Robert Greene: “The Laws of Human Nature” | Talks at Google

Robert Greene: “The Laws of Human Nature” | Talks at Google

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you so much for coming. I’ve been a big fan
of Google since way back since the late ’90s. I even wrote a blog post many
years ago comparing Google to the warfare of Napoleon
Bonaparte and Sun Tzu. So I’ve been a
big fan for years. And it’s always been a great
honor for me to talk Google. This is my third Google talk. So thank you very much
for this opportunity. I really appreciate it. Now today, I’m going
to be taking all of you inside my latest book,
“The Laws of Human Nature,” because I believe it has the
potential to change your life, to actually change how
you look at the world. But I want to begin by
telling you a story that I relate in this book. And the story
concerns a man named John Blunt, a prominent
English businessman in the early 18th century. Now Mr. Blunt was
a leading director of an enterprise called
the South Sea Company. And basically, at this
time, the English government had massive debts, more than
any other country in history, from financing all the wars
they had been fighting. It was basically valued at
around 31 million pounds, which was enormous. And the South Sea Company
basically managed this debt in exchange for
having a monopoly on all trade in South America. But John Blunt, he came
from the lower classes, and he was an extremely
ambitious man. His motto in life
was, “Think big.” And so in 1719, he came up with
an idea for a business idea that was worthy of this
motto and that would earn him everlasting fame. The idea was that the South
Sea Company would completely take over this $31 million. They would pay the government
with some money for that right. And what they would do is
they would take this money, and they would
privatize it, and they would turn it into a commodity. And they would share
cells of the debt– shares of this
debt– to the public, 100 pounds equaling one share
in the South Sea Company. And the idea was that if
they turned a nice profit, they would be able to pay down
the English enormous debts. They would be able to make a
nice profit for themselves. And they would take
some of that money and pay very nice dividends
to people who invested in it. So it seemed like a win-win. How could this lose? And so they initiated
this in about May of 1719. And it took off. People didn’t really
understand it, but they thought it
was an amazing idea. It was their patriotic
duty to invest in this. And quickly, the share
prices rose, within a month to 200 pounds a share,
within two months to 300 pounds a share. The King of England,
King George I, plopped down 100,000 pounds of
his own money into the scheme. People were going crazy. Servants and maids were
taking their life savings and investing it and cashing
out and making a fortune. One day, this woman, who was
an aristocrat, very wealthy, was in the theater. And she looked up, and
she saw her former maid occupy a seat, a balcony,
a box in the theater that was much more lavish and
expensive than her own. It was like things
were going upside down. People were going crazy. But about six months
into the scheme or seven months into
the scheme, Mr. Blunt started getting
an uneasy feeling. Basically, what he was running
was a glorified Ponzi scheme. The money that people were
investing in the South Sea Company, he was actually
sending back to them in the form of dividends to
entice more and more investors. But if at some point,
people panicked and stopped buying shares, the
whole thing would collapse. So he had to keep trying,
stoking interest in it, and giving people even
better and better and better terms of investing in it. But finally, the panic
that he worried about occurred in September of
1720, and the whole thing collapsed in the most
spectacular fashion. Thousands of English people
lost their life savings. Hundreds of people
committed suicide, including Mr. Blunt’s nephew. It’s estimated that it
took the English government over a century to recover
from this debacle. And this was the
everlasting fame that, ironically,
John Blunt earned as the initiator of the
infamous South Sea Bubble. Now many think famous Englishmen
had invested in this, including writers, architects,
politicians, et cetera, but none more famous
than the great Sir Isaac Newton, the greatest
scientist of his age and one of the most brilliant
men that ever lived. When the scheme started,
he took his own life savings, 7,000
pounds, and he put it into the South Sea Company. And he watched as it quickly
doubled and then trebled to nearly 20,000 pounds. Mr. Newton realized that what
goes up could easily go down. So he cashed out, and he
collected his 20,000 pounds. But in August of 1720,
as Blunt was giving out this incredibly favorable
terms, and Isaac Newton saw that other people had made
much more money than his 20,000 pounds, he decided he was
going to take that money and reinvest all of it
in the South Sea Company. And he lost his entire savings
a month later in the crash. And here was a man, in
his 70s at this point, who was reduced to near poverty. And in the aftermath of this
horrible event in his life, he had a quote that I am
particularly attracted to. He said, quote, “I can calculate
the motions of heavenly bodies, but I cannot understand the
madness of men,” end quote. Here was this great genius
who could understand the laws of gravity,
the motions of planets, and all sorts of other things. But when it came to himself,
the closest thing to him, he could not understand himself. He couldn’t understand the laws
that govern human behavior. So now, come some
300 years later, more to the present
time, and I’m– me, Robert Greene– I’m
working as a consultant to many powerful people in all
sorts of enterprises– athletes, hip-hop artists,
politicians, businesspeople. And they’re coming
to me, particularly after I wrote “The
48 Laws of Power,” with their own problems. And these problems basically
revolved around the fact that they couldn’t
control the people that they were dealing with. They didn’t know
how to handle them. There was one man
who had partnered with some guy who he thought
was rather mild-mannered. And this man was in
the process of stealing the company from him. There were other people who had
made really disastrous hires of lieutenants and other
people that were literally destroying their company
and destroying their lives. There was one gentleman who
had had a board of directors that he lost complete
control over. There was another person
who had started this product line that he was certain
was going to succeed. And then it failed
miserably, and he blamed all of his
associates for not knowing how to execute these plans. I had one famous musician who
took all his investment, all of his savings and put
it in the bitcoin craze about four years ago. And he lost everything
in that, quite similar to Sir Isaac Newton. And so what all of these
people had in common was they were all, like
Mr. Newton, very brilliant in their fields. They could calculate the
movements of global markets, of very complicated
economic things. But when it came to the basics
of just dealing with people– you would think the
most important skill you would have– and in
understanding themselves, they were actually
quite helpless. And in the aftermath of all of
these experiences that I was having– rather
powerful experiences– I also thought of myself. I thought of myself in
the sense that I too had had many failures. I too had had problems
dealing with people, particularly before I wrote
“The 48 Laws of Power,” problems that
inspired that book. I too had made many mistakes. I had violated law number one,
never outshine the master, and I had been fired for that. So I was thinking about
my own problems as well. And about seven years ago, I
decided to set out on a quest. I was going to try to get at the
root of all of these problems that these people
had and that I had. And what I thought that
the root of this problem was the basic ignorance
or misunderstanding of human nature, of the laws
that govern human behavior, much like Sir Isaac Newton
was looking at the laws that govern the movement of stars. I was going to write a
book about this subject. Because startlingly
enough, this is a subject that we all need to know,
because as a social animal, we spend all of our time
dealing with people. You can’t succeed
in this world– I don’t care how
technically brilliant you are in your field,
how well you are at coding or whatever it is. If you don’t understand
people, you’re going to neutralize
all of your powers. And yet nobody was writing
a book about this subject. So I determined I was going
to be the one to do it. And so I started devouring
literature on the subject– neuroscience, evolutionary
biology, psychology, psychoanalysis. And in the course
of this research, I came upon three
kind of discoveries that were very fundamental,
that sort of grounded the book that came out of that. The first one was I read
that, in neuroscience, people estimate that 95% of human
behavior is unconscious. In other words, 95%
of what we do never reaches the level
of consciousness. We’re not aware of what
actually motivates our behavior. I thought this was
rather startling. It’s as if we possess a
stranger inside of ourselves who’s governing our behavior. The second fact I
uncovered was that there are many kind of forces
that came from our evolution hundreds of thousands
and millions of years ago that are wired into our
brains and how we operate. And a lot of these things
came about evolutionarily for very adaptive purposes for
where we were 500,000 years ago but that don’t have much
purpose for where we are right now in the 21st century. These elemental forces
that are very primitive, I call human nature. These are the forces
that basically determine a lot of what we do. And so much of this
very primitive stuff is actually intersecting
us in the 21st century and determining a
lot of the problems that we’re encountering now. I’ll go into that a
little more later. The third thing I discovered
is that, basically, the human brain that all of us
possess is remarkably similar– each of us. In other words, there’s
very little difference between the brain you
possess and somebody in some other country who has a
different cultural background. And the reason is that we all
evolved from the same origins, the same source, hundreds
of thousands of years ago, well before
the spreading out of humans all around the globe. So the qualities, these forces
that I’m talking about here and now about human nature,
they are all within all of us. They are governing
all of our behavior. Nobody is excepted
from these laws. And so as I started writing the
book, I got kind of excited, and I kind of had
a weird sensation. It was making me
understand myself in a way that was making me
a little bit uncomfortable. I was realizing some of the
dark, irrational qualities in myself, some of the
sources of my own bad habits and patterns. It was also making me
very aware of the things that I was observing in
the people around me. And I started to
sense that there’s incredible power
in this knowledge, that it can help me
break these habits, and it can help me
get along with people on a much higher level. But also, more
importantly, at the time that I was writing this
book, a lot of strange things were going on. There was the bitcoin craze. There was the whole
transformation of social media into this giant feeding ground
for trolls, et cetera, and all the stuff that we’ve seen
happening in social media. A new president was elected– and that was a very
strange experience– and all the things that
were going on around that and the kind of
tribalism in our politics and the heated nature of it. And I thought what
I was uncovering in this stuff about human nature
is explaining, in many ways, all of the stuff that
I was witnessing. And I had this metaphor that
I included in the introduction to the book that came to me. And the metaphor was
that human nature, this stuff that I’m talking
about that evolved very deep in our past, it’s
like a puppet master, and we are the puppets. And it’s kind of moving us
around and making us do things. We’re not aware
