Robert Green Interview – Mastery

Written by on August 3, 2013
Robert Greene | Interview | Bliss Magazine Online | 48 Laws of Power | Art of Seduction | Mastery | 50 Cent
Robert Greene is not who you think he is—at least not how the media portrays him. The guy’s written five best-selling books, has millions of fans and has done tons of interviews, yet they still get him wrong and make him out to be almost…villainous.
Not so! At Bliss Magazine we always bring you the real person. The real deal. It’s kind of our thing.
OK, and naked chicks—also our thing (for that click, HERE). But back to Robert Greene…
You most likely know Robert from his bestsellers, The 48 Laws of Power or The Art of Seduction. We spoke with him about his new book, Mastery (already a bestseller as well). He may be described in all sorts of nefarious ways in other interviews, but we found him to be thoughtful, sincere and a decent dude.
We are both based in Los Angeles, but traffic here is a bitch, so we sat down via Skype. Our webcams were both too low. So I ended up propping mine up with James Bond and Lord of the Rings boxed sets. Robert? In true writer fashion – an American Heritage Dictionary he’s had since childhood naturally.
Bliss: Robert Greene. Thank you for speaking with Bliss Magazine. What impression do you hope people get from reading Mastery?
Robert: The main thing is that when most people think of geniuses and people who achieve great things – they think there is something special about them, that they have some sort of innate talent, or maybe there’s a genetic component, or they have a bigger brain, or something like that.
I really, really wanted to seriously debunk what I consider a myth and show you that it’s not really about an individual, who’s greater than others—who’s exceptional. It’s really about people who maximize what the human brain is capable of—what every single person is basically capable of.

"It’s really about people who maximize what the human brain is capable of — what every single person is basically capable of."
--Robert Greene

What makes a genius and what makes a highly creative successful person is the fact that they go through a process that I describe in great detail in Mastery. They go through this process with a lot of rigor, intensity, speed. They’re dedicated and more persistent—maybe than others, but that there is nothing special about them.
That anybody. Anybody can achieve Mastery. I call it the ultimate form of power—the highest form of intelligence and power we humans can reach. It is within the grasp of any person as long as they are aware and conscious of this process that I’m going to describe to you in great detail.
Bliss: I notice many interviews you’ve done for Mastery end up talking more about The 48 Laws of Power. But Mastery is truly motivating stuff.
Robert: Yea, I get a little tired of that. It’s kind of annoying actually. In the interviews I talk about Mastery and they just go write what they want to write.
The Masters you’ve chosen have changed, and are changing, the world. Has researching and writing Mastery changed you or perhaps now how you approach your own life?
I think so. Each one of my books definitely has an effect on me. A lot of it has to do with the process that I go through.
I make these books almost like running a marathon. They are very intense experiences. I read hundreds of books as research. My whole goal when I write a book—whether it’s about power or seduction or strategy or mastery—is that I want to really nail it. I want to get the reader an in-depth a feel for what I am trying to describe.
So when I wrote Mastery, it was a very, very intense experience—particularly near the end, when I had a very tight deadline from my publishers to finish it within a couple of months but I still had two chapters to write.
I had to sort of find an extra gear inside myself and overcome some of my own fears and concerns. In writing chapters about creativity and mastery, which are the last two chapters in the book, I sort of was almost living what I was writing about because I was under so much pressure to do it.
So, I think it’s changed me in the sense that now I’m not just writing about Mastery as an intellectual thing. I really kind of felt what it feels like. I’m not saying I feel like I’m on the level of an Einstein. I don’t have those kinds of grandiose ideas, but I really kind of felt what I was trying to communicate to the reader in a very deep way. So I think it has changed me.
How much time did you spend researching and writing Mastery? The amount of research is astounding. How does this one compare to your previous best sellers? Was Mastery setting a new level of work?
Mastery does compare to my previous books. I generally read several hundred books for each book and this was like that, but Mastery was more complicated than any of the other books for the reason that I did a lot of research on science.
I read a lot about the neuroscience that goes into how the brain evolved, how we learn—books on creativity and learning. Things that were not easy reads, let me put it that way. I don’t have a science background.
Also, I’m writing about people like Albert Einstein and I had to master, in a basic way, certain things about the Theory of Relativity and explain how he got there so that a layman could understand it.

