Guest Column: The power of reframing in order to stay relevant: Jaykumar Hariharan, Executive Coach

If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change, says Hariharan

e4m by Jay Kumar Hariharan
Updated: Jul 15, 2017 8:25 AM

In an apocryphal story, there were limited photographs that were available for an election campaign of a presidential candidate, and the rights for the same were held by an agency. The quandary was that the campaign was running low on budget and they could not afford to pay the hefty syndication fee of the agency. The main spinmeister on the account soon figured out a way and wrote to the agency saying that since they would be using the photo for the upcoming campaign, the same would result in a lot of publicity for the agency -how much would they be willing to pay? As a result of this “Reframed perspective “the campaign was allowed to use the photographs free of charge! 


Entrepreneurs and Leaders from all walks of life realise that “the ability to reframe “is what sets them apart. A famous example was the RDF (Reality distortion field) effect that was used to describe Steve Jobs’s ability to extract the best out of his people. Leaders realise events are nothing without meaning anchored to them. Great communicators are masters at the art of reframing, they know how to motivate and empower people by taking an idea and converting that into a possibility. Possibility reframing is something we can all do. An experience has meaning only in the frame or context in which we perceive it, sometimes, we tend to perceive things based upon our experiences in the past. By changing these possible perceptual patterns, we can create greater choices in our lives. 


Context reframing and Content reframing 


Both alter our internal representation, by resolving internal pain and conflict and putting us in a more resourceful state. Context reframing is invaluable in business! Great innovations are made by those who know how to reframe problems into possible solutions. Think of the Chinese word for crisis which also signifies opportunity. Content reframing is about re viewing the same content with a different pair of lens like the story of a general who had to reframe his communication when his men were outnumbered and said “we are not retreating, we are only changing directions of advancing”.


How do some cultures reframe one half of the phrase “death and Taxes” – There isn’t any evidence of any culture reframing taxes in a positive way as yet: ) Moving on to death, whilst it is a sombre affair in most cultures around the world, it is reframed quite differently in many other parts of the world.


In Tana Toraja (Eastern Indonesia) Funerals are raucous affairs involving the whole village. They can last anywhere from days to weeks. Families save up for a lavish funeral, where a sacrificial water buffalo will carry the deceased deceased’s soul to the afterlife. Mongolian culture is famous along with Tibetan culture for sky burial which leaves the body of the deceased on a high unprotected place to be exposed to the elements and devoured by wild life completing the circle of life to be born again.


During a town hall where my coachee was addressing his team and opened up the floor to questions- this happened. Whilst my CXO coachee spoke about the need for infusing the organisation with an automation mindset to reduce cost, increase efficiency -he also spoke about hiring at the entry level and growing people through the ranks. One of  his team members saw this as a schizophrenic move and questioned the same. My CXO coachee deftly said that in his entire career, no leadership challenge was posed to him where he could results in one area at the cost of another. It was not an “either” “or” world -It was always going to be both, Leaders will to manage to manage paradoxes. Stress in running after this quarter’s numbers vs annual targets, proximal targets vs distal targets etc. This was a classic case of reframing to create newer possibilities, clear the air and move forward with renewed focus and energy.


Many politicians are champion spinmeisters! Reframing communication won Reagan his presidential debate, his age had popped up as an issue earlier and when the same threatened to happen again during the debate -he deftly replied saying that Age is not an issue and he will not use the same to talk about the rival candidate’s inexperience and youth, with that incisive move, he scuttled that narrative once and for all.


How does reframing help in changing behaviour in Social situations?


South Korea wanted to solve issues of accidents at traffic signals -They put up Red traffic lights that have a countdown delay- and it’s proven to reduce the accident rate. Road rage, impatience and general irritation are massively reduced when you can see the time you have to wait. In China, however, they applied the same principles to green traffic lights and that idea boomeranged as people realised that have only five seconds to go when they are 200 yards away  Btw the Koreans did test both and the accident rate goes down when you apply this to Red traffic lights and it goes up when you apply to green lights! Talk about reframing using elements of Time, Uncertainty and Safety



Great Leaders also reframe internal dialogues – A company that delivers more than 1.2 billon packages every year in over 220 countries and has been voted as the World’s most admired company was resuscitated when the leader reframed his decisions in the most audacious manner 47 years ago! This is the story of Fedex and its founder Smith. In the first two years due to rising fuel costs -Fedex’s funds had dwindled down to $5000 and Smith realised he didn’t have enough to fuel the planes. So, the desperate founder flew to Vegas and played Blackjack with the last of the company money and turned the $5000  into $27000, just enough for the company to stay in operation for another week. When he was confronted by a senior VP who said, “You mean you took our last $5000- how could you do that? Smith replied, “What difference would it make? Without the funds for the fuel companies, we couldn’t have flown anyway.”


Reframing helps in making those moon shots and is a huge leadership tool!


(The author is an Executive Coach, Speaker and Deep Sea Diver, not necessarily in the same order! If you liked what you read, visit for more!)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of

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