that human nature is making us do these things. But the puppet master is there. And we die, a new
generation comes, and this puppet master is
going to move them around in the same way. And the only way
to escape that is to understand these
laws, to understand what is really going on. So I want to take you now
through some of these– I told you about these kind
of powerful, primitive forces that intersect the modern. I want to take you inside
four of these forces that kind of inspire
or ground many of the chapters in the book. And the first one has to do with
chapter 1, which is basically the law of irrationality. And the point of this
chapter is that we like to think of ourselves as
these rational, thinking, very strategic creatures,
when in point of fact, we humans are deeply irrational. And what I mean by that is that
we are governed by our emotions more than anything
else, which explains the kind of madness
that overcame even the great genius Isaac Newton. And I referred to
neuroscience once again to explain this kind of madness
that exists inside all of us. And basically, what
neuroscience shows is that the human brain evolved. It’s kind of like a ladder. The brain has different layers,
literally going from the bottom to the top. The bottom part of the
brain is the oldest part. It is where the
autonomic functions that govern our
hormones, et cetera. You move up, and then
there’s the limbic system that governs our emotions. And at the very top is
the frontal neocortex that developed very recently. It’s where our language and
our reasoning powers came from. And what this means is
that these two parts of the brain, emotions
and reasoning, are not in the same area. They’re separated
by other layers, and they don’t communicate
with each other. Now this is very powerful
idea that I think we all need to understand. So emotions are a very,
very ancient system. Reptiles have a fear response. So this is something that goes
back millions and millions– hundreds of millions– of years. And basically,
emotions originate as a kind of hormonal
nerve signal that is sent to the brain. And these signals
are much stronger than any of the signals that
the frontal cortex sends. And what that means is
emotions consume so much more of our attention than
any kind of thought. They grab our attention
more because they’re involving these very
powerful physical forces. The other thing
that comes from this is that, because they’re in two
different parts of the brain, we don’t really have
access to our emotions. So it’s very hard for us to
put our feelings into words. I don’t know if you’ve
ever experienced that. But the word depression
doesn’t really describe exactly sometimes
the feeling of depression or the same with anger. They’re more complicated. There’s something more going on. It’s hard to verbalize
these emotions. The other thing is
we have no access to the source of our emotions. So we could be
angry and depressed but not really know consciously
why we’re angry or depressed. And finally, because these
are separated functions, we don’t really
realize to what extent emotions are infecting
our strategies, our plans, our ideas. We don’t realize how much
the ideas that we have are being infiltrated
by our emotions. And to make all of this
more complicated and worse– I don’t mean to overload you
with all this information, excuse me– our brains operate by
simplifying information. The human brain takes in so much
stimuli in the course of a day that if we had to sit there
and look at all of that, we would go crazy. So the brain operates by
simplifying the material that we receive and
tells us a story so that, for instance,
when you’re feeling angry, your brain tells
you you’re angry because of this person or that. You’re depressed because
of this event or that. But it’s not
necessarily the truth. There’s often a disconnect
between the two. So– excuse me. So for instance, when
Sir Isaac Newton is having this issue with the South
Sea Bubble, and he decided– the South Sea Company– decides
to pour all 20,000 pounds back into an investment, his
brain is telling him, “Isaac, this is a great idea. Look at how much money
you’re going to make. The king invested in it. People are making fortunes. It’s a rational decision.” Whereas in fact, what was really
motivating him was sheer greed. But the brain wasn’t
telling him that. I tell the story in the book
of a story that fascinated me by a famous psychoanalyst named
Heinz Kohut, who had a patient. And this patient was a young man
who had this pattern in life. He was getting involved
with young women in different relationships. There were four or five of them. And he broke each one of
them off several months or even several years
into the relationship. He would say, “Well, this
woman, I didn’t trust her. I don’t think she was
going to be faithful. This other woman, she
wasn’t smart enough. She wasn’t up to my level. This other woman, I think she
was just out for my money.” On and on, he would break
the relationship off first. And in discussing
with this patient, Kohut discovered that this
young man had a mother who was very kind of narcissistic. She never quite paid very
much attention to him. And so this was a very
painful experience for him that he didn’t really remember. But basically, he
experienced her narcissism as a form of abandonment,
as if she had left him. And so his pattern
in life was to always be the one abandoning
other people, abandoning women before
they could abandon him, ’cause he could not relive
that experience again. But his brain wasn’t
telling him that. His brain was telling him
this woman was not good. She wasn’t smart. She wasn’t worthy, et cetera. He had no access to the
actual source of the patterns of behavior in his life. And I ask you to think
of the possibility this could be happening to you. There could be things
in your life, things that are getting you angry
or frustrated or depressed. And there could be
something very much rooted in the first three or
four years of your life that you have no idea about
that is actually motivating your behavior in the present. In economics, writers
like Daniel Kahneman– I don’t know if you’re
familiar with him– they talk about the
affective heuristic, affective meaning emotional. Now what that means
is what determines people’s decisions in economics
to buy something or invest in something is not rational but
is actually based on emotions. This is a recent
discovery in economics. And most of us are
not aware of it. We think when we buy a product,
we’ve done our research. We know what we’re doing. We bought it for this,
that, or the other reason. And because we’re not aware
of how emotions are governing our purchases or
economic behavior, this gives marketing
people incredible room to manipulate us. So they’ve done all the
research on human nature. And they know that putting
a little ping sound in your smartphone at
a certain frequency has a very hypnotic effect. And so you’re drawn
to constantly check your smartphones. You think it’s because
of your own desire, but it’s actually you’re, in
some ways, being hypnotized. They know that
the color red will grab your attention in a way
that no other color will. So they put things that will– they know how to manipulate
your attention by using colors. There’s the exposure
factor that they discuss. So they know, through
lots of research, that if someone is exposed
to something first, they’re much more
likely to buy it. The same thing goes with
presidents that we elect or candidates. If we’re exposed to them, if
we know them, just by the name, just by the recognition,
we’re prone to vote for them. Back in the day,
when people still used to buy things
in shops and stores, these people knew that if a shop
assistant lightly touched you on the arm in a very
non-threatening way, the chances of you buying
the product went up 50%, 60%. And so they would
teach their employees to do this, on and on and on. So the lesson here
is that we’re not aware of all of these
things that are going on, of how much our
emotions are actually governing and determining
so much of our behavior. And the solution that I give
in my book, the solution for us humans to actually
become rational like we imagine ourselves
to be, is to become aware of this phenomenon– first, to not think that you’re
rational, to see the process. So it’s not easy. But when you’re feeling anger
or you’re feeling depressed, don’t just act on it
and mope or lash out. But why? Ask yourself why. What is going on here? Could there be something else
going on that I’m not really thinking of? Is there something
deeper going on? And you may not
get to the answer. You may not uncover that
thing in your early childhood. But just in asking
that question, you’re going to create
a little bit of space between the signal
you’re getting from your brain
and your reaction. And that space, that
time, that 10 minutes, that one hour that
you don’t react is actually what’s going to
make you more rational person in the long run. You’ll be able to
question, well, why am I really interested
in buying this product? Is it because I’m
being manipulated, or is this something
that I really need? I talk a lot in my
consulting with people who have to make
important decisions. I can bet you that
95% of your decision, the strategy you’re
coming up with, is infected with emotions. I call it the rosy scenario. You’re always
imagining the best case that will emerge from this. But you’re not seeing all
the potential pitfalls. So you want to subtract all
of these emotional elements before you make your decision. Going through this process
is what will, in the end, finally make you rational. Talking about how
emotions govern us, there’s obviously
something that emerged in our deep past that’s
not really adapted to where we’re living now. But there is a power
that we evolved from in our deep
past that is actually extremely well-adapted
to where we are now and will be very
valuable for us. And that quality is
empathy, which is a major theme of my new book. And empathy is
basically the ability, the incredible human
ability, to get inside the perspective and the
points of view of other people, to literally see inside
how other people are seeing the world. And this is equality of power
that our ancient ancestors, well before the invention of
language, invented as a way to increase their
ability to understand the people in the
group or the tribe and to work more
closely together. And I say in my book
“Mastery” and in this new book that I imagine these early
ancestors were nearly telepathic in their ability to
sense what other people were feeling and thinking. I call this visceral empathy. But we humans have another
quality that kind of counters this and renders this
power that we all possess, kind of neutralizes that. And this quality is our
self-absorption, our latent narcissism. And this quality
isn’t something that is necessarily wired
into our brains but comes about because
of how we’re raised, how we’re socialized. I’m trying to make the
point that we are all somewhat narcissistic, that
we’re all on that spectrum. The origins of
narcissism, quite simply, are that we humans spend an
inordinate amount of time being raised by our
parents, much longer than any other animal. So we form a much deeper
attachment to our mother and to our father. But a point is inevitably
reached in this process where that attention
slackens, and the parent distances themselves from us. And it’s very
emotionally disturbing. We feel like we’re not getting
any more love or attention from our parents. And the solution that
most people create in this is to create a self,
a self-image that they can retreat to, that
they can love and esteem, and so that in these moments
when parents aren’t giving us love and attention
and recognition, we can withdraw into ourselves
and feel that we are worthy, that we are OK, that
we can love ourselves. And this self-love operates
as a kind of thermostat. So when we’re feeling
depressed or not recognized, it kind of raises our moods
up so we don’t fall too deeply down into this depression. And what’s part of this
self-love is that we pour a lot of libidinal love
energy– desire– into the self that we create. We become fascinated
