red shoes story

This story has been around for a while, told in different ways, but at its basic core, it illustrates the different ways we can look at things.

Many years ago two salesmen were sent by a British shoe manufacturer to Africa to investigate and report back on market potential.

The first salesman reported back, “There is no potential here – nobody wears shoes.”

The second salesman reported back, “There is massive potential here – nobody wears shoes.”

It’s a simple example of how a situation can be viewed in two quite different ways. One person sees problems and disadvantages. The other sees opportunities and benefits. In business, problems and challenges come up all the time. At times, though, what seems like a major negative could turn out to be something quite the opposite. Take the story of Original Red Dirt Shirts. According to, this is how this unique company got its start:

On Sept. 11, 1992, Hurricane Iniki struck the Hawaiian island of Kauai causing massive amounts of damage. A local screen printer was hit hard by the hurricane – hundreds of t-shirts were drenched with water and stained with red dirt that had been churned up in the storm. As most people who grew up in the islands know, once you get that red dirt in your clothes, it’s nearly impossible to get out. Owner, Randy Williams, though, had a brainstorm. Instead of throwing out the shirts, he came up with a quick design and printed it on the red “dyed” shirts. The words printed? “I Survived Iniki”. The shirt was an instant success and a new business was born.

Next time a problem pops up, remember the story of the two shoe salesmen, or the red dirt shirts and look to see if their may be an opportunity buried somewhere in there. It could be the difference between success and failure.