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Understanding The Laws Of Human Nature with Robert Greene
My guest is none other than Robert Greene. I’m so fortunate to get to interview and learn from some fascinating individuals. Robert Greene is right there at the top. He boasts six New York Times number one bestsellers. Those titles are The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, Mastery, The 33 Strategies of War and The 50th Law who he wrote with the rapper, 50 Cent. He’s also the author of the book The Laws of Human Nature. A successful entrepreneur doesn’t exist without other people. I don’t believe a fulfilling life is possible without other people. The nature of a human being, our drives, instincts, emotions and behavior, have been studied by literally millions. Yet humanity continues to be rife with the dark side, war, murder, abuse, bullying, infidelity, divorce, bankruptcy, corruption, depression, anxiety and the list goes on. Even though we have made incredible strides in an array of areas, that snare still remains elusive. What does that have to do with you and what does that have to do with entrepreneurship? It’s no secret that a lot of businesses fail. That’s not the initial intention. The amount is much more than those that succeed. That ideas without execution are worthless and that execution without other people, other humans is like assuming a successful investment is a lottery ticket. Get the book, The Laws of Human Nature, by Robert Greene. Let’s go ahead and welcome my special guest, Robert Green.
It is truly an honor to have Robert on the show. Robert, thank you so much for joining us. This is one of those amazing interviews that at least I’ll benefit from it and be excited about it.
Thanks, Patrick. I hope I can live up to the hype.
You’ve made such a difference in my life, as well as those that have influenced me. I found your book The Laws of Human Nature fascinating. You’ve written so much. This is your sixth book. The first thing that came to my mind, as far as what to ask you, is the circumstances that inspired you to write the book and some of the elements that perhaps weren’t in the previous books that you wrote. What was the backstory to that?
There are several channels that go into what influenced the book. In Mastery, I had Chapter Four on social intelligence. The basic idea was to, as a book, teach you how to become a master in whatever field you’re in. You’re not going to be great at whatever you do unless you also know how to get along with people because we’re social animals. You could be technically brilliant. You could be a consummate computer hacker. If you offend people left, right and center, you’ll never get funded, etc. I wanted this to be an element of what you need to master. You need to master people as a skill. I got a lot of feedback from readers. They enjoyed that chapter, but the main thing was, “Robert, we need more. It wasn’t enough. It was juicy, it was tantalizing, but we need more.” I thought, “Maybe I’ll respond to my readers. I will expand this into an entire book.”
There were other things going on as well. My first book came out several years ago, The 48 Laws of Power. Since then, I’ve done a lot of consulting with powerful people, all different fields. I’ve had a lot of experiences helping people with their problems. I’ve seen these themes in which people don’t understand the basic elements of human psychology. It leads to all kinds of problems. They hire the exactly worst kind of employee based on their résumé, based on their charm and based on their looks. All kinds of problems ensue. They partner with the worst kind of business partner, who ends up being so aggressive that they push them out or they get involved in an intimate relationship with someone who ruins their life. Why are people so bad at these choices? They’re not good at understanding people. They’re not paying a deep enough attention. They’re only looking at the surfaces.
Based on Mastery and based on my experience with consulting, I thought about the deep need out there to help people understand certain basics about human psychology and what governs human behavior. There are certain patterns I’ve seen in my own life and I’ve seen in the people I deal with. These patterns are what I ended up calling human nature, unconscious forces that govern a lot of what we do that we’re not even aware of. I want to make you the reader of these forces inside you so you can break your own bad habits. I want you to be able to see them in other people so you can understand others on a much higher level and be able to influence them instead of always being frustrated by the people you’re dealing with.
It’s one thing that I’ve definitely associate it with that most people can because we tend to look at the world and assume other people look at the world the same way. Getting back to the premise of the book, what have you seen as the result of somebody who has read it and where it’s made an impact?
I haven’t gotten a lot of feedback, but I have been getting some. One of the main themes, which is not too surprising but it wasn’t exactly what I expected, is it’s making people think a lot about themselves. They’re reading the book and they’re reading about narcissism, they’re reading about envy or aggression. They’re going, “I have some of these traits in myself. I’m not as great as I thought I was. I thought that I was this nice person who’s always considered thinking about other people. Maybe that’s not true. Maybe I need to reconsider some of my own flaws, my own dark side,” my shadow side as I call it.