"I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing, but I think you could say there are no other books out there like my books."
--Robert Greene

And then I had interviews with nine contemporary Masters, which meant I had to take all of that information and combine it with all of the historical research. So the complexity of mixing all of that together and making it reach people—it was a new challenge.
I blogged about this. I treated it as if it were a Tour de France or marathon. I actually literally trained physically. I upped my exercise routines. The idea in my head was: This is an endurance race.
I went in knowing: In the last few months of writing, I’m going to get burned out. I’m going to be exhausted. I’m going to push past that kind of wall that I always seem to hit with books. And I’m going to be in such great shape mentally and physically that I’m not going to have that slowing down experience.
So a real physical and mental devotion. Given this enormous effort and the amount of research, did you research people who didn’t make the final cut? Was there anyone you had to leave out?
Well, the biggest person that I wanted to include, but couldn’t, was Steve Jobs, oddly enough. Now, I have a mix of historical and contemporary figures,
As I was writing, he was passing from the contemporary to the historical, unfortunately, but I couldn’t get to him. As my book was coming out, his biography was coming. I read it subsequently and realized, god, he’s illustrating all the ideas in my book! He would have been absolutely perfect.
So that was a regret and there were a few contemporary figures I wanted to interview that I wasn’t able to interview for various reasons, but I would say Steve Jobs was the main one.
We greatly admire Steve Jobs as well, for so many well-deserved reasons. In fact, Steve Jobs occurred to be as I was reading Mastery. One of the take-aways from Mastery—and correct me if I’m off the mark here—is that it’s a sort of blueprint for successful entrepreneurship—what it takes to create something out of nothing.
What I did with all the masters was go into their childhood, their early years, before they were famous—before we heard of Einstein or Steve Jobs or Mozart—to see the process as it began at a very early age.
The first chapter of the book is about discovering your calling in life. Your life’s task, which I see as the key step.
Looking at someone like Jobs–I do think the biography missed a few things that could have gone more in depth into his character, his psychology—you clearly can see, from a very early age, the seeds of who he was going to become later and how he naturally gravitated, not just to pure technology, but health too.
His father was a great craftsman. He liked to work with his hands, which is sort of how he [Steve] approached building any kind of business or product. You can see all the seeds of it in a seven or eight year old, which is what fascinated me in researching Einstein or Leonardo da Vinci or all the other people. Every idea in the book—Jobs has it all. So you’re touching on a raw nerve because I really wish I could have gotten him in.

Watch Part One


Do you think it's true that, among all your chosen masters, you can identify that skill early on—by seven or eight years old?
Yes. There are some people who show it a little bit later on. For instance, the great jazz artist, John Coltrain, who I consider one of the great musicians of our era, took up the saxophone when he was a young man, but he didn’t really love it. And then when he's 15 or 16, he goes to see a Charlie Parker concert and suddenly he realizes, Oh my god, this is what music could be like! And he discovers his calling.
So everybody’s different. Some people have a vague idea and suddenly they have a moment when they’re 15, 16 or 17 when it all comes clear … This is what I was meant to do with my life!
With Einstein, I maintain it’s already there when he’s five. Or Mozart. It depends. But usually in childhood.
There’s a really interesting part of the book where you make the point that, in the past, only people in the elite social classes had the luxury to pursue a career of their choice and then master a thing. And so, to paraphrase your words, that’s why there were so few masters in the past and more now. It’s a fascinating observation. With so many more Masters existing now, how did you go about identifying the contemporary Masters?
Well, there are several things. For historical figures it was fairly easy. You know, you’ve got a Thomas Edison or Henry Ford when it comes to technology or being an entrepreneur. You’ve got the arts–Da Vinci or music–certain people. That’s clear.
It was the contemporary ones where I had to create a kind of standard which was essentially: I wanted to see people who had a body of work, who had mastered their field. And I wanted to choose people from all different fields.
One of the points I’m making in the book is the human brain evolved over the course of six million years and it has certain qualities that we can pinpoint, that transcend the historical moment. That this is what the brain is developed for.

