Law 21: Play A Sucker To Catch A Sucker — Seem Dumber Than Your Mark


“No one likes feeling stupider than the next person. The trick, then, is to make your victims feel smart — and not just smart, but smarter than you are. Once convinced of this, they will never suspect that you may have ulterior motives.”

Keys To Power

This feeling is especially prevalent in the insecure who feel inferior to their surroundings. Many will condemn the skills and accomplishments of others by using justifications that placate their ego and satisfy their self worth. They’ll say things like,

“She only has book knowledge, I got real knowledge.”

“His parents paid for his educational, if only my parents had the money.”

“If only I was that smart.”

“f only I was as fast and athletic as him.”

We see this every single day, people will downplay the talents, skills and achievements of others to avoid the pain of feeling bad about their lack of character, skills and accomplishments. People do not like to feel like they are inferior to others.

What if we flipped it around? What if we used peoples achievements and skills to push us to greater heights, instead of using negativity to protect our self worth. Once you figure out how to take positive inspiration from people who ‘make it’, you set yourself up for even greater heights of fulfillment and success. Find someone who looks like you who has what you have, and you grant yourself the mental fortitude and momentum of self belief that it can be done. Everyone is their own unique individual and no situation will be exactly the same, but at least you have a rough blueprint to follow that may produce similar results to what you want.

“Given how important the idea of intelligence is to most peoples vanity, it is critical never inadvertently to insult or impugn a persons brain power. Subliminally reassure people that they are more intelligent than you are, or even that you are a bit of a moron, and you can run rings around them. The feeling of intellectual superiority you give them will disarm their suspicion muscles.”

By successfully ‘Conceal Your Intentions’ (Law 3) and ‘Always Say Less Than Necessary’ (Law 4) you set yourself for constructive positive social interactions, especially when you’re in the presence of someone with insecure tendencies who may be threatened and offended by your boasting of achievements.

You don’t have to always use your intelligence to conceal your skill set and ‘seem dumber than your mark’. You can shape your taste, sophistication and clothing in a manner that causes people to feel as if they’re more sophisticated and superior to you. When a person feel’s more superior to you they feel more comfortable — their guard drops down and they don’t have to watch what they say and do so much because they don’t perceive you as a threat.

“In general, then, always make people believe they are smarter and more sophisticated than you are. They will keep you around because you make them feel better about themselves, and the longer you are around, the more opportunities you will have to deceive them.”

Note, Greene sais “more opportunities to deceive”, phrasing like this is why a many people see this book as ‘manipulative’ and even ‘evil’. Most read statements like this out of context, making it very easy to believe this. Part of my interpretations of the laws is aiding in removing ambiguity and adding secondary meanings to what lines like this can potentially mean.

For this example, a consequence of this law doesn’t have to be for the purpose of deception. By making those around you feel better through tactful behaviour modification, “the more opportunities you will have to potentially excel and climb the hierarchy”. That is a potential secondary meaning that may add clarity and value to some.


“To reveal the true nature of your intelligence rarely pays; you should get in the habit of downplaying it at all times.”

There is a time a place for everything. Sometimes exaggerating and boasting your skills and talents is needed when you are trying to accomplish something that is based off leaving a positive impression of your achievements and character. Example, an interview for a scholarship or a basketball tryout is usually not a good time to downplay your talents.

However Greene notes a thought provoking point.

“If people inadvertently learn the truth — that you are actually much smarter than you look — they will admire you more for being discreet than for making your brilliance show.”

By not displaying acts of audacious braggadociosness you become like the humble warrior that quietly get’s the work done without need for credit or fanfare. This is an admirable trait that demands respect in almost everyone. As your peers and superiors naturally find the skills and talents you possess, your reputation increases.

“There is, however, one situation when it pays to do the opposite — when you can cover up a deception with a show of intelligence. In matters of smarts as in most things, appearances are what count. If you seem to have authority and knowledge, people will believe what you say. This can be very useful in getting you out of a scrap.”

Originally Posted

Self reflective writings & book summaries on philosophy, psychology and human behaviour.

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