Tag Archives: strategy

Smart Thinking Strategic Thinking Think Like

How to Think Like Ghost/James St. Patrick (Power)

Most super-successful TV shows appear to have a well-loved character whose primary assets are intelligence, strategic thinking and usually sarcastic wit. James “Ghost” St. Patrick is the latest in a long line of characters who embody the above qualities:

As he holds a similar skillset, Ghost naturally follows a similar thought process and patterns to his fictional counterparts. He particularly has a lot in common with Frank Underwood and Harvey Specter, largely due to their use of posturing, bluffing and domination. To save repeating myself, I’d suggest reading the articles I’ve written about the 2 to get a good grounding in the techniques they use.

This article will try to focus on the rules that Ghost follows, which align wonderfully with the The 48 Laws of Power.

If there was ever a manual on thinking like James St. Patrick, The 48 Laws of Power is it. I recommend the book in almost all my articles as it was the book that truly had an impact on my own thought processes. I’ll try to highlight the most obvious laws that Ghost follows.

Law 1: Never Outshine the Master

Before becoming Lobos’s sole New York distributor and while working under Kanan, Ghost stayed in the background, observing and learning what he could. In fact, it’s this ability to appear and disappear without anyone noticing that earned him the nickname Ghost. He concealed his intentions (Law 3) from everyone, even from his best friend, keeping his ambitions to himself, until the time came to usurp his mentor’s position.

He waited until Kanan was exposed (driving armed with drugs in the car) to weaken him and remove him from the equation. Ghost unscrewed Kansan’s brake light and called in an anonymous tip on the car. Kanan was pulled over by the police and the gun and drugs were discovered.

Once Kanan was behind bars, Ghost swooped in and took over with Tommy as his right-hand man.

Law 5: So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard it with your Life

Being a drug-dealer, Ghost recognises the need to be feared and respected. Much of how he operates is to create an aura of mystery and fear; people always fear what they don’t know.

He uses multiple approaches to achieve this, generally only appearing personally when absolutely necessary. This helps to maintain the mystery around him as few people have ever met the elusive Ghost.

Creating distance also gives him more protection from the law as it makes it harder to connect him to crimes. Though unlike what Law 26 advises, Ghost isn’t scared to get his hands dirty when he needs to, but when he does get involved, he operates with ruthlessness and precision.

His effectiveness at what he does further reinforces his status and the fear that his position inspires.

Law 14: Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy

Double-crossings seem to happen every other episode in Power and it’s hard to keep up, but they’re so common because it’s effective. Us, the viewers, can sometimes figure out who isn’t genuine and are surprised at how gullible and trusting the characters can be. However, that’s because we’re watching a TV show and are expecting drama. In every day life, we rarely get betrayed, which is why it hurts so much when it happens. We don’t expect betrayal and we do our utmost to avoid it so in our own lives, we’d be hard pushed to spot these betrayals before they happen.

In Season 1, Kanan uses Ghost’s trust to manipulate Ghost into weakening his own position by killing Rolla, a good friend and loyal supporter. Kanan is actively working against Ghost and Tommy, but posing as a friend to both avoid suspicion and influence their actions to his benefit.

Both Angela and Ghost use their relationship to try and further they goals, each never trusting the other and manipulating but always pretending to be lovers. In Season 2, Shawn pretends to be loyal to Ghost, but is in fact following Kanan’s directions, feeding him information about Ghost’s activities.

Dre is then used by Ghost as a “double-agent” against Kanan; it turns out the drug-dealing world is one big backstabbing party.

Crossing over briefly to another TV show, Game of Thrones, Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish share a great technique for identifying those who might betray you:

Sometimes when I try to understand a person’s motives, I play a little game. I assume the worst. What’s the worst reason they could possibly have for saying what they say and doing what they do. Then I ask myself: how well does that reason explain what they say and what they do?

In order to be prepared for betrayal, which fails him in the end, he always assumes that everyone is plotting against him:

Fight every battle everywhere, always in your mind. Everyone is your enemy, everyone is your friend. Every possible series of events is happening all at once. Live that way and nothing will surprise you. Everything that happens will be something that you’ve seen before.

Law 29: Plan All the Way to the End

What appears to mark Ghost as different to all his rivals, is his preference for long-term planning. Ghost himself says

See, short-term thinking creates short-term results.

When Ghosts wants a particular result, he will gather all the information he can find and create a mental “map” of the environment and the key players in it.

