Why We Need More Narratives in Business & Life in General

(The revelation I get from coming to Ubud Writers and Readers Festival every year)

December 16, 2019
Lydia Tarigan

2020 will come in two weeks, and people out there are either reminiscing the last decade or planning ahead. Companies and organizations are deep down on their marketing plan PowerPoint slides or refreshing their business strategy. Most of us are preparing our New year’s resolution (or not). And here I am, in this very first Medium article of mine, contemplating on how narratives can help us walk forward with a better mind space.

For those who know me, I religiously come to Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (UWRF) every year. It’s that time of the year when words, stories, and books formulate my sanity. I post heavily on Instagram about it, and I discuss the topics in my podcast with my life partner. After ten years of coming to UWRF, now I manage to analyze how it affects me as a person and a professional being.

And it’s all because, in UWRF, we are exposed to sooooooo many narratives. From the life of a political prisoner who wrote a book via WhatsApp to a guy who finds philosophy through walking around the world. From a lady journalist who explored the mystery of unconsciousness with anesthesia to a woman who survived human trafficking. And still many more.

Then the question is, why does it matter?

Because we focus on the narratives of people. Human beings.

Business objective often makes us treat people as numbers. Creative briefs sometimes lure us into thinking of a generic persona, not many persons with diverse voices. Coming to Ubud and listening to the panel, exchanging views on life can make us see people beyond statistics and the title “Target Market.” It’s their unspoken hope, their biggest fear, their deepest feelings exploding silently, not wanting to be empty and detached, their traumas, their fighting-back stories.

Because we are reminded that we’re not the center of the universe.

Amid the lovely floral garlands and the sounds of Balinese crickets, we sit down listening to writers, journalists, artists, and sometimes chefs. We let ourselves open to their opinions and worldviews (There are more than 200 writers every single year). We’re not on the driver’s seat; we’re not the ones who talk, we have to take up our proper orbit around them. The borderlessness of narratives discussed in UWRF forces us to get out of our own. And up there: clouds of other struggles, other sorrows, other conflicts, and other truths.

And this will lead to more thinking:

Think about that business you’re not getting. It’s not necessarily about whether you have presented the best solution or not; it might be about the other competitor that needs it more than you.
Think about that emotional rant your boss bestowed you first thing in the morning. It’s probably not about you and your mistake, but instead about some hard battle he or she’s going through elsewhere.
Think about that message being just read, not replied, on messenger. It’s not about a thousand scenarios and assumptions popping out in your head. Maybe they accidentally click on it without really reading your message. Maybe they forget. To forget is human, btw.

I always come home from UWRF feeling humbled and tiny. It helps me walking into a meeting room, a client’s office, or a dinner appointment with an open heart. And that, I believe, is much more conducive.

Because narratives and storytelling are just powerful.

Storytelling is one of the best ways to give soul into our business, our team-building plan, our digital marketing plan, our content strategy, our parenting strategy, and our life. Narrative as a strategy helps us get clear on our purpose, differentiating ourselves from others and creating affinity with the right people. It’s not just about how can we capture their attention; it is also about seeing ourselves and shaping who we are.

Back to UWRF, from a session with Paula Constant, Per Andersson, and Rob Henry, I was reminded that physical hardship is connecting us more to understanding.

From Robert Dessaix in The Pleasures of Leisure, I learned that to be busy is to announce our failure as a human being. “Busy” is invented by the world of commerce and politics to tell us to be productive. Are we here to be productive, or to be happy? 😃

From Yotam Ottolenghi, a famous Israeli-English chef and food writer, who shared his experience in Palestine, I was told that food is always a gateway to bigger conversations. Even with someone on the opposite side.

Isn’t it amazing that by discovering varied narratives from others, we can also enrich our own story?

So, I hope 2020 can be the year of reimagining ourselves.

Go get exposed to lots of narratives and let’s create our strategic narratives based on our own values and purposes. Or perhaps, give UWRF 2020 a try? It’s all worth the journey.

For the love of stories.


Lydia is one of the partners in Catalyst Strategy, a strategic narrative consulting firm based in Jakarta. Catalyst Strategy helps leaders create a better world through better narratives.

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