One of the main effects is it’s making people reassess who they are and rethink some of their own behavior patterns. I went through that in writing the book. I’m writing a chapter on narcissism and I’m going, “You’re more narcissistic than you think.” It’s an eye-opener as I was seeing traits that I was writing about in myself. The number one thing that stood out in people reading the book so far is that it’s held up a mirror to them. It made them focus on themselves instead of always pointing blame at other people. Always blaming others for the problems in their life, looking at themselves and saying, “Maybe in some ways, I’m the source of some of these patterns that are going on.” That’s been the main impact.
If you become aware of yourself at a deeper level, you form conclusions based on an understanding of what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s good or what’s bad. Does that change? Your frame of reference is as far as what life is about hasn’t changed. You’ve become more aware of yourself and maybe more of your flaws. Is there anything else? That’s going to be somewhat disappointing. This is one of the things I got from it, is more understanding of the context of life and what life is about, which oftentimes is one of those things that we’re not always aware of, at least on a short-term basis. Does that resonate with some of the feedback you’ve gotten?You need to master people as a skill. If you offend people left, right, and center, you'll never get funded. Click To Tweet
It’s not intended to make you depressed, hate yourself or dislike yourself. It’s meant to have the opposite effect, which is a lot of the feedback that I’m getting. You’re aware of some of these tendencies that are innate to all of us, you can start to begin to change yourself. You can start getting out of denial. I have a chapter on envy, where I say that this is rooted in human nature. The human brain operates by comparing. That’s how our knowledge is formed. That’s what neuroscientists have discovered. As a social animal, what this means is not only are we comparing information from the environment but also we’re continually comparing ourselves to other people around us. If you look at yourself in the course of a day, you have to admit that you’re continually comparing yourself to your peers to how much money they make, how much respect they’re getting, how much attention they’re getting on social media, etc. You can’t help it because that’s how the human brain works. That’s where envy stems from.
If you’re continually aware of what other people have and it looks like they have more than what you have, you’re going to have feelings of envy. You’re going to disguise it to yourself. You’re going to disguise it in the form of, “That person doesn’t deserve his success. He’s not worth it. He’s not good.” You’re going to criticize them. Maybe you’ll even take action against them, without ever realizing that envy is the source of your emotions. I want to tell the reader there’s nothing wrong with feeling envy. There’s nothing wrong with being a human being. There’s nothing wrong with feeling aggressive or being self-absorbed. I want to take the guilt out of all of this. I simply want to shine the spotlight on who you are, so that you can maybe take that mechanism of comparing yourself to others and turn it into positive, which is what each chapter in the book ends with. It’s how you can take this quality and turn it into something productive and positive. If that’s the moral component or the goodness component, then that may be it.
Instead of constantly comparing yourself to others who are better than you, why not compare yourself to others who have it worse than you so that you can feel some gratitude for the success that you’ve had or the family that supports you? Look at people who have less. Sometimes the people you are envying, if you got to know them, you would realize that their life is quite miserable. They’re not as happy as they seem. On social media, people always give the impression that they’re taking the most wonderful vacations and they’re meeting the most fabulous people. If you got to know them, their lives are as boring as you can possibly imagine. Maybe there’s no need to envy them. On and on, it’s how you can take this comparing mechanism and make use of a better human being out of it.
In your experience in writing the book and researching, was there anything that you became aware of that made an impact on you, or maybe changed the direction of the book?
I always go into books with an open mind. I have a bias. My bias tends to be somewhat negative. I have a somewhat negative view of human nature. If you know my books, you recognize that. I didn’t want that to govern this book that I wrote. I want it to be open-minded. I want to read books like Steven Pinker’s book, who’s much more optimistic than I am. It’s to shed a light on to some ideas that I don’t share, but that I don’t end up branding a book that’s pure confirmation bias. There were things in the process of opening it up that did surprise me. I did a chapter on aggression. I read a lot about anthropology and the sources of aggression in human beings. It was quite surprising for me to realize that our hunter-gatherer ancestors going back thousands of years ago were violent and aggressive.
