded Bibliography for all the books consulted in writing Mastery
-1 supplementary ebook, “6 Keys to Mastery”
-The extended 4400 word “Hidden Powers” blog post that details the story of Mastery’s completion, including how I used Zen meditation and endurance-based exercise to meet the incredibly tight deadline of this book.

To recap
Preorder #1 BUY 1 Copy, Get: expanded Bibliography, 6 Keys to Mastery, extended “Hidden Powers” post (cost: $17; total value: $100)
Preorder #2 BUY 3 Copies, Get: full interview transcripts, supplementary Marginalia, 6 Keys to Mastery, extended “Hidden Powers” post (cost: $50 total value: $200)
Preorder #3 BUY 5 Copies, Get: webinar, full interview transcripts, supplementary Marginalia, expanded Bibliography, 6 Keys to Mastery, extended “Hidden Powers” post (cost: $85; total value: $1000)

To get this bonus material, email rgmastery@gmail.com with the subject line “Preorder #1,” “Preorder #2,” or “Preorder #3” (depending on which one you choose) and a screenshot of your Amazon, B&N, or other receipt. If you’ve already pre-ordered and just want to claim your bonus (or combine it with more orders) that’s perfectly fine. Also, I would prefer if you pre-ordered physical books since that is what the bestseller lists count, but I’ll honor the bonuses with ebooks as well. The supplementary pre-order bonuses will all be sent by November 13th. If you are attending the webinar, my assistant will email you to announce the date and time.

You can buy the book from anywhere, including from the following links:
Barnes & Noble

If you’d like to share this offer with a friend or would like to help spread the word, I’d be thrilled to have your help.


Hidden Powers & My Next Book: Mastery Part 1

What follows is Part 1 of a two-part post that details the process of completing my fifth book, Mastery. In anticipation of the book’s release on November 13th, I’m releasing Part 2 of this post with a pre-order of Mastery. I’ll be announcing a pre-order offer in a few days but I hope this tides you over until then

In my new book Mastery (Viking/Penguin, November 2012), I propose a radical new way of looking at human intelligence and high achievement, countering the various misconceptions we have about talent and genius. I make the case that mastery is a latent power within us all, the gift of millions of years of brain evolution. It is a power that we awaken through a process that can be described and followed. It is not a power reserved for the intellectually superior, but a level of intelligence almost all of us can attain, if we understand where it comes from and work at it. The key lies within our own willpower and the intensity of our desire.

To complete this book required a lengthy journey that began with the work on my previous four books and ended with the writing of Mastery itself. I want to share with you the process that went into the creation of the book because I think it reveals an important lesson about the intelligence I describe in it and how far our willpower can carry us.

One day in early 2007 I had an epiphany. For the previous eleven years I had immersed myself in a study of the most powerful people in history. I had read one biography after another about great political figures, strategists, scientists, artists, and inventors. And on that particular day, as I was reviewing some old material, it finally struck me: all of these people—no matter their field, culture, or moment in history—followed more or less the same pattern or pathway to power. At first, I could see only the broad outlines of this, but as I thought about it more, in the days to come this pattern came into focus.

It goes like this: in childhood these high–achieving types experience a powerful attraction towards a particular subject or activity—math, music, games and sports. As they get older, this interest gets stronger, to the point of becoming an obsession. They end up following a career path that corresponds to this primal interest. Because the subject or activity stimulates their natural curiosity, they learn at a faster rate than others. They pay deeper attention and absorb lessons more thoroughly. While often still quite young they acquire a high skill level in this field, which makes them find more pleasure in the practice or training period, which leads them to practice harder. They tend to gain attention early on for their proficiency, which leads them to be given responsibilities or chances to practice what they have learned on a public stage. At this point, they enter a cycle of accelerated returns—more practice and experience leads to higher skill levels and more chances to prove themselves, more valuable feedback, and so on.

