Change is the Hostage of Subtext

HandcuffsBusiness improvement (aka change) is a hostage to subtext.

Change doesn’t occur until subtext becomes text.

You know what subtext is. It’s when we say “No”, but mean “Yes”. It’s the elephant in the room no one talks about. It’s any Harold Pinter play. Subtext is what’s really going on.

And many (most?) times in business we aren’t talking about what’s really going on. To our employees, our customers, our business, or our markets.

Why are we in the dark?

Maybe we’re not aware of what’s going on. We’re too close, it’s too familar.

Or, maybe we are aware. But through habit, laziness, or both we decide not to be. Groupthink is comfortable. It has lower stress levels, better career path, higher compensation. And best of all – we don’t have to do anything.

Either way, subtext is the first, and often major, obstacle to change.

Until we acknowledge the truth of the current moment, warts and all, we can’t find our will or strength to change anything. Much less expect others to join in.

In the filled, silenced conference room, why don’t we answer the CEO’s question when asked “what’s broken?”


Non-fiction writers bring subtext to text.

That’s what they do. They see what’s going on through intuition, experience or research, and they put it into text. They do it because literally (pun apology) no one else is talking about it the way they see it.

Good non-fiction writers move a large piece of subtext to text.

Subtext Seth – An Example

Seth Godin , author of seven bestselling business books, identifies what’s going on in business behavior and places it on the table. He puts it in conversation. Then challenges readers towards action.

Of course, we don’t always take action. But before we can consider which action to take, we have to become aware.

Which makes subtext-to-text the required first step for any change to occur.

Here’s an example: ads, junk mail and spam. Those unasked for, repetitive, interruptions.

Seth’s book, Permission Marketing said what we all feel about ads. He brought our attention to the irritation and annoyance. He reminded us about advertising’s ineffectiveness. He said what we all were thinking.

Why hadn’t anyone done this before?

Because it was subtext. All of us had accepted it. We grumbled, but decided to stay unaware.

Inside, we knew interruption marketing hurts our customers and our business. We knew it was true. Because we couldn’t stand getting it at home, on TV, in our physical and digital mailboxes.

Seth brought the subtext of interruption marketing into the text of awareness. It had to happen in that order. Someone had to do it – thank you Seth.

Now we can figure out how to market with permission. To boldly go…

True Change – Big & Little

Change begins with seeing things the way they are.

And there are many things we really don’t want to see; about ourselves, our business, or the world.

However, when we decide to make a change, bringing subtext up to text is the literal first step.

What was the last subtext you freed from captivity?

Chris Arlen
President, Service Performance

Technorati: change, permission marketing, Seth Godin

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