The Power of Frames

social dynamics entrepreneurship

I recently read Pitch Anything by Mr. Oren Klaff and one of the coolest concepts in the book was the idea of “frames.”

A frame is basically the set of beliefs, contexts, and assumptions that implicitly sit behind everything you communicate. The author argues that when two people meet, their frames eventually “clash” and that only one frame can win out. This concept was also discussed in The Game by Neil Strauss, but it was presented there in the context of attracting girls, not clients.

Anyway, after I finished reading Pitch Anything, I have been blessed with a special insight into how I and others think, and to the social dynamics underlying most business transactions.

Take sales, for example. When I first started out doing sales, my mentality was always about understanding what the client was saying as precisely as possible and, to the greatest extent possible, providing him with exactly what he requested. But it turns out that’s not the best way to do business. Often times, I’ve found, people respect when you challenge them because they see it as an opportunity for growth. I realized one day that with myself, when someone challenges me head-on, I find them really interesting and then start engaging about why they disagree.

So, basically, I stopped unconditionally accepting the frame of my client, and started to present my own frame. I don’t have to “win” the frame discussion, but at least today I get to mentally decide what I want to do and recognize what’s happening.

Another example is when I was out raising money for Omedix. In that context, the frames concept was ESSENTIAL.

I don’t know why, but somehow when you’re asking for money from someone the default view is skepticism. The objective is not to reinforce your already esteemed reputation, but to challenge the notion that you in fact have no idea what you’re doing and are stupidly pursuing a worthless idea.

And there it is again, the frame game. Either I agree to accept the investor’s frame — that I’m actually quite clueless and would be a terrible investment — or they eventually come around to accepting mine — that I’m special and they’ll be very happy a few years from now that they invested.

I remember one investor in particular — for whom, incidentally, I have great respect and have learned a lot! — told me that he thinks our market is too crowded and too mature, and there’s just no opportunity left. That was an assumption with more assumptions and beliefs underlying it that had to be challenged before we could do business together. In that case, I was able to respond in writing, and so I took the time to deeply think through all the reasons I disagreed. Ultimately, I’m happy to say that story had a happy ending.

I think the final context in which the frames concept shows up in business is when I’m meeting with other CEO’s. I remember about 3 years ago I went to the Health 2.0 conference and met a CEO of a health content company. They were a growing company, profitable, and making revenues in the millions at the time. My company was — at least in my mind — very small by comparison.

I was curious about his business model since it was all based on advertising and I’d been reading recently that advertising as a primary business model was starting to die (a trend I think which never really bore out), but anyway, I decided to approach him and ask him his thoughts.

Me: “So I understand you guys are basically an advertising model, and your job is really to attract more traffic to your site to have more impressions for advertisers. I’m curious if you see yourself sticking with that business model long-term?”

Other Dude: “Are you kidding? Of course we are. Thanks for your question.”

And with that, he turned away and started conversation with someone else. And what did I do? I hung my head down and walked away, too. In that situation, I let his frame of “I am a savvy businessman, highly successful, and don’t need to explain myself to anyone who dares to insult my company” dominate my frame of “I’m curious about other company’s business models.” It’s a silly, trivial example, but at the time, I just didn’t have the confidence to stand up and push back.

Today, when someone throws that kind of attitude my way, I interpret that in terms of frames, and start making mental calculations about whether I choose to accept his frame or challenge it. It’s a wonderfully empowering concept.

Anyway, my summary points on all this are:

  • The concept of frames is very cool.
  • They come up in business all the time.
  • It’s okay to disagree with people and assert yourself and your frame.
  • Sometimes people even respect you more for it.


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