This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Greatest Salesman in the World" by Og Mandino. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What is the purpose of the 10 scrolls in The Greatest Salesman in the World? What were the writings inscribed inside?
The 10 scrolls from The Greatest Salesman in the World are the fictional medium for delivering the ten principles of selling, or more accurately, of character-building. The story “sells” the premise that becoming a great salesperson means developing a better, stronger version of yourself through good habits, discipline, perseverance, and self-control.
Below is a brief summary of Og Mandino’s ten character-building lessons contained in the scrolls.
Scroll #1: Good Habits Are Key to Success
The first of the 10 scrolls from The Greatest Salesman in the World extols the virtues of good habits, noting that they are what separates those who succeed from those who fail. All humans are slaves to their habits, so it’s much wiser to develop and maintain good habits than bad ones.
Each day gives us a new chance to destroy bad habits and start good ones, and the easiest way to do this is to replace bad habits with a better alternative. If you indulge in good habits all day, there’s no time or space for bad habits. For example, if you want to sell more widgets, then fill your waking hours making sales calls rather than with frivolous pastimes. Repetition is the key to forming good habits—constant practice makes any task easy.
Scroll #1 also lays out the first good habit you should adopt—the habit of reading each scroll for 30 days, three times a day, silently in the morning and at noon, and aloud in the evening. After 30 days, you can move on to the next scroll. This repetition will reinforce the scrolls’ lessons until their roots are anchored firmly in your unconscious mind.
Say you want to eat healthier meals, but you begin each morning by stopping at the fast-food drive-thru on the way to work. Replace this bad habit with a better one—get up 15 minutes earlier and make yourself a delicious, healthy breakfast. If you repeat this practice over many days, it will become a normal part of your routine. You will be a slave to a good habit rather than a bad one.
Scroll #2: Approach Others With Love
The second scroll reminds you to project love to everyone and everything around you. Eliminate negativity, pessimism, criticism, and ill will from your thinking. Remember that every person you meet is valuable in their own way, even if their admirable qualities are hidden. Treat them with love, appreciation, gratitude, and respect. (Shortform note: The TV personality Mr. Rogers used to say there isn’t anyone you can’t love once you’ve heard their story.) Even people who don’t like you may soften up if you treat them with love and understanding.
Frame your thinking and actions from a loving heart:
- Actively search for goodness in others
- Resist the temptation to criticize
- Express joy in other people’s achievements
- Praise and flatter even your enemies so they become your friends
While you’re loving everyone else, remember also to love yourself. Scroll #2 reminds you to treat yourself with kindness and respect—keep your body clean and healthy, your soul pure, and your mind positive.
You think your colleague is arrogant and overbearing, and you avoid him as much as possible. Tomorrow, seek him out and ask him a question about his family or work, or pay him a genuine compliment. Even words as simple as “that’s a great tie you’re wearing” can be a loving gesture. Genuinely loving words and actions may turn this difficult person into a valued friend.
Scroll #3: Persevere Until You Succeed
Life has a way of testing us in myriad ways, making perseverance a key success strategy. It’s also key for becoming a great salesperson. Scroll #3 tells us that each attempt at selling is like an axe striking at a mighty tree. The first, second, and hundredth strike may do little or nothing, but if you keep swinging the axe, the tree will eventually fall. You’ll close the sale.
When a customer says “no” to buying your product, do not see it as a failure. Reframe all failures as challenges. Reject the concept of failure—anything you might call a failure can just as easily be labeled an obstacle or a learning experience. Remove words like “quit” and “cannot” and “hopeless” from your vocabulary. A great salesperson is never daunted by “no” because “no” is just a stepping stone to “yes.”
Simultaneously, also remember that perseverance requires patience. Success rarely comes at the start of a project; it usually comes after overcoming various obstacles along the way.
Even after a full day of hearing “no” from potential buyers, a great salesperson doesn’t allow herself to give up. When you’re weary at the end of the day and want to go home, challenge yourself to make one more sales call. Every single call is one step on the journey to making a sale.
Scroll #4: Your Unique Qualities Make You Valuable
Understand that you are unique in the world. Yes, there are 7.6 billion humans on the planet, but only you have your very individual set of talents, strengths, and assets. Be confident in those unique qualities and know that you have something to give to the world that no one else has. Work at increasing your unique potential, and remember that you will excel by being true to yourself.
You’re an introvert, and you’ve always felt a bit out of place among your sales department colleagues who are chatty, fast-talking extroverts. You often worry that your quieter personality makes you less successful at selling. But flip that around—your introversion may be your greatest strength. Many customers will trust your quiet, serious nature and prefer buying from you than the stereotypical glad-handing salesperson. You listen carefully to what your customers want instead of pushing your sales agenda, and your customers value that.
Scroll #5: Your Time Is Precious
Aim to make each day the best day of your life. Time is a rare and fleeting gift, so orient your mind toward the present and cherish each hour of every day. Don’t defer your dreams by procrastinating, ruminating on the past, or daydreaming about the future. Live well now—today is a gift that if squandered, you can never get back. All you have is now—this moment—so use it to your advantage.
Never put off until tomorrow what you could do today. Every morning, ask yourself what matters most to you today, what will feel like a worthy accomplishment when the day is done. Maybe it’s sticking to your new healthy eating regime or making your elderly mother feel great on her birthday. Or maybe it’s finally gathering the courage to make that sales call you’ve been putting off. Time has a way of slipping away from us—today will be relegated to history in a mere 24 hours—so use this day to your best advantage.