He anticipates how each will react to certain events and uses that to enact his plan. He then formulates the next stage and the one after that) based on those reactions. By simply following their normal behavioural patterns, his targets trap themselves in his schemes. He is always calm and carries out his plans with cold ruthlessness.

As mentioned before, a good chunk of The 48 Laws of Power appear to be inspiring Ghost, in fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if he had a copy lying around. I’d highly recommend reading it yourself, you’ll quickly find yourself spotting the strategies highlighted in the book used by every super intelligent character in your favourite shows and films.

Recommended Reading:

Read More
Behaviour and Psychology Leadership and Power

The 8 Sources of Power

(Originally Published: 07/08/2015, Updated: 29/10/2016)

Power is the outward expression of inward strength and confidence in a situation.

Power comes from many places, what I like to call the 8 Sources of Power:

Power of position comes from a position you hold. Positions of power can be either appointed, elected or created by oneself.

An appointed position generally means that others are contractually or procedurally obliged to carry out your instructions and follow your lead. The easiest example for this would be a CEO or other manager. While these positions tend to be earned through a combination of the other 7 sources, there are many individuals in positions of power who lack the qualities that would normally earn them such a place. This undermines power as many people will only show deference to the position, not the person holding it. True power would be demonstrated by the former manager or leader who still holds influence without wielding any official authority.

Elected positions have a sturdier power base and aren’t as vulnerable to lack of deservedness. It’s difficult for people to argue when they were the ones that gave you the position. Being elected means you were chosen to have authority, whether that’s the leader of a country, company board or a committee. Regardless of politics and other structures, if you were elected into power, it’s usually because you deserved it.

Lastly, power can come from a position you have created yourself. Identifying a niche within your company or department and owning that discipline or skill e.g. a deep knowledge of the companies policies, an understanding of company politics or even being the best with Microsoft Excel. If you create a demand for a skill you have, you have slightly more influence than before.

Power of personality comes from your strength of character, often labelled as charisma. Your personality draws people to you and the way you conduct yourself inspires.

Charisma is a difficult quality to define, similarly to how it’s hard to emulate being cool. There are things that charismatic people have in common however.

The first is that they often radiate joy and excitement. They are passionate about what they believe in and it triggers strong emotions in the people around them. There passion is rooted in a sense of confidence – they understand their world and their place in it. Charismatic people know their strengths are confident in their abilities and they inspire other to have that same confidence in themselves.

This passion and confidence becomes something altogether different – conviction. They have strong beliefs and they are consistent in their actions and are commitment to their cause. This commitment is felt by others who yearn to follow.

A key part of charisma, is the ability to tell a storyteller. They can get to the emotional core of almost any subject and make it deeply relate to their audience and the actions they want to inspire. This is made up by their tone of voice, their rhythm and the way they make eye contact.

Lastly, they can connect with you on an emotional level. A charismatic person can be in a room of hundreds, but when they address an individual, they make them feel special, valued and interesting. Someone giving us this level of personal attention can be addicting in a world of me, me, me.

More than anything the power of personality is the holy grail for politicians – if people like and respect you, you can inspire loyalty and lead a group of people in a direction of your choosing.

Power of ideas is evident in silicone valley and in creative agencies. Your creativity can inspire solutions to problems that baffle others. Coming up with ideas is actually a pretty straightforward process and we all have the ability to generate some pretty cracking ones. In this scenario, lateral thinking is key.

The term lateral thinking was introduced by Edward De Bono in 1967 and refers to taking an indirect approach to solving problems by side-stepping standard logic. When job descriptions say that the ideal candidate can “think outside the box”, it’s lateral thinking ability there referring to.

Solutions produced by lateral thinking tend to seem fairly obvious in hindsight, but aren’t visible when thinking about the problem. Because of the nature approach, lateral thinking tends to highlight other problems which might be unnoticed otherwise.

To think laterally, you’ll have to look at the problem from a different viewpoint. It’s all too easy to think rigidly when your inside a situation and ignore patterns and evidence which would lead to a certain cause or solution.

Einstein summarised this very well when he said “problems cannot be solved by thinking within the framework within which the problems were created.” You have to go outside to do so. The massively overused term, thinking outside the box applies well to lateral thinking.

However, it doesn’t stop there. Ideas without action are useless things and for your ideas to have value, you have to be very skilled at implementing them. No matter your arena, if you can come up with creative solutions to problems and then carry them out you’ll have your colleagues and often your superiors coming to you to help make things happen.

