At some level, everything is about selling.

Selling means making people do what you want them to do.

It means making them buy from you, making them want what you have to offer.

If you think of human interaction as a transaction, then you’ll see that most interactions ultimately come down to selling.

People only do what they want to, not what you want them to.

So if you want to get them to do something, you have to make them want to do it.

In other words, sell it to them – either with a positive incentive, something good they stand to gain, or a negative incentive, something bad they can avoid.

This essay is an attempt to “sell” something to readers.

The moment a reader loses interest, he’ll close the tab.

So I have to sell the essay, which means writing something some people want to read.

That’s one reason I’ve always rejected the idea that people have a “duty” to listen to a speaker.

It’s a stupid notion peddled by people dismayed by the fact that they can’t hold an audience’s attention.

No one is obliged to listen to you.

The onus is on you to deliver if you want their attention.

You have to sell.

If you’re giving a talk, and if you want the audience to listen to you, you have to sell the talk.

That’s why the best lecturers and professors aren’t just smart people, but also great entertainers.

It hardly matters that you have a huge amount of knowledge if you’re not able to keep anyone awake long enough to impart any of it.

The extent to which this holds true differs depending on your setting.

You’d expect academic conferences or dreary financial presentations to be higher on substance and less on show than other settings.

But it’s still worth remembering that even there you’re dealing with humans, and selling matters just as much.

What Selling Is

There are three aspects to selling.

What are you selling? This is the Product.

Who are you selling to? This is the Target Market.

How are you selling? This is your Marketing Strategy (or Communication)

All of these are related to each other.

It’s not a checklist where you tick off each answer and move on to the next.

Each determines the other.

You have to know what you offer, and you choose as your market those people who you think would want that.

If you write about ways to make money, you probably wouldn’t want to write for Buddhist monks.

So either you change your product, which means you write about something else, or you change your target market, which means you write for someone else.

Once you know what you offer, the next step is execution.

You have to provide what you thought you were going to offer, and what your market wants.

You might think you write well or your product is great, but what you think hardly matters.

It’s hard to be objective when you try to judge good writing or a good product.

In many ways, what the market says is what counts – especially in business.

If people are buying, it’s probably good. If they’re not, it hardly matters whether you think your product is great, because you’re not likely to stay in business long.

But it doesn’t always work that way. Plenty of awful books and products do well, and plenty of good ones don’t.

I think a better way to look at it is that it only makes sense to assess what you sell as “good” or “bad” in the context of the question “Who is your target market?”

It makes little sense to compare books or products solely based on the number of readers or users because different authors and sellers target different markets of different sizes.

A book heavy on finance is almost never going to sell as many copies as a romance novel and it’s unfair to compare the two, because the playing field isn’t level. The potential market sizes are vastly different.

It’s better to judge them based on their individual target markets.

So if the market you are selling to likes your work, you can assume it’s “good” enough to sell. Whether that’s good enough for you is a different question altogether.

If your market doesn’t like your product, you need to change at least one of either the product or the target market, or else you need to convince them they should like it.

And this perhaps is the core of selling. You have to show them the value of your product in a way they would understand.

You have to show them what you offer, and why they should want it. Show them not why you think it’s great, but why they should.

All of these are interrelated.

You could start off writing or making a product but finding out no one wants it.

And maybe you decide to change your product based on what the market is looking for.

Or you decide it’s more important to you to write or sell what you want. You won’t change your product for the market.

So you become a niche player and sell only to those who want what you have to offer.

Or you could find out that your product is fine but people don’t seem to know they want it – you need to change your packaging.

So you change the way you present your work such that that the audience can see why they should want it.

And underlying each of these questions is the more fundamental one, “Why are you doing this?”

Around that question resolves the answers to who the target market is, and also whether the market takes precedence over the product and the marketing.

If profit maximization is the goal, then product takes last place. Pick the largest market and sell to the lowest common denominator.

In this case, the target market is the universe – you want to sell to everyone.

Or, though it’s much more rare, design a brilliant product and the market will come almost on its own.

If you’re doing it for yourself, product probably comes first – write or build whatever you like, not what people want.

This is the target market of one – only you.

Everyone else is incidental.

That they happen to like the product is a fortunate coincidence, but it’s not an intended outcome nor is it a matter of consequence.

In between the two extreme target markets of the universe and you is where you navigate most of the time.

Should you dumb down your content to attract more readers?

Should you leverage your popularity to market yourself, or make fanciful claims to sell more?

