Law 45: Preach the Need for Change But Never Reform Too Much at Once

The 48 Laws Of Power Summary Series


“Everyone understands the need for change in the abstract, but on the day-to-day level people are creatures of habit. Too much innovation is traumatic, and will lead to revolt. If you are new to a position of power, or an outsider trying to build a power base, make a show of respecting the old way of doing things. If change is necessary, make it feel like a gentle improvement on the past.”

“Like a billiard ball hit too hard against the cushion, your need for change and your reforms can often result in catastrophic circumstances that you do not have control over or you did not envision.”

Change scares and intimidates a lot of people. Their words may say the opposite, but their actions reveal the truth. Many preach and crave new exciting change, yet they continue to stay in their comfortable habituated patterns of living. Why? Changing a habit or a way of thinking means getting uncomfortable and putting in active purposeful work, this is something most will avoid if they have to. Additionally, one’s identity can get wrapped up in their habits, thus to attempt to change someone can be like attempting to carve a new identity — most will experience backlash as a consequence of this.

Keys To Power

“Human psychology contains many dualities, one of them being that even while people understand the need for change, knowing how important it is for institutions and individuals to become occasionally renewed, they are, also, irritated and upset by changes that affect them personally. They know that change is necessary, and that the novelty provides a relief from boredom, but deep inside, they cling to the past. Change in the abstract or superficial change, they desire, but a change that upsets core habits and routines is deeply disturbing to them.”

An example of this comes from the time of AD 8 to AD 23 of a Chinese emperor named Wang Mang. “He emerged from a period of great historical turbulence in which the people yearned for order, and order represented by their previous philosopher, Confucius, some 200 years earlier. However, the emperor had ordered the writings of Confucius be burned. A few years later, word had spread that certain texts had miraculously survived, hidden under a scholar’s house. These texts may have not been genuine, but they gave Wang his opportunity. He first confiscated them. Then had his scribes insert pages into them that seemed to support the changes he had been imposing on the country. When he released the text, it seemed that Confucius sanctioned Wang’s reforms, and then people felt comforted and accepted them more easily.”

Wang Mang, courtesy name Jujun, was a Han Dynasty official who seized the throne from the Liu family and founded the Xin Dynasty, ruling 9–23 AD. Wikipedia

“A simple gesture like using an old title, or keeping the same number for a group, will tie you to the past and support you with the authority of history.”

Meaning, on the surface you may appear to support the past, but inside, you are maneuvering in ways that support your own causes of a new change — politicians are masters at this.

Historic examples of innovates receiving backlash to change:

“When Charles Darwin published his ideas for evolution, he faced fiercer opposition from his fellow scientists than from religious authorities. His theories challenged too many fixed ideas.”

Charles Robert Darwin, was an English naturalist, geologist and biologist, best known for his contributions to the science of evolution. Wikipedia

“Jonas Salk ran into the same wall with his radical innovations in immunology.”

Jonas Edward Salk was an American medical researcher and virologist. He discovered and developed one of the first successful polio vaccines. Wikipedia

“Max Plank ran into the same issues with his revolutionizing of physics. Plank later wrote of the scientific opposition he faced, a very astute comment.”

Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck, FRS was a German theoretical physicist whose discovery of energy quanta won him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918. Wikipedia

It’s kind of true, isn’t it? The old traditions of the past we’ve witnessed over the last century are being forced out because the previous generation before us are shrinking smaller. Everything from marriage, equality, race, religion are all shifting us globalization, technology and we, evolve (or even devolve). And the cycle will repeat over and over.

“But the answer to this innate conservatism is to play the courtiers game. What is a courtiers game? The courtiers game is feigning an image that is not 100% real. It’s partly fabricated.”

Robert comments to pay lip service to tradition.

It is only smart to be the courtier, the respectful courtier, listen intensely, deploy empathy and learn to see the other side of the principles of the past.


“Finally, the arts, fashion and technology would seem to be areas in which power would come from creating a radical rupture with the past, and appearing cutting-edge. Indeed, such a strategy can bring great power, but it has many dangers. It is inevitable that your innovations will be outdone by someone else. You have little control. Someone younger and fresher moves in. A sudden new direction, making your innovation of yesterday seem tiresome and tame today. You are forever playing catch up. Your power is tenuous and short-lived. You want a power built on something more solid? Using the past, tinkering with tradition, playing with conversation subverted will give your creation something more than a momentary appeal.”

“In the end, using the past for your own purposes will bring you more power than trying to cut it out completely, a futile and self-destructive endeavor.”

Originally Posted

Originally Posted

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

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store