with our own tastes, our own desires of who we are. And then we go searching
for other people who are similar to us. And people have
noticed in studies that we tend to fall in love
with people who either look like us or have very similar
ideas or values to us, so that we’re attracted
and drawn to people who reflect who we are,
which is another aspect of our narcissism. And we see that on
social media, where people glom onto those who
are most– creating kind of like a narcissistic tribe. Now obviously,
there are people who fall deeper into
this, types that I call deep or toxic narcissists. And what happens with
them is they never develop that inner thermostat. Because something was
broken in their relationship with their parents,
they were never able to develop
enough self-love. And so the only way they
can get that feeling, that sense of self-worth
and recognition when they start getting lower,
when things aren’t going well, is to act out and get
attention from other people instead of from themselves. So they become dramatic,
and they kind of know how to get attention when
they were children, et cetera. And so that’s their only way of
solving this kind of emptiness inside themselves. And such people, such
deep narcissists, can actually go
pretty far in life, because as children,
they developed a lot of flair and charisma. And if they’re talented,
they can become leaders. They can become CEOs of
businesses because of this kind of charisma that they have. But then they hit a
wall, because they always need more and more
and more attention. They really don’t
know and understand the people they’re dealing
with, because they’re using them as objects for
their own benefit. And they can’t learn
from their mistakes, because for a deep
narcissist to admit that they made a mistake is too painful. So even though they can become
the CEO of an enormous tech company– and I’m not
going to name names here– they’re inevitably going to
hit a wall because of this. So the point I’m trying
to make is that we are all on that spectrum. We all have that potential. And in moments when we feel
depressed or circumstances aren’t going our way,
we notice that we can become more and
more self-absorbed and that we have this
potential to fall even deeper into ourselves. So I want us to get
over this notion that the narcissist is always
the other person and not me. We are all on the spectrum. The solution here is simple. First, we have to admit this,
that we are narcissists. The person that says, “Oh my
god, I’m not a narcissist. No, not me,” that’s exactly a
sign of narcissism right there. They are the exception. “No, not me. Look at me. I’m not a narcissist.” The second thing
you have to realize is that you’re basically
a functional narcissist. And that energy that
goes into yourself can literally be
turned outward and can be transformed into
empathy, which is one of the chapters in my book. And what I mean by
that is we turned all of that libidinal
desire into ourselves. We became fascinated
with ourselves, our thoughts, our ideas. We need to turn that outward
into people that we’re looking at. So when you’re in a conversation
with a friend or whatever, chances are you’re not
really listening to them. You’re not paying attention. You’re on your phone or
you’re somewhere else because you’re more
interested in your own ideas and your own problems. That’s where your energy
and fascination goes. But you must realize that the
people you’re dealing with are weirder and more interesting
than you could ever imagine. I like to tell people, think
of the people you deal with as if they were
characters in a movie. I had a job once where
I was really depressed. People, I thought,
were really awful. And I imagined that
they were actually figures in Greek
mythology, and I had to figure out which
one each one of them was. And it helped me a
lot, because now I had to think about their
lives and their childhoods and what made them
the way they were. So the people
you’re dealing with are much more interesting
than you imagine. And so if you can turn
that energy around and you can start placing
yourself in their shoes, it will go a long way to
taking that self-absorption and turning it outward. We’re all working in much
more diverse workplaces. 50 years ago, when my
father had his job, it was all basically
white men in his office. We don’t have that anymore. People come from all
different– men and women– all different
cultural backgrounds. And in this diverse
workplace, it’s actually fascinating
to try and get into the backgrounds and the
mindsets of this diverse world and get outside yourself and
get inside what other people are experiencing and try to
figure out their culture that they came from. It’s like therapy. So this is an
incredible power empathy that lies latent in all
of you but that must be cultivated and developed. And I give you many lessons
in the book on how to do that. Now another law
of human nature is that we humans have what
I call a self-opinion, an opinion about ourselves. And people who have
done studies have shown that that opinion
is generally more elevated than the reality. So we tend to think of
ourselves as intelligent. At least in our field,
we’re intelligent. We like to think of
ourselves as autonomous. We just make our own decisions. People don’t tell us what to do. I’m an independent person. And we tell ourselves that we’re
basically good, moral people, that we’re nice and polite,
that we’re team players, that we get along with other people. But an equal law
of human nature is that this sunny, kind
of positive portrait is actually covering up and
masking a dark side, what psychologist Carl Jung
called the shadow, and that every human being
has a dark side, has a shadow. And this shadow is not something
that’s wired into our brains. It comes about how we
are raised as children. Basically, as children,
we come into this world as a kind of complete,
natural being. We have all kinds of
emotions and feelings. We are mischievous. We can love our
parents one moment and then hate them the next. We can be that sweet
little angel one moment, and the
next moment, we’re burning with
desires for revenge, and we steal something
from our brother or sister. We were a complete being. We had a full range of emotions. But slowly, over time, we have
to sort of soften all of that. Our parents are
all stressed out, and they’re trying to get
us to not act out so much. They want us to be more angelic. And teachers, we had
this pressure as well. So slowly, we feel this
pressure to kind of tamp down and disguise these sort
of natural emotions that are inside all of us. And this energy that could
be positive and negative, could be loving and
mischievous or vengeful at the same time, all of that– the dark stuff– goes into
what is called the shadow. It doesn’t disappear. It stays with us as adults. And this shadow that
you carry with you, you’re feeling tremendous amount
of pressure to conceal it, ’cause you want to
present to everybody here at Google an image of yourself
as this sweet, angelic child, this person that’s wonderful. And it’s pressure. How do I keep this dark
side from coming out? Well, it comes out
in certain moments, particularly when
we’re feeling stress, when we’re feeling
moments when we’re not getting enough attention and
recognition from other people. And it leaks out in some
bitchy comment that we give or some abrasive comment
that hurts people’s feelings. Or it comes out in some act
that surprises us or surprises the people around us. And we often see that
with celebrities, people in the news
who get caught out doing some kind of
weird sexual escapade or something like that. “I don’t know who
that person was. That isn’t me. Something came over me,” right? The guy who invested all
of his money in bitcoins, he would tell me, “I
don’t know who that was. That wasn’t me that plopped
all that money down. Something came over me.” And we generally accept
these explanations, ’cause it makes sense,
’cause it only maybe happens once or twice. But I’m telling you in my book
that this kind of behavior is not an exception. It’s actually more of their
real self, the real self that people have, that is
leaking out the shadow side. The shadow likes to
disguise itself from you. And one of the great
shadow disguises that I talk about in the
book is over-idealization. And this is what we see with
the social justice warrior. Now if you’re a social
justice warrior, you believe so deeply– you’ve identified so
deeply with your cause– that it justifies any kind
of manipulative, nasty, intolerant, bigoted
behavior, ’cause it’s all for the great cause
that I’m promoting, right? You can censor people. You can tell people to shut up. You can do whatever
you want, because it’s all for your great cause. And you think it’s because
it’s for the cause. But actually, a
lot of it’s coming because the shadow is
trying to find some way to get itself out. And it uses you in this fashion. Social media has become
this intense magnet for the dark shadow
side lurking inside of us, which is why we find
all the nihilistic trolls, et cetera, on social media. It’s become an infested
ground for the shadow. So the point I tried to make– the solution here–
is to be aware of it. You’re going around,
and you’ve so identified with this
sweet, angelic persona that you have
created for yourself and that you show the world
that you don’t even imagine that you have the shadow. And it operates by the fact
that you’re unaware of it. The fact that Isaac
Newton wasn’t aware that he had a greedy little
person inside of him that was dying to get out
made it so that he could lose all of its
money in this investment. So you want to see the
shadow inside yourself. Recognize that child within
you that was tamped down. See the patterns of behavior
in which it leaks out. And then, in my book,
I describe many ways for how you can incorporate
your shadow in a productive way. You can take your ambition
and aggressive energy and channel it into
some great cause. You can be a social warrior. Social justice– there’s
nothing wrong with it. But you don’t have to be nasty
and intolerant and bigoted. You could be about
getting results, about actually
promoting your cause instead of hurting and putting
down other people, on and on. But the key is you have to
first see the shadow within you. Well, I’m going a lot
slower than I thought. Maybe I’ll skip over some
of the things I have here. So in my talks and
in my experience, there’s always been a
phenomenon that has struck me. And it first struck
me about 12 years ago when I gave a talk at Microsoft
up in the Seattle area. Here was a group of
20,000 30,000 people, some in this one area. And I was struck by how
similar everybody was. People kind of dressed alike. They all kind of acted alike. They were all sort of this sort
of buttoned-down, serious kind of personality. They weren’t all the same. But there was something
weird about the kind of behavior patterns that I had
never seen in any other office before. Then some seven years ago, I was
at Google up in Mountain View. And I noticed a similar
thing, but much different. It was a much more playful and
open and much more pleasant, to be honest with
you, environment. But there was definitely
a kind of a spirit that that group had–
this, I’m talking about, in Mountain View. I worked on the
board of directors for a company called
American Apparel. And the CEO is this kind
of insane mad man, kind of like– he has sort of
this hippie, free love sort of mentality. And here you had a
company of 10,000 people, and they were all having
nose rings and tattoos and cross dressing
in the office. Excuse me. Thank you. It was like, what
was going on here? And so I thought, what I’m
seeing here at Microsoft, at Google and American Apparel,
that there’s a culture. These places have a culture. And that’s a weird phenomenon
if you think about it. France, obviously,
has a culture. But that culture took
1,000 years to evolve, and it’s very pronounced. But in the course of 10, 20
years, Microsoft, Google, American Apparel, they’ve
evolved their own culture, their own way of being, where
people are kind of similar. What is this phenomenon? And basically, I
explain it in my book as one of those very
ancient processes that’s kind of
