Instruments of Power

There are four instruments of power: Military, Diplomacy, Economy, and Information. In national strategy, these are the tools that a nation uses to expand and protect its influence. The scale is not limited to a nation, however.

We can understand and make use of these instruments of power in our own lives. By cultivating a mastery of the four instruments of power we become both

  • an unstoppable force, when moving towards our future, and

  • an immovable object, when under attack.

Let's discuss what they are and how they're used.


The military instrument of power is perhaps the easiest to grasp. Its development is also the easiest to postpone and delay. Don't fall into this trap. While active use of our military capability is far less frequent than that of the other instruments of power, its passive use as a conflict deterrent is critical and exhibited daily.

The military capability is our ability to defend ourselves, and it's characterized by the following attributes:

  • Physical Strength

  • Ability to Fight

  • Strategic Capability

  • Rhetorical Capability

  • Execution Capability

Cultivation of the Military instrument of power gives us peace to do the work we need to do to move forward with our vision of the future. It's in our fist when violence is threatened against us or against those in our care; it's in our tongue when our credibility is put under threat; and it's in our mind when our pursuit of the future is undermined. It's subject to Just War Theory, and is exercised only to the minimum extent required to achieve a Just goal. In long term environments, its use has a reprisal and denial deterrent effect on observers.

To see how this instrument might be used, imagine the following situations:

  • The subway stops under the east river. Delays. Someone gets out of their seat and starts yelling and threatening the other people in the subway car.

  • A coworker who wants more control over the future of a high impact project in your charge. You've been playing fair, but they don't return the courtesy. They surprise you by calling attention to your weaknesses publicly and actively blocking your ability to move forward by persuading leadership to reallocate your resources.

  • Your child uses the social pressure inherent in a public venue to make a scene. The scene is designed to coerce you to bend to their will and whim.


The diplomatic instrument of power is our ability to create peace using words and deals. It's characterized by the following attributes:

  • Attitude of Abundance

  • Negotiation Capability

  • Persuasion Capability

  • Reputation for Fairness

  • Empathy and Listening

Cultivation of the Diplomatic instrument of power allows us to disarm ideological, egoic, and irrational resistance to positive outcomes. It gives us the ability to see past winning and losing into mutually beneficial ends to conflict situations. It allows us to rebuild frayed bonds among family, give gifts and do favors for others without making them feel beholden, and attract desirable people into our lives. In combination with a credible Military capability, a powerful diplomatic capability can provide a carrot and stick for any situation — reward for good behavior and punishment for bad.

Imagine the following situations where the Diplomatic instrument of power would be useful:

  • After a difficult personal event, a critical employee or coworker has spiraled into a pattern of negative thought and is spreading cynicism throughout the team.

  • At thanksgiving dinner your estranged overly-political relative is finally invited back. During dinner they get triggered by an offhand remark someone makes.

  • An employer offers you a job, but for far less compensation than you were expecting.


The economic instrument of power equips us with the wisdom to understand when to say “No” and when to say "Yes".

It's characterized by the following attributes:

  • Investing Capability

  • Budgeting Capability

  • Time Management

  • Perception of Inefficiency

  • Capability to Navigate Complexity

Cultivation of the Economic instrument of power allows us to understand the value of our resources, and control their allocation such that we use them efficiently. This includes allocation of our most valuable resource, our time. The economic instrument is evident in our ability to treat our loved ones on special occasions without stress; it's in the commas in our bank account of course, but also in our ability to give intelligently; it's in our understanding and management of risk, when others are focused primarily on reward.

It's not hard to imagine the economic instrument in simple cases, but others are less clear:

  • You applied for a new job because your wife is pregnant. Congrats, you got the job. It's more pay and significantly more responsibility. Your current job is less pay but consistent and you can do it on autopilot.

  • An acquaintance of yours from back in high school posts on instagram that they just bought a new house and a new car after investing in $XYZ 's stock IPO. You were always smarter than them. You look up the stock on Robinhood.

  • Your boss treats you with disrespect. It's starting to keep you up at night seething. He knows he can do this because he pays you a lot and expects your best efforts. Meanwhile an old friend is starting a new company. He tells you he wants you to join and that your boss's behavior is unacceptable.


The informational instrument of power is the most mysterious and perhaps the most powerful. It's defined by our ability to alter our image in the minds of others. In the wrong hands, this capability will be used to the detriment of the innocent, and therefore must be restrained by a strong inclination toward positive outcomes.

The hallmarks of a developed Information capability are:

  • Control of Others' Perception and Expectations

  • Clarity of Communication

  • Learning and Research Ability

  • Psychological Influence Capability

  • Secret-keeping

Mastery of the Informational instrument of power gives us the ability to reveal to others who we really are. Its domain is the minds of others. It's the key that frees great ideas from the prison of an inarticulate mouth; it's a sense of safety and trust given to others before you have met them; it's the ability to identify, understand, and counteract when we are being manipulated or when we see someone being manipulated. The strong will deploy this capability to light fires in the hearts and minds of others. The weak, under the military umbrella of the law, will use it to assemble masterful asymmetric strategies designed to control the thoughts of the uninitiated and extract value from them.

Imagine the information capability at work in these situations:

  • The woman (or man) of your dreams walks into the room. Something in you makes you believe that it's a once-in-a-lifetime event.

  • More and more of your time has been creeping into work. Your current responsibilities were not in your original job description, yet when you discuss with your boss you walk away feeling like you are deficient and need to put in even more work.

  • You never used to be political. Nowadays you find yourself engaging in debates almost daily, getting triggered over offhand remarks, and feeling the urge to literally fight for the causes you support.


These are the four instruments of power. When used in conjunction with each other, they are force multipliers. We can use them to create strategies that devastate opposition, build up the success of our allies and teammates, and deter bad actors.

A side effect of cultivating mastery of the four instruments of power is calm, a sense of purpose, and a persistent belief in the future.

And glowing faintly in the calm, the realization that you were always the force coming to save you.

➥   Wenhan Zhang (winterbreeze) started this thread 8 months ago 0 responses.

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