Narratives Beyond Numbers

January 21, 2020
Jonathan Sebastian

The importance of narratives in business — What I learned as a finance guy.

As a person from an accounting background, I believe life is a process of continuous learning. It just never ends. I used to see numbers and business as objects. As rigid as black and white. But after a while, I realize those numbers are driven and influenced by people. To learn, reiterate, and broaden my perspective about people, I decided to move from a public accounting firm to a strategic narrative consulting firm.

Here in Catalyst Strategy, I spend my life on a constant search of insights beyond numbers. Back to the evolving narratives that started when humans learn to write. As humans began to write on papers, their thoughts are converted from non-physical to physical dimensions. Then they were passed through a hundred generations across time, in the form of stories, myths, legends and mathematical manuscripts. This knowledge has given us so much information about human culture, which still affects our daily lives. Narratives are such a powerful thing. Through endless discussions with my colleagues and reading books, here are things that I learn as a finance-guy entering the one and only strategic narrative consulting firm in town.

We always live among the narratives.

Whether it’s news, reports, articles, and movies, they are all events recorded in words. Not only for practitioners or researchers, but we all also consume those words daily. Even when we talk, we unconsciously give a cause-effect or chronological events and opinion to the person we talk to. So what we are doing is narrating the connected sequence of events based on facts and giving opinions about it. Also, by reading, we hear some voices in neither our minds or hearts. If you count times per daily, we spend more time consuming some narratives by reading articles, watching movies or TV series, rather than eating food for real, I suppose.

Developing Bigger Perspectives

Having a new life, I spend my days always seeking stories behind numbers by discussing with people and reading books. In this process, especially during discussions, my perspective is sometimes contradictory to other people’s. Yet, I find it enlightening. It sparks something in my heart to know what other people think or feel. If you know one context very deeply, then your perspective is “probably” right. Inversely if the context changes, then your point of view may not be valid anymore. So basically, it depends on the context; there is no right and wrong about one’s perspective. What matters is the most relevant perspective that has the most influence on others and is accepted by many people. This idea becomes the basis for determining the most compelling narrative.

People Make Numbers. Not the other way around.

Historically, numbers are measurement tools to capture certain things. In counting, humans developed numbers to determine characteristics, whether high or low. On the same counting basis, we build timekeeping. Then it evolves into a calendar. Numbers are just our tools to do something. We use them to capture certain events or values. This simple revelation basically shows that behind numbers, there are people with some perspectives.

Business innovations in the form of narratives

As our lives have a close relationship with narratives, so why don’t we apply this concept to our business? Business is born through human innovations, and innovations are born to eliminate problems. From how to communicate in long-distance (telephone) to how to fulfill our daily needs (ordering foods and e-commerce), narratives have always been the best way to deliver solutions to the world. The oldest tool to unify perspectives in the history of humankind is also a powerful one to strive in the business world.

More from our storytellers:

What is your personal narrative?

The Untold: Fragments of Storytelling

Why We Need More Narratives in Business & Life in General

Why Design is an Act of Storytelling

One of my easy ways to learn new things/skills

How Watching Films Helps Me To Seek Inspiration In Visual Storytelling.

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