Inevitably a point is reached where they begin to experiment with what they have learned and become creative with their knowledge. Since they are often still young, they retain a freshness, and a somewhat rebellious attitude towards authority. They are not afraid to go against conventions. In the process of experimenting, they hit upon new ways of doing things or seeing the world. They become the ones who rewrite the rules they had learned so diligently in their apprenticeships.

At the endpoint of this process, these types reveal signs of a qualitatively higher intelligence. I call this intelligence high–level intuition. As opposed to mere hunches or anything mystical, this intuition is based on years of intense experience. They have internalized so much knowledge that they have a feel for their field. It has become hardwired into their nervous system. They can spot solutions or trends with great speed and fluidity, and this brings them tremendous practical power.

The epitome of this would be Napoleon Bonaparte. As a child he found himself drawn to games of strategy, and to books that presented examples of leadership in action. Entering a military academy, he was not focused on a military career and fitting into the system. Instead, he had an obsessive need to learn as much as he could about all aspects of the military arts. He read voraciously. The extent of his knowledge impressed his superiors. At a very early age he was give an unusual amount of responsibility. He learned quickly how to keep his cool, derive the right lessons from his experiences, and recover from mistakes. By the time he was given greater responsibilities on the battlefield, he had gone through an apprenticeship that was double or triple the intensity of his peers. Being so young, ambitious and disdainful of authority, when he was given leadership positions, he proceeded to effect the greatest revolution in military history, changing the size and shape of armies, singlehandedly introducing maneuver into battle, and so on.

At the endpoint of his development, he came to possess a remarkable feel for battle and the overall shape of a campaign. In his case, this became known as his infamous coup d’oeil, his ability to assess a situation with a glance of his eye. This made his lieutenants and rivals imagine that he possessed mystical powers.

This realization of a common pattern or path to power set me to thinking. We normally imagine those who achieve great things in the world as somehow possessing a larger brain or some innate talent, giving them the raw materials out of which they can transform themselves into geniuses and Masters. Based on my research and thinking this did not seem to be the case at all. Many of the figures I had studied were mediocre students; they often came from poverty or broken homes; their parents or siblings did not display any kind of exceptional ability. Their powers did not appear in their early years, but were clearly the fruits of intense labor. Although genetics might play role, it seemed to be a minor one.

What separates Masters from the rest of us is the degree to which they feel connected to their primal inclinations and natural interests. All of us have such inclinations. They are a reflection of our uniqueness at birth, the singularity of our DNA. As we get older, however, we tend to lose contact with this. We pay greater attention to what our parents or peers say, than that voice from within. When it comes to career decisions, we often think first of money and comfort. Masters do not lose their sense of connection and child–like curiosity. This fuels their intense desire to learn and sharpens their ability to focus.

The human brain, as it evolved over the course of millions of years, developed as a kind of lens for looking at the world. When we focus deeply on whatever is before us, we slowly gain greater powers of mental perception. We see deeper and deeper into things. We see the connections between phenomena. We awaken higher levels of intelligence. We are hardly aware of the powers we actually possess when we focus this lens. Masters awakens these powers through the intensity of their connection to what they are learning. Their willpower is engaged and all of their energies concentrated. Feeling connected and motivated, they are able to also develop patience when dealing with the drudgery of practice, persistence when confronting obstacles, and enough confidence to handle petty criticisms. Their powers do not reflect some freakish intellect or innate talent, but a profound emotional connection to their primal inclinations and their calling in life.

As I advanced these thoughts in the days and weeks after my initial realization, I became increasingly excited. Since time began people have been searching for quick fixes, for some magical way to power. They want to uncover ancient Secrets that reveal laws of attraction and success. They want formulas. All they come up with are ideas that are vague and impossible to exploit in the real world. Here, however, was something concrete and real. It was not so much a formula as a simple chain of events that are sparked by a critical first step—discovering your calling in life and moving in directions that maximize your child–like curiosity. From there, the proper focus is generated, and the path to creative and intuitive powers can unfold naturally.