That’s something better left to individuals to decide for themselves.

Selling with Empathy

I would put empathy as the number one trait needed to sell.

Empathy is simply the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and see things from his point of view.

Empathy isn’t a “nice” or “moral” trait; that might be sympathy.

Empathy is value-neutral. It’s a powerful force, for good or bad.

A demagogue would almost certainly have high empathy, because he knows what his audience wants and tailors his behaviour accordingly.

And so would a nice person, for he would know how to best help someone, rather than be that clumsy guy who only worsens a situation from the best of motives

Empathy means that you can put yourself in the place of a person in your market and see things from his perspective.

You can put yourself in his shoes, and ask the question: “Why should I buy?”

It’s important to ask that because most people only seem to want to sell; few think about why someone would want to buy.

And you have to ask that because no one will buy unless they have a good reason to.

You often hear people say you should eat this because it took me a lot of effort to make it or read my book because I spent hours writing it or wear something because I spent a lot of money to get it for you.

None of that is relevant.

Would you buy a laptop that doesn’t work if I told you I spent years designing it and it’s the first one I’ve ever made?

There’s no reason to.

The only parameter to buy it is if it gives you the value you’re looking for – a good graphics or a processor or memory or whatever. Whether I spent a decade or a minute making it is irrelevant.

The same applies to the examples of reading a book or eating a dish.

If you want someone to buy that from you, it’s stupid to emphasize how much effort it took you to make it.

That’s not how transactions work.

It’s far more effective to think from their point of view and show them the value they’ll get out of it.

If you’re asking for a favour – it’s better to describe what’s in it for the other person instead of pleading about how much it’ll help you.

It’s also possible to sell without empathy.

You might be able to get by without empathy if you have high standards that you can meet.

If you have high standards, you’ll hate to listen to boring speakers or read shallow fluffy books or use shitty products .

And you’ll try to deliver good content because you’ll hate to produce mediocre stuff.

That’s probably why great designers can dictate trends to the market, rather than following the market trends.

But I think empathy helps here too, in more ways than one.

If you’ve sat through useless lectures or trudged through terrible books, or been at the receiving end of horrible customer experience, empathy pushes you to try to ensure others don’t suffer the same.

And empathy helps you to market to people in the way they can understand, if that’s what you’re interested in – because even the best of products can find few buyers if people don’t know what it’s about.

Selling to People Different from You

Quite often, to make the sale, you have to take a path completely different from the one you would have taken yourself.

If you’re trying to convince a community of poor, uneducated villager to vaccinate themselves or send their children to school, you have to sell it to them in their language.

It might seem the most obvious thing in the world to us, but to them there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for their actions.

To change their actions requires convincing them, not preaching. And that’s not at all easy. I don’t think I know how to do this.

Two case studies show how it’s possible.

Akshaya Patra, an NGO tried to convince its members, poor village women, to bathe daily to maintain the hygiene of the food they cooked for children.

The dabbawallas, the famous tiffin deliverers of Mumbai, whose extraordinary punctuality and organization is world-famous, require tremendous commitment from their members to maintain their six-sigma plus standards.

Akshaya Patra succeeded not by preaching the virtues of hygiene but by using a language their audience bought – the first bite of the food has to be blessed and offered to God, and apparently you can’t be dirty when you make an offering to God.

The dabbawallas don’t see themselves as the equivalent of tiffin boys who carry food or even food delivery executives (the word “delivery executive” itself is the result of “selling” by marketing / HR folks).

They’re doing the work of God, delivering food to people relying on them, who but for their services would remain hungry.

Clearly, in both these places, someone knew how to sell well.



I have read your books and the book you recommended. I have few questions, if you can answer them, it will be great.

  1. In the book “Psycho-cybernetics”, he talks about creative visualization, what’s your opinion on that? I have tried it with some success, just want to know your experience.
  2. Have you read books like “the brain” or “incognito” where it talks about the role of already hard-wired machinery. After reading your book “beyond human” I have intellectually accepted and found my “fun-productive zone” but I don’t know-how, many times I end up spending lots of time in “fun but unproductive zone”. I have tried a lot, though certainly improved but nothing game-changing in becoming someone who can control himself and start doing things that are meaningful to himself. Any suggestions?
  3. You mentioned about “happiness is a state of mind”, did you meant the same thing as what is meant in “Psycho-cybernetics”? can you elaborate?
  4. Are you able to spend most of your time in a “fun-productive” zone, or do you sometimes end up wasting time like most of us? if you end up wasting time, how do you bounce back quickly?
  5. I have tried reading Nietzsche books, but I didn’t understand at all, I was able to understand “thus spoke Zarathustra” with help of a subreddit but it was only for few parts? how did you understand it?
  6. Can you update your reading list from time to time, most of the books on your list are simply amazing, it was a treat to read them.