"…I’m going to get burned out. I’m going to be exhausted. I’m going to push past that kind of wall."
--Robert Greene

So, for instance, the brain is designed for focusing very deeply - when you focus deeply on a particular problem or subject for a certain amount of time – ideas come to you. You understand something—what makes it real, what makes it tick.
It’s an inevitable process that the brain is designed for—it transcends fields. So I wanted to show people certain examples of that: in an architect, in a robotics engineer, in a boxing trainer, in an artist, in someone born with autism—this is the human brain in action.
I also wanted people that had a good dramatic story I could narrate to illustrate this main idea that they are living examples of what the human brain can do when it goes through these key factors.
Once you dug into these backgrounds, which one surprised you the most?
They all had their own interesting elements. I interviewed the boxing trainer Freddy Roach because I wanted a sports figure in there, a strategist. He’s a brilliant strategist. He’s not someone who’s educated. I don’t even think he graduated high school. He hasn’t written books or anything like that, but in talking to him, I could see that this man is brilliant.
He’s brilliant in his field. He’s mastered competition. He knows the dynamics of competition, the psychology of your opponent—and what it takes to win.
It was interesting to see how brilliantly he could articulate this even though he’s not what you would classify as an intellectual. With masters, many people think of Einstein or whomever. But anybody in their field can be a master.
There’s a man who did the tile work on my house. He’s a master craftsman. There's nothing intellectual there either. He’s spent 20 or 30 years in his field of construction, building things, and he’s now reached a level where I consider him a Master.
And then Temple Grandin. A great story. I really wanted to show that a woman born with autism, who’s got everything against her–if she’s able to reach a level of Mastery in the sciences (She’s a professor of Animal Sciences) then there’s really nobody who should complain that they are not born with talent. I mean, she was born with nothing.
She’s an amazing person to meet because you can see all the things that she had to overcome. It’s the kind of thing where you couldn’t really know just reading books about her. You have to meet these people in person and get a feel for who they are and how they think and just who they are.
She’s not social like other people. She’s a little bit awkward, but she’s trained herself to become socially aware and know how to deal with people and be sensitive to other people’s emotions. You can see this is a person who overcame almost every obstacle in life. She just trained herself to become a very successful, high-achieving human.
Robert Greene | Interview | Bliss Magazine Online | 48 Laws of Power | Art of Seduction | Mastery | 50 Cent
Which of these Masters do you personally identify with most?
It’s interesting. One of the masters is Yoky Matsuoka, a robotics engineer involved in Silicon Valley green technology. She’s an absolute genius. She’s one of those people that won the MacArthur Genius Award.
She’s probably about 40 now. I really related to her because she was born in Japan and had a really rebellious, anti-authoritarian streak, which didn’t fit well with being in Japan. She played tennis. She was going to maybe be a tennis pro. She identified with McEnroe and Agassi–those were her idols.
And then she got into technology and identified with a guy at the MIT robotics lab who was also a sort of hardcore rebel. I liked her because she’s weird. She’s different and I’m sort of a weirdo myself. She doesn’t fit any category. She knows that. She knows that she’s different and she mines that difference to the ultimate end. That’s what makes a Master–these are people who you can’t say are like anybody else.
There’s no other person like Steve Jobs. There’s no one else like Yoky Matsuoka. She created her own name when she came to America as a child. She gave herself a new name, a new kind of identity.
She taught herself how to mix in with American high school culture–a way of looking at the world that’s different, that’s unconventional. One of the points in the book I’m trying to make is that to be successful in this very entrepreneurial world, you have to be somewhat original. You have to not be afraid of bringing out what’s unique about you, even if what’s unique about you might even seem weird to other people. That’s your source of strength. You should never hide. I really identified with Yoky Matsuoka because of that.

