There it is again, leading the news. I have lost count of the number of times I heard the ‘reset’ phrase in the last week.
As Lee Cain walked out of Number 10 the phrase started to do the rounds: When Cain was followed by Cummings, every political player or commentator it seemed, led perhaps by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, used the phrase ‘chance for a reset’.
This is what I think of as a ‘boomerang phrase’. A phrase that someone comes up with, which just captures the moment, or the message, or the circumstances: and then everyone starts using it, and within a couple of hours it is being used right back at you.
Boomerang phrases can be organic. As far as I know ‘the new normal’ did not come from a spin doctor. But a good spin doctor will, from time to time, come up with phrases that both resonate but crucially also make people see the existing facts differently. That in turn will influence a million micro decisions and some huge ones.
If an audience both recognise something in the phrase but also see things differently because of it – the author has a good chance of achieving change.
Of course, great phrases don’t always catch on. But, if they work they can have extraordinary power and in some cases are repeated down through history. Repugnant though it still is, Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of blood’ phrase is not just remembered but it had huge influence. Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ is in the same category. The triplet ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité was influential way beyond the borders of France and the simple phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ ignited protest and policy responses around the world, earlier this year. There are thousands more I could use to illustrate the point.
‘Reset’ is clearly not in the same premier league of history-changing phrases as those listed above. But it was a good attempt to capture the moment and spin something positive out of the political shenanigans. I don’t know who first used it to define the post Cain and Cummings mood, (Carrie Symonds perhaps) but it was already doing the rounds before it was picked up and applied to a small domestic disturbance at Number 10.
Reset is A La Mode
‘COVID 19 – The Great Reset’ is the title of a book out earlier this year and refers to resetting the World Order after the pandemic. The phrase may have originated from Klaus Schwab – who runs the World Economic Forum or perhaps his co-author Thierry Malleret. Or perhaps their publisher.
But it doesn’t stop there. It is easy to find a dozen headlines for ‘reset’ as applied to the departure of Cummings and Cain but many more applied to Biden’s presidential victory. It doesn’t matter that it is a repurposed phrase: it can still do the job. One of my clients many years ago referred to reusing other people’s phrases as ‘stealing with pride’.
Boomerang phrases are a powerful leadership tool. They are just as influential amongst smaller groups and within companies or organisations, as they are on the political stage. Being able to craft a phrase that everyone else can hang their hat on, is a real and rare skill.
The irony is that Cain and Cummings were brilliant at it. ‘Take back control’ and ‘Get Brexit done’ were probably among the most influential boomerang phrases of recent history.
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