1 – I’ve found it helpful. Visualizing breaks down a situation( like going for an interview, joining a new workplace or anything really) and you see it for what it really is. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

2- Not yet read them. You probably tell yourself you should be doing productive things but you end up doing things you consider unproductive yet fun. There’s no reason to do anything productive and there’s nothing wrong with doing unproductive things either, but you seem to feel you should be doing that. Maybe you should think about what you really want.

3 – I don’t think I ever used that phrase “state of mind”. I only mean it is a choice, something you practice and get better at. Logically I would prefer to be happy than unhappy, and I don’t like giving other people or circumstances the power to dictate to me to be unhappy.

4- No. I’ve written about it. Link is in the answer below.

5 – I didn’t understand most of it either; but that didn’t make the parts I understood any less valuable.

6 – Done. There’s a new page.




On one side you talk about the philosophy of Nishkama Karma i.e. desireless action from the Bhagwat Gita. It has deep meaning. From my understanding it means absence of desire for fruits of one’s actions. Focus on fruits of action stems from one’s EGO. As ego focuses on one’s self interest in terms of, what I can get from my actions? My interpretation says, getting rid of ego, helps in not thinking about fruits of actions. While focusing on process as a matter of duty.

While on the other hand, there are articles about management,finance,self interest etc that you wrote. It seems both things are far apart. As the essay of SELLING, it focuses on something which talks about self interest. Focussing on what do I want. How can I sell. It has focus on outcome.

How you able to blend these two things together. (Its obvious to say, you have blended it well enough to write about them. Your credentials say so.) There are multiple conundrums, paradoxes, contradictions- while we try to conjoin these two together. Will an average person be able to do this.


Thats great. On a fictional note : Inviting Bruce Wayne, he arriving on batpod or batcycle with roaring,thunderous sound. He introduce himself, “I am Batman” & appreciating our achievements. (BTW my favourite fictional character.) Although I fear, from somewhere Joker arrives & says, “I believe what doesn’t kill you simply makes you, stranger.” And also, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” Takes money from us and kills us. (All in a lighter note).

This sounds working for you. Keep doing. But I have reservations over daydreaming. Whenever we daydream,we may be doing it to set aside our insecurities of present. And this fictional story keeps returning back to us. Its okay, if same daydreaming thing doesn’t repeat overtime. This helps in detachment. I even discussed Nishkama Karma with people who give lectures on Krishna philosophy or Geeta to say. They say, follow the path. Deliberately do small things w/o expecting any rewards. Especially, help someone. It will become part of your life. This may be too much spiritual. But progress on path matters. It is not complicated as it seems. Also it is not as it seems. It is like simple & straightforward & Do what works.


I believe everything comes down to self-interest.
It’s never about “absence of desire”.
I prefer to think of it the way I read it in a translation – no attachment to the fruits of one’s actions.
It doesn’t mean no self-interest or no goal. You would never do anything but rot if you had no goals or desires.
It only means no fixation on the outcome. As in, not doing something solely for the results.
Once you decide your goals or desires, then forget about them and focus on the process.
It’s not about duty or things that meaning nothing or can mean whatever you want them to.

Shobhit Raina

Hi Pratyush, the structure of your articles has changed, is there is a reason behind that? Are you intentionally experimenting with a new way of writing?


No, I don’t really think about that.
Only try to express it as simply and in the minimum number of words.
I think the structure depends on the topic; you can’t do justice to every topic with the same structure.
Last couple of essays have been more abstract, where I seem to require slightly longer sentences to express an idea.

I believe in the “Form follows function” idea.
I don’t really think about the form, just try to meet the function in the best way I can.
The form takes its own shape based on that


sir ,can you come up with more articles on upsc preparations ?


Hi sir,in several places we have noticed one thing that you”focus on process”but sometimes when we fell that process are not going to in my favour (it’s mean outcome are not coming rather than input) then that process starts to fell very unbearable so we take support of ‘goal or desire’ and in this affair we are unable to justice with process which was the way to reach that goal .what should be done for give priority to process?

Anubhav Kumar

Thanks pratush.