Watch Part Two



Since you’re a self-proclaimed bit of an oddball. What is your writing space like? Where do you do your work? Are you down at Starbucks?
Basically, I live in Los Angeles with my girlfriend. I have a Spanish Bungalow from the 1920s. I have this beautiful covered patio. I sit out there mostly when I’m writing—on the covered patio looking out over my garden. Or I’m in my office when it’s cold, like it is a little bit today.
And I’ve got my objects around me – photographs of my family and when I was a kid—things that I’m kind of obsessed with: my childhood and growing up in Los Angeles. So I’ve got furniture in my house and things in my room that kind of ground me in my early years. That kind of stuff.
Like that American Heritage Dictionary…
Robert Greene | Interview | Bliss Magazine Online | 48 Laws of Power | Art of Seduction | Mastery | 50 Cent
So you grew up in Los Angeles, but I understand you speak several languages and have lived throughout Europe as well. How have those experiences informed your work today?
In the book I talk about that everybody has to go through an apprenticeship and that’s what makes or breaks you in life. Usually it’s in your 20s. That’s when you learn how to deal with people, how to overcome your own weaknesses, how to develop skills in what you’re doing.
So for a writer, your apprenticeship is like, living. It’s going out and having different experiences and seeing the world—I mean, as wide a range of experience as possible.
I counted with my girlfriend. I’ve had over 80 different jobs. I never stayed in one job for more than eight, nine, ten months at a time—ranging from journalism to construction to a detective agency to being in Hollywood, roaming around Europe. I worked in a hotel as a receptionist in Paris. I taught English in Barcelona. I washed dishes in Greece. I worked at a television company in London.
Those experiences were very much a part of The 48 Laws of Power, my first book, about everything I learned about the world and people and the power dynamic. If I hadn't had that experience living in Europe and all those different places, I don’t know if it would have ever happened.

"For a writer, your apprenticeship is like, living. It’s going out and having different experiences and seeing the world — I mean, as wide a range of experience as possible."
--Robert Greene

