The story of the Manchester Shoe Company, told by Benjamin Zander in his book The Art of Possibility, neatly encapsulates the power of reframing and the significance of a positive mind-set. In the early 1900s, inspired by a desire to enter a faraway market, two traveling salesmen were sent as a beachhead into the region. A few days later, two telegraphs came back independently. One said, “Situation horrible. They don’t wear shoes!” The other said, “Glorious opportunity; they don’t have any shoes yet!”

Imagine what would have happened if the company had acted only on the first message.

 What a story.

The above anecdote is a perfect example of a reframe. Simply (or not so simply) looking and approaching a ‘problem’ (or should that be opportunity?) differently. If you want to change something, be it how you feel, how you do things or what you believe, the change always begins with you switching your thoughts and reframing how you see reality.

I decided to write this article after being reminded of another, albeit less beguiling story about management consultancy.

When going through a time of organisational change, a reframe is needed to move from fear to that of empowerment and optimism.


People fear change, and so instead of telling them ‘we need to change this business’ – which projects fear and negativity – we should instead reframe and ask them instead ‘what do you think would make this the perfect organisation?’.

‘How do you deal with change?’ is much harder than ‘how do we make this organisation amazing?’.

People are never short of ideas, and a simple reframe can make all the difference.

Successful reframes rely on understanding human behaviour and challenging the root causes of mind-sets that block change.

  • Moving from a ‘giving-customers-what-they-want’ mind-set to ‘helping them fully understand what they really need’ reflects a move from subordinate to peer.
  • Recognising that ‘honesty builds rather than destroys relationships’ reflects a shift from victimhood to mastery.
  • Choosing to believe that ‘power is expanded by sharing information, not that hoarding information is power’, focuses on abundance, not scarcity.

I could (and probably still will) write a lot more articles on reframing. Many of my most transformative discussions with my clients – and subsequent periods of intense growth – come after a discussion which leads to them reframing their thoughts.

Reframing comes about after three main goals are achieved:

  • Describing your situation as accurately as possible: Your negative mind loves to see reality darker than it is, especially when something negative happens to you. With reframing, you want to make sure you see reality as accurately as possible, including all the negatives and positives, but without big cognitive distortions.
  • Illuminating personal power: Just like your mind loves to see the reality darker than it is, it also loves to portray you as way less powerful than you really are. With cognitive reframing, you want to accurately understand your ability to cope with the event.
  • Brainstorming alternative views: You want to find better alternative views of what is happening to you. You want to seek a redemptive narrative. The redemptive narrative (frame) tells the story of a life where tough events also bring something good (with time).

A simple reframing exercise for time and task prioritisation

One more hour, one more pound

I use this reframing exercise frequently when clients are in limbo as to what to do next

  • Often overwhelmed with the number of things on their to do list
  • Sometimes dallying over the best next steps for the business.

A simple reframe is to ask;

  • What would you do if you had one more hour?
  • What would you do if you had one more pound?

This simple reframe no longer focuses on how to get more things done in less time, but a way to get fewer things done, but things of greater importance, in the time (or with the money) available.

If you want to chat over a problem (potential opportunity?) then a reminder that I make myself available every Wednesday for a free agency leaders’ surgery. Help yourself to my calendar, here.

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If you have something on your mind, a challenge you’re wrestling with or just want an alternative point of view, I’d be very happy to lend an ear and maybe help you start to unpick the issues.