There’s this notion of the happy tribe member, living off the land and being so happy and all that. There were extremely high murder rates. There were wars going on, constant skirmishes, high degrees of envy, murder and violence within the tribe. I had that predisposition to maybe think that, but this was quite shocking for me to realize. A problem that we have is we tend to want to think of us humans as being these ultra-sophisticated creatures who created the internet, who are sophisticated and far removed from our primitive past. I don’t believe that. We’re still slaves to this primitive past. I kept an open mind. A lot of the research I had confirmed these ideas.
I look at how DNA and what we’ve come to understand as far as it’s concerned. There is a degree of sophistication that’s different than our predecessors. At the same time, our instinctive nature seems to be very similar. In this day and age, it seems like the accountability factor to who we should be or how we should be happy or what we should wear or whatever is much higher than it was before. We’re driven more, in a sense. At the same time, there are these natural things about us that are there. Oftentimes we consider that a flaw. Do you consider that a flaw? Do you consider these natural attributes, tendencies or drives to be what they are and not good or bad?
Nothing is good or bad. It’s human nature. The problem that we face is that things evolve back in hundreds of thousands of years ago for a purpose. We evolved as social animals that had to have an extremely tight cohesive group in order to survive because humans are physically weak. We could only survive by working within numbers in groups. We developed extremely high empathic powers where we could sense, before the invention of language, the emotions of other people around us without ever having to say anything. This viral vulnerability that we humans have, it was so much a part of our survival. It’s not very adapted to 21st-century life.
What it means is, we’re so open to the ideas and opinions of other people. We see that on social media. It becomes hard for us to detach ourselves, think for ourselves, and think rationally instead of always being moved by the tribes that we belonged to, by the heated political discussions of the people we always agree with. It’s hard for us to divorce ourselves because this is bred into us, wired into our brains. It served a function thousands of years ago. We no longer are living in groups of 30 people. A lot of the things that evolved early on aren’t adapted to 21st-century life. That’s what causes us so many problems.
You mentioned about your interactions with high-level, influential people. You see a lot of these elements of human nature at the highest levels, lowest levels, and in between. In the end, in an understanding of this, what does that give someone? They become aware that they’re individuals. They become aware of themselves. It’s not necessarily a part of an abstract group, but it’s the individual and their character, their makeup, and their desires. When a person becomes aware of that, how does life change?You're more narcissistic than you think. Click To Tweet
Become aware of all of the laws of human nature in the whole book?
It’s how they become more aware of themselves as it relates to their human nature.
It revolutionizes them. That’s the whole point of the book. You should change everything that you do, everything that you think. It should have a radical effect on the reader. I don’t write books that are soft little, “Maybe I’ll think about this.” I want to go inside your head and change how you look at the world. Take for example, Law Number Seven about how to influence people. I argue that people are naturally defensive. Normally, you’re locked inside of your own mind. You’re always thinking about your own desires, your own wishes. You want them to fund your startup for instance. You think, “My startup is so wonderful. I’m going to give them a great pitch and they’re going to love it. That’ll work.” You’re working against human nature because people are naturally defensive. They don’t have any reason to support you. They’re not naturally your allies. There has to be something in their own self-interest.
We are all overworked. We are all overtasked in the world. We have one more person coming at us, trying to influence and telling us about our idea of, “I can’t take it.” You’re never going to realize this. You’re going to go give them your pitch and say, “That’s wonderful.” Two days later and three days later, you don’t hear anything. A week later, two weeks later, you realize they’re not interested at all. It’s because you didn’t understand something basic. The people you deal with have an opinion about themselves. I go into this in the book. I explained how that opinion is formed. We all have certain basics about how we think of ourselves. We think of ourselves as morally good. We think of ourselves as autonomous that we control our own lives. We think of ourselves as intelligent, at least relatively intelligent for the field that we’re in. Though the other aspects of that opinion that might depend on the individual like, “I am super self-reliant,” or “I’m a rebel. Nobody tells me what to do.”
If you go in there with your pitch or your idea and you somehow challenged that idea, you somehow make people feel like maybe they’re not so intelligent or maybe they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s not your intention but you’re implying it. You’re going to make them defensive instead of lowering their resistance. It’s going to make it harder for you to try and get to them. You have to understand that you need to set things up before you hit people with your idea. You need to lower their resistance. You need to validate who they think they are. People generally do have good qualities. If you validate them, if you make them feel that they are intelligent, that they are moral, they’re not going to be as resistant to you.
