The 50th Law

I’m not sure how I heard about this book. It may have been an Amazon suggestion. I do recall reading an article on it in the WSJ or Newsweek, it kind of grabbed me for some reason. The idea that Fifty (Curtis Jackson), if I may call him that, has some keen insights into building a business empire sounds pretty enticing to me. He teams up with a guy named Robert Greene on this book. It’s less a business book than it is a motivational book. And who better to do the motivating than Fifty?

Fifty was a drug dealer in the 90s with dreams of going conventional and getting into the music business. These dreams were on the brink of being realized until May of 2000 when an assassin shot him nine times. Not only was Fifty on the brink of death, but his record company dropped him after the incident, not wanting to be associated with that kind of violence. So Fifty responded by going at it alone and pursuing an unconventional mix-tape campaign. This got him recognized, which led to a new record deal, and eventually to wealth and fame on his own terms.

The 50th law  is a play on Fifty’s name and Greene’s previous work, The 48 Laws of Power. (That’s right, somehow 49 gets lost in the shuffle, did I miss something?) Fifty exemplifies the 50th law because he responded to all of the hardship and strife with a fearless attitude. That’s the point of the 50th law, we cannot control everything that happens around us and to us. But, quote, “there is one thing we can actually control—the mind-set with which we respond to these events around us.”

What follows are ten chapters that highlight the philosophy of Fifty’s fearless response to the hardship he faced. Here are the buzzwords from the ten chapters:

  1. Intense Realism
  2. Self-reliance
  3. Opportunism
  4. Calculated Momentum
  5. Aggression
  6. Leadership
  7. Connection
  8. Mastery
  9. Self-Belief
  10. Confront Your Mortality

Greene and Fifty walk you through each of these with detailed examples not only from Fifty’s life, but from many other high-achievers. And Greene throws in a bunch of his own references to  his “laws of power.” I thought it was pretty cool. The examples reflect kind of an edgy take on things.

Their are plenty of expected references to philosopher’s, politician’s and military men like Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, and Napoleon. But the best stories are about Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Malcolm X, and John Ford. I won’t go through each on detail, but I will highlight some of the best stories, quotes, and passages.

The first chapter on realism had a lot of relevance for me. I think there is stuff I’m going to use with my clients. I deal in facts, the financial and operating facts of a business. I agree that when you gather and analyze information and subsequently deal with it realistically to understand the root cause; you increase your chances of pursuing the right path. They have some great examples with Malcolm X and Napoleon to highlight this.

And they take it a step further, talking about how important it is to use those facts to predict the future, once again with realism. They say this:

It is a law of power, however, that the further and deeper we contemplate the future, the greater our capacity to shape it according to our desires.

That is what projections are used for in my line of work. The buzz words in corporate America are “if you can predict it, you can control it.” At this point it was shaping up to be more of a business book than I expected.

The second chapter about self-reliance slipped into more standard motivational stuff.

Understand: you are one of a kind. Your character traits are a kind of chemical mix that will never be repeated in history. There are ideas unique to you, a specific rhythm and perspective that are your strengths, not your weaknesses. You must not be afraid of your uniqueness and you must care less and less what people think of you.

I feel like I’ve heard and agreed with this before, but could never repeat it as eloquently. I’m continually surprised by the talents and ideas of people that I’ve known for decades, and it’s not because I’m not observant. It’s because the “chemical mix” is so random that generalizations are foolish. This chapter ties in with the one about self-belief where they say this:

Understand: the day you were born you became engaged in a struggle that continues to this day and will determine your success or failure in life. You are an individual, with ideas and skills that make you unique. But people are constantly trying to fit you into narrow categories that make you more predictable and easier to manage.

One of the best stories occurs in the opportunism chapter. It’s about Fifty himself. After he got shot, he defied the perpetrators with a song that I’m going to have to bleep out the title to:

It was called “F&*$ You,” the title and the lyrics summarizing how he felt about his killers—and everyone who wanted him to go away. Just putting out the song was message enough—he was defying his assassins openly and publicly. Fifty was back, and to shut him up they would have to finish the job. The palpable anger in his voice and the hard-driving sound of the song made it a sensation on the streets. It also came with an added punch—because he seemed to be inviting more violence, the public had to grab up everything he produced before he was killed. The life-and-death angle made for a compelling spectacle.

That’s over the top stuff. If iTunes was around then, I would have enjoyed this spectacle, but I wasn’t really listening to much music back in the early 2000’s.

Fifty/Greene go on to make the point that opportunists don’t just respond when the chips are down. Fifty’s real strength was that he would press on even when there was no pressure, when the world was calm. Because, after all, “true opportunists do not require urgent, stressful circumstances to be come alert and inventive.”

Let’s skip ahead to the chapter on leadership. One point that Fifty/Greene make in this chapter is that it isn’t so much skills and knowledge that promote leadership, but a certain “character and fearless temperament.” One example is the gifted director John Ford. Ford’s technical gifts were only a portion of his success, his confidence and fearlessness were the other main ingredients. Here’s a great story:

Once, when the famous producer Samuel Goldwyn visited the set, he told Ford he just wanted to watch him work (a producer’s way of spying and applying pressure). Ford didn’t say a word. The next day, however, he visited Goldwyn in his office and just sat silently in the chair by Goldwyn’s desk, glaring at him. After a while Goldwyn, exasperated, asked him what he was doing. He just wanted to watch Goldwyn work, Ford answered. Goldwyn never visited him again on the set and quickly learned to give him his space.

That is great stuff. I laughed out loud when I read this.

One theme that I want to revive is mastery. I talked about it early in 2009 but my actions didn’t follow suit. I think Fifty read the book Mastery also because he yells this the reader:


This is the essence of the book on mastery. They go on to say:

Understand: the real secret, the real formula for power in this world, lies in accepting the ugly reality that learning requires a process, and this in turn demands patience and the ability to endure drudge work.

Fire up! So be fearless, confident, diligent, and always be ready to walk away. This is a worthy read in the realm of motivational stuff.