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Law 48: Assume Formlessness

In the image: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also known by her initials AOC, is an American politician serving as the U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district since 2019. The district includes the eastern part of the Bronx, portions of north-central Queens, and Rikers Island in New York City. Wikipedia

By taking a shape, by having a visible plan, you open yourself to attack. Instead of taking a form for your enemy to grasp, keep yourself adaptable and on the move. Accept the fact that nothing is certain and no law is fixed. The best way to protect yourself is to be as fluid and formless as water; never bet on stability or lasting order. Everything changes.

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Keys To Power

  • The powerful are often people who in their youth have shown immense creativity in expressing something new through a new form. Society grants them power because it hungers for and rewards this sort of newness.
  • The problem comes later when they often grow conservative and possessive. They no longer dream of creating new forms; their identities are set, their habits congeal and their rigidity make them easy targets.
  • The formlessness of power is more like that of water, taking the form of whatever is around it.
  • Human creations evolve towards abstraction, toward being mental and less material.
  • The first psychological requirement of formlessness is to train yourself to take nothing personally. Never show any defensiveness.
  • In evolution, largeness is often the first step towards extinction. What is immense and bloated has no mobility, but must constantly feed itself. The unintelligent are often seduced into believing that size connotes power, the bigger the better.
  • Learning to adapt to each new circumstance means seeing events through your own eyes, and often ignoring the advice that people constantly peddle your way. It means that ultimately you must throw out the laws that others preach, the books they write to tell you what to do, and the sage advice of the elder.
  • Rely too much on other people’s ideas and you end up taking a form not of your own making. Too much respect for other people’s wisdom will make you depreciate your own.

Reversal

  • When you play with formlessness, keep on top of the process, and keep your long-term strategy in mind. When you assume a form and go on the attack, use concentration, speed and power.

Example

Be formless like water

The Spartans, the most powerful infantry the world had ever seen at the time, lost the war with Athens, for they were outnumbered and unwilling to change their views. They did not adapt to circumstances. They did not build walls. They did not want to conquer new lands, nor engage in trade for gold gave rise to corruption.

Meanwhile, Athens was thriving through constant reform. Sparta fell behind and collapsed. Don’t fight change. When you catch yourself in the futile attempt to resist a new order, remind yourself that you not only missed the opportunity to predict it but to adapt to it in time. You have to be antifragile.

As Bruce Lee said, and this is the closing statement,

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Be water my friend.”  

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