It’s simply getting outside of your own mindset and your own self-absorption. It’s thinking about the other person’s needs, thinking about what they’re missing in life, and give them validation. The whole game has changed 180% right there. You’d be shocked at how many high-level CEOs, powerful people in the entertainment industry, never use this basic idea. They’re violating that law continually. It’s understandable because we’re so wrapped up in ourselves that it takes an effort to think inside the mindset of the person we’re dealing with and try and get inside their way of looking at the world. If you’re able to do that to some degree on all of these laws that I talked about, it will change everything that you do.
Our life, in large part, is our relationships. Most satisfaction and happiness comes from that. I want to make sure that we hit on this. One of our instrumental relationships to happiness is our partner. Would you talk about the section in the book where you go into masculine and feminine, men and women?
It’s the chapter that people ask the least about. I’m trying to cover all aspects of human nature. One of the key aspects is our gender, our sex, and how we relate to it. I was deeply influenced by my research by a famous psychologist named Carl Jung, who talks about anima and animus. I’m thinking of this in reference to, and so is he, the intimate partners that we choose in our love relationships. It also affects our work relationships. In the work world, we all have to deal with men and women. Men are working for female bosses who might have been always been working for male bosses. It also influences the work world. What Jung discovered was, a man in his earliest years begins in relationship to his mother. In those first two years, 98% of his contact is powerfully physically only with the mother. That female feminine presence, her female feminine energy is different than a man’s.
I don’t care how politically correct we want to get. Men and women are biologically different. That energy from the woman, the mother, he takes inside of himself. She becomes a part of him. It has a deep impact. When you’re one or two years old, you are so vulnerable. You are so open to influence. A young boy interjects that presence of the mother. It becomes a part of who he is. It becomes a part of perhaps some of her qualities. If she’s a gentle, loving person or she’s maternal, not all mothers are alike and they don’t have to be, that becomes a part of him. He carries that within himself. As he goes through life, Jung called that part for a man an anima. It’s like a little woman that lives inside of the man that came from the mother. It can also be influenced by sisters. It’s primarily from the mother.
He carries that little mother figure within him. It influences forever throughout his entire life, his choices in the women that he wants to partner with. He may be looking for someone like that mother figure, who has that nurturing quality that he has in himself but he never developed or if his mother didn’t pay him attention. This is a common pattern. Let’s say she was narcissistic, was more self-absorbed and not such a good mother. He’s going to spend his life looking for a woman who is similar to his mother, oddly enough, who is self-absorbed in the perverse idea that he will be able to turn it around and make that relationship work as if you could go back in the past and rewire his mother. It doesn’t make logical sense but Jung, who studied thousands of married couples, found this pattern over and over again.The human brain operates by comparing. That's how our knowledge is formed. Click To Tweet
The woman has the same thing with the man. It’s called the animus. It’s the father figure. That energy isn’t as direct and early on as powerful as the boy and the mother, but it’s still powerful. She takes the side of herself. She internalizes the presence of that man. That male can become a voice in her. A lot of animus figures that women carry are critical because a lot of father figures or men will tend to be critical of the woman. She’ll internalize these critical voices that Jung compared to a bunch of judges in her head, always judging her for her looks, judging her for not being good enough at this or that. She’ll make odd choices based on her relationship to her father. I talked in the book about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who’s one of the classic figures in this. She had a father who was a total seducer, a total rake. He could never be faithful to any woman. Her parents in fact divorced. She loved him. He loved her. They were devoted. They were extremely close.
Throughout her life, she constantly was partnering with men who were the mirror image of her father. John F. Kennedy cheated on her left, right and center. Aristotle Onassis cheated on her left, right and center. They’re powerful men like her father. She couldn’t break that pattern. The other element of the chapter that’s important is to make you realize that men have a deep feminine part of their personality that comes from the mother figure. Women have a masculine side of their personality that comes from the father figure. You’re either in deep denial of that aspect of who you are. In which case, you repress it and it comes out in weird ways or you’re able to integrate that part into your character and make it something strong and powerful. A man who can still be manly and masculine but uses his empathetic side, who can use some of that kindly maternal energy from the mother, will be a better person, a better man for integrating all of these parts of his personality. I can go on and on, but this is just to give you an idea.
