A $20M umbrella stand

Recently I heard a story about a 15th century Ming Dynasty jar that was sold at auction in 2016 for more than US$20M (read about it here: https://www.christies.com/features/My-highlight-of-2016-A-Ming-Dynasty-Dragon-jar-7984-3.aspx).

The large jar had been bought by a French family in the early 1900’s and, over time, its value had been forgotten until it was regarded as merely a “decorative object”.

The bombshell with this story is that the family had parked the Xuande period masterpiece by the front door and was using it as an umbrella stand! They simply had no idea of the value.

Sometimes I see this error in negotiations, when people make assumptions about what the other party values.

This is best explained in the classic story by Roger Fisher & William Ury about two sisters quarrelling over the last orange. When they can’t agree who will have it, they cut the orange in half; one sister eats the flesh and throws the peel away, while the other removes the zest for a cake she is baking and tosses the rest away.

Just as each sister has only guessed what the other values, so negotiators often leave money on the table because they presume to know what the other party prizes.

Now that its value has been exposed, I doubt the Ming Dynasty jar is still being used as an umbrella stand. Likewise, the two proverbial sisters are unlikely to squabble over the last orange without first checking why the other wants it.

When negotiating, try to uncover what the other party values – it might surprise you and even improve the outcome.