Are you a sucker? Or are you a show-off? Either way, you’re not going to be powerful. In Law 21 we explore the delicate art of not alienating people with your smarts, and how potent it can be to make others feel a good deal smarter than you. We discuss the different kinds of trust and how to identify them (or face the consequences); when, why and how to push other people’s buttons; and we ponder the #accidentalpower of ignorance.

This Law has been a problematic one for your dear hosts. Dre shares his struggles with keeping his mouth shut; the problem of making ‘intelligent’ a core part of his identity; and how to reveal that intelligence when necessary without disturbing others. Jon pulls back the curtain to reveal the secretive world of the Oxford University interview system and how easy it is to see through candidates’ interview prep… but he also repeatedly falls prey to the Law’s cautions about reflexively belittling other kinds of intelligence to your own.

As we try to find the ideal balance between showing you’re clever, but not cleverer than your mark, Jon recalls the impact of bullying on his life and perception of his own abilities and worth, as well as the times he’s lost connections with people when they discover he’s got a PhD; Dre remembers painful betrayals when playing Risk; and both wonder, once again, ‘What Would Bismarck Do?’




  • Pick a conversation this week to appear dumber than you are. When things shift to an area you know a lot about, don’t offer up the right answers; ask the other person what they think. Ask them for information that might seem obvious to you, as though you genuinely need the other person’s input. Observe how the social dynamic changes; how does the other person treat you afterwards? Like you’re a fool… or more warmly, because you made them feel smart? And then let us know how it went in the comments below!

This Episode includes:

  • Does it really benefit you to feel superior to others if you’re also powerless?
  • Why flashing your intelligence is like flashing your wealth; it’s vulgar and alienating to most people
  • Winning the argument is not the same as winning someone over
  • How to seem more intelligent than you are… but choose carefully where and with whom you try it
  • What is cultural capital, and how can we use it successfully?
  • The continuing relevance of Law 4: Always Say Less Than Necessary
  • The vital differences between practical and theoretical intelligence
  • The art of misdirection and how we all at some level want to be deceived
  • How to play dumb to let other people believe they’re getting one over on you
  • Can you trust your friends if they sometimes play tricks on you ?
  • The trust game: learning to distinguish between different kinds of trust
  • How to signal respect without overdoing it
  • Is powerful the same as happy?
  • Overcoming the fear of pretending to be an idiot; playing a role doesn’t make you that role
  • The problem of people batching opinions together: Just because someone thinks ABC, does not mean they automatically think XYZ
  • When to put on your Expert Hat
  • The eternal problem: if you want to innovate, be prepared for people (especially people close to you) to dislike you and tear you down. Which sounds obvious on paper… but hurts so much more in practice
  • Schrödinger’s Pudding
  • Don’t think that interacting with someone will be taken as a compliment. Many people make the mistake of thinking their company is a prize when it’s actually experienced as an imposition


Mentioned in the Episode:

  • Our friend Ru Wikmann, the Shredded Brainiac. Check out his podcast, including our appearance on it!
  • The master of humility while simultaneously showing off: The Rock’s instagram
  • Jon’s experiences with Ayahuasca, which he made a series of vlogs about
  • A favourite quote: ‘The world wants to be deceived’ – Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
  • The classic game [easyazon_link identifier=”B01ALHAIWG” locale=”US” tag=”vointhda-20″]Risk[/easyazon_link]… Just don’t play dumb against Dre
  • Eric Thomas on London Real
  • Baltasar Gracián’s superb The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence – a handbook on power and a key source for The 48 Laws of Power
  • Wisdom from Kanye: ‘Reach for the stars, so if you fall you land on a cloud’


Join us as we continue our 48 Laws of Power review, exploring Robert Greene’s provocative and compelling book, in which he lays bare the history, practice, psychology, and philosophies of power that ultimately shape all human relations. Often seen as a handbook for the ‘modern Machiavelli’, we take a closer look, beyond the hyperbole, and discuss how understanding and implementing these Laws can actually enrich your life personally, professionally and spiritually.

Jon and Dre aim to get to the heart of each of the Laws, grapple with their sometimes disturbingly amoral nature, and discuss what the Laws mean in everyday life (often revealing their own experiences – good and bad – when they’ve either observed or transgressed them).



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