determining who we are. See, our ancestors, in
order to succeed and thrive as a social animal, they
developed complex emotions like joy, like
surprise, like anxiety. And these emotions would
show up on the face. This is before the
invention of language. So you could look at
the person next to you and see that they
were feeling anxious, and then you could
feel it as well. And then together, you
could respond quickly, without ever having to say
a word that maybe there was some predator in the area. So these emotional
responses that people had were very much
communicated without words, viscerally infected. We became infected. We were susceptible to the
emotions of people around us. And we humans have inherited
that incredible power. The other thing that
happened is that we developed what’s known as mirror
neurons, which I talked a lot about in “Mastery.” I don’t know if you’re
familiar with mirror neurons. Basically, that
means is if you’re watching somebody playing
tennis, the person playing tennis, as they’re
hitting the ball, certain neurons are
firing in their brain to make them hit it. As you’re watching
them, the same neurons are firing in your brain
that are firing in theirs. So this is what gives us the
power to imitate and to learn. So you’ll notice
sometimes you’ll be watching a basketball
game, and you’ll almost be shooting a free throw
along with the player, because you’re trying to
will that ball into the net. Those are your mirror
neurons that are operating. So we have this
built-in power to take on the emotions and feelings and
moods of the people around us. And if you put enough people
together for enough time, through sheer osmosis, you will
create some kind of culture, and people will start acting
and behaving in a similar way. These cultures can be tight,
like in Microsoft, or looser, as I imagined here at Google. They could be more
kind of traditional, or they can be more
kind of populous. They can be sort of top-down
or more egalitarian, on and on and on. Often, the culture of the group
reflects the person on top– so Bill Gates, obviously,
for Microsoft and Dov Charney for American Apparel. I don’t know. I can’t begin to speculate
where that might be for Google. I have no idea. So what happens with
this culture is that, also, certain unwritten
codes of behavior evolved. And these sort of determine what
is acceptable or not acceptable within this culture. And if you don’t pay attention
to these codes here at Google or wherever office
you’re working, you are likely to be
fired or ostracized and never really understand why. So you need to pay
attention to this. So the idea that I’m trying
to promote in this chapter is you like to think of yourself
as this independent person, where your thoughts and
beliefs are your own. But in fact, so many of
the things that you think, so many of your values and
ideas, come from the group. We are more conformist
than we imagine. And I include myself in that. If we belong to a
certain political tribe, we tend to absorb
all of the ideas– the same ideas– as
other people that have the same political beliefs. So we’re much more conformist
than we’d like to believe. And the other thing is
that if we’re not careful, the kind of group
mentality can turn easily into a mob mentality. And it can become
quite dangerous, as happens in bubbles like the
South Sea Bubble, et cetera. So the solution that
I’m promoting here is you need to be aware of how
deeply the group has infected your own behavior and infected
your belief system so that you can create a bit of space
for some independent thinking so you can begin to realize
that maybe you don’t want to have some of these ideas. They’re not coming from within. And the second
thing is if you’re a leader of any kind
of group in any way, you must be very aware of
the prevailing culture. You must be able to read it and
understand it and work with it. So if you’re starting a group,
you’re starting a business, if you have a
startup of some sort, you have the chance
to create a culture. And it’s extremely important,
because once a culture is created, like in Microsoft
or American Apparel, it’s very hard to change it. So I talk in the book
about how to create a healthy, functional, what I
call a reality group as opposed to a dysfunctional group. So that’s sort of
the lesson there. The last sort of force
that I wanted to talk about is related to this group force. And basically, all of us
belong to one enormous group that is millions,
hundreds of millions, that includes hundreds
of millions of people. And that group is the
generation that we belong to. A generation basically
comprises 22 years. It’s called a cohort. So you belong to a particular
generation, as I do. And obviously, in
that 22-year span, the people born near the
beginning of their generation and the people
born near the end, there’s going to be
some differences. But social scientists
have discovered remarkable similarities
between people within a generation,
even those that are separated by those years. They’ll have similar tastes,
similar sense of humor, similar values, similar ideas. Where does this come from? Well, in my book,
I make a very kind of intricate description of
the origin of the generation and why it evolves that way. But very simply put,
when you’re young, you’re very vulnerable to the
emotions and moods and ideas of the people around you. And those of your own
age, you’re all watching– back in the day when people
did that– you’re all watching the same television shows. You’re all listening to
more or less the same music. You’re all dealing
with parents who came from their
own generation, who have their own different,
special parenting styles, on and on. You’re absorbing this kind
of group osmosis, this group personality that kind of
determines who you are. And this will be the same for
millennials, for baby boomers, for Gen Xers. It’s kind of like a secret
club that you belong to. So people who are
millennials, you have a kind of
tacit understanding. I could never enter this club. I can never really
completely understand your mentality, because it’s
something that you only, from within the generation,
that you understand. And there are two
things that you have to see about the
generation phenomenon. First is every generation
thinks that it’s vastly superior to the
one that came before it and vastly superior to
the one that comes after. One of the most ancient
forms of writing that we have is a Sumerian
tablet in which it’s quoted, quote– this is from 1000 BC, mind you– “Today’s youth is rotten,
evil, godless, and lazy. It will never be what
youth used to be. And it will never be able
to preserve our culture,” end quote. Now that sounds pretty
familiar, right? So people will say
of millennials, “Oh, you’re so soft. You’re so pampered. What’s wrong with you?” But people were saying the
same thing about baby boomers and saying about the same
thing about Gen Xers. It’s human nature. So the next time you hear
somebody sort of parade this sign of superiority,
which I just basically consider generational
narcissism, just tell yourself it’s human nature. People are going to be saying
that 1,000 years from now. The second thing
you must understand is that the
generational phenomena creates what is
called a zeitgeist, a spirit of the times. It’s critical,
absolutely critical for you to understand
if you want to be successful in
business or whatever. The zeitgeist basically,
at any one time, there are four generations
that are alive, the 22 years. There might be a
fifth generation. But they’re getting pretty
old, and they’re dying off. So the two youngest
generations are the ones that are kind of unsettled. They don’t like the
way the world is. They want a change. They want to create new values,
new fashions, new styles. They’re generating all of
this energy for change. The two older generations
want to stop that. They want to hold
on to the past. They want to conserve and
preserve the traditions that they inherited. And these two seismic forces
are continually clashing, creating a spirit of
the time, a zeitgeist. The other thing is
with generations is they follow this
incredible pattern that people have discovered, have
written about for many years. So there will be
a generation that will be known as the
revolutionary generation, in which it overturns
all of the previous ideas and values and creates
true revolution. This will be followed
by a generation that tries to preserve
that revolution and kind of turn it into
something a little more rational and sane. This will be followed by a very
conservative generation that has lost touch with
the revolution, but is just basically
all about safety and keeping what
happened in the past. This will be followed by
a crisis generation, which gets so sick of the stagnant
situation and of the values they’ve inherited that they’re
very unhappy and dissatisfied. And this leads to the
revolutionary generation, on and on and on and on and on. And we can see the cycle
continually happening. And people estimate that
the generation that is now that the millennial generation
is a true crisis generation. I believe that’s true. And that what is
following is that we’re on the verge of another kind
of revolution, the kind that happens, they estimate, every
80 or so years, where values are going to be
completely overturned, and something new is gestating,
something very exciting and something very different. And so your task, in
whatever you’re creating or whatever you’re doing,
you have an audience that you must reach. And that audience has a
zeitgeist, has a spirit. And this spirit
is never stagnant. It’s always changing. And you tend to be
locked in the past. I like to tend the spirit of
the times as a kind of a wave. If you’re just behind that wave,
if you’re not quite up to it, the product, the
book that you write, the startup that you
create, will fail. If it’s with that wave,
if it’s riding with it, you will have some success. If you anticipate
that wave, if you’re a little bit ahead of it, you
will have tremendous success. That is where true power lies. So you must be incredibly
sensitive to this phenomenon and not be– your generation will tend
to lock you into the past, lock you into certain
values and belief systems. You want to let go of them. You want to develop some flow. And you want to
be able to develop this kind of very
sensitive antenna to what is going on with
the younger generations, where true change is fomenting. Now I’ve gone way over my talk,
what I thought this would take. But I want to conclude with a
story that I have in my book that sort of illustrates to me
the tremendous power that you can have by putting
these ideas into action. And it’s a story about another
Englishman– don’t worry, this book isn’t just
about English people– a man named Sir Ernest
Henry Shackleton. He was one of the great
English explorers. He lived in the beginning
of the 20th century. Shackleton had led several
expeditions across Antarctica. And it was his
idea that he would lead the first expedition– the first group of men– to cross this enormous
continent on foot. So in 1914, he set out
with a crew of 27 men to accomplish this. But as they got
nearer to the point where they were to embark
and cross the continent, they got trapped in an ice floe. And they were trapped
in there for months. And their ship started catching
water and began to sink. So he had to order all
of his men off the ship and onto this ice floe. And they managed to keep
a couple of the life preserve ship– the
little lifeboats that were on the boat. But basically,
Shackleton was now facing what seemed to be an
impossible, dire situation. They were about to enter
the winter, in which there would be no daylight, and
the weather would be awful. Their radio was too
weak to send a distress signal to be picked up. So they were trapped
on their own. Supplies from the ship were
going to quickly run out. And so they would
have nothing to eat. They would have to
live off the land. And so to be able to survive
against all those odds seemed nearly impossible. But Shackleton had been
on many expeditions. He was this brilliant
man who was not just brilliant at adventuring,
but he had a deep understanding of people and himself. So the first thing
he realizes, in order to get out of this
