Note: While reading a book whenever I come across something interesting, I highlight it on my Kindle. Later I turn those highlights into a blogpost. It is not a complete summary of the book. These are my notes which I intend to go back to later. Let’s start!

RULE 1: Get Out of Your Own Way

  • Before we strategize, I note that in our brief conversation, Christine has mentioned several times that she is the only woman in the setting (her three peers and boss are all men), is the youngest, and has the least seniority in the company. I am sure that is all true, because we are discussing observable demographics, but, I say, let me give you three other adjectives that describe you. You are the only one of this group with an MBA from a prestigious business school, the most analytically skilled, and the person who has run the project with the greatest economic impact. She sits up a little straighter and agrees. So, I say, we have six adjectives to describe you, three that imply you are not as deserving, and three that enhance your status. You get to pick which three you want to carry around in your head. How people think of themselves invariably influences what they project to others and what behaviors they will enact. The lesson: use self-descriptive adjectives that convey power, and eschew attitudes that, even if accurate, fairly or unfairly, diminish your status.

  • Talented people, with objectively amazing accomplishments, hold self-descriptions that disempower themselves and that, if and when internalized, inappropriately limit their career prospects. Powerful, accomplished, successful people tell their stories in ways that downplay their gifts and accomplishments. Such behavior is unhelpful.

  • Mastering imposter syndrome, and describing yourself in positive rather than self-deprecating ways, is critical for achieving power and success. If you do not think of yourself as powerful, competent, and deserving, it is likely that, in subtle and possibly not-so-subtle ways, you will communicate this self-assessment to others. Others are not likely to think more favorably of you than you do of yourself. Colleagues expect that you will, at least to some extent, self-advocate and self-promote—and if you don’t, that behavior will be held against you.

  • Write down the adjectives you use to describe yourself, both to yourself and to others. Check with friends to see if your list is correct. Then ask yourself what descriptors you need to get rid of in order to project yourself in a more powerful way. Ask yourself what positive adjectives about yourself—language that gives credit to your accomplishments and credentials—you underutilize in your interactions with others.

  • Record yourself as you interact in professional settings throughout a day or week. Then analyze how many times you begin an interaction by apologizing for intruding, for interrupting, for taking the other person’s time, for offering your ideas. Ask friends and colleagues how often you actively participate in discussion and forcefully offer your opinions, and how often you begin interactions by apologizing for offering them.

  • As you describe yourself to others, as you articulate a narrative of your career so far, as you create a personal brand, do you talk about your accomplishments, your credentials, or what you have done successfully? Or do you attempt to appear modest and self-effacing, downplay your achievements, positions you have held, honors you have achieved, and your talents? Using these exercises, figure out how you are going to change your self-image and self-presentation in ways that reduce how frequently you get in your own way by being too modest and thereby hinder your ability to project—and achieve—power. Change your behavior, and your attitudes about yourself and your place in the world quite likely will follow. That is because self-perception theory posits that “individuals come to ‘know’ their own attitudes, emotions, and other internal states partially by inferring them from observations of their own overt behavior.” People figure out what their attitudes are from the information available to them when they describe their attitude, and salient information about their own behavior, therefore, comes to influence their beliefs and attitudes. Consequently, an individual can increase their confidence by acting more confidently, and can build their sense of their own power by describing themselves in a more powerful fashion.

  • People often worry about their organizational competitors for advancement, about what their bosses think of them, about their relative skills. All of these things are important. But possibly the single biggest barrier to having power is ourselves. Therefore, the first rule of power is to get out of your own way.

  • Different people are willing to do different things in order to succeed. Just because you won’t network, or flatter, or self-promote, certainly does not mean that all of your competitors will be as circumspect. To the extent people opt out of doing things their colleagues are willing to do—tactics that build power—they put themselves at a disadvantage.

  • An important part of being “willing to do what it takes” is sticking with efforts to build power and get things done in the face of opposition, criticism, obstacles, setbacks, and failures. Almost everyone, at some point in their lives and careers, will run into seemingly insurmountable obstacles and determined opponents who may unfairly deprecate others and spread misinformation about rivals. Because these difficulties are inevitable, I believe that persistence and resilience—sticking with things, while being sensible and changing strategies or approaches as necessary—frequently determine whether people will succeed in their rise to power.

  • Phrases like “Be true to yourself” and “Find your own true north” seem excessively self-referential and are not what leaders must do to succeed. Leaders need allies and supporters; one of the primary tasks of a leader is to recruit both. This task is more readily accomplished if the leader is true not to themselves but instead to the needs and motivations of those they seek to recruit.

  • The story of President Lyndon Johnson, as told in Robert Caro’s biographies documents a man who spent his life studying others, and in the process came to know their wants and needs. In the American Experience film on Johnson, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin described how the Senate, with only one hundred members, was perfect for Johnson, who could master every detail of his colleagues’ personalities—their wants, needs, hopes, and fears. With that knowledge, Johnson could build relationships with them and also understand precisely how to persuade them to do what he wanted. If you want to have allies—always a good thing if you want influence—you obviously need to provide others with something so they will support you. Maybe it is the perception of similarity—for instance, Johnson could deepen his southern accent when he talked to Southerners, and could present himself as having views consistent with those of liberal Minnesotan Hubert Humphrey and conservative Georgian Richard Russell as the occasion required. If you want others to support you, you need to be able to answer the question: What’s in it for them if they do?

  • What is true in politics is true in organizations of all types. The people with whom you work have agendas, insecurities, problems, needs. So stop focusing on trying to figure out who you are. Instead, focus on who your allies and potential allies are. Become a student of the people whose support you need. The sooner you do, the faster you will develop the information and insights necessary for strategically building the alliances you need to succeed.

  • The first rule of power is about acknowledging and accepting who you are but not letting that identity define who you will be forever. It is about understanding the importance of social connection but not letting the need for acceptance overwhelm what you want to get done, and the necessity of pursuing your own interests and agenda. It is, in short, about getting out of your own way and getting on with the task of building the power base that will provide you the leverage to accomplish your goals.

RULE 2: Break the Rules

  • SOMETIMES, WHEN YOU WANT TO ATTEND a fancy dinner where you can meet amazing people and expand your network, or create a favorable reputation owing to your ability to organize others and get things done, you have to break some rules. Consider the actions of Christina Troitino, currently a YouTube employee and a former student in my class. Troitino described how she was able to “crash” an exclusive dinner at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, a place where Stanford business school students mostly go to hang out with each other—something they could do in Palo Alto. Each year I challenge the students to do something at Sundance that they could not do locally, like meet some of the powerful figures that attend this major event. Troitino accepted the challenge. To get into the fancy dinner with her boyfriend, Troitino broke one rule by showing up without announcing her “plus one.” To wrangle a spot at the dinner in the first place, she defied social norms and conventional expectations by cadging an invitation to a prestigious, closed event instead of passively waiting years to achieve the status that would have made such an invitation automatic.

