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You can sell combs to monk



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The story of how to sell combs to monk is an age-old story that never fails to inspire me to become a better version of wealth builder. Most people regard it as a motivational story for salesmen to achieve sales target. But I see it as otherwise because the learning points can also be applied in investing, career development and entrepreneurship.

I have adapted the story for the sake of my followers. But before proceeding, readers must note that this article is not meant to mock any religion nor aim to make fun of any professionals. My objective is to inspire readers to learn how to be better wealth builders. In today’s context, this is important because hard work alone would get you nowhere in this competitive society.


Once upon a time, a merchant who owned a comb factory in Singapore wanted to penetrate the huge China. Thus, he advertised for a position of Regional Sales Manager in the newspaper. Understandably, many applicants applied for the job. Therefore, during the interview sessions, he asked the applicants on how they would sell combs to monks. Many of the candidates were stumped by his question because we all know monks do not need combs. Some of them also felt that he was mocking at them.

Eventually, three applicants impressed the merchant during the interviews with their attitude and they were dispatched to China to test out their strategies. After three months, all of them reported back to him with surprising results.

Candidate 1 told the merchant that he managed to sell a comb to a monk. Out of curiosity, the merchant asked how he did it. To this, he lamented “Every day and night, I traveled to all the temples in China and tried to sell the combs to the monks. But all of them rejected me. I almost gave up the challenge until one fine day when I met a young monk on the way down a hill. He was scratching his bald head like crazy and seemed to be in pain. So, I told him to buy a comb for him to relief the itch. He agreed and thus I manage to sell a comb to a monk!”

The merchant was deeply moved by Candidate 1’s hard work and perseverance. He was about to award him the job when Candidate 2 interrupted and said “Nothing fantastic about selling one comb. I managed to sell one hundred combs to a monk!” On hearing this, the merchant was shocked and questioned Candidate 2 on how he managed to achieve this feat.

Very smugly, Candidate 2 said “I visited many temples and was also rejected by the monks. However, I did not give up and instead, spend one day sitting at a temple to observe the worshipers. I noticed that the strong wind in the vicinity had made the worshipers’ hair looked messy. I told the Master of the temple that the worshipers should look prim and proper to show respect to Buddha. Thus, I recommended the Master to buy one hundred combs from me so that he could lend the worshipers the combs. He agreed and therefore I sold one hundred combs to a monk!”

Extremely impressed by Candidate 2’s ingenuity, the merchant was about to award him the job when Candidate 3 interrupted and said, “I managed to sell ten thousand combs to a monk.” On hearing this, the merchant was stunned beyond words.

Calmly, Candidate 3 explained “I also visited many temples and was rejected by the monks. However, one day, I visited a huge monastery and an idea struck me during a chat with the Senior Master, who mentioned that he was heartened that so many worshipers visited his temple over the years. He had always wanted to repay their faith but did not manage to figure out how to do so. To this end, I proposed that he bought ten thousand combs from me and to give a comb as door gift for each worshiper. On each comb, I also suggested to engrave some wordings as a form of blessing from Buddha. The Senior Master agreed and henceforth bought ten thousand combs from me on the spot.”

Needless to say, the merchant hired Candidate 3 on the spot. The experiences of the three candidates provide a few learning points.

Firstly, all of them comply with the rule of selling combs to monk and none of them took short cut. Yet the outcomes were remarkably different because of the strategies they took. For Candidate 1, his approach was to work hard and passively waited for opportunity to arrive, which it did. Despite yielding no results, he did not learn from his failures and had not thought of changing his game plan.

Very often, I look around me and saw many of friends pursuing the path of Candidate 1. They worked day and night, slogging their guts out for their companies thinking their hard work would be rewarded. They were waiting for that one golden opportunity to achieve that big break in their career. But what they didn’t realize is that companies don’t need you to work hard for them. They just want people who are smart and can provide business solutions for them. Innovative workers who can deliver will always shine more than those who arrive work on time. So, the key is to really to “show up”, instead of just being punctual at work. Make your presence count.

Similarly, when it comes to investing, avoid taking the path of Candidate 1. Many investors buy stocks and lose money to the stock market. This is very common and I have lost money in stocks as well. But how many of us have paused to refine our investment strategies like Candidate 2 and 3? It is one thing to encounter setback but another thing to learn from mistakes. You would continue to throw good money after bad if you don’t learn

Secondly, the story in this article illustrated how important it is to be innovative in order to make money. Conventional wisdom is that investors should adopt a buy and hold strategy on blue chips with history of rich dividends. In doing so, wealth builders adopt a “buy low and sell high” approach in the hope of capital appreciation and dividend collections. However, the slew of privatizations in Singapore exchange changed the game in recent years. Just think of NOL, SMRT and Osim.

Read my favorite stock articles:

  1. Neptune Orient Lines: End of another Singapore icon
  2. The right time to invest in SMRT?
  3. End of fairytale for OSIM

Start to create opportunities by examining the way you look at different stocks and learn to refine your investment strategies like Candidate 2 and 3. Buying and holding a stock without analysing the company’s growth outlook can be potentially harmful. Hence, always make an effort to monitor your stock investments and set entry and exit levels. To stay ahead, you need to think out of the box and be innovative in your strategies.

Sometimes, you need to interact with others, like what Candidate 3 did, in order to keep abreast with the market dynamic. If you keep to yourself like what Candidate 1 did, the ideas may not flow. So, learn to speak with the others, especially the senior management or those who are rich and powerful. These people might provide you information or insights not known to the rest.

Hope you can join me in my wealth building journey. You may subscribe to my blog to receive notifications of new articles.

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Magically yours,

SG Wealth Builder

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Updated: June 23, 2017 — 1:39 pm


Add a Comment
  1. Hmm how about selling ice to eskimo??

    I guess have to process the ice, turn it into lifestyle thing…. ice kachang …. hahaha!!!

    Or club / pub / disco / restaurant etc in swanky ice buildings with ice furniture & ice fixtures & ice decorations. Ice becomes a by-product to become means to an end. It becomes setting for exotic, unique atmosphere, exclusivity, experience.

  2. Hi Sinkie,

    Yes indeed. Nothing is impossible in life if you set your heart and mind into it.
    Hope you find the article useful and subscribe to my blog email notification for free.
    Look forward to your support.


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