Even though a lot of sales trainers will tell you that “Telling is not selling”, selling does involve a lot of telling. In many cases anecdotal is supposed to be bad and analytical good. However, salesmen by and large telling stories. Especially if they seem to come out as heroes in the story.

I heard one such story come back to me, and was amused. In the year 2001-2 there was a sales person (just about starting his life insurance career) sold a life insurance policy of Rs. 5 crores sum assured i.e. to say if the policy holder died during the tenure of the policy, the family would get paid Rs. 5 crores – as a term insurance. This was considered to be a really big policy sale and the whole organisation was reasonably excited. Then somebody must have exaggerated this and instead of a ‘pure risk’ plan as it was now called an endowment plan – which meant higher premium. Then people started tracking how much money this manager was making, etc. and in 2008 – I heard the story as a Rs. 5 crore premium in an unit linked plan! It was told to me saying – ‘You know he sold a Rs. 5 crore premium- in those days! I was stunned, because this particular company did not have an unit linked product at that point in time, but was reminded about Chinese Whispers and the story of the ‘Zen guru and the snake’.

The story goes like this. Once upon a time a man chanced upon a 3 foot snake in his backyard, so he took a stick and killed it. His neighbhor was very impressed seeing this – and rushed to tell his wife. Of course, as is the human habit, he made it into a ‘big’ snake. His wife immediately told a group of her friends “my neighbhor killed a 10 feet snake this morning. To cut a long story short, by the end of 2 days there was a ‘felicitation’ for the hero who had killed a 30-feet snake. One zen guru had just come from the neighbhoring town and looked at the ‘hero’ a little suspiciously.

The ‘hero’ was squirming – his lie was of course his silence – so the Zen guru wanted to be sure about the felicitation. So he asked the hero. The hero kept quite.

So the zen Guru asked the hero’s son. The hero’s son looked at the father and then at the guru. The son then asked the guru another question: ‘Does a dead snake grow?’ The guru said- No, of course not.

To which the son said – I saw the snake when my father killed it. It was only 3 feet long. If it has grown after that, I would not know!

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  1. This seems to me, like a perfect example of the mental models that Mr. Charlie Munger speaks about. It needs to be activated when we hear stories of something which happened long long ago…

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