  • Breaking the rules meant fundamentally taking the initiative—not waiting to obtain permission or, for that matter, even asking for anyone’s approval, but just creating things—in this case, an event. By so doing, Troitino put herself in a central network position and built a brand as someone who gets stuff done.

  • Rule breaking and violating social norms to build power fundamentally entail undertaking behaviors—taking initiatives—that are “different” and unexpected. Most importantly, rule breaking requires being proactive and doing something—in Christina’s case, initiating contact with sponsors of a prestigious dinner and starting a cross-business school activity.

  • A study in Social Psychological and Personality Science concluded, “When people have power, they act the part. Powerful people smile less, interrupt others, and speak in a louder voice . . . The powerful have fewer rules to follow.” Or, phrased another way by Lord Acton and empirically demonstrated by social psychologist David Kipnis, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The powerful are freer to defy social norms and conventions and get away with it, and thus, powerful people are more likely to enact socially inappropriate behavior.

  • One would hope, perhaps, that powerholders who break the rules fall from grace and lose their power . . . Or might the very act of breaking the rules actually fuel perceptions of power? Norm violators who are not sanctioned gain power from their ability to violate the rules, signaling they are different from and more powerful than people who (presumably must) adhere to social expectations. This passage helps to explain why Donald Trump’s lying has not caused him more difficulties. Lying, which violates the social norm to tell the truth, is frequently not sanctioned, and because it also violates expectations, actually increases perceptions of the person’s power. There are obviously limits to the positive effect of norm violations on perceptions of power, but the idea that violating rules and social conventions might increase someone’s power is a principle that ought to be taken seriously. The idea helps explain many aspects of social life in workplaces, not just in politics.

  • Note that Christina Troitino engaged in a series of small but important behaviors that would be unexpected from someone in a low-power position. She sent a very short email asking about the dinners without providing an extensive personal biography, only describing herself as a writer for Forbes. She waited forty-eight hours to respond to the email explaining her dinner options. And she showed up with an uninvited guest without letting the organizers know in advance. In this way, she acted as if she had the power to break with expectations and do what she wanted. Possibly because of these behaviors, she was able to get herself (and her partner) into a highly exclusive dinner.

  • Because most people follow the rules most of the time, people who don’t can and often do catch their interaction partners off guard. This element of surprise can work to the perpetrator’s advantage, because others do not have time to prepare for the interaction and decide how they want to respond.

  • Calacanis walked into people’s offices without an appointment, thereby breaking the rules of how you interact with powerful people—or maybe expectations of how you should approach anyone. Caught off guard and surprised by his audacity, the admissions director was impressed enough with Calacanis’s drive to get him admitted to Fordham. And the dean, surprised and lacking a plan for how to handle Calacanis’s financial situation, reacted on the spot by connecting him with the business school computer lab, where he then more than doubled his wages.

  • Although conflict is common in workplaces, with one study showing that employees spent on average almost three hours each week engaged in conflict, some 60 percent of workers never receive any basic training in dealing with conflict situations. This absence of training, coupled with people’s desire to be liked and accepted, means that most difficult situations are avoided rather than being confronted, and most people are conflict averse and therefore seek to avoid arguments. In practical terms for exercising power, this means that resistance to what you want to do is likely to be less than you expect because people will be reluctant to confront you and risk a difficult interpersonal conversation. Therefore, it is easier and often more successful and productive to just do what you want and to ask forgiveness for something that you have done instead of seeking permission for it beforehand. Once you have completed or accomplished something, it becomes a fait accompli and difficult to undo. Moreover, the benefits and consequences of what you have done are no longer hypothetical but real, which also makes others reluctant to undo what you have done and thereby destroy the benefits produced. Once Troitino had created a successful cross-school event, who was going to criticize her for raising money for charity while providing a fun experience to numerous students—even though she had asked no one’s permission to organize the event? Robert Moses, New York’s master builder, who wielded immense power over a forty-year career, was a genius in employing the strategy of turning his plans into physical reality—even before he had permission to do so. Often Moses would start his projects prior to obtaining all of the necessary permits and sometimes even the funding to complete them. He understood that once a park or playground was constructed, it was much more difficult and less likely for others to undo his creations.

  • Caro commented on the lesson Moses had learned: “Once you did something physically, it was very hard for even a judge to undo it.” In fact, once anything is done, it is harder to undo—and that includes instituting awards, events, and ceremonies. Do something first, and sort out the consequences later—even if this breaks some rules.

  • When Keith Ferrazzi, marketing guru and best-selling author, graduated from Harvard Business School in 1992, he was deciding between accepting a job at the consulting firms McKinsey or Deloitte Consulting: “We tried to talk Keith into coming to join us over McKinsey,” recalled Pat Loconto, the former head of Deloitte. “Before he accepted, however, he insisted on seeing the ‘head guys’ as he would call them.” Loconto agreed to meet Ferrazzi at an Italian restaurant in New York City. “After we had a few drinks . . . Keith said he would accept the offer on one condition—he and I would have dinner once a year at the same restaurant . . . So I promised to have dinner with him once a year and that’s how we recruited him . . . That way, he was guaranteed access to the top.”

  • A bold move, for sure. But what is the downside? Often the worst thing that can happen if you ask for something, like a dinner with the CEO, is rejection, being told no. But people probably weren’t going to get what they had asked for in the absence of asking for it in any event, so nothing is really lost. Maybe people suffer the sting of being turned down. Most good salespeople will tell you that if you can’t stand being rejected, don’t go into sales—and everyone is selling themselves and their ideas all the time. Get used to asking, being turned down, and asking again, or for different things from different people.

RULE 3: Appear Powerful

  • How you “show up” is important, maybe even determinative, of your career trajectory, how much power and status others accord you, and whether you keep your job. Regardless of your formal title, there is inevitably some degree of uncertainty or ambiguity about your potency and strength. Therefore, others will assess you to ascertain how seriously to take you, whether to defer to you and perhaps ally with you. As the late social psychologist Nalini Ambady noted, “The ability to form impressions of others is a critical human skill.”