horrible situation, he would have to be making
a series of decisions. The most important would be
when to abandon the ice floe and try and go somewhere else. And if he listened
to his emotions, if he panicked or
he got doubtful, he wouldn’t time this right. He would leave too
early or too late. He had to calm himself down. He had to make sure that
his decisions weren’t being influenced by the
men he was leading and what they were feeling. He had to step back
and assess rationally. What was the best time to leave? What was the best
decision for that moment? The second thing was he had to
deal with a very diverse group of men that came from all
different backgrounds, social, economic backgrounds. And he was an incredibly
empathetic person. He made a point of
getting inside the spirit of each one of his men. He talked their language. To the photographer on the ship,
he talked like a photographer. He got inside his more
artistic point of view. To the carpenter, who
was from a lower class, he suddenly talked
more of his language. He got into the spirit
of each of these men so that he could
figure out their moods and anticipate when they might
start getting kind of negative and infect the
group with doubts. And he was very
sensitive to each person. He understood that the group
had a dark side, that this could ruin any chances of success,
that the great enemy wasn’t the weather or
anything, but it was from within the human spirit. So he organized all
of these things that could channel this dark energy. He organized big
soccer games on the ice so they could get out
their competitive spirit. He organized all these
kind of festivals where they could get drunk
and rowdy and raunchy, and he didn’t stop it. Basically, he tried constantly
to elevate the group’s spirits, that they would not start
doubting themselves, on and on and on. And through this process,
he figured out the moment when they left the ice floe. They got on their lifeboats,
and they traveled some 300 miles to an island, the
Elephant Island, where they now were on solid
ground, but on a tiny beach where they wouldn’t survive. And then he took one
of these little boats. With him were six men who
he’d carefully chosen. He crossed the most treacherous
waters on the planet– 800 miles, with waves
30, 40 feet high– to South Georgia Island, where
he was able to get a rescue ship. And all 27 men survived. It is considered one of the most
remarkable survival and rescue stories in the
history of mankind. And Sir Henry Shackleton
has gone down in history. Any books on
leadership are always quoting this story of
Shackleton and what he accomplished on that journey. Sorry, I’m losing my voice. And basically, he did
this through his knowledge of himself, through his
incredible empathetic connection to his men,
and through his deep grasp of human nature. Now I don’t think
here at Google you’re ever going to be facing
circumstances as dire as what Shackleton faced. I’m not sure, but
I don’t think so. But it’s a social animal. We’re always facing
environments that are full of dangers,
disappointments, toxic people, et cetera. And it is my belief
and my hope that with a genuine understanding
of human nature, which I hope to have
sparked in you today, you can navigate even the most
treacherous, dysfunctional environment you’ll ever
encounter and handle those toxic people that will
inevitably cross your path, and that you’ll
be able to develop that empathy that I think
is the most powerful tool that any human could
possibly possess. Thank you so much for this. I’m sorry about
how long it went. I thought it was a much
shorter talk than it was. But anyway, thank you. [APPLAUSE] AUDIENCE: So you mentioned that
95% of a decision of action come from subconscious. So is that on average, or there
is there a range for that? ROBERT GREENE: Well,
the range would be coming through
the understanding that I’m trying to develop and
help you with by understanding yourself more– just by understanding the fact
that so much of your behavior is unconscious,
you’re already going to increase the range
of that 95 and lower it, because you’re going to be
aware of these things going on. You’re going to be able to
see, for instance, if emotions are governing your action
and you’re not aware of it. How you buy something, or
the plans and strategies you’re making, or how
you responded to people. If you simply know that fact,
then you’re able to carve out carve out more consciousness. AUDIENCE: So how do you have
a more empathetic relationship with your shadow? And do you have any examples
of how an individual use their shadow to be
more productive in what they want to accomplish? ROBERT GREENE: You do have
to be more empathetic. It’s like a child
inside of yourself that you have to
finally accept, and come to terms with, and
kind of love in a way. So I noticed my own
shadow, for instance– I like to think of myself as
this rigorously independent person. But basically what
it’s disguising– because the shadow also– I didn’t completely
go into everything. The shadow is not just
your dark emotions, it’s also your insecurities
and your vulnerabilities that you’re hiding
from the world. And I’m hiding from the
world, from the public, a kind of scared child. I want to be
independent and assert that because I had parents
that basically never gave me enough attention. So I hope my mom’s
not watching this. She’ll now want to rewind that. But anyway, so– I tend to kind of go too far
with this sort of behavior. I talk in the book about
Abraham Lincoln, who had a very pronounced shadow. And this shadow had
two sides to it. First, he was kind of morbid,
and a very sensitive person– almost kind of poetic in a way. He was obsessed with death. And he knew that if
he let out this kind of obsessive, morbid,
overly sensitive personality would get him in trouble. People wouldn’t like it. He also was a very aggressive
and belligerent people. These two sides lived in– these two aspects were both
there at the same time. He was a belligerent person. You don’t realize this,
but he loved boxing, and he loved beating
the hell out of people. He was a boxer as a young man. And at one point in his life
he insulted another politician with very rude language. And he told himself, I’m
never going to do this again. He saw his shadow on parade. And so he learned to channel
these two sides of himself in a way that would
be productive. He turned that kind
of morbid sensitivity into empathy, to
the feeling that he didn’t want to lose lives
during the Civil War. He wanted– lives even
Confederate soldiers was valuable to him. And he channeled that aggressive
energy into winning the war, into strategizing, into being
the most brilliant, rational, strategist that ever lived. I tell people who are
artists use your anger, use your frustration and
your anger, and your hurts and put them into your work. Because– and films and books
that do that grab an audience. Because we all have these
emotions, and these sides that we’re tamping down, that
if you express your anger, it’ll attract people
like a magnet. And I did that– I’ve done that in all my books. The 48 Laws of Power– I had a lot of anger in there,
and I put it in the book, and I think that’s what
attracted a lot of readers to it. And I talk in The
Art of Seduction about Malcolm X and the
tremendous anger that was welling inside of
him from all of the hurt that he had as a young man
and the years in prison. And he tamped that down and he
controlled– he didn’t explode. If you ever watched
Malcolm X speak, there was this
incredible incandescence that I call charisma. He was controlling
that anger, but he was channeling it in these very
rational, powerful speeches. So I want you to take it
and channel that energy into something positive
and productive. Take– don’t be afraid
of your ambition, don’t be afraid that
you’re aggressive, but put it into something
that’s actually productive and you’ll accomplish something
as opposed to hurting people. I mean, I have more in the book
about that– that’s sort of– does that answer your question? AUDIENCE: Yeah, thanks. AUDIENCE: Hello. You mentioned that the
laws of human nature are based in neuroscience,
and that we all experience it. But how is it also
related to mental disease? Do you believe that– for sociopaths for
example, do you believe that they
also are guided by these laws of human nature? Or do you believe that they
are an edge case to this? ROBERT GREENE: They’re what? AUDIENCE: That
they’re an edge case. ROBERT GREENE: Edge case? AUDIENCE: That they don’t– they’re an outlier. ROBERT GREENE: Well by
the logic I’ve determined, nobody is exempt from it. OK? So they are more
like an edge case. So I talked about
narcissism, we all have narcissism and
narcissistic tendencies. But there are people
who fall deeply into toxic narcissism,
deep narcissism. They’re only a more extreme
example of a tendency that we all have. So even the worst
criminal is only displaying potentiality
and tendencies that exists within each
and every one of us. So criminals have a
dark side, obviously. And they act on that dark
side more readily than we do. They didn’t necessarily
tamp down all that energy that they had as a child. They’re acting out on it more
in their twenties and thirties– they’re holding up liquor
stores, they’re robbing, they’re doing whatever they want
because they never developed that positive, angelic
image that we have. But even criminals, who I’ve
studied a lot, 95% of the time, they’re actually polite
people, getting along. They’re not being aggressive,
and violent and angry all the time. They’ve learned also as well– in order to get along
with people, in order to survive even among
other criminals– that they have to present
a certain kind of image. So the laws that
I’m talking about affect each and every one of us. So the criminal mentality
is simply an extension of tendencies we all have. The number one thing that
defines a true criminal is the fact that they don’t
have the normal patience that we have to get what we want. They are not able to delay
their gratification needs. So if we want money
and recognition, we’re willing to put in 10
years of hard work to get it– knowing that at the end there
will be something [INAUDIBLE].. They don’t have that. They want instant gratification. They can’t wait that long–
they need the money now, they need the attention,
the excitement now. But we all have that tendency. All of us are impatient. We all are prone to taking
the line of least resistance. If someone gave us a shortcut– instead of 10 years, it
only took two years– each and every one of
us would take that. So there is that tendency
within all of us. The book– I really want to be
making sure in a kind of humane way– to stop separating us and them. As if we are these great
superior creatures, they are these scum– these human rejects– we
are all in this together. We all have the
same propensities. You take any one
of you and put you in some horrible, neglected,
poverty-stricken environment, you’ll find survival skills
that you never realized you had. You’ll become a
different person. You might even discover
criminal tendencies in yourself. You never realize. So I want to get people
off their high horse, off their moral superiority,
off their feeling that they’re so much better than others. We’re all in this together. We all have the same flaws
and the same strengths. AUDIENCE: Thank you. AUDIENCE: Hi, Robert. I really enjoyed your talk. ROBERT GREENE: It
wasn’t too long? AUDIENCE: It was great. I really enjoyed it. ROBERT GREENE: I cut out
a whole bunch of stuff, if you can believe it. AUDIENCE: I’m sort
of disappointed. I’m used to listening
to really long podcasts. But I was taken with
the storytelling aspect of your talk. And I’m wondering if
you can talk about A, what you think is– this is a
little off-topic for your book, but– A, what do you think makes
for good storytelling, the way you’ve delivered it? And maybe some of the
people that you look up to as good storytellers. ROBERT GREENE: Well, you know,
since The 48 Laws of Power I’ve been– my method– bye, Travis. You’re coming back? I always decided that
I would tell stories because I feel I want to draw
the reader into my subject. And so many books that I