Based on these thoughts, I decided I would write a book that would reveal this pattern and path to everyone. I would show how the brain evolved to bring us this higher intelligence and how each one of us essentially possesses latent mental powers that can be awakened through a process I would lay out. For that purpose, I would give readers a detailed roadmap as to how they could discover their calling in life, enter into an ideal apprenticeship and set off the cycle of accelerated returns. I would paint the creative, intuitive powers that can come to anyone who pursues this path over enough time. I would show how necessary it has become to possess these powers in the modern world. I would debunk once and for all elitist notions of genius and talent. In this book, I would show how certain choices determine our fate, and how far we can alter our circumstances through the intensity of our desire and willpower.

I sold the idea to Penguin in early 2008 and after completing The 50th Law, I began serious work on the project in early 2010. I saw the elaboration of the book in a series of steps—initial in–depth research on neuroscience, cognition, the evolution of the human brain, creativity, and high reasoning skills. Following this, I would consume biographies on as many iconic Masters in all fields as I could reasonably accomplish. To put everything in a modern context, I would interview as many contemporary Masters as I could, showing how this intelligence could be adapted to the 21st century. I would somehow combine all of this into one coherent book.

As I entered this process, however, I sensed a problem—the complexity of the project. I would have to draw upon books from many different fields and make many connections between disparate sources. Unlike my previous projects, there would be no single or small group of source books that would serve as a foundation—such as the works of Machiavelli or Sun–tzu. I would be exploring some unchartered territory, particularly when it came to high–level intuition. For the biographies, I would have to dig deeper than usual for what I needed, because a lot of the key material was buried in early childhood or teen years. For someone like Charles Darwin, I would have to read three or four books. The research on the contemporary Masters would require a lot of labor and time—finding and wooing them, setting up the interviews, going over the transcripts and incorporating the notes into the book research. On top of it all, I would have to find a way to actually shape and structure the book itself, from so many strands.

If I were not careful I would find myself overwhelmed by the material. I would not master the subject. This could weaken the book in several ways. Never quite feeling on top of it all, I would tend to resort to simple ideas and to some of my own pre–digested notions. I would rely too much on what others had written and would not be able to think far enough for myself. The book would not come to life. This could be deadly when it came to the chapters on creativity and intuition, which required me to be at the level of the subject.

Furthermore, this could lead to a debilitating cycle of tiredness. I had felt this on previous books and did what I could to fight it off, but inevitably near the end of the project I would grow exhausted. I would force my way to the end and then take a good four months to recuperate. Here, the dangers would be greater, considering the complexity of the project. So many books we read nowadays tend to peter out half way or two thirds of the way through. Writers begin with an exciting idea, which is reflected in the energy of the first chapters. Then, they get somewhat lost in the material. The organization of the book falls apart. They start to repeat the same ideas. The last few chapters do not have the same verve of the opening ones. It is hard to maintain one’s enthusiasm, energy and freshness over the course of months and years that a book requires. If I succumbed to the tiredness cycle too soon, the book could fall apart at precisely the most important part of my argument.

To help me avoid such a fate, I decided to conduct an experiment on myself. (I had conducted such experiments on previous books. With War, for instance, I took up several games in which I could test out some strategy ideas on a micro level.) For Mastery, the experiment would be conducted on two fronts—physical and mental.

To Be Continued…in the pre-order bonus materials I will be announcing shortly. There I discuss the process of writing and completing Mastery, and the mental and physical transformation I underwent as I strove to publish this book under immense pressure. Stay tuned! You can buy Mastery from anywhere, including from the following links:

Barnes & Noble

The Descent Of Power: An Interpretation of the Global Economic Crisis Pt VIII

In closing, I wanted to tell you about a dream I had a couple of months ago–I mean the kind of dream you have in your sleep. I dreamt that it was the year 2070 and that I was walking on the crowded streets of some city. People seemed oddly happy and there was a feeling of lightness in the air, as if something had really changed in the world and we had figured out a better way to live. What was most strange about this dream was that in the midst of it I was conscious of thinking back to the year 2010, so long ago. For some reason it occurred to me that that moment in time was some kind of turning point. That was when things began to right themselves, I told myself, but few people saw or understood this. If only we could have realized back then what was happening, where we were headed. How sad.