  • Research shows that people form impressions of others, often precise assessments of personality, very quickly, using “thin slices”—just a few seconds—of behavior. People then make subsequent decisions and judgments about others using those small snippets of behavior. Research also demonstrates that even these quickly formed first impressions are surprisingly durable. Their persistence arises in part because of the pervasiveness of confirmation bias, the tendency to seek and interpret evidence in ways consistent with existing beliefs or expectations. Therefore, if you want to attain and maintain power, the third rule of power is to appear powerful, because others will treat you and make decisions about you depending on how you show up, and those decisions will often act in ways to make the initial impressions become true. For instance, if people think you are not too smart or competent, they will ask you questions that preclude your demonstrating how much you know, and give you few opportunities to demonstrate your intelligence and competence. As the social psychologist Robert Cialdini once insightfully remarked to me, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

  • The first recommendation about showing up in a powerful way: don’t use notes or a lot of other props or cues, particularly things that would cause you not to make eye contact with the person or people you are speaking with.

  • People’s reactions to the physical and behavioral appearance of power is at least partly instinctual and subconscious. Our forebears, in order to survive, had to be able to quickly ascertain friend from foe and also who was likely to prevail in the struggle for dominance. Therefore, the ability to quickly size others up was—and is—an evolutionarily adaptive skill. Consequently, “We form first impressions from faces despite warnings not do so. Moreover, there is considerable agreement in our impressions, which carry significant social outcomes. Appearance matters because some facial qualities are so useful in guiding adaptive behavior that even a trace of those qualities can create an impression.” Of course, these automatic responses are not invariably accurate. However, “the errors produced by these overgeneralizations are presumed to be less maladaptive than those that might result from failing to respond appropriately to persons who vary in fitness, age, emotion, or familiarity.”

  • Every day, or at least occasionally, people around you are going to ask that question: Why do you have a senior role? What gives you the right to be in a position of power and influence? Part of the answer comes from your actual job performance, from your skills and competence. But a big part of the answer derives from how you act and speak—how you show up—and if you show up in a way that inspires confidence in your capabilities. Most normal people prefer to feel good about themselves, and that means feeling good about their employer, whose brand they carry as a consequence of their employment. People, in their motivation to feel good about themselves, want to associate with organizations—and people—who appear as if they are successful and are going to triumph during battle or another sort of struggle. People also mostly respond positively to signals of strength. Although we like to think people root for the underdog, when it comes to their own identity, they would prefer to be with the winners.

  • Certain emotional displays convey strength; others do not. Therefore, it is important to convey powerful emotions and avoid expressing those that signal lower status. In this regard, many people find it counterintuitive that anger is a powerful emotion and that displaying it is often a smart power move—even when, or possibly particularly when, someone has made a mistake or has been uncovered in some malfeasance. By contrast, expressing sadness or remorse and apologizing conveys much less power—and therefore should be avoided under conditions when appearing powerful and competent is important, which is more frequently than most people think. The logic behind the argument is straightforward. Anger is associated with coercion and intimidation. Displays of anger, as examples of coercive and intimidating behavior, are typically not viewed as nice, normative, or possibly even socially acceptable. If the powerful get to break the rules, then that heuristic association means that breaking the rules can create perceptions of power. Similarly, if the powerful are permitted to display anger more readily than the less powerful—because displays of anger fall outside customary norms for behavior, and only the more powerful are permitted to violate social expectations—then displays of anger can create perceptions of higher status. This logic leads to the recommendation to display anger as a way of acquiring power.

  • In a field study at a software company, Tiedens found that people who expressed anger more frequently had been promoted more, earned more, and scored higher on their managers’ assessment of whether the employee should be promoted in the future. Consistent with my earlier point about getting beyond the need to be liked, Tiedens concluded: “Although anger expressions… result in the perception that the expresser is unlikable and cold, likability was not related to status conferral.”

  • Apology is almost the opposite of expressing anger, and is many people’s default option when confronted with blame. There are three important downsides to apologizing that ought to cause someone to think very carefully before doing it. The first and most obvious downside is that apologizing “inherently associates a transgressor with wrongful behavior.” Responsibility for a bad outcome might have been ambiguous or contested, but once someone apologizes, the association of that person or organization with the negative action or outcomes is unambiguously established. Someone who apologizes incurs psychological costs, as apology can affect people’s self-perceptions. In two experiments, researchers concluded that the act of refusing to apologize “results in greater feeling of power/control, value integrity, and self-worth.” Therefore, not apologizing is consistent with people’s (and organizations’) desire for consistency and self-affirmation—powerful, effective, good people and organizations don’t engage in wrongdoing, so they don’t have anything to apologize for. And possibly most importantly, apology affects not just the social actor that apologizes, by implicating credit and blame and affecting people’s feelings about themselves. Apology also affects what others believe about that social actor. Because apology is a low-power behavior, others will see entities that apologize as possessing less influence, status, and prestige—and this will influence those perceivers’ behavior as a consequence. Thus, apologizing reduces the likelihood that the apologizer will benefit from the perception of being powerful and prestigious. As one review of the research literature on apologizing noted, “Transgressors who apologize in situations in which competence is relevant suffer a negative impact on their perceived competence . . . To the extent that thanking and apologizing are considered polite speech, research has found that the use of polite communication reflects negatively on the speaker’s perceived dominance, power, and assertiveness.” The research on apologizing highlights the frequent trade-offs in the social perception of people between being seen as warm or competent.

  • Because people want to feel proud of what they are involved with and to believe that they and their colleagues will be successful, one of a leader’s most important tasks is to project confidence. When someone projects confidence, others are more likely to follow and support them—and for that matter, to hire and promote them. Moreover, if a leader projects confidence, then, following the ideas of contagion, others are likely to feel more confident and act accordingly. The importance of projecting confidence is why the first rule of power was to lose the scripts, language, and body language that suggests anything other than self-confidence and potency, even if that confidence is unwarranted by objective reality or not what a person is feeling in the moment.

  • It is not that personality does not matter at all, but behaviors often are more important. For instance, with respect to confidence and power, one study had participants randomly assigned to adopt an expansive (high-power) or closed (low-power) pose and then present a two-minute speech in a simulated job interview. People who adopted the high-power pose were more likely to be assessed as employable and have their performance rated higher.

  • The recommendations to display confidence and anger contradict the conventional wisdom that advises people to display vulnerability as a way of connecting to others, to be soft in how they show up as a way of encouraging others to come to their side to offer comfort and assistance. What to do depends on which motive is stronger in a given situation—the motive to associate with strength and success, or the motive to offer help and feel close with someone who has expressed vulnerability. Both are possible, but my reading of the evidence suggests that it is generally better to bet on the motive of being associated with strength and winning, and then to bask in the glory of the powerful.