Power of intellect is the expression of your analytical ability and your capacity to grasp facts and put them in order. Analysis is simply being able to take a look at a situation or set of facts and using common sense, logic and your existing knowledge, come up with a detailed explanation of the situation – usually with suggestions on how to improve.

This is luckily something which can be learned. You can become a skilled analyst by learning about logic and the processes logicians follow to come to conclusions. But if you really want to take it to the next level and stand out, you’ll want to learn a variety of models, which serve the dual purpose of helping you to organise and process the information, but present it in a recognisable and easy to follow format. Using such models also inspire trust in your results and your methods.

Combined with the power of ideas, you could carve yourself out a niche as consigliere.

Power to communicate is your ability to get across an idea or message in a way that resonates with people, both individually and in groups. The ability to communicate well is a precursor to being able to influence and persuade. This skill ties in very much with charisma and the power of personality, but they’re not always linked.

Imagine you have 2 politicians, one who is charismatic and likeable, but not great at sharing his beliefs, policies and messages. The second politician, while not as charismatic or instantly likeable, is a great communicator and is able to share his message with millions of people in a way that they can understand. This person stands a much better chance at being elected.

Communication in this way relies very much on knowing your audience, knowing what is important to them and knowing exactly how they like to communicate. There’s no use sending an email to a person that prefers face to face interaction or calling someone who’d just prefer you sent an email. This understanding of people can come from a knowledge of a person’s history, body language and personality – all of which can be learned.

Power to invest either money or resources is another form of actual power. It’s also a very visible form of power something that can be measured in numbers i.e. the Forbes rich list. In the context we’re likely to be looking at, it deals with the ability to invest money or resources into an idea, person or department.

Money or resources can be used to solve problems that influence alone couldn’t manage. Investing in a person’s ideas, projects or even development can not only gain you loyal friends and supporters, but can provide you with better resources (skilled people).

Investing in ideas or companies, especially if successful can bring profit and therefore increase your ability to invest, and thus your power.

Power to reward people financially or through recognition. Part of this power is also the freedom to remove people from situations where they are not succeeding. Most managers, if they have authority over their own staff, have this power. They are able to hire and fire, award bonuses or pay rises or even discipline through suspensions and other means.

Unfortunately, in most workplaces, the respect and authority we assign to people is usually thanks to that person’s ability to discipline or fire us. In this respect, the power the manager has is based on fear.

Conversely, a manager has the power to reward people who show the behaviours and results that the manager values. This is linked to the power to invest as managers are able to choose which projects to invest the budget in.

Power to manipulate is the most well-known form of power as it’s depicted in TV shows such as A House of Cards and Game of Thrones constantly. Manipulation is powered by a person’s ability to communicate their ideas well, though they may be fabrications or twisting of the truth. At it’s heart, manipulation plays on fear – fear that someone else is trying to damage your position, fear of failure, fear of physical attack, fear of losing a job etc. Blackmail, threats and other psychological manipulation are also powered by fear.

The most common form of manipulation in the workplace is through positive and negative reinforcement, usually through rewarding or punishment of certain behaviours. Manipulation relies on a number of the qualities listed above such as the power to communicate and often the power to invest/reward.

As we’ve established power can come from many places and if you take a look at some of your favourite or least favourite leaders, they’ll all some combination of the above qualities. The lucky thing is that the majority of them can be learned. If you’re interesting in reading more about power and influence take a look at The 48 Laws Of Power and Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

Read More
Strategic Thinking Think Like

Think Like Frank Underwood

Frank Underwood - Copyright © Netflix

(Originally Published: 07/05/2015, Updated: 15/05/2016)

Frank Underwood is a fascinating character and represents the confidence, power, decisiveness and strategic mind that a lot of us, including me, wish we could emulate. Frank Underwood is a perfect example of the modern Machiavellian. For those unfamiliar with the term, it Machiavellian became popular in 1512, after Italian diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli, wrote a political treatise called The Prince (Il Principe).

The Prince details a somewhat cut-throat approach to gaining and maintaining power and a Machiavellian values political expediency over morals. They are more than willing to use deceit and fear maintain their authority and carry out their policies. It takes only a few moments observing Frank to see that his behaviour follows Machiavelli’s philosophy. Frank is willing to use any method to achieve his goals, this usually comes down to political manoeuvring bribery, blackmail, intimidation and even murder. Frank is not a nice guy, but he gets things done.