Scroll #6: Control Your Emotions Through Positive Action
Take charge of your emotions. Every day you awaken in some kind of mood, and it’s probably different from the mood of yesterday morning or last night. Emotions ebb and flow. Don’t let yourself toss in the rough waves of your moods or be a slave to the vagaries of your emotions. You can control your moods by taking specific actions.
Decide that you will make your own internal weather. Learn what triggers your emotions and take steps to control, alleviate, or negate those triggers. For example, when you’re feeling sad, share a joke with someone. Scroll #6 states that actions combat moods: “If I feel incompetent, I will remember past successes” and “if I feel depressed, I will sing.”
This scroll also adds a final caveat: Make allowances for other people’s emotions. Understand that human emotions are like wheels, constantly spinning. When someone isn’t behaving well, give them the benefit of the doubt—they may not have learned to master their emotions.
When Sharon opens her email inbox and finds it full of customer complaints, she gets upset and loses motivation to work. Then she feels terrible because she’s not productive, and her mood sinks lower. To combat that cycle, she decides to take action—she will not check her inbox until after she’s completed three solid hours of productive work in the morning, which will make her feel good. Then she can tackle the complaints after lunch without letting them derail her.
Scroll #7: Laughter Is Powerful
Scroll #7 states that laughing at the world is good medicine, and laughing at yourself is even better. Humans are far from perfect, so we need to stop expecting perfection of ourselves. Don’t fixate on life’s minor problems, and don’t beat yourself up for making mistakes.
Laughter has a way of reducing problems to a smaller size; a sense of humor improves almost any situation. Cultivate a light-hearted perspective so that small annoyances don’t get the better of you. On the rare days when your troubles are too heavy for you to laugh at, repeat four words to yourself: “This too shall pass.” Situations in your life are constantly in flux, so whatever is true now will be different in the future. Neither bad news nor good news is permanent.
When Jamie drove away from the gas station pump with the hose still attached to her car, she felt ashamed of her absentmindedness and “dumb mistake.” She decided not to tell anyone about the embarrassing incident. But a week later, a friend happened to mention that he got distracted at the gas station and did the exact same thing, so of course Jamie confessed. The two friends roared with laughter, and Jamie felt the joyful release of making fun of her own foibles. She decided right then to admit that she’s not perfect and learn to laugh at her mistakes.
Scroll #8: Compete Against Yourself for Continual Improvement
Strive to improve yourself every day. You have a purpose in life—to grow, progress, increase your skills and knowledge, and make yourself better in every way. Your life’s work is to nurture your body and mind so that you can achieve whatever you yearn for.
You can constantly increase your value by setting goals, meeting them, and then setting new, more ambitious goals. You know exactly where you want to go, so set goals for every day, week, month, and year. Keep your goals at the forefront of your mind.
Never rest on your laurels or become complacent with where you are in life. Always aim higher; it’s much better for your reach to exceed your grasp than to aim low and easily attain your goals.
Last week you planned to sell $10,000 worth of merchandise. You met that goal, but instead of resting on your laurels, this week you set a goal of selling $11,000 worth of merchandise. You keep challenging yourself and aiming higher. (Or a non-sales example: Last week you went to the gym three days a week. You met that goal, so this week you’re aiming for three gym workouts plus one yoga class.)
Scroll #9: Take Action
Dreams, plans, and goals are useless if they aren’t followed by action. Scroll #9 instructs us that the most carefully drawn map can’t carry its owner along a trail, and a wisely written scroll can’t do the work of earning money. Only action matters.
Taking action separates you from failure—you only fail if you do nothing. Procrastination, which stems from fear, is the enemy of achievement. Condition your mind to avoid procrastination by simply acting instead of hesitating. Develop the habit of leaping without thinking too much or too hard before you leap. The only way to take advantage of today’s opportunities is to act now. Use affirmations to develop an action orientation—repeat the mantra “I will act now.”
Students often procrastinate on their assignments, but they aren’t necessarily being lazy. They procrastinate because they fear failure—they’re afraid they aren’t smart enough to do the assignment well. But procrastinating makes any job harder because it enlarges and increases fear. During the period when the student is not doing the assignment (they’re procrastinating by doing some other activity), they’re building up negative thoughts about their ability to do it. When they finally sit down to work, they’ve made a mountain out of a molehill, and the assignment seems insurmountable. Students who dive into their work immediately will have an easier time completing it because they don’t allow their fear to expand.
Scroll #10: Pray for Guidance
Success requires humility and an understanding that no one gets to the top without help from others. You aren’t invincible or almighty, so pray to a higher power for guidance. You don’t necessarily need to believe in God to pray—all earthly creatures cry out for help when in trouble. Don’t pray for handouts or outcomes, but gracefully acknowledge your own humility by asking for advice and wisdom to help you move toward your goals.
You’re having a personality conflict with your boss. You believe she micro-manages you and doesn’t appreciate how hard you work and how skilled you are. You have to hold yourself back from losing your temper, and you’re starting to wonder if you should quit and find another job. This is a good time to pray for guidance. You don’t know what’s the best course of action, so ask for help. Pray to someone or something bigger than you for help in finding and walking the right path—either working through your problems with your boss or moving on to a new job.
———End of Preview———
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- An allegory for how to live your life more successfully
- 10 principles that can make anyone a great salesperson
- How to become a better, stronger version of yourself—salesperson or not