  • One way of parsing these conflicting ideas comes from a study of self-disclosure. As the authors note, “Self-disclosure is becoming an increasingly relevant [and common] phenomenon in the workplace.” The authors conducted three experiments to ascertain the consequences of self-disclosing any form of weakness. They found, in the context of task-oriented relationships, “that when higher status individuals self-disclosed a weakness, it led to lower influence . . . greater perceived conflict . . . less liking . . . and less desire for a future relationship.” These negative effects did not occur when the individual self-disclosing weakness was a peer in terms of status. My conclusion: it is particularly important to demonstrate confidence—and competence—in task-oriented settings, especially when you hold a higher-status position and others expect you to provide leadership and reassurance. So, yes, you can express vulnerabilities and insecurities among friends, or when you hold a position in which you are not a leader. But in high-status and task-relevant positions, you are much better off keeping any insecurities to yourself. People want to be aligned with someone who they think is going to win, to prevail, so doing anything that disabuses them of that belief is probably a mistake.

  • Non verbal behaviours associated with power, status, and dominance:
    • More gestures
    • More open body posture
    • Less interpersonal distance (placing oneself closer to others)
    • More controlled arm and hand gestures
    • Louder voice
    • More successful interruptions of others
    • More speaking time
    • Longer gazing time
    • Higher visual dominance ratio (look + talk > look + listen)
    • More disinhibited laughs
  • Powerful speech has several characteristics. First, it is simple. Powerful speech consists of mostly one-syllable words and no complex sentence constructions with subordinate clauses. Powerful speech is easy to understand, which is one reason it is powerful. Powerful speech also does not impose large cognitive burdens on the listener, but rather draws their conclusions for them in simple, easy-to-understand words.

  • A second feature of powerful speech is the absence of hedging words such as “sort of” or “kind of” and few hesitations such as “um” or “er,” as well as a lack of polite forms. Powerful speech uses powerful words—words that evoke vivid images and arouse people’s emotions—words such as “injured,” “death,” and “problem.” Powerful speakers make declarations instead of asking questions. Powerful speech takes into account the fact that the final words in a sentence are important—you want to end strong. Such speech uses pauses and variations in pacing for emphasis and to hold the audience’s attention. Most importantly, powerful speech repeats ideas and themes. Evidence shows that “people are more likely to judge repeated statements as true compared to new statements, a phenomenon known as the illusory truth effect.” Two experiments demonstrated that “people were more misled by—and more confident about—claims that were repeated, regardless of how many [sources] made them.”

  • People are fundamentally trusting. When people tell stories about their lives and careers and personas, few—maybe no one—bother to do the simple work of checking with prior subordinates, business partners, and so forth to see if the stories match the reality. People become committed to their decisions. Once people have invested either financially or emotionally in a relationship, that commitment hinders their admitting they made a mistake in judgment. Situations are ambiguous. How much power—or competence, for that matter—a person actually possesses is often difficult to discern. All of these factors, and more, mean you should definitely follow Rule 3, and to the extent possible, appear powerful.

RULE 4: Build a Powerful Brand

  • Brand was important because, as Chau notes, “in order to succeed at a fund, you need to do the best deals possible. In order to do the best deals possible, you need to maximize your chances of actually seeing those deals. There’s only so much you can do one on one, and brand felt like an incredible way of marketing, where you were able to be top of mind for people.” Chau had started a podcast called WoVen, which stands for Women Who Venture. The podcast gave her “the opportunity and the right to ask women who were very senior in their careers or founders of public companies to talk for an hour.” Because most people said yes to her invitations, Chau expanded her network strategically and significantly. Moreover, her own status was enhanced through her association, in the podcasts, with high-status people. People are known partly by the company they keep. One study observed that having a prominent friend in an organization boosted an individual’s reputation as a good performer. Social psychologist Robert Cialdini recounted an oft-told example of this phenomenon of status by association: “At the height of his wealth and success, the financier Baron de Rothschild was petitioned for a loan by an acquaintance. Reputedly, the great man replied, ‘I won’t give you a loan myself, but I will walk arm-in-arm with you across the floor of the Stock Exchange, and you soon shall have willing lenders to spare.’” Because status and prestige rubs off on others, people publicize their connections with successful others. The implication: One way to build a powerful brand is to associate with other people and organizations that are themselves prestigious.

  • Chau not only used her podcast to connect with and become associated with prominent others, she also blogged regularly about topics that portrayed her as a thoughtful investor in the consumer space. She wrote a chapter for a book, a long-form thesis on social media. She commented that she was the only person to help get speaking gigs for the author’s book tour. She notes that the writing made it possible for her to come across as someone founders should talk to, “instead of ‘Hey, I’m this random woman, Laura, at some random venture fund, and you should talk to me about your next round of fundraising.’” Chau began running panels of about twenty people. “I’ll pick a topic I’m trying to get smarter on,” she says. “Then I’ll find three senior operators, and I’ll ask them to be a panelist. It’s a way for me to build my network of operators, and then I’ll go invite the twenty founders that are building companies in this space that I want to meet. In the panel, I get all of this content from the founders and the operators who are much more expert than I am, and develop it into a blog post I can put out.” Chau also published a newsletter, called Taking Stock, that was opt-in for anyone she emailed with or who came to any of the events that she hosted. She uses the newsletter “as a way to stay loosely connected with the tech community.” In it she shared resources, selected blog posts she wrote, and used it as a channel for feedback and nominations for people to attend her events. In 2021, Chau launched a weekly Clubhouse show called Hot Deal Time Machine, in which she did retrospectives on some of the hottest VC-backed deals. In her conversations with the founders and the VCs who backed them, she sought to learn from their experience. As she noted in an email to me, “It’s been a fun way to build an audience on a new platform while building relationships with the guests on the show. I’ve also been documenting the highlights from the conversations in my newsletter.” The podcast, the newsletter, the Clubhouse show, the blogging, the panels, and the conference appearances all helped Chau develop a presence in the venture community. “By being out there and having this kind of brand, it makes it much easier for people to then say, ‘Come on my podcast,’ or ‘Will you sit on this panel, or do this keynote?’ There’s sort of this circuit of speakers where I think people just look at who spoke at the last conference and then invite them to their conference. It’s the ones that people tend to see. So once you’re in the circuit, you can stay on the circuit, and reach a much broader audience.” Chau nicely described the many aspects of the flywheel effect of personal branding—how one thing led to another, and through these activities, someone could differentiate themselves in what would be an otherwise highly competitive space. They could stand out from the crowd. By so doing, their credibility, connections, and power would grow. That’s why building a powerful personal brand is the fourth rule of power.

  • A brand needs coherence. At its best and most effective, a brand brings together aspects of someone’s personal and professional life in a way that makes it clear why they are uniquely qualified for some position or to found a company in a particular industry.

