life in general

2016: changes, hypotheses, and challenges.

Worry not, I am not starting the year by asking you to read my pledge to self-improve. Not only it is cliché, it is also likely to end up being a public lie.

Sometimes I view living should be about forming and verifying one’s own hypotheses. As one’s life changes, one will form a new set of hypotheses. I am sharing with you how my life has been changing since the last quarter of 2015. After the changes, new hypotheses emerge in my mind, and I know the only way for me to test them is by facing new challenges. I am writing this perhaps also to prepare myself to break old habits and learn new lessons.



My temporary home-office, intruded my Mayo.

I’m writing this piece from my (temporary) home-office. I have left my last job —fortunately with my head held high as I stayed true to what I wrote three years ago. I want to solve a different kind of problems, to keep my intellect challenged, and to make a difference to other people. In doing so I hope I can feel ennobled in at least some small way.

Thankfully I have found the right partner to do this: Misty Diansharira, one of the very few “agency suits” whom I deeply respect. We have been partnering since we founded Lembaga Bantuan Kreatif, a tiny-cell within my previous agency that handled social marketing campaign for non-profit sectors since 2014.

We are setting up our new small consultancy called Communication for Change. We have been observing there are many people, including those from unexpected places, who have good initiatives to ensure “reformasi” will never be an unfinished business. In today’s more democratic and decentralised time, they need their initiatives to get supports from even more varied stakeholders. Once their initiatives turn into programs, they need to draw participations from those stakeholders.


Our first hypothesis is that there’s a sizeable opportunity in assisting these reform-minded organisations. The purpose of our enterprise is to help them get buy-in, change behaviour, and deliver impacts via communication that moves people.

We provide trainings and clinics so they can construct and deliver a compelling pitch for their initiatives in any form. We also advise them strategies to change their stakeholders’ behaviour based on design-thinking principles. And if they want to implement our recommendations, we will help them manage the process.

Our second hypothesis is that we will end-up better financially by not adopting the conventional agency business model. Firstly, we are consultants who get paid by giving clients advice (irrespective whether it will be implemented or not), not an agency that gets paid by doing things on clients’ behalf. Secondly, we just don’t think the agency business model is sustainable for our kind of client. A huge overhead from permanent staff or a hip office is beneficial neither to us nor our clients.

Instead, we adopt the what we call “Ocean 11” or movie production business model. Executive producers, from those who produce Hollywood blockbusters to forgettable TV commercials, don’t employ permanent staff or crew. Once they have scripts they want to produce, they assemble crew that are right for the creative visions and the budget.

In Communication for Change, we make up a small and nimble core that initiates the problem definition stage. Afterwards, we quickly assemble an ad-hoc team of creative partners and solution builders relevant to the task at hand. We want to be the antithesis of the aphorism “If your only tool is a hammer, you will find that everything you encounter needs pounding”. It’s not fair to our clients if we can only propose solutions that are biased by our legacy expertise.

Our third hypothesis is that this endeavour is neither a get-rich-quick  nor get-filthy-rich scheme.We cater to a small niche of potential clients who themselves are not bathed in profits. Although we are not doing this to finance a lifestyle that invites Instagram notoriety, we and our partners want to be compensated fairly and decently.


We have never met anybody who tells us starting up a new business is going to be a walk in a park. Indeed: we managed to finalise all the legal paperworks less than a week before the local government banned the use of virtual offices as correspondence addresses for new companies on January 1, 2016. But this is only the beginning.

Right now we are operating in the boot-strap mode. This is by design, not by default. We are not saying no to potential investors. But even if there were some people who wanted to invest on this kind of business (what kind of people they are, I wonder), they would have to accept we would not want to walk away from our purpose and values.

When my former colleague who now has his own ad agency heard the rumour of me quitting, he wanted to confirm straight from the horse’s mouth. We ended up having a short but (at least for me) enlightening talk.

My friend had already recruited a quite aggressive number of staff for a small business in an industry where newcomers survive by undercutting the competitors. He told me he still had to do shitty jobs he used to do when he had been an employer, but at least “They are the shits I choose to take”.

And for him this was acceptable, because, “What matters most to me now is that I can pay salaries to my employees. These people, they chose to join me, and I feel obliged to take care of them.” 

I find my friend’s attitude commendable. But I am not like him. I don’t get off on playing Santa Claus or Don Corleone. We left our jobs because want to work on stuff that matters. We want to do meaningful work. Consequently we should maintain our freedom to say no to causes we do not believe in. One of my favourite quotes is “Principles mean nothing until they cost you money” (from the ad legend Bill Bernbach). And we can only afford that cost by staying small.

We are only a couple of weeks young. It’s too early to predict anything. We need to get clients, continue building our network of independent creative workers and solution builders, demonstrate our worth, and manage the business itself. They are going to be challenging.

