Law 23: Concentrate Your Forces
You have a finite amount of energy, conserve them by concentrating them at their strongest point. A single rich mine that is deep is more valuable to you than multiple shallow mines.
The Goose and the Horse
A goose who was plucking grass upon a common thought herself affronted by a horse who fed near her; and, in hissing accents, thus addressed him: “I am certainly a more noble and perfect animal than you, for the whole range and extent of your faculties is confined to one element. I can walk upon the ground as well as you; I have, besides, wings, with which I can raise myself in the air; and when I please, I can sport on ponds and lakes, and refresh myself in the cool waters. I enjoy the different powers of a bird, a fish, and a quadruped.”
The horse, snorting somewhat disdainfully, replied: “It is true you inhabit three elements, but you make no very distinguished figure in any one of them. You fly, indeed; but your flight is so heavy and clumsy, that you have no right to put yourself on a level with the lark or the swallow. You can swim on the surface of the waters, but you cannot live in them as fishes do; you cannot find your food in that element, nor glide smoothly along the bottom of the waves. And when you walk, or rather waddle, upon the ground, with your broad feet and your long neck stretched out, hissing at everyone who passes by, you bring upon yourself the derision of all beholders.
I confess that I am only formed to move upon the ground; but how graceful is my make! How well turned mv lunbs! How highly finished my whole body! How great my strength! How astonishing my speed! I had much rather be confined to one element, and be admired in that, than be a goose in all!”
FABLES FROM BOCCAACCIO AND CHAUCER. DR. JOHN AIKIN, 1747-1822
The Rothschild brothers inherited their father’s empire and dispersed across Europe. This made them vulnerable, but they managed to maintain their unity, and this was key to their sustained success. They married only within the family and stayed in very close contact with each other. This was how they managed to maintain their power while the rest of Europe’s elite crumbled during the 19th century.
“Beware of dissipating your powers: strive constantly to concentrate them. Genius thinks it can do whatever it sees others doing, but it is sure to repent of every ill-judged outlay.” – Johann Von Goethe
Divisions exist all over the world, between nations and political groups, and even between families. People are distracted, and their attention is constantly diffused into a thousand different directions. The solution is to retreat inside ourselves – to remember how to concentrate our efforts when thinking and acting, as this is the best way to achieve results in a world where focus is lacking.
“Intellect is a magnitude of intensity, not a magnitude of extensity.” – Schopenhauer
Casanova credited his life success to his ability to be single-minded in his objectives. He seduced women by giving all his attention to them for several weeks or months. He thought of no one else when he was with them. And when he was once imprisoned in a prison in Venice – that no one had been able to escape from, he focused all his energy into thinking about how to escape. They even changed his cell, which made all of his previous digging efforts futile. But he persisted, and eventually, he escaped.
“I have always believed, that when a man gets it into his head to do something, and when he exclusively occupies himself in that design, he must succeed, whatever the difficulties. That man will become Grand Vizier or Pope.” – Casanova
Nikola Tesla made life very difficult for himself by refusing to have a single master. Instead, he diffused his efforts all over the place, and as a result, was never able to achieve the stability he craved.
Prize intensity more than extensity. Perfection resides in quality, not quantity. Extent alone never rises above mediocrity, and it is the misfortune of men with wide general interests that while they would like to have their finger in every pie, they have one in none. Intensity gives eminence, and rises to the heroic in matters sublime. (Baltasar Gracián, 1601-1658)
But sometimes, dispersing your energies is wise, particularly if you are weak. In guerrilla warfare, it is best to frustrate your enemy by attacking them in many ways. Concentrating your forces in this case will make it easy for them to destroy you.
Cesare Borgia depended completely on his father and made many enemies across the years. When his father died, Cesare was as good as dead. He had no way of defending himself anymore. Lastly, being too single minded can make you seem boring, especially in the arts. Renaissance painter Paolo Uccello was obsessed with perspective, but his paintings were nothing special.
Leonardo da Vinci was the opposite, he had innumerable interests including architecture, painting, warfare, mechanics, sculpture. It was diffusion that made his work brilliant, but this kind of genius is a rarity. Most of us are better off betting on intensity rather than extensity.
Read The 48 Laws of Power