In the middle of this strange thought, I woke up. The dream and its intense mood stayed with me for quite some time. It made me think–this is clearly how it is in history. People never appreciate the moment they are living in. We can look back at all of the tumultuous, exciting periods in history with an air of nostalgia, but it’s an illusion. Those in that moment have no such perspective and no such appreciation. If only we could now have that perspective and realize that we are living through one of the great transformational moments and that the old is finally dying away. I leave you with that thought. Thank you.

You can read all of The Descent of Power as an ebook.

The Descent Of Power: An Interpretation of the Global Economic Crisis Pt VII

Now, as I was writing about Napoleon Bonaparte for my book The 33 Strategies of War, in 2003 and 2004, I became intrigued by a company that seemed to exemplify–in an almost uncanny way–the Napoleonic model I have just outlined. That company was Google. I initiated an informal study–gathering as much material and contacts within the company as possible. And as I went deeper into this subject, I saw more and more connections–confirming my idea that there is a pattern to periods of change and revolution. The following is the gist of my analysis:

Like Napoleon, the two founders of Google, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, came from a radically different background than your average CEO. They were scientists at Stanford, their field being statistics and probability. In founding Google in the late 1990s, based around their innovations in the field of search engines, they came to several important conclusions: the Internet is going to radically alter the business environment. The world is entering a new era–the Information Age. They wanted their company to reflect these changes and the historic fatality I’ve been talking about. They needed to create their own business and organizational model. And so they studied in depth how other businesses operated, particularly in technology, to see if there were lessons to be learned.

Most of these companies, like Microsoft, had intense layers of bureaucracy. They would have a giant staff of software engineers to create new products. But before such products could be launched, they had to be integrated with everything else, and they had to be as close to perfect as possible. Once the product was ready, large-scale sales and marketing teams would go into action, making sure they saturated the public. If these companies were creating any kind of content, there was an editorial staff.

To keep this all running smoothly, they had to have a very large management staff.

To roll out any new product would take years, as this machinery was slow and lumbering. All of the different departments and layers of bureaucracy had to be brought into the process. By the time the product came out, competitors had already appeared, but it was too late to adapt to what was evolving. The sheer size of the company made it difficult to maintain close ties to the public; better to make perfect products and sell them hard than respond to public feedback. Everything was geared towards market domination–using vast resources and muscle to maintain that.

All of this bureaucracy created small power bases from within the company, increasing the political games being played and adding to the slowness. A company like IBM once dominated the computer field, but completely lost ground in the 1980s, mostly because it did not believe in the personal computer. There were some from within the company that thought differently, but they could not get their voices heard or influence the entrenched culture. All of the resources that IBM had were useless in the face of such rigidity–proving that structure, strategy and ideas are more important than money and technology. (In war, a similar example would be the Blitzkrieg of 1941: the French had superior equipment and technology, but their ideas on how to use them were completely outmoded and they collapsed in the face of a superior strategy.)

To Page and Brin, a company in this new environment had to be lean and fast, able to stay ahead of the innovation cycle and adapt quickly to trends. They had to build a new kind of structure. This governed most of their key organizational decisions. They would not produce any content; Google would serve as a platform for others to create or move content, enhancing the flow of information. They would have no editorial staff. To make money, they would sell advertising space, but all of this would be automated. Customers would buy through a self-serve platform. This allowed Google to have a minimal sales staff. Any kind of feedback or data on advertising sales could flow directly and immediately to anyone within the company–there were no bottlenecks from within to slow down the flow of information.

Google would have a relatively small staff of engineers. They would hire the best but keep the numbers down. They predicated this all on their philosophy of release often, release early. They would not spend months perfecting their latest product–in fact they would release it in a beta version and let the customers help improve it with their feedback. This meant no marketing or sales team to push the new product. This would also help them to develop close ties to their client base and make people feel involved in the process.

As a result of all this, the company would need far fewer managers to keep Google running. As far as possible, employees would be self-managed.

