Law 17: Keep Others In Suspended Terror: Cultivate An Air Of Unpredictability

In the image: Michael Saul Dell is an American billionaire businessman and philanthropist. He is the founder, chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies, one of the world’s largest technology infrastructure companies. He is ranked 27th richest in the world by Forbes, with a net worth of $27.2 billion as of April 2020.

Humans are creatures of habit with an insatiable need to see familiarity in other people’s actions. Your predictability gives them a sense of control. Turn the tables: be deliberately unpredictable. Behaviour that seems to have no consistency or purpose will keep them off-balance, and they will wear themselves out trying to explain your moves. Taken to an extreme, this strategy can intimidate and terrorize.

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Keys To Power

  • Nothing is more terrifying than the sudden and unpredictable, e.g earthquakes and tornadoes.
  • Only man has the capacity to consciously alter his behaviour, to improvise and overcome the weight of routine and habit. Yet most men do not recognize this power. They prefer the comforts of routine and habit.
  • A person of power instills a kind of fear by deliberately unsettling those around him to keep the initiative on his side.
  • Unpredictability is often the tactic of the master, but the underdog can use it too. If you find yourself outnumbered or cornered, throw in a series of unpredictable moves. Your enemies will be confused.
  • Scrambling your patterns on a day-to-day basis will cause a stir around you and stimulate interest.


  • Predictability can work in your favor — you can lull people to sleep.
  • It can become a form of smokescreen.


In the image: Pablo Picasso

Once Pablo Picasso had become a recognized artist, others would assume that whatever action he took must have been calculated. The art dealer Paul Rosenberg was confused, when one day Picasso told him they would no longer work together. Rosenberg couldn’t find out why and offered him a much better deal. The unpredictable is terrifying. 

When you don’t know what to expect you cannot prepare properly, you can’t devise a clever plan, because you’re in the dark. Put others in such a position when negotiating.

About The Book

The 48 Laws of Power (1998) is a non-fiction book by American author Robert Greene. The book is a bestseller, selling over 1.2 million copies in the United States.

Buy The 48 Laws of Power or Listen to it for FREE on Audible