  • Everyone needs a brand. Your task: think of a short (two-or three-sentence) way of describing yourself and your accomplishments that brings together your expertise, your experience (what you have done), and a way of integrating that with some aspect of your personal story. For instance, I saw a woman from Puerto Rico speak passionately in my class session on branding about the need to build a technology/knowledge-based economy to promote economic development there, and how that integrated with her own technical background and her prospective job at Thoma Bravo, a large private equity company and provider of capital founded by someone with Puerto Rican heritage. I also heard an African American physician, also getting a business degree, talk about the pressing issue of unequal access to healthcare and health outcomes, how he had experienced that growing up, and how his career trajectory incorporated ways of addressing that problem. Once you develop a brand statement, get feedback on it from professional colleagues and friends. And then think about how you are going to get that message out into the world.

  • Laura Chau’s parents came to the US from Vietnam. She has developed a personal style that includes advocating for herself and trying to stand out, which goes against stereotype. Taller than many Vietnamese immigrants, she intentionally wears high heels, which make her 6 feet, 1 inch tall, and intentionally dresses very stylishly. The height and clothes help make her distinctive. She commented: “For many people, I’m like, ‘You’re the tallest Asian woman I’ve ever seen.’ By not being the stereotypical Asian woman who keeps her head down and works hard, I think it’s helped me stand out more.” The idea of using clothes and physical appearance as part of branding is not a new or unique idea, but that does not make it any less important. Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos notoriety always wore the same black outfit as a way of signaling she did not have time to worry about what to put on. Steve Jobs also had a look (that Holmes was possibly trying to emulate). Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook was famous for his hoodies, at least for a while. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square and ex-CEO of Twitter, has altered his appearance over the years, going from a punk style to a more buttoned-down, CEO-like look and, in spring 2020, showing up at a congressional hearing wearing an unkempt “pandemic beard.” It is interesting to compare the number of articles commenting on his appearance in Washington to the number describing his testimony. The frequent commentary on different or unusual CEO appearance makes the point that people need to think carefully about what they want to convey through their look and then do things consistent with that objective. Former San Francisco mayor and California Assembly speaker Willie Brown, the African American politician and lawyer we met earlier, who came from a poor background in Texas, ultimately dressed in (very expensive) Brioni suits and drove fancy cars. Dubbed the “best dressed man in California” by Esquire magazine, Brown said the secret to his success was style. In a 1984 60 Minutes interview, Brown commented about whether he was a living piece of art. He sought to convey through his appearance—his look—that he should be taken seriously, that he had resources, and also, by standing out in the crowd, including among his fellow legislators with his clothes, that he’d developed a shrewd way of positively differentiating himself.

  • Once someone has a brand, a story, and a narrative that is compelling and integrates aspects of their professional (and possibly personal) life, it is essential to disseminate that narrative widely. It is also useful to match the outlets to the nature of the brand being promoted. The ways of broadcasting messages are almost endless.

  • While I was in Tallinn, Estonia, speaking at a conference a number of years ago, I and my spouse had a private dinner with writer John Byrne—in town speaking at a different event—and his partner. After a lot of wine, I commented to Byrne that he was at least as responsible for the mythology of success around former GE CEO Jack Welch as Welch himself. He agreed, as he had been the writer behind Welch’s hagiography—pardon me, his completely truthful and complete autobiography. Byrne’s sentiment was not false self-promotion. In the words of a senior executive who reported directly to Welch, there were tens of thousands of other employees at General Electric, so why should Welch get so much disproportionate credit? Because he was the one with the story. The success of business autobiographies, not just commercially as books but as tools to create a narrative and a brand that burnishes their subjects’ image, has led to a profusion of books about corporate leaders and entrepreneurs. Many if not most of them are incomplete in their details and obviously self-promotional, but they still succeed in creating a brand.

  • Part of brand building and creating a positive reputation is ensuring that you get credit for your work. That entails being willing to tell your story and eschewing any false sense of modesty or the belief that your work will speak for itself. Your bosses and colleagues are busy and often focused on their own objectives. Don’t expect them to necessarily notice or credit your accomplishments.

  • Deborah Liu, formerly vice president for Marketplace at Facebook, a board member at Intuit, and recently appointed CEO of Ancestry.com, had worked at Facebook for more than eleven years. An engineer with patents to her name and prior experience at PayPal, Liu used to think her performance would speak for itself. As she told me, she went to Facebook to build what would eventually become its games business and Facebook Credits. The business she had helped build was so significant—about 15 percent of total revenue—that it was a separate item in the earnings report and in the S-1 when the company went public. She commented, “When we finished, we had never really talked about it and no one cared. A couple of people from the team left the company and everyone else went on to do other things.” With Liu’s career not progressing as well as she thought it should, and being frustrated with the lack of recognition for her and her team’s work, she availed herself of some executive coaching—it was through her coach that I met her. The coaching convinced Liu that she needed to tell her story and also the story of the teams she was leading so they could get credit for their work, something that she had not done in the past. When Liu returned from maternity leave, she started a new project that was called Mobile App Install Ads, which enabled Facebook to recommend apps to download. “This was 2012 when we were getting killed for not solving mobile monetization, as we barely had ads on mobile,” she said. “Our team was asked to address this. At the time, we were a brand advertising company, and we were building the first direct response advertising vertical from a team not in Ads.” Liu had learned to let others know what she and her team were doing. She explained: I told everyone I met, “We’re going to solve mobile monetization, and here’s how we’re going to do it.” Our core team was like five people—three engineers, a borrowed data scientist, and myself. But I posted about what we were doing everywhere internally. I wrote decks and strategies. I went to Mark [Zuckerberg] and I pitched him on it. I did everything I could to get the work out because we had so few resources. Everybody wanted to help. Partnerships leads from Europe said, “I’ll take this product to market for you.” And they went and met with developers and explained how it worked and set them up to test this new type of ads. It was about telling the story over and over. Not only did everyone know about this product, but then people started spreading the word for us. The executives mentioned the product in an earnings call. By telling the story and connecting it to the biggest problem in the company, we got dozens of people to help us in their spare time. People wanted to be part of something that was going to address an acute need. They heard the story and wanted to be part of writing it. Even to this day, many years after we gave up the product, the story is told of a small team that did something incredible at a time that was critical to the company. Today, the product is a leader in its space, but it is small relative to the scale of Facebook. But the narrative has become a touchpoint that inspired other teams that want to do something big. Deborah Liu wound up getting more credit for a smaller product achievement than she did for something of greater economic significance, because she had created and told a narrative—repeatedly—that possessed all of the elements of what people want to hear.