The male and female relationships that exist, whether it’s in the workplace or whether it’s in social circles or your intimate relationships, they’re biologically different. It’s not instinctive that a man can empathize to that level with a woman. You’re saying that, because it’s not instinctive, becoming aware of it, observing and understanding and learning about it, is going to improve the way in which you embrace your feminine side, your masculine side, vice versa and the person that you’re engaging with. What’s the significance of observing? It’s not necessarily observing yourself, your nature and what compels you, but also in all of the different environments that you’re in, being aware and observing others. If you were to sum up in one sentence, you’ll probably be along those lines from I’m assuming, what does that give you? Why is that important to somebody?
There are many aspects and many ways to answer that question. First of all, as a social human, it’s essential that you develop the skill to cut off your internal monologue and observe the people around you. A lot of people in the world, are not only finding problems dealing with people. There’s a lot of loneliness in our culture. You may be doing okay in your career, but your relationships are brittle. They’re not deep. They’re not fulfilling. A lot of it is because you’re not paying deep attention to the people around you. You’re not understanding them. You’re more about yourself and what your own needs. Other people can sense that. It creates these lukewarm relationships. Also, because you’re not paying deep attention, you’re making all kinds of mistakes in your career. Being able to get outside of yourself and observe people is essential to surviving in the world, to building better relationships, and to have more success in your career. Everything depends on your social and political skills if you’re working in an office. The moment you put three human beings together in a room, politics intervenes. Already, you have egos and you have to think in these terms. You need to be able to observe people.
Some scientists estimate that 95% of human communication is nonverbal. The way people smile, their fake smiles. It’s how to differentiate a fake smile from a real smile, how to sense when people are smiling but there’s some underlying resentment there is powerful. How people when you first walk up to them, their body language reveals whether they’re excited to see you or not. You’re missing all of that information. You’re walking around as if you had blinders on your eyes. What’s the point of being a social animal if you’re not observing? If you do not see this language of nonverbal communication, you’re continually misreading people. You think that smile that they give means they like your project, your idea or they like you, but they don’t. You’re missing that. It’s not that difficult to learn how to develop the skill. The other element of it is that being so self-absorbed is depressing. You’re always wrapped up in your own problems.
It becomes a sinkhole that you go deeper and deeper into. Being able to observe people is like therapy. You get outside yourself. You get outside your little problems, your little world and your little obsessions. You involve yourself more deeply with other people. You will find that you won’t feel as depressed as you were. You’ll also find that people are quite interesting. A lot of the reason that you’re not paying attention is you think that you are more interesting than other people. Your thoughts, your desires are more important than others. If you reverse this and you start becoming a better observer in life, a little light bulb will go on in your head and you’ll go, “That person who works at Starbucks and serves me coffee every day, they’re much more interesting than I think they are. They have an inner life. They have weirdness. They have dreams that are strange. They’re doing things on the side that are interesting.”
People are interesting. They’re like characters in a book or a movie. That’s how I want you to think about it. We go to movies because we are voyeurs. We get to go inside the lives of other people and go, “What is that person thinking? That’s an interesting character. Is he a psycho killer or not?” We’re fascinated. Think of the people you deal with like characters in a movie. They might be a psycho killer for all you know or they might not be, but they’re interesting. Getting outside yourself will make you a better person or make you feel happier or make your life easier. It will also contribute greatly to your creative skills. The ability to get outside of yourself and inside of other people loosens the mind up. You no longer have all of your preconceptions about, “This person is good. This person is bad.” You’ll learn to relax and be in the moment and go, “I’m not going to judge this guy that I’m talking to. Instead, I’m going to listen.” It has an overall effect. I talked about this in Mastery. People who are socially aware are often more creative. They don’t have these rigid mental categories. I could go on and on, but the benefits of becoming a better observer in life are infinite.
We’ve focused the podcasting guests, interviews and topics around the idea of entrepreneurship as well as the environment of capitalism. The reason why I was adamant to have you on is that you have success and failure in business, as well as in society, due to your understanding of relationships as far as what I have experienced. With what you’ve observed with the entrepreneur world, the startup world, the business world, and the success and failure there, how do you see your book making an impact in those who either are in the process of running a business or starting a business or bringing on partners? What do you see is the impact of your book on the success of ventures in general?