Whether you want to emulate Frank Underwood’s Machiavellian approach, or just achieve the results he does, then you need an understanding of political strategy and of how power works.

For most of us, the brand of politics that most directly affects you is the type that you experience in your social circles and the politics that affect you at work. It’s unlikely that you’re involved in national politics, the so this article will focus on adapting the approach, principles and strategies of Frank Underwood to the rest of us regular folks.

Office politics is particularly unavoidable and affects everyone, whether you get involved or not. You can either be an affected bystander or you can play the game and maybe influence your situation for the better. Most people like to “stay out” of office politics, either for moral or practical reasons, however, this doesn’t prevent you from being included in the games and if you don’t join in, you’ll have no influence over the outcomes.

If you wish to stay out of office politics, you have two choices:

  • Stay out of the “pettiness” but accept that you have little control over your environment and accept the consequences.
  • Understand how politics works and use that knowledge to minimise the negative effects from other’s involvement.

The first step to becoming active in politics is to fully understand your environment and the people in it.

Networks and Hierarchy

Every organisation has a hierarchy and every organisation has a person whose influence and power is much greater than their place on the totem pole. People with great influence also tend to attract followers and form cliques.

If you’re trying to get ahead at work, it’s a good idea to make a map of your office – what are the cliques and who really wields the influence. Just because the employee that’s been there 15 years has the same salary and title as you, don’t think that means they might not be the most important person in the office. There are official and unofficial authorities in the same way that there are official and unofficial job responsibilities.

It’s key to find out who these gatekeepers and influencers are. These are the people who you need to study. Find out who these influencers listen to and who they tend to favour. Next comes the difficult part, no matter how much you hate the action or dislike the person, you have to find a way to get in their good books. Study their behaviour and you’ll soon see the patterns that highlight what is important to that person. Tip: It’s usually feeling important and respected.

You probably have it a little easier than Frank, your office likely holds around 20-50 people. Frank has to deal with hundreds of congressmen and unfortunately, understanding the person is only part of the equation. Given that he must follow the rules of congress (and law), Frank needs a deep understanding of the policies and procedures that govern it. It’s also incredibly important to pay attention to the smallest details such as rules and policies – knowledge or lack of knowledge  can tie you up or it can free you.

Building Your Own Network

It’s clear that while having simple roots, that Frank is well-educated and has a deep knowledge of political and military history and strategy. It’s important to note however that while Frank is intelligent, formidable and a great strategist, he isn’t always the one to put in the legwork.

Cue 2 very important figures; Doug Stamper, Frank’s Director of Strategy and Claire Underwood, his wife and confidante –  at least in season 1 of the show.

Doug is a font of knowledge and seems to know something about everyone in congress and if he doesn’t already know it, you can be sure he’ll find out. Doug isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and he does some pretty sketchy things to support Frank’s bid for power. Why does he do this? Loyalty.


It’s clear that aside from his wife Claire, Doug’s is the only opinion Frank will consider. Which teaches us our first lesson. You can’t do it alone. Do not think that getting support is a weakness. While we glorify lone wolves who achieve great things alone, it’s rarely the case. Steve Jobs wasn’t a genius that built Apple on his own, neither is Bill Gates solely responsible for Microsoft’s huge success. They both had a lot of help from incredibly loyal partners, who worked out of the limelight.

If you can earn the loyalty of your team or colleagues, half the battle has already been won.

Loyalty should be encouraged and cultivated and stems from showing people respect, being consistent in your behaviour, showing trust and ALWAYS having the person’s back. Humans are wired to reciprocate and if you’ve always got someone’s back, even someone you really don’t like, it’s difficult for someone not to return that behaviour, even if it is begrudging.

This leads nicely onto how Frank builds loyalty. Key to Frank’s results is his ability to predict how people will behave and react to particular statements, actions or situations. His knowledge of this enables him to plan a chain of events which culminates in him achieving the results he wants. This doesn’t just come from thin air however. Frank and his team, mostly Doug, do their research and spend hours combing through a person’s history to get an idea of their character, analysing past behaviours and decisions to find patterns that can be used to predict future behaviours.

This works to his advantage with his staff and his adversaries, as a Machiavellian Frank often uses lies, bribery, blackmail and threats to get someone on his side. He knows exactly what buttons to press and when to press them. If used properly, you can anticipate your team’s needs and desires and support them in their endeavours. If not used properly…well, let’s leave that to Frank.