It is this remarkable lightness of Google that has allowed them to move, adapt and expand at such a rapid rate. It is the foundation of their power, as it was for Napoleon. To ignore this simple truth is to ignore a fundamental principle of strategy.

In addition, Google created a completely different culture, to reflect the historic fatality I had mentioned in the beginning. The company was broken down into small units that could be self-managed. They created the 20% rule: all employees must devote 20% of their time to creating something of their own–a pet project, an innovative idea that could later fit into Google or if not, could be taken elsewhere. Periodically small teams of peers would review these projects and critique them. It became possible to rise fast within the company and make a fortune.

The culture was centered around the idea that Google was the spearhead of a revolution: this was the company that was going to give the world access to information, to news, to everything going on in the world, opening things up and allowing people to make what they wanted with it. This sense of being part of a cause created an extremely motivated workforce that does not need to be policed by teams of managers. A degree of chaos is allowed for and even encouraged.

With such an organization in place, Google could practice a kind of maneuver warfare. Most companies focus on dominating a particular position in the marketplace, like armies that marched to meet the enemy at a set point. This is old style warfare and business–linear and predictable. In the new environment what matters is putting your company in a position in which it can quickly adapt to the latest trend and get a toehold there before others. To do so, you have to be built for that.

As a company that focused on primarily having a search engine as its center, Google could quickly move to other areas–Gmail or Google News, et al–all with the aim of creating a kind of operating system for the Internet. If some new trend appears on the horizon, they are ready to pounce and exploit it. For instance, they saw great potential for YouTube, tried to produce their own version of it and when that failed, they simply bought YouTube. This kind of fluidity is rare in business and devastatingly powerful.

As opposed to past models, Google does not invent something they think is clever and then figure out how to market it to the masses, with all of the time and money that requires. They work on what is already there–the demand that is palpable. As opposed to the traditional business practice as it evolved in the era of mass consumption, their ideal is to create less and less distance between themselves and their customers.

I focus on Google because to me they are the most radical version of a new business model that has succeeded on a large scale. I could also bring in other companies that have experimented as well and had success. A company like Zara, which has adapted brilliantly to the new environment, has based its model on the speed with which it can produce items that respond to the latest trends, giving consumers a much wider choice. The company is structured in a similar loose fashion to Google. There are many other examples as well on smaller scales all around the world. As the tsunami of the global meltdown is receding, these are the companies that are poised to take over.

I do not mean to imply that Google is infallible and already we see signs of their limitations. Like Napoleon, they could slowly morph into the enemy, into a slightly more mobile version of Microsoft. This was merely to point out the radical departure they made in the initial structure of the company and the power that brought them. If they are smart, they could dominate the scene for years to come, but nothing is certain.

This then is the point that we have reached. What is really changing in the world is not technology, or the globalization of capital, but the relationships between people–relationships that were once hierarchical and based on the force of authority. This has been radically flattened. What matters most now are the connections between people, the interdependencies and networks that can be formed and the unimpeded flow of information. Any kind of obstruction to that flow will be seen as something from the past, someone or some group trying to halt the course of an historic fatality.

We are in the midst of a countercurrent. As the new is flowing in, the tide of the old is still there. We see signs of this decrepitude everywhere. Looking at large businesses with their big marketing campaigns, often tied around celebrities, we are simply seeing dinosaurs making a lot of noise before they disappear. The signs of this old order clinging to power are everywhere, and it will be quite a spectacle to see them become extinct in the years to come.

Without grasping this wider perspective of what is happening in the world, the crest of a change that began millennia ago but greatly accelerated by the advent of the Information Age, nothing you do will have any kind of lasting effect or power.

Stay tuned for the next installment, or read The Descent of Power as an ebook.

