Law 17: Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability


Humans are creatures of habit with an insatiable need to see familiarity in other people's actions. Your predictability gives them a sense of control. Turn the tables: Be deliberately unpredictable. Behavior that seems to have no consistency or purpose will keep them off- balance and they will wear themselves out trying to explain your moves. Taken to an extreme, this strategy can intimidate and terrorize.

6 Ways to Keep Your Opponent Off-Balance

1. Appear to have no clear strategy.

2. Scramble old patterns.

3. Alter your behavior, to improvise and overcome the weight of routine and habit

4. Unsettle those around you to keep the initiative on his side

5. Strike without warning, to make others tremble when they least expect it.

To illustrate this law we will use the game of chess. Chess, contains the concentrated essence of life: First, because to win you have to be supremely patient and farseeing; and second, because the game is built on patterns, whole sequences of moves that have been played before and will be played again, with slight alterations, in any one match.

Your opponent analyzes the patterns you are playing and uses them to try to foresee your moves. Allowing him nothing predictable to base his strategy on gives you a big advantage. In chess as in life, when people cannot figure out what you are doing, they are kept in a state of terror—waiting, uncertain, confused. It is a device that the powerful have used for centuries

Scrambling your patterns on a day-to-day basis will cause a stir around you and stimulate interest. People will talk about you, ascribe motives and explanations that have nothing to do with the truth, but that keep you constantly in their minds. In the end, the more capricious you appear, the more respect you will garner. Only the terminally subordinate act in a predictable manner!

2 Reasons that ‘Predictability’ Will Work In Your Favor

1. It sets up a smoke screen, a comfortable front behind which you can carry on deceptive actions.

2. It allows you on rare occasions to do something completely against the pattern, unsettling your opponent so deeply he will fall to the ground without being pushed.

In 1974 Muhammad Ali and George Foreman were scheduled to fight for the world heavyweight boxing championship. In a press conference before the big fight, he said he was going to change his style and punch it out with Foreman. No one, least of all Foreman, believed this for a second. To everyone's amazement, Ali did exactly what he had said he would do.

As Foreman waited for him to dance around, Ali went right up to him and slugged it out. He completely upset his opponent's strategy. At a loss, Foreman ended up wearing himself out, not by chasing Ali but by throwing punches wildly, and taking more and more counterpunches. Finally, Ali landed a dramatic right cross that knocked out Foreman.

The habit of assuming that a person's behavior will fit its previous patterns is so strong that not even Ali's announcement of a strategy change was enough to upset it. Foreman walked into a trap—the trap he had been told to expect.


Unpredictability can work against you sometimes, especially if you are in a subordinate position. There are times when it is better to let people feel comfortable and settled around you than to disturb them. Too much unpredictability will be seen as a sign of indecisiveness, or even of some more serious psychic problem. Such power should only be used judiciously.