What do you think sets you apart from other writers? Going through this apprenticeship of multiple life experiences—is that somewhat unique you think? How would you characterize yourself?
Well, I mean, I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing, but I think you could say there are no other books out there like my books. I was just thinking today, you know, I never get like a normal review in a newspaper or a magazine. I’ve never had a normal New York Times review or anything remotely similar– and I’ve written five books and they’ve all been bestsellers. The first book sold well over a million copies. It’s because I don’t fit in, I think, to the classic paradigm.
They’re self-help books clearly. I’m talking directly to the reader and I’m saying this is how your life could be. I’m trying to talk to you personally at the same time I’m dealing with a lot of history and a lot of ideas about the world and what it is to be a human being and narrating the stories of Leonardo DaVinci, or whoever it is.
It doesn’t fit into any category. So people don’t know what to do with me. I think, for better or worse, that’s what sets me apart from them. And it means I never will have a legitimate New York Times review, but I do have lots of readers and I’m grateful for that.
That was actually one of the things that struck me in the Guardian interview you did recently. What struck me was that it was making almost sensational, sound-bite comments about 48 Laws of Power. ("Is it evil?" And similar nonsense.) I thought, that’s unfair. It’s really the opposite. You as a person at the core must be the opposite to have recognized those things —
— to be offended by them enough to write a book about it in the first place.
I kind of came from another place. I found your work to be a reverse indictment of those qualities.
Yes, I think you’re on to something very interesting, but I think journalists by their nature can be very manipulative. They interview you, they’re very friendly, they’re very nice, they’re very intelligent and then they go and they write an article in which you’re made to be a caricature of yourself. And that’s manipulative. It’s a power play.
I’ve been a journalist. I was a journalist for several years in New York. I know the game. And so they don’t like a book that’s talking about that. It touches a nerve with them.
It calls them out.
Yeah. They’re constantly concealing their intentions, which is Law Number 3 in 48 Laws of Power. I could list other laws that they’re using all the time.
I’ve been on television shows like The O’Reilly Factor where he’s using different Laws of Power. They don’t want to think of themselves like that. They want to think they’re a journalist, they’re a writer, they’re trying to support some cause or whatever. But no, they’re in a business and they’re using a lot of these Laws of Power. It makes them uncomfortable [to be confronted with it], so I’m their whipping boy in many ways.
I’m the person they can trot out like Machiavelli or the book that’s “read by prisoners.” They’ll choose the one Law out of there that’s probably the most overt of them all and they’ll pull it out of context. It gets them—I’m used to sell the story.
Fine. I get a little tired of it but, the truth is, there’s a much more interesting story there if someone wanted to interview me about the ideas in the book, about where the world’s heading, about what’s happening in America right now. They want to talk about other things.
Well, maybe now with this new book Mastery, you’ve proven they're all off the mark, making unfair observations.
The other thing is they don’t know where to put Mastery in relation to The 48 Laws of Power, so I get that question a lot: “Have you mellowed? Are you no longer supporting the things in 48 Laws of Power?”
There’s a chapter in Mastery called Social Intelligence—about seeing people as they are. It’s saying that, even if you master something, you still have to be socially adept. You still have to understand what people are like. It’s a chapter that’s very much like The 48 Laws of Power. I’m trying to show that, to be a Master, you have to be emotionally and socially intelligent—not just intellectually intelligent.
But still they’re not able to fit this new book into the old book and that’s part of the confusion, so they just rely on talking about The 48 Laws of Power, which is fine.
So, what’s next for you? Have you considered going back to screenwriting or a movie?
We have several possibilities for turning some of my books into television material and movie material. I think I don’t want to talk about that right now.
And you know, I have another book project. I’m looking at the idea of taking that chapter I just mentioned on Social Intelligence and going extremely deep to explain human nature. I’m going to unveil to you all of the good and bad sides of human nature—how to read people and how to understand them. Sort of like giving you a codebook: How to decode all of that behavior that seems so puzzling to you in your work-world or in dealing with other people.
Here, these are the elements of human nature. That’s sort of the book I’m working on next.
OK, so here’s our curve ball, guy question. Now we know that you have a lovely relationship, so we don’t want to get you into any trouble, but hypothetically speaking, just how easy is it now to pick up chicks when they learn you’re a bestselling author?
Well, it’s a good thing and it’s bad. (Laughs.) You know, the good thing is, I have money. I’m successful. All that points in my favor.
The other thing that doesn’t work in my favor though is The Art of Seduction and the 48 Laws of Power, because I’m continually scrutinized. [The assumption is] I could never really be sincere and everything I do, including brushing my teeth, has some power motive behind it. So, if I don't call back, "Oh no! It’s a power game in play." It could be that my cell phone died.
So the good side is, I have that aura that can be very helpful and I talk about that in The Art of Seduction. On the other hand I’ve got this sort of mud that’s stuck to me that I have to deal with every time. So there’s good and there’s bad.
Mostly good though…
So what we think Robert is trying to tell you here is that if you have his book The Art of Seduction, you’d best hide it before you bring a girl over. And if you DON’T have the book, then WTF, no wonder you aren’t bringing any girls over…. Get it HERE.
Anything else, Robert? We are brushing up on our time. Anything you’d like to mention that we didn’t touch on?
I think that reading a book like Mastery gives you a way to evaluate where you are right now in your life. It’s something that’s perfect for young people who are starting out, but even if you’re 30 or 40 years old and things aren’t perfectly working out, you need to make a reassessment of where you’re going.
If you need to make a shift, it’s a book that can really give you clarity about how to shift into something that’s more aligned with who you are, with your inclinations and with that vocation I was talking about. Because I believe it’s an entrepreneurial world now.
You’ve got to take care of yourself. You’re going to be going through several career changes. You’re never going to be working at one job for years anymore, like my father did.
It’s the kind of book that’s going to help give you some clarity about the direction in life that will lead to something, where you can have sense of control. It will help you master, not only yourself, but your field.
Very well said. We could talk for hours—
Yes, we could.
—but I know you have limited time. Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.
You’re very welcome. Thank you. I really enjoyed that.

Watch Part Three


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