read are really boring, and they don’t connect
with me, because I’m always at a distance from what
they’re talking about. And I want to seduce the reader. I want to draw
you into my world, to my way of looking at
things, and a story does that. And the power of
a story, which I talk a lot in two of my books– The Art of Seduction, and then
in my third book on strategies of war, my kind of
version of Sun Tzu. I have a chapter about how
to communicate to people, and I just– I reveal all of my
secrets in that chapter. But basically, when
you tell a story people don’t know
what’s happening next. And I always make
it a point that you don’t know the lesson that
I’m getting at where I begin. You have no idea that
the people I’m describing are actually the con artists who
are conning the other person. You think they’re the
ones being conned, but they’re the con artist. I try and surprise you, I
try to have some mystery. And I lead you along, lead
you along, and then boom– I tell you the ending, and the
moral, and then I interpret it. And I liken this– the power of this,
psychologically– to when we were children. We liked that
feeling of our father picking us up and throwing
us around, carrying us someplace we didn’t know
where he was carrying us. We liked the idea of some
ride at an amusement park. What’s around the corner? What’s happening next? What’s behind the curtain? That moment where
you’re wondering what’s happening next, you have caught
the reader, you’ve hooked them. They’re going to want
to know what’s next. So I’m always in the process
of hooking the reader. I’m very aware of my audience. I’m very aware of when
they’re going to get bored and where their attention
is going to weaken. So I want to create stories. I mean– any great novelist,
any great playwright, any great screenwriter
is going to be a master at creating that
level of suspense and mystery. But I think it’s
deeply ingrained in us. And if I could
tell people that– I teach people to
write books, I’m often helping them with their books– I’m telling you, you’re being
too, obvious too familiar. You’re not surprising people. By the third chapter
we’ve read everything that you have to say. You’ve left no surprises. So I always structured my books
to have continual little pops, make them think– so you’re never quite bored. Hope I’ve succeeded. AUDIENCE: I’m excited
to read your book. ROBERT GREENE: Oh, thank you. AUDIENCE: Hey, Robert. Hey. So you talked a lot about
the power of empathy. I’m curious what your
thoughts are on– let’s say as a leader, and
having to make decisions sort of for the overall– the best possible decision
for the overall good, right? Even when sometimes it has to be
kind of hard on certain groups of people, right? And you need to like work
harder to sort of get ahead in a certain environment– what are your thoughts– do you ever feel
like too much empathy can lead to a little bit more
of an irrational and emotional decision making? ROBERT GREENE: It’s
a very good question. Yeah, there’s a level
there where as a leader, in particular, you
have to cut that off. But the empathy that
you’re having is– as a leader, you’re there
for the greater good. The group is coming together to
create something positive, what I call a reality group. A reality group is a
group that’s together to make something,
to create a product, to create a book or a film. It’s not there for
emotional purpose, it’s not there for
people to be friends, or to get out their ya-yas. It’s to make something. So you’re grounded in
reality, you’re practical. And if you have 10
members and one of them is some kind of raging
narcissistic asshole, or whatever, you can’t be
empathetic to that person. You have to find a
way to isolate them so your empathy is geared
towards the greater good of the group. I have a chapter on this,
a chapter on authority. And I talk about
the icon of that is Queen Elizabeth
I, that I discuss– who is an immensely
empathetic person but was in a terrible position
as the female ruler at a time when women weren’t
supposed to rule. And so she created
a style of authority that I think is
incredibly powerful. And from her story I kind
of deduce certain laws. And so for instance, if you
need the group to work harder– and they’re slagging
off, et cetera– you need to lead from the front. You need to set the example. You can’t be sitting there
back in your office yelling at people saying, what are
you going home right now? It’s 4 o’clock! No, you’ve got to stay longer. You can’t be berating people
and pushing them like a donkey up a hill. If you set the example, if you
set the tone and the spirit, people will follow you. And that’s the mistake. 95% of these– I keep
using that number, sorry– so many mistakes
that people make, leader-wise, is they think that
it comes from other people. That their employees are
to blame, they’re lazy, they don’t know
what they’re doing. It comes from you. You’re not setting the tone. You have the power to
set the right tone. You’re in the office
work until 9, 10 o’clock, and everybody sees that. They’re going to
follow your lead. They’re going to see that
you take responsibility for mistakes. You don’t blame scapegoats. They’re going to say,
oh, I better take responsibility for myself. You’re not favoring this
person over that person. You’re treating everybody
more or less equally. Oh, OK, I’m motivated
to work harder and earn his or her trust. Through the tone that
you set, that’s the power that you have as a leader. It’s much better than yelling
at people and berating them. So I agree, empathy can
go too far in that case, and you have to set
limits and boundaries. But more than anything,
you have to set the proper tone for the group. AUDIENCE: So I have a
question about leadership. You mentioned that people
in– actually about culture. People in certain
environment become very similar to each other. And we have a tendency to be
like other people around us. I was wondering, if you
don’t like something about the culture and you’re
not in the leadership position to set an example, how do you
go about changing the culture? ROBERT GREENE: It’s
extremely difficult, particularly if you’re
in a large company, because the culture is
stronger than any individual. Right so if you’re in a
dysfunctional environment– and believe me I’ve consulted
with companies that I would call dysfunctional– you as an individual have
very limited choices. And I’ve talked to
people like that and I say, in these
situations, you have to be a little bit selfish. You have to see the
skills that you can get– you have to learn
from this, you have to learn the negative
examples, and you have to get out as
quickly as you can. Because these kind
of environments will drag you down. I say people can go crazy– can literally develop
a mental illness– by working in a
dysfunctional group. It can infect you
and you’ll never get over the rest of your life. As opposed to
working for a reality group, or positive
place, can actually improve your mental health. So first of all, don’t be
hubristic, don’t be grandiose and think that you– one person, mid-level employee– is going to suddenly be–
shining knight in armor and going to change
this culture. You can’t. It’s stronger than you are. And I talk in the book about
the United States Pentagon. It’s very powerful,
rooted military culture. And all these people
came in thinking that they were going to
be the ones that were going to alter the culture. John F. Kennedy was one,
Lyndon Johnson was one. They didn’t want to get deeper
involved in the Vietnam War, they were going to
change the culture. And the culture ended
up changing them, ended up making them go further
and further into the war. The culture will change you
the longer you’re in it. You won’t change it. So have some humility, think
about yourself, and as soon as you can get out of it. If you give me more specifics,
I can go more deeply into it. That’s generally
the advice I give. AUDIENCE: It may
not be necessarily a dysfunctional culture. There may be aspects like–
we went to Microsoft, everybody was a certain way. What if you have
some different idea for what culture should be? Not necessarily– I’m
not talking dysfunction. ROBERT GREENE: I’m
sorry, I misunderstood. Well in a culture
like Microsoft– and I’m generalizing
a bit– but there wasn’t much room for expressing
something weird or individual, showing your own flair. But you always
could if you learned to first abide by the
conventions of the culture that you’re in. So when you enter a new
environment, a new group– let’s say you enter Google for
the first time and there is a pronounced culture– you must be very attuned to it. You must understand
the spirit, you must understand the
mood that prevails, and certain codes of behavior. What is acceptable and
what is not acceptable. Even though you may not like it,
you have to learn those codes. And from within
those codes perhaps you have room to express
a little bit more of your individuality. And it’s a game because
sometimes bending those rules a little bit
and being more of yourself will actually be very powerful. If you’re simply the
company man or woman, maybe you won’t get
very far because you’re too much of a conformist. So sometimes operating within
the conventions and the codes of behavior, you have room
to bend them a little bit and show some of your own flair. I know I’m generalizing
in that sense, but that’s one way where
you can kind of operate within that kind of
strict environment. AUDIENCE: Thank you. ROBERT GREENE: Well, I’m
going to see this through. All right. AUDIENCE: Hey,
thanks for your talk. I really enjoyed it. So my question was– I’m a little curious
about what you were discussing about the
power of empathic ability. Empathic ability. How I see it that someone with
a greater empathic ability would, in an Interaction,
have essentially a greater level of
power maybe to the point of a manipulative capacity. And how is it
possible to recognize this type of power dynamic? And what’s the best
way to address that? ROBERT GREENE:
Very good question. So it’s a known
thing in psychology that a lot of psychopaths– or sociopaths, whichever
term you prefer– can be very attuned
to other people. They have actually
empathy, and that’s what makes them such
great manipulators. They’re able to get inside
the moods and ideas of people. And they know who you
are and that gives them the room to manipulate. So it’s a very good point. And I discuss this in
the book that there are different kinds of empathy. There is what I call
analytic empathy in which you are looking at the other
person in a very analytic way. What’s their weakness, what’s
their strength, who are they? And I talk about
visceral empathy. Visceral empathy comes
from here, from the gut. It’s a feeling. And I talk about we
have this power– I can’t read your thoughts,
but through great knowledge of nonverbal behavior– which
is part of my talk I didn’t get to get to– I can feel what your mood
is, what your emotions are, what your spirit is. And that creates a kind
of visceral connection. A communication that predates
words that we humans possess. And that kind of visceral
empathy is more human, it’s more elemental,
it’s more on the level of two fellow people
communicating to each other. And the psychopath doesn’t
have that visceral empathy, which is what enables
them to be so evil and nasty and manipulative. Because they can go
inside your world and figure out how
to mess with you and they won’t feel
any compunction because they lack
that quality that links two people from here. Not from the heart,
but from the viscera. And so to have true
empathy you have to develop this other skill. And I say in there, having just
visceral empathy is not enough either. Because sometimes that gut
feeling, that communication, can be inaccurate. You can misread people. So you want to have
that analytic ability. You want to have
the ability to go what was your
childhood like, what was your mother
like, who are you? And analyze it. But you want it
with this as well because one without
the other will make you a kind of inhuman beast. So that’s the difference
between the two. AUDIENCE: All right. Thank you so much,
everyone, for coming. Thank you, Robert for
giving this awesome talk. [APPLAUSE]