The Descent Of Power: An Interpretation of the Global Economic Crisis Pt VI

Napoleon came to power in one of the most chaotic moments in history–the French Revolution. The French people had overthrown a monarchy that had existed for hundreds of years and established a new kind of political order. But because it was so new, nobody quite understood what it all meant. The Revolution led to terror and swings of reaction and more revolution, until in 1796, a turning point had been reached. France’s numerous enemies, lead by the Austrians, were threatening to invade the country and reestablish the old monarchy. The fighting had grown particularly intense in Italy. If the Austrians and their allies were able to overrun the French in Italy, they would pour into France from the South and the Revolution would be over.

The campaign in Italy was going badly for the French and so in desperation, they named the 26-year-old Napoleon Bonaparte, former artillery lieutenant, commander of all French forces fighting in Italy. Through some bold maneuvering and some innovative strategies Napoleon was able to save France from disaster, but barely. As a result of his success he was named commander in chief of the French army. After the Italian campaign, Napoleon did some reflecting. He felt there was a better way to wage war; he needed a new kind of army or organizational principle.

Napoleon began by analyzing the way his enemies waged war and their organizational model. Essentially, a typical general would have at his command an army of a certain size and configuration. To make this army more mobile a general could break it up into groups, but what he might gain in flexibility he would lose in control. How could a general continue to direct and monitor the battle, if his army was divided and scattered? This would also violate the key military principle of keeping one’s forces concentrated. Control then was more important than mobility, so he would keep this army together.

The general would stay in the back of the advancing forces and command the battle from this safe position. Those in front, the scouts and vanguards, might see something unexpected as the enemy approached, but before they could get the army to adjust to these changes, they would have to pass messages to the general in the back, who would then relay his response to the front, all of which took a lot of time. In addition, this massive force had to be fed and for this purpose large wagons–led by horses and oxen–would accompany the army, slowing it down. In times of bad weather, which were frequent, these supply wagons would come to a complete halt.

Because of all this, armies advanced slowly, both sides tending to march to a point where they would meet in battle. Once there, some clever maneuvering and superior firepower could decide the issue. This form of warfare was completely linear and predictable. Although armies at the turn of the 19th century might look modern, with the latest rifles and artillery, they were fighting according to a model that was ancient. This was essentially the way wars had been fought since Alexander the Great. It was out of fear that generals adhered to this rigid system. War is inherently chaotic and such a system offered the maximum in control.

Napoleon had once compared these generals to Marie Antoinette. What he meant was the following: the Queen had lived through a period of incredible turmoil in France–famine, widespread discontent among the peasants and bourgeoisie, the dissemination of dangerous ideas in the press, etc. To handle all of this, Marie Antoinette employed a strategy: she increased the distance between herself and the French people so as to control what she saw and heard. She imagined that the turmoil was in fact rather superficial. After all, the French monarchy had been through a lot, and this too would pass. Its prestige and authority could never really be challenged. Why lose your head over such momentary fluctuations?

And so she held on to these beliefs all the way to the bitter end.

These generals operated in a similar way. They looked to the past, instead of examining the present. They increased their distance from the common soldier and the shifting realities of war. They held on to the old organizational principle as if it were magical. Ultimately such faith in a timeless power structure or model is a form of magical thinking–your belief system overrides reality.

Napoleon was different from these leaders. He was much younger. He had grown up with the revolution–rising from the bottom of the military, which had now been fashioned into a kind of citizens’ army. He was deeply aware of the great changes in the world–social, political, technological. He was aware that this altered the psychology of warfare–the French army was fighting for the sake of the revolution, for the sake of an idea. It was a whole new culture and social dynamic. War had to catch up with these changes; it had to become fast and fluid, to fit the times. In military terms, speed is a force multiplier. It brings momentum and surprise into the battlefield–with speed, an army of 25,000 could have the force of 100,000.

In order to have such power, however, Napoleon would have to reconstruct his army from the ground up. And it is at this point that Napoleon made one of the greatest discoveries in the history of warfare–namely that structure is strategy. The structure of your group, of your army, is what gives it speed and mobility, creates its tone, rhythm and way of action. If you structure it in a dense, bureaucratic and ad-hoc way, you will have a slow, lumbering army, no matter what you try to make them do. You have to be willing to accept a degree of chaos. You have to let go. The fluidity you gain will more than compensate for any momentary loss of control.