  • Saint Joseph College professor Richard Halstead observes that “the story of the hero’s journey has been told and retold . . . for centuries.” It captures the “strength and perseverance of the human spirit,” speaking to the challenges people face and the possibility of personal transformation and triumph. The story’s structure is often the same: a person faces an unexpected setback, which becomes an opportunity for learning and personal transformation. Having learned an important lesson, the individual reengages in a way that produces success, thereby validating the learning and development they have experienced. Therefore, Deborah Liu’s story illustrates a second important lesson beyond the importance of telling others about what you and your team are doing, and repeating that story frequently. To build a lasting brand, you also must craft the narrative in a way consistent with the hero’s journey, so that people are more likely to remember it and, more importantly, embrace its inspirational message.

  • Many people, particularly women or those raised in cultures that inculcate the value of modesty, are reluctant to engage in what feels like self-promotion. The problem is that if you don’t tell your story, you cannot be sure that anyone else will, either, or whether others in the organization will see what you have accomplished. One way to overcome the reluctance to engage in personal branding and self-advocacy is to reframe what this activity entails and means. Deborah Liu talks about how she inspired another person to do this:

  • I was doing a talk at this event and we were talking about self-evaluation, and this woman said, “I’m just really not good at self-promotion.” And I said, “Do you see what you just did there? If you treat your self-evaluation as self-promotion, you are not going to talk about the work that you’re doing. You’re not going to do it justice. If you call it helping your manager understand the impact that you have, if you call it helping your team get the recognition it deserves, would you see it differently?” And she said, “You’re right. I’ve been thinking about this all wrong.”

  • This small reframe can help people understand the necessity—and the importance—of telling their story, and the story of their colleagues, while making them more comfortable in undertaking the critical task of building their brand.

RULE 5: Network Relentlessly

  • In the mid-1990s Kordestani joined Netscape, the famous browser company cofounded by Marc Andreessen, just as the internet was taking off. His work in marketing and business development there was good, but Kordestani didn’t think his career was progressing as well as it should. So, he told me, he took my class’s message—that performance was often not that important and social relationships and sponsorship mattered more—to the maximum and radically changed how he spent his time. Kordestani decided to devote less time to the technical aspects of his job and more to building relationships and interacting with people both inside and outside of Netscape, so he could be more noticeable and known. After all, if no one knows or notices someone, their good work will not help them much because it will be invisible.

  • The old saying “it’s not what you know but who you know” has at least some truth. Who you know, and how many people you know, matters for your influence and for your career. Therefore, Rule 5 of the seven rules of power is to network relentlessly. Your networking may not permit you to hit the proverbial lottery like Omid Kordestani did, or to write best-selling books and build a consulting firm like Keith Ferrazzi, or to become a successful real estate investor like Ross Walker. But networking and building social relationships will, as much evidence demonstrates, build power and accelerate your career.

  • Yusuf was smart, with an unusual ability to read situations and build relationships with people. He also had another source of power. As the head of strategy, he had great exposure to the senior executive team, attending many executive board meetings where he would present his group’s analyses. He also interacted with numerous people and units across the organization. In a diagram of the communication structure inside SAP’s senior ranks, strategy—Zia Yusuf—was in a central position, as the nature of its work entailed acquiring and transmitting information across the organization, leaving the unit and Yusuf with profound informational advantages.

  • Centrality affects visibility. More people will know and know about people who are more central, and that visibility will often work to those people’s advantage for becoming the focal point for information and opportunities. Centrality also affects access to information. People in central positions saw more information—because more communication flowed through them—and had greater direct contact with more people. The implication: when people evaluate jobs and roles, one dimension they should account for is the centrality that will accrue to them from occupying that job or position. Other things being equal, choose more central jobs.

RULE 6: Use Your Power

  • Johnson understood three things. First, when a person is new in a position, they have time, before their opponents get a chance to coalesce, and while the incumbent is in sort of a honeymoon period, to get a lot done. This includes actions that will help perpetuate their power on the basis of their accomplishments and the changes they make to institutionalize their power. Second, enemies tend to last longer and keep grudges more than friends remember favors. This means that, practically speaking, the longer someone is in a position, the more opposition they will accumulate, the more precarious their position will become, and the more difficult it will be to get things done. Thus, because their time in a powerful role will be limited, people need to act quickly to accomplish their agenda. The increasingly politicized nature of organizations means that the tenure of leaders has shortened. A 2019 article noted that “last year 17.5 percent of the CEOs of the world’s largest 2,500 companies left their posts—representing the highest rate of departures that PwC . . . has tallied” since it began studying CEO tenure. In 2000, the average CEO could expect to be in their job for eight years; over the 2010s, that declined to just five years. Big-city school superintendents last an average of five and a half years. Hospital CEO tenure also averages about five years. “Since 2012, the turnover rate was 17% or higher which is the longest period of time the rate has been so high.” What is true for CEOs is true for many other senior roles in organizations of all sizes and types. Third is the idea that power is not some scarce, limited resource that becomes depleted by being used. Instead, the more someone uses their power to get things done—including structuring the world around them and changing who works with and for them in ways that support themselves and their objectives—the more power they will have. Using power signals that you have it, and because people are attracted to power, the more you use your power and demonstrate that you are powerful, the more allies you will accumulate. Therefore, Rule 6 is to use the power one has, maybe even using more than people think you have. Using power effectively is more likely to perpetuate it than to exhaust it.

  • When Gary Loveman became COO (and later CEO) of what was then Harrah’s Entertainment, he moved out some senior people, including the head of marketing, who had recently won the Chairman’s Award for his performance. The chief financial officer, Loveman’s principal rival for the CEO job, eventually left to become CEO of a competitor. Loveman’s plan for the ultimately very successful transformation at Caesars Entertainment (the company’s name after Harrah’s purchased the corporation that owned Caesars Palace and other casino hotels) depended on the use of advanced analytics, which required a new set of skills. Loveman brought in people with those skills, because, he noted, he did not have the time to train existing personnel in the new, analytically based capabilities. Such personnel replacement is common for new leaders in organizations of all types, who typically bring in their own teams to help them lead organizational transformations. At Stanford Healthcare, within a couple of years of Amir Dan Rubin’s arrival, virtually all of the senior leadership and department heads and leaders, even three levels down, were new. Not everyone from the old regime was up for meeting Rubin’s new, higher performance expectations, and few people like to have their underperformance displayed in charts and graphs. Later, at OneMedical, Rubin recruited people he’s worked with before. Likewise, wherever Rudy Crew has gone as superintendent—New York, Miami—he has brought in some of his own people to fill senior roles and implement his school improvement efforts. In 1999, when Kent Thiry became CEO of kidney dialysis provider DaVita, then called Total Renal Care, he had already “reached out to a set of people who had been with him in his previous dialysis venture, people whom he trusted, liked and respected.” He recruited Harlan Cleaver to be his chief technology officer, Doug Vlechk to lead the organizational change and culture building efforts, and Joe Mello to be COO. Enhancing performance and making change requires people with the requisite skills and also alignment with the vision. Loveman has said that the prior chief marketing officer at Harrah’s had made his career taking pictures of crab legs and beautiful venues. Loveman’s strategy instead called for using analytics to identify the most profitable customers and then building greater levels of customer loyalty by treating the people who made the cash register ring differentially based on their economic value to the enterprise. The previous incumbent did not have—nor could he likely develop—the quantitative chops to handle the new tasks.