It should have a huge impact. I could go through the laws. Law Number One should make you more aware of how emotions govern your decision so you can become more rational and make better decisions. The laws about how to judge people, how to judge their character, I have his chapter on character, will mean you won’t hire exactly the wrong person to partner with. You can’t believe how many times people hire exactly the wrong person to be their partner and the misery that causes. This goes back to the Bible. It’s very much ingrained in human nature. You will stop making bad choices.
I have an important chapter on grandiosity. This is a problem that affects entrepreneurs. I know because I worked for one. I was on the board of directors of a publicly traded company. The CEO was the classic entrepreneur who started from scratch. He’s charismatic and brilliant, but he wouldn’t listen to other people. He thought he had all the answers himself. He was a bit of a narcissist. That idea that you’re God and you can do anything is what destroyed him. It’s a little bit of the complex that Elon Musk has. This chapter will make you realize that success is the worst thing that can happen to you in many ways. It makes you think you have the golden touch. It makes you think that luck wasn’t involved, that other people didn’t help you, that you’re some god figure that can snap your fingers and get whatever you want. It’s an illusion. It will help that way.Nothing is good or bad. It's human nature. Click To Tweet
I have a chapter on authority. I maintain that humans respond to a certain primal type of authority figure. It almost goes back to chimpanzees. It’s rooted in who we are. I laid out for you the paradigm for the 21st century of how we relate to authority figures and what we will consider a powerful person who has these certain traits. This is a person who is empathetic, believe it or not, that cares deeply about the employees, involves them creatively, leads from the front, and that leads by example. He’s not expecting people to do the work that he or she is not willing to do. It’s a person that has a vision. Having a vision is essential to being a leader. You can have a vision like Elon Musk and not be able to execute it. That’s another problem.
A lot of leaders in the world, with quarterly reports and all the pressures that we feel in the stock market, or if you’re a publicly traded company, are only reacting to things that happen month by month. What people want and desperately need in a leader is the ability to see a year down the road, two years down the road, to have an overall vision for where the company is headed. I preached this over and over again to that entrepreneur that I talked to you about. “Where is the company headed? What is the brand? This brand has to adapt because tastes have changed from a few years ago.” He never listened to me. The ship went down. I would’ve saved the sinking ship. It was a key element.
All the chapters are important, but another chapter deals with knowing the zeitgeist, knowing the spirit of the times. Think of the times that we live in like a wave. It’s cresting and falling. A lot of people are riding that wave, or they’re behind it a little bit. They fall back. You want to be ahead of that wave. You want to be ahead of where the times are. You want to be five or six months a year ahead of where people are going. That’s genius level. That’s a true vision. You create something like Steve Jobs created the iPad that revolutionizes the tech world because you’re thinking a year or two years ahead down the line. I have a chapter on how to read the zeitgeist and how to understand the spirit of the times. I could go through all the chapters. To an entrepreneur, this should be like a big juicy steak for them.
Robert, this has been incredible. Thank you so much for your valuable time. You could see how much you enjoy having these conversations, how much you enjoy writing and talking about things that make a difference. I’m excited for our readers to read the book. Can you give out ways in which they can also follow you, to be aware of other things that you’re working on or if you’re active on social media? What’s the best way for someone to follow you?
I have a website. It’s PowerSeductionAndWar.com. Those are the titles of my first three books, The 48 Laws, The Art of Seduction, Strategies of War. There I have links to the book that I did with 50 Cent. I co-wrote a book with 50 Cent, to Mastery, to my new book, to my Twitter and Instagram accounts. That’s probably the best resource. There’s also a link if you want to try and email me as well.
Robert, thank you again for your time. I hope to talk to you some other time.
I would love to, whenever you want. I really enjoyed it.
- The 48 Laws of Power
- The Art of Seduction Mastery
- The 33 Strategies of War
- The 50th Law
- The Laws of Human Nature
- Robert Greene
- Twitter – Robert Greene
- Instagram – Robert Greene
About Robert Greene
Robert Greene is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, The 33 Strategies of War, The 50th Law, and Mastery.
In his sixth book, The Laws of Human Nature, he turns to the most important subject of all – understanding people’s drives and motivations, even when they are unconscious of them themselves.