Not to leave out my personal challenges. Nassim Nicholas Taleb said, “The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” I am glad I never try the first, unsure if it is humanly possible to quit the second, and have just started kicking out the third one. Monthly salaries are an important pillar of our comfort zone. But comfort zone can also stunt us. How many times have we chickened out of the opportunities to grow because we are afraid to lose our security blanket?

This new chapter in my life is exciting but also formidable. I am neither fearless nor ever aspire to be so. I second Nelson Mandela that courage is not the absence of fear but the triumph over it. I do feel afraid, but I want to conquer it. I have to.

So let me try, let us try. And kindly wish that the force be with us.

life in general

Mengapa “follow your passion” adalah saran yang menyesatkan


Catatan singkat tentang penerjemahan “passion” menjadi renjana:
Saya berencana menulis topik ini dalam Bahasa Indonesia. Tantangan pertama yang saya hadapi adalah menerjemahkan kata “passion” itu sendiri. Seringkali dalam konteks ini “passion” diterjemahkan menjadi “semangat”, dan ini  terlalu longgar. Kadangkala “passion” dialihbahasakan menjadi “hasrat”. “Hasrat” adalah sinonim dari keinginan, sehingga lebih cocok untuk menerjemahkan “desire“. 

Dalam kamus Bahasa Inggris (Oxford), definisipassion” adalah “strong and barely controllable emotion“. Google Translate menyarankan kata “renjana” untuk “passion“. Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia mendefinisikan “renjana” sebagai “rasa hati yang kuat (rindu, cinta kasih, berahi”). Dengan demikian, saya rasa cukup tepat menerjemahkan “passion” menjadi “renjana”. Kata “renjana” memang belum umum, tapi mungkin kita bisa mulai mempopulerkannya.

Sama seperti di beberapa negeri lain, sebagian kelas menengah urban di Indonesia sedang getol mengikuti “the cult of passion” alias kultus renjana. Kegetolan ini saya rasa juga karena dikompori oleh mereka yang menyebut dirinya motivator, “life coach“, dan yang sejenisnya.

Di Amerika, kultus renjana diduga dipicu oleh pidato Steve Jobs di acara wisuda Stanford University, musim panas 2005. Steve bersabda,

“…the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.”

Isi pidato Steve Jobs akhirnya diringkas menjadi sebuah slogan, “Ikuti renjanamu”, dan lahirlah kultus renjana.

Ide dasar dalam kultus renjana adalah:

  1. Dalam diri setiap orang, selalu ada renjana yang sudah sejak lama hadir (“pre-existing”). Renjana itu menanti kita, siap untuk ditemukan.
  2. Jika kita berhasil menemukan renjana itu, kita harus mengikutinya dalam pekerjaan atau karir. Hanya dengan bekerja sesuai renjana, kita bisa mendapatkan kebahagiaan dan keberhasilan.

Singkat kata, dalam kultus kepercayaan ini renjana adalah titik awal atau prasyarat dari kebahagiaan dan pencapaian dalam pekerjaan. Bekerjalah dalam bidang yang kita cintai, maka uang dan kesuksesan akan datang —entah bagaimana caranya. Jika kita tidak berhasil mengenali renjana kita, maka hampir mustahil kita bisa menemukan kepuasan dalam kerja.

Ide dasar dalam kultus renjana terasa intuitif, tapi belum tentu sesuai dengan kenyataan. Jangan lupa anggapan bahwa bumi adalah datar dan matahari mengitari bumi pun terasa intuitif, tapi terbukti salah.


Cal Newport adalah seorang profesor ilmu komputer di Georgetown University. Pengalaman pribadi Newport mendorongnya melakukan riset untuk menguji kebenaran ide dasar di balik mantra “ikuti renjanamu”. Selama beberapa tahun, ia memawawancari banyak orang yang dikenal mencapai keberhasilan dalam bidangnya. Ia juga meninjau ulang berbagai hasil penelitian dalam bidang kepuasan dan motivasi kerja.

Newport menemukan penelitian yang menunjukkan hanya sedikit sekali orang yang merasa memiliki renjana yang sudah ada sejak dulu.  Sebaliknya, berbagai studi  menunjukkan, mereka yang merasa sangat antusias bekerja  justru adalah mereka yang sudah menggeluti bidang itu dalam waktu yang cukup lama.

Newport juga membaca biografi Steve Jobs dengan seksama. Terlepas apa yang disabdakan Jobs dalam pidato di Stanford, ternyata ia dan Steve Wozniak mendirikan Apple demi mencari uang lewat membuat komponen komputer. Saat itu, renjana Jobs adalah mistisisme Timur, dan ia harus membayar biaya kursus di Los Altos Zen Center. Ironis, bukan?

Jelas bahwa renjana bukanlah prasyarat. Sebaliknya, Newport menemukan bahwa renjana adalah sebuah konsekuensi alias efek samping. Efek samping ini  muncul saat kita membangun keterampilan yang  langka dan berharga di bidang kita.

Dalam setiap bidang, selalu ada karakteristik yang mendefinisikan karya yang bermutