Leadership lessons from Confucius: waiting for the right price

right price

子貢曰:「有美玉於斯,韞 而藏諸?求善賈而沽諸?」子曰:「沽之哉!沽之哉!我待賈者也!」
Zigong said: “If you had a precious piece of jade, would you hide it in a box for safekeeping or would you try and sell it for a good price?” Confucius said: “I would sell it! I would sell it! All I’m waiting for is the right price.” (1)

Pricing is one of the trickiest tasks in business. Set it too high and you risk putting off potential customers. Set it too low and you risk leaving money on the table – not to mention attracting customers who don’t appreciate the full value of the product or service you are offering.

When starting a company or going freelance, it can be very tempting to set a low price or accept whatever your potential customer offers in order to get your business moving. The problem is that once you do this, it will be very difficult for you to obtain full value for your goods or services in the future. Better to hold out until you find someone who is willing to pay what you’re asking for. There’s no way you’ll be able to win a price war over the long term. There’ll always be someone who’ll be willing to go lower than you.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 13 of Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 9 here.

(1) Confucius was like a modern-day management consultant, offering his services to government clients among the multiple states that comprised China during his lifetime. Naturally, he preferred to work with high-class customers who were willing conform with his ethical values – though there were a couple of occasions when he was tempted by the lure of power and glory to work with less savory characters.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Yilan, Taiwan. You can read more about the rather convoluted history of this temple in this excellent article by Josh Ellis here.

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