After much analysis, Napoleon decided upon the following: He would break his army up into smaller divisions, ranging in size from 20,000 to 80,000. Each of these divisions would be led by a field marshal, who would be inculcated in Napoleon’s philosophy of war and in what he wanted in a particular campaign, but these marshals would be allowed to make their own decisions based on what they saw on the battlefield. They would fight in the front of the lines instead of safely in the back, so they could react in real time.

This would be replicated all the way down the line. Lieutenants and sergeants could make decisions for their units based on what they saw, as long as it fit into the overall mission of the division. Napoleon understood very well the new social order and what motivated the common soldier. He enjoyed he freedom from within the army structure, the chance to prove himself, to show initiative. Napoleon would build into the structure of this army the chance for the lowest soldier to rise to the top, based on merit and bravery, a novel concept at the time. Furthermore, they would all be fighting for an idea–to spread the revolution to the rest of Europe.

Napoleon added one small technical detail that revealed his way of thinking: his soldiers would now carry their supplies in carefully designed backpacks, each individual responsible for keeping his supplies in order.

These were the components of the new army–smaller, more mobile units; no supply wagons to slow them down; important decisions that could be made by leaders in the moment; soldiers who were more intensely motivated and engaged in the struggle. It was a force that was considerably faster and more fluid than any other army in Europe. With such a weapon Napoleon could evolve a new strategy, what is known as maneuver warfare. Instead of advancing his troops along a single line, he could throw his five or ten divisions at the enemy in scattered patterns, and they would decide to advance depending on how the enemy reacted. In this way, he recaptured the initiative. He could adjust faster than the enemy and destroy its willpower by making it impossible to foresee his maneuvers.

As you can imagine, with such an army Napoleon dominated the scene for ten years in a way that no other military force has done in history. But there is a second chapter to this story. For the next ten years, from 1806 to 1816, we see a steady decline in his powers. He starts to believe that his success comes from his magical personality and genius, as opposed to the strategies he had invented. He creates his own aristocracy and distances himself from the revolutionary ideals. He begins to slow down with age, and to fight wars the way his enemies had fought them. He believes in overwhelming the enemy with size and firepower, instead of mobility. All of this leads to his tragic campaign in Russia in 1812 and his final defeat at Waterloo in 1816. In essence he had morphed into a kind of Marie Antoinette himself, holding on to the power he had, believing in the magic of his authority and growing increasingly arrogant.

This then is the pattern and the lesson we can learn from any revolutionary period in history: you are either a Marie Antoinette or a Napoleon Bonaparte. One or the other spirit tends to dominate your decision-making process. If you are a Marie Antoinette, you manage to convince yourself that nothing is really changing in the world. You concern yourself with the present, with the pleasures at hand. You trust in the power and privileges you have had in the past. All of this will continue, you tell yourself. In essence, you manage to keep your distance from the events around you. You live in your bubble. Hard times or adversity only strengthen this bubble. If you’re a Napoleon Bonaparte, you move in the opposite direction–towards the change coming from the bottom up, towards reality. You want more contact with the world, no matter how chaotic and challenging that might be, because power lies in moving in that direction and exploiting the moment.

The following are the two most critical strategic principles that you must adhere to in times of change: first, speed is of the essence. You need to be able to adapt quickly to events. To do so, your group must be organized to allow for such fluidity. This means creating a structure that is looser and that leaves room for initiative from within. Your brilliant strategies will mean nothing in such times if your organization is bureaucratic and hierarchical. Second, you must unite this group around an idea, a reason for fighting or advancing, beyond money. You are creating a culture where you are harnessing the creativity and energy of your soldiers. The old is finally dying out and leaving space for something youthful and new. You are riding this tide, this historic fatality as it sweeps the globe. In conjunction with these principles, you must be continually vigilant that any kind of success does not slowly transform you into a Marie Antoinette.

Stay tuned for the next installment, or read The Descent of Power as an ebook.

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