  • When hiring allies to help a newly installed outsider lead an organization, it is useful to work with people who understand one’s communication and operating style, which makes everything move more quickly and efficiently. It is also important, maybe essential, to have everyone on the same page. People you have worked with before are less likely to resist your strategy and improvement initiatives—or to sabotage them.

  • Replacing people, then, has two positive effects on your power. First, it staffs the organization with people who have aligned perspectives and the competence to execute effectively, and that increased performance will help cement your power. And second, it provides you with allies in situations that are often challenging and politically fraught.

  • Research confirms the intuition that succession often leads to turnover among the people who report to the new leader. Turnover in the management team is particularly evident in the case of outside succession and if prior performance was lower. It is not only in politics where leaders bring in “their” team; this happens in organizations of all kinds, including businesses. The problem becomes, then, how do leaders remove people in the context of labor laws that often restrict their freedom of action, even in parts of the US and more so elsewhere in industrialized countries where people cannot be fired without cause? Moreover, setting aside legal and regulatory issues, how can one rid oneself of opponents and rivals in ways that appear to be more benign and socially acceptable? Couch the turnover as part of a performance improvement effort in which new skills and a commitment to better results are required—a situation that is often true while also being politically useful. Another way is to send one’s “problems” to a different and maybe even better position elsewhere, removing them from the immediate environment where they can cause difficulties while earning their gratitude for helping their careers. I have come to call this method “strategic outplacement.”

  • Employing strategic outplacement requires that the person not act on their natural feelings of resentment or anger toward rivals or sources of other difficulties. This ability to act strategically and dispassionately is a rare but important quality that few people possess.

  • Because perception helps create reality, wielding power in ways that demonstrate power, doing things that signal power, helps to ensure that power will be perpetuated.

  • A strategy for entrenching power is to ensure that there are no likely successors in place. One of the reasons that Jack Valenti was head of the Motion Picture Association of America for thirty-eight years was that he did a good job representing the industry—and he ensured that there was never a likely successor in place.

  • I once served on the board of a publicly traded portable ultrasound company. I noticed that whenever the board was effusive in its praise of a senior executive other than the CEO, that executive was soon gone under one pretext or the other. I commented to one of my fellow board members that the best way to keep talent in the organization would probably be not to overly praise them to the point that they might appear to be a plausible successor for the CEO role. Removing likely alternatives as a method for holding on to power is an old, and often effective, strategy.

  • It is possible to hold multiple overlapping roles that make it difficult for rivals to get rid of someone because that person would need to be removed from multiple positions in order to remove their power—a much more difficult task. Robert Moses exemplifies this principle. At one point, Moses held twelve positions simultaneously, including “New York City Parks Commissioner, head of the State Parks Council, head of the State Power Commission and chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.”24 Moses mastered the use of public authorities that could issue bonds and collect revenues such as tolls, which increased his independence from the legislative appropriations process and provided yet another source of his enduring power.

  • By demonstrating power and the willingness to use it, by accomplishing things, and by establishing structures that institutionalize power, the use of power becomes self-reinforcing.

RULE 7: Success Excuses (Almost) Everything

  • SOUTH CAROLINA SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM ONCE called ex-president Donald Trump, before he took office, “a race-baiting, xenophobic bigot.” Graham was one of many Republicans who vigorously criticized Trump during the 2016 campaign as he “called the future president a ‘kook,’ ‘crazy’ and ‘unfit for office,’ among other things.” Yet in 2019, when Mark Leibovich wrote a profile on Graham for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, he asked Graham, who by that time had become one of Trump’s most vehement, vocal, and loyal supporters, to explain the change. Graham’s response has much to say about how achieving a position of power changes things, including someone’s relationships with other people:

  • “Well, O.K., from my point of view, if you know anything about me, it’d be odd not to do this,” he [Graham] said. I asked what “this” was. “‘This’” Graham said, “is to try to be relevant.” Politics, he explained, was the art of what works and what brings desired outcomes. “I’ve got an opportunity up here working with the president to get some really good outcomes for the country,” he told me. An outcome of particular interest to Graham at the moment is getting re-elected to a fourth Senate term in South Carolina, where Trump owns commanding approval numbers.

  • It was not just Graham who accommodated Trump as the Republican party marched “headlong . . . into the far reaches of Trumpism.” Nor are changes in people’s perceptions of others once they have achieved power and renown confined to the realm of politics. Lists of most-admired CEOs often include people who have backdated stock options (Steve Jobs), had relationships outside of marriage with underlings (Bill Gates), violated SEC orders (Elon Musk), had to flee countries to avoid prosecution (Carlos Ghosn), been forced from their jobs over a scandal (John Browne of BP), and were criticized over the work environment for both blue-collar and white-collar employees (Jeff Bezos). The desire to be close to power, almost regardless of how achieved or the wielder’s current behavior, implies that people should not fret too much about their path to power. Once power is achieved, everything—well, almost everything most of the time—will be all right.

  • I ask people to develop a brand that succinctly captures who they are and what they stand for. Class members determine the people to whom they should be connected and then strategize how to forge those relationships, often expanding their network during the course. I ask people to become more comfortable with pushing the rules, and to lose the scripts and self-descriptions that hold them back. I encourage them to practice acting and speaking in a more powerful fashion. These exercises “force” people to think strategically about forging a path to power. This forcing function, along with providing people the knowledge—and the confidence—that they can actually expand their power, are some of the more important aspects of my teaching. Knowledge and confidence, turned into action by having people develop relevant behaviors, create and change people’s actions and get them unstuck. This stimulus to action is important because many people remain fundamentally ambivalent about seeking power, notwithstanding the general acknowledgment that, in most social organizations, power is necessary to get things done. This ambivalence about seeking power arises partly from the worries people have about acquiring power and what it might take to do so. For instance, people worry about the process of obtaining power. What if their actions offend people? What if they stress the bounds of propriety and push the envelope of social norms? People also worry about the consequences of becoming more powerful. What if, in their rise to power, they create enemies and rivals of the people they outcompete? What if, as is almost inevitable, their success provokes jealousy and resentment? What if the nail that stands out does actually get hammered down, and, like the legend of Icarus, having flown too close to the sun, they fall?