Loyalty, however, doesn’t just work for you, it can work against you and herein lies the heart of politics; influence and alliance.

With that in mind, it’s the time to learn of strategy.

Planning and Strategy

With Frank’s understanding of a person, awareness of political alliances and deep knowledge of policies and procedures, Frank is able to form plans and strategies. There are 2 elements to Frank’s strategies; prior planning and improvisation. In the very first episode, Frank explains:

We’ll have a lot of nights like this, making plans, very little sleep.

Each night Frank is diligently researching and mapping out his options and how each path might play out. He puts a lot of time and effort into trying to anticipate every way his strategy could fail and has backups in each situation. We only see the results on screen, not the days spent researching his opponents and mapping out hundreds of different options. His wife Claire also has a good grasp on strategy and is great at asking the questions which stimulate Frank’s thinking. What we see on screen, makes it seem as though Frank is all-knowing, but, in reality, he spends hour researching, consulting and pulling together an intricate web of actions designed to provoke a reaction and lead a person or group of people right where Frank wants them to go.

It sounds easy, but in his position, with access to the same information, would we be able to form the same successful strategies as Frank? Probably not, but there a wide array of resources that can build your ability to think strategically. Why plan to be one step ahead when you can be five?

The greatest modern book on political manoeuvring and Machiavellian strategy is The 48 Laws Of Power by Robert Greene. This best-seller  delves into strategy with a number of brilliant famous and lesser-known historical examples. With the success of his first book, Greene penned another manual focusing purely on military strategy, The 33 Strategies Of War which is definitely a must-read.

Image and Reputation

While it may seem materialistic and only surface-deep, appearance and demeanour plays a huge role in how people view us and behave towards us. The tie we wear and the way we stand can be the difference between respect and ridicule.

Frank has honed his body language, tone of voice and speech patterns over the years and created a persona of strength, leadership and respect. He pays attention to his physical appearance to always appear polished and in control He knows that he needs to behave in a way that projects strength and confidence, especially when dealing with people who, like him, are constantly on the lookout for weakness and opportunities.

All of the above contribute to Frank Underwood’s power. He exudes power and even those that don’t know him can sense it. (I’ve written about the sources of power in more detail if you’re interested.) Frank Underwood is a masterful politician, with a great understanding of people, policy and strategy who is willing to do anything to get what he wants. Now you know Frank’s methods, what’s stopping you from becoming the next President (or Marketing Manager)?

Recommended Reading:

  • The Ellipsis Manual: Analysis and Engineering of Human Behaviour – Written by Chase Hughes (profiling, interrogation and psychological intelligence trainer) this book is an amazing resource and his Behavioural Table of Elements is genius.
  • Peoplewatching: The Desmond Morris Guide to Body Language – Desmond Morriss is a highly-respected zoologist and his work on body language helped build the foundations for the entire discipline.
  • The Definitive Book of Body Language: How to Read Others’ Attitudes by Their Gestures – Allan Pease has written a series of best-selling books on both body language and human interaction.
  • Good Strategy/Bad Strategy – While geared toward business situations, this is the greatest (non-textbook) book on strategy I’ve ever read – it looks at what strategy is and how to form them using a myriad of relevant examples.
  • Predatory Thinking – This book by adman Dave Trott teaches strategy through anecdotes and examples allowing you to see real world applications of strategy.
  • The 48 Laws Of Power –  A wonderful combination of political and military strategy, this best-seller by Robert Greene delves into strategy with a number of brilliant famous and lesser-known historical examples.
  • The 33 Strategies Of War – With the success of his first book, Greene penned another manual focusing purely on military strategy. He studied and observed as many facets of the discipline as he could find and grouped them together into 33 strategies.
  • Strategy: A History – At 767  pages, This book is the bible of strategy and gives a brilliant overview of the most prominent strategic theories in history, from David’s use of deception against Goliath – to the modern use of game theory in economics.
  • The Right Way to Play Chess – This 240-page book is one of the best-selling chess strategy books and if you can apply it to real-world, is great for teaching you to think 5, 6 and 7 steps ahead.
  • It might also be an idea to do some reading up on office politics as the subject tends to explore how to deal with different types of people to get the results you want.

If you’ve got any insights or opinions on how to use the skills used by Frank Underwood to further your career or success, please share them below – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Read More