100 thoughts on “Robert Greene: “The Laws of Human Nature” | Talks at Google

  • ImDino Post author

    Talking about SJW’s at google…

  • ron kennington Post author

    Clearly antifa and SJW’s Have obvious mental disorders. Thank you Robert Greene for your outstanding research.

  • presjo Post author

    whats wrong with his left arm?
    did he have a stroke in 2016 or something?

  • Yannick Ndombe Post author

    Thanks so much Robert Greene! No words can express how much I admire your knowledge and the way you teach us to understand ourselves and the people around us better. I pray god to protect your health, heart , soul, muscles, cells, intellect just everything about you so that you can keep on enlinghtening us with your wisdom! Thank you Sir!!

  • rahul juneja Post author

    I hope,he's well👍

  • donald johnson Post author

    Never said I am perfect. But here's my mantra on the situation: "It's not that my s**t doesn't stink, it just doesn't smell as bad as other people's" :p

  • Nikki Pettway Post author

    "forces of evolution from millions of yrs ago, wired into your brain"

  • Ben Dover Post author

    37:45 holy molly 👏👏 Robert you said that in SJW headquarters 🤣🤣🤣

  • Martel Matisse Post author

    Best. Author. Ever.

  • Mohammed Abbasi Post author

    Thank you Robert Greene 🙂

  • Nikki Pettway Post author

    "madness in all of us" … "ancestors invented empathy" … Not true! …

  • JAZZ ABRAMS Post author

    How to create a masterpiece, “Use your anger and frustrations and channel it through your work!”

  • PAX290 Post author

    Greene is not saying anything new about the Unconscious and the emotions that drive us. George Bernal, Sigmund Freud's nephew, devoted his life to advertising in America and based it on Freud's contention that humans are driven primarily by unconscious emotions that they are not aware of. David Hume in the 18th century, stated that "humans are the slave of passions:"(ie emotions).

  • Adriatic Post author

    this ought to be louder. Google having technical difficulties out here

  • Stefan Schnabel Post author

    "I don't want to overload you with all this information" No worries, those first 18 minutes could easily be compressed to 2.

  • Ahmed Amar Post author

    I love this man a lot, I am following him like his shadow and I wish him all the best and a full recovery soon. Thanks for sharing

  • Rutland Walker Post author

    Superb content. Excruciatingly boring delivery

  • Danny K. Post author

    I recommend your books to a lot of my patients as a counselor. You have been a great influence in my work, becoming very helpful for me and my clients. The Laws of Human Nature is amazingly revealing. Thank you for being such an excellent writer, Mr. Greene.

  • Jeremy Ryan Post author

    Human behaviour ❤️

  • Olly Savio Post author

    This guys is obsessed with Englishmen !!!

  • Matthieu Sylvester Post author

    There was overwhelming compassion in this lecture!
    What a teacher he has become!
    Thanks to Google for inviting him again!
    Looking forward for him to give another lecture and provide the rest of the material in his notes that he had not the time to deliver here!

  • DSB DSB Post author

    Is empathy really the most powerful tool or is it just another way to make the masses fool ?

  • ronser rokpam Post author

    This is so awsome.i like it.its so logical.

  • Emily P Post author

    Just an amazing man and forward thinking mind. Thank you Robert Greene

  • king nick Post author

    What’s everyone watching this for?

  • Omowale Babagbemi Post author

    Great Talk by one of Practical and Down To Earth Mentor of our Generation. Always glad to read from and listen to Sir. Robert Greene. On the 4 generational cycles, that got me because I had a feeling that we millennials have a mission on Earth and the behavioral patterns is for a reason.

  • s negoro Post author

    Why do you sound like the little stanford snowflake that accused Justice Kavanaugh of rape?

  • Veronica Fulton Post author

    Very interesting cross between Robert Greene and Eckhart Tolle. Very different context yet similar human focus on values and human behavior

  • Elvis Jimenez Post author

    god bless u robert greene

  • heltok Post author

    I wonder how many in the audience were reflecting on their company’s treatment of James Damore at 38:00.