  • Worries aside, many people seek power because it is a strong motivational force. Studies going back decades have found that the strength of power motivation predicts holding a position of power and is associated with displaying artifacts that signal prestige and status. Moreover, research shows that there is no reliable gender difference in the strength of the power motive between women and men. However, not everyone is equally motivated by power, and power is something that at least some people abjure, possibly because it signals too much ambition, overly individualistic, selfish behavior, or excessive Machiavellianism. To be clear, power and influence are almost invariably necessary to get things done and change lives, organizations, and the world. Yet to help rationalize their reluctance to pursue power, people find ways of worrying about the steps they may need to take to acquire it and what will happen to them upon doing so.

  • Response to these concerns is that people should downplay their importance or relevance, because power itself makes many problems, including what someone did to acquire that power, mostly disappear—the heart of Rule 7. Moreover, in order to fall from power, you must have achieved it in the first place, so we can worry about your losing power after you have it. Of course, holding a high-level position often generates jealousy. People envy success and status, not powerlessness. But power also increases others’ desire to be close to and associate with the power holder. Having power increases people’s visibility and the scrutiny of their actions, thereby increasing the likelihood of their facing criticism as a result of the greater attention. But power also increases people’s willingness to overlook a powerful person’s misdeeds.

  • People’s power increases the likelihood of others trying to unseat them. There are invariably more contests for positions at the top of the pyramid than for spaces at the bottom. Power, however, also increases the number of supporters someone has, because people are attracted to and by power and want to be in the orbit of the powerful. There is more competition for positions at the top of the hierarchy, but there are also more individuals who want to be allied with those on or going to the top. If you are going to be successful in acquiring power, you probably will have to break some rules—that was, after all, the theme of chapter two. Yet rule breaking also helps to create power. In short, acquiring and holding power does unleash some social dynamics that are inimical to the power holder. However, possessing power and status, occupying a dominant position, also calls forth social processes that act to perpetuate someone’s power. In fact, the evidence suggests that you needn’t worry too much about what you did to acquire power—or, for that matter, falling from power. That is because many organizational and social dynamics perpetuate advantage once acquired rather than diminish it. This chapter describes why its title is customarily true: power and success will generally lead others to forget or forgive what you did to attain them. Simply put, Rule 7 is that power and its associated prestige excuse almost everything. Its implications are straightforward: your task is to acquire power, and once you have it, you will probably keep it.

  • People are attracted to power and success; they seek it out and strive to be close to those who possess both. As a result, their prior relationships and judgments about others can and do change to accommodate their desire to be associated with and proximate to the success of the powerful. The implication: once someone acquires power, status, money—the trappings of success—people will alter their opinions and behaviors in ways that are (1) consistent with that power and (2) congruent with the desire to be close to powerful people.

  • One motivation for people to hang on to positions of power, like CEO roles, is their recognition that once they are no longer in that role, the motivation for others to be associated with them diminishes dramatically, and therefore they can find themselves with much-reduced status—and personhood. A friend of mine, a former CEO of a large organization who then was in a very senior (but not top) role in yet another mammoth company in a different industry and now is running a start-up he founded, sent me this email: “I hope your experience has been different, but I have found that enduring friendships are hard to maintain as I get older. I truly value ours.” I believe the issue this person confronted is not so much about aging; rather it reflects the consequences for interpersonal interactions arising from moving out of high-status/high-power roles into a position with less formal power and control over vast resources. And yes, many people are much less interested in someone at that point.

  • The ability to create a narrative and then tell it repeatedly until it becomes seen as truth helps people retain their power. The fact is that venture capitalists, other investors, and even employees and customers love a nice founding myth about an enterprise, which typically elevates the role of one entrepreneur and writes their colleagues out of the picture. As long as the story “sells,” inspires, and has some element of truth, observers won’t care about its full veracity. They are interested in the vision, in the narrative, in creating a tale useful for attracting investment, customers, and employees, not something historically accurate. Therefore, the ability to get one’s story out early, often, and convincingly creates a reality that can then perpetuate a person’s power, regardless of any inconvenient disconfirming facts. The case of Jack Dorsey illustrates the dynamics of this process. As nicely described by technology reporter Nick Bilton, Dorsey contributed to the founding of Twitter but did not conceive the idea behind it, nor was he there when its predecessor company, Odeo, a maker of podcasts, was created by Evan Williams. Dorsey did become chief executive of Twitter, but he was not a great manager and was forced out of the company. What happened next was consistent with the idea of this chapter that success, or the illusion of success, can make all things right—and reconstruct an image: After he was stripped of his power at Twitter, Dorsey went on a media campaign to promote the idea that he and Williams had switched roles. He also began telling a more elaborate story about the founding of Twitter. In dozens of interviews, Dorsey completely erased Glass [Noah Glass, the originator of the idea] from any involvement in the genesis of the company. He changed his biography on Twitter to “inventor”; before long, he started to exclude Williams and Stone too. At an event, Dorsey complained to Barbara Walters that he had founded Twitter, a point she raised the next day on “The View” . . . Dorsey told the Los Angeles Times that “Twitter had been my life’s work in many senses.” He also failed to credit Glass for the company’s unusual name . . . Dorsey’s story evolved over the years . . . Dorsey began casting himself in the image of Steve Jobs . . . adopting a singular uniform: a white buttoned-up Dior shirt, bluejeans, and a black blazer . . . In Silicon Valley, most companies have their own Twitter story: a co-founder, always a friend, and often the person with the big idea behind the company, who is pushed out by another, hungrier co-founder. As one former Twitter employee has said, “The greatest product Jack Dorsey ever made was Jack Dorsey.” In the end, the reality of Jack Dorsey, who is now worth billions of dollars, becomes the story that was made up. At this point, no one, other than maybe some journalists and professors, really cares about the actual origins of Twitter or Jack Dorsey’s makeover. Power gets to write history, and in so doing, helps perpetuate the power itself, and many of the foundations on which it was built.

  • Power is scarcely the only social domain where self-perpetuating, self-confirming forces are at play; the self-fulfilling prophecy concept is a useful way of understanding many phenomena. But the fact that power does provide some degree of insulation for the powerful has important implications for those who seek to take down the powerful, and also for people thinking about how and if to build their power. Simply put, once you are in power, you are likely to remain there because of all of the processes I have described in this chapter. And much of what you have done to achieve power will indeed be forgiven or forgotten as people construct stories based on the twin desires for consistency and to be close to those in power.