  • Donald Murphy Post author

    This guy does not know what he's talking about in so many areas: jungian analysis, group dynamics, leadership, crimogenic thinking, and organizational dynamics to name a few. No one person has expertise in all the areas he pontificates on.

  • David Porter Post author

    Somebody get that man a water


    an enlightened mind is the end of all mental problems. the nature of a man mind is empty. the central self-control thinking , must be erased. Shunyata consciousness don't need self-control, conception "I" is not interesting. the end of senses slavery.

  • EK Lim Post author

    a lecture that feels like teaching, haven't seen that since quite a while ago

  • David Porter Post author


  • NasJones73 Post author

    100 years from now they will build museum and statue in honor of Legendary Robert Greene. I want to meet him ASAP.

  • llamasarus1 Post author

    "Humans aren't rational". Compared to what? We're the most rational species on the planet.

  • Dylan L. Post author

    This guy is so full of shit and himself.

  • monkeymanwasd123 Post author

    Im disgusted by his phrasing

  • leto meu Post author

    Very smart deep, amazing talk. Different level. That why America is one of the best place to produce people like him with
    unlimited intellectual capacity. My deep respect you highly appreciated.

  • ID IL Band Post author

    Generational narcissism

  • Jackie Chiles Post author

    1:12:43 – Robert's answer to this question seems uncomfortably similar to his very criticism of the Social Justice Warrior mindset at 37:45

  • Poopy Butt Post author

    This is a great talk but I literally can’t hear this at full volume

  • Lago Brian Post author

    Read the book. Complete eye opener.

  • George K Post author

    What’s with the boxy mic used to ask questions? Is it just to advertise?

  • Bustique Chigo Post author

    Great presentation and highly insightful. Basically I understand why we do what we do as humans.

  • Maurice Wingfield Post author

    I've gotten lots of food for thought from this talk and others by Mr. Greene but am I missing something? Is he being sarcastic when he says workplaces lacking diversity are a thing of the past or that he was shocked to discover companies have a culture?

  • luis mendez Post author

    robert just glad you have made some physical progress towards your full recovery…. you are definitely a brave soul and a patient determined man

  • Peter Miller Post author

    37:55 someone spoke against social justice warriors at google? i'm surprised and impressed

  • OHM -001A Post author

    Give the man a glass of water fcs… Very good Talk thank you btw 🙂

  • Emoneybags The Technician Post author

    🥺Will someone please get my man some water!🙎🏻‍♂️🤦🏻‍♂️😖disrespectful😔

  • Slothrop 47 Post author

    This guy with no remarkable life experiences or achievements thinks he figured out human nature after reading some books lol

  • HkLY45 Post author

    37:44 incredibly brave commentary to a group of censoring, outraged, SJW's. Truth to power! Wake up Google employees! You are the bad guys!

  • n0___n0 Post author

    Brilliant. Thank you, Mr, Greene.

  • Q Prince2018 Post author

    He seems like he take so long to get to a point. I learned nothing. No offense

  • cotico alain Post author

    Robert I expect u t write a book on miracle.It will be awesome.

  • Alex Goslar Post author

    Dear Robert Greene thanks for a great speech on Goggles. Indeed we are struggling to understand the human mind. Here is my formula for success. Become irreplaceably desirable for at least ten years. No matter who you are, where you are or what it is that you pursue this success formula will work.

  • Ravindra Kumar Post author

    Thanks so much dear great sir .i have interesce every book.

  • mgu1N1n1 Post author

    Impossible audio

  • geoffmasondrums Post author

    …even though they can become the CEO of an enormous tech company, and I'm not going to name names here… 🙂

  • Nima Nikuie Post author

    He didn't name the CEO, so I will: Steve Jobs. Minute 30 in the talk. #narcissist

  • Manoj Sharma Post author

    Hi Robert, you are Great teacher, Amazing human being, I believe that now you are empty to store lots of love from the people who are understanding n getting such an important information from you. Thanks a lot for sharing all this and being so kind to us..I appreciate your business. God bless you Sir. Hats off to you man!

  • Marco Aguila Post author

    49:40 The Sumerians sound like my grandpa.

  • Kelvin Reyes Post author

    Thank you Robert for all of the knowledge you have shared to the world. 48th laws of power. 🔥

  • Mike P Post author

    @ Minute 38: Google really needed to hear that.

  • PurposeVibe Post author

    Robert Greene has taught me many lessons. Much respect for him!

  • Hadi uz Zaman Post author

    I went through the entire lecture (apart from Q&A) in seven days. It was really worth it. Recommended to my friends as well.

  • Raymond Teh Post author

    Just one's opinion,the speech feels kinda toxic as if every culture and human nature is labeled by him with a certain thought… take it with a grain of salt….

  • The Real Legend Post author

    Just finished the book!

  • Apurba Pandey Post author

    Not falling prey to behaviors driven by our emotions by understanding human nature intellectually is a BIG fat joke.

  • Elvia Giron Post author

    Bendiciones PARA siempre CON vos

  • Philip Taylor Post author

    Someone should give him a drink. His very nervous. 101, have water, drink it.

  • Jeremiah McKenzie Post author


  • Kunqi Li Post author

    Nice way to sell a book by saying I couldn't finish my talk 3 times in a talk. I was sold!

  • wha-where yo mama stay at Vlad? Post author

    No homo but I'm in love with this man

  • Harmeet Sokhi Post author

    What's with the mike given to the audience 🤔

  • Issac Valdivia Post author

    This guy knows a lot about the evil of people and the powerful people that posses them

  • Official Poa Post author

    Allah Bless #RobertGreene a Real Rock N Roller! Let me say this, Google your audio techs seriously needs to fin that frequency on that microphone and cut it using a high Q an reduction EQ


  • Official Poa Post author

    #RobertGreene we need to get you to the #USHA INSTITUTE, you do not sound nor look to well – time for a change in your dietary lifestyle


  • Dmitrii Zholud Post author

    So if you are tempted to buy the book – don’t. Wait 10 minutes and then buy Carl Jung.

  • Roodie Krblt Post author

    I am so glad that I have run across his books. Thank you

  • Sagar Rai Post author


  • Niklaus M Post author

    I have a question please.

    How about when it comes to changing culture in society at large? Generally speaking, people are aware that there are certain aspects of their culture that are outdated,idiotic, and or just outright destructive yet we still adhere to these "norms". No one wants to say or do anything that would cause conflict in their lives. But what about the issues that MUST be changed for the greater good? (the lives of the people and future generations). Take for example what people like Malcom X and Dr. Martin Luther King did. They fought to do away with the destructive societal norms of their culture and succeeded. Look at the results of their actions. But when Mr. Greene says the Culture is more powerful than the individual and just accept, how can cases like the one mentioned above and countless other similar instances in history ever happen?

  • Tacomma Profit Post author

    Great vid. Am I the only one who hears a form of AMSR being used? Found it difficult to focus on the vid

  • A Peppermint Candy Post author

    GREED nu.1=Google.

  • Jay Edsa Post author

    You know Robert maybe you should write a book about Health, Longevity and Wellbeing cause all this knowledge will be nothing if your body is failing.

  • Gieo Pensoneault Post author

    Soooo he is talking about the irrational nature of human decision making? How shadow self controls behavior in a way that individuals are generally not aware of? Why is this revolutionary thinking? It is the known universe of psychology.

  • Marko Kraguljac Post author

    In a kingdom of blind teletubbies, one eyed teletubby is the king and writes "bestsellers" in the US.

  • joe blunt Post author

    Snap crackle pop

  • Amber Webb Tv Post author

    I can't get pass the sound quality. It is disturbing to the point of distractions from listening to an author I greatly admire.
    It is is a fixable problem.

  • Derek Rivera Post author

    Bitcoin craz huh ….

  • Derek Rivera Post author

    “I can calculate the motions of heavenly bodies but I cannot understand the madness of men.”— Sir Isaac newton

  • Iveta from Thrace Post author

    Damn, how do I fix the deep roots of my behavior I've no idea about.

  • Lucas Canario Post author

    Your books, Mr. Greene, are enlightening. I’m much obliged by what your ideas have changed in my life. Hope I could see you in real life, some day. Best wishes from a huge fan in Brazil.

  • Cambell Baxter Post author

    How has nobody put Jordan Peterson and Robert Greene in a room together? I don't care if you agree or disagree with their views, I just want to hear that conversation!

  • Suresh Babu Maddina Post author

    He must be the wisest living man

  • Gmoneyluv4u Post author

    Robert is f*&^^k(g genius~~~ I never heard his lectures but have read his books. Its a total different experience to hear him talk than analyzing his books. Dissecting the stories to apply to your life is crucial in understanding his books.

  • Bonnie Clyde Post author

    Mastery and the Laws of human nature were awsome

  • Dre Oo Post author

    Robert greene the GOAT

  • Koupon King Post author

    Anybody else notice the fake over adulating comments from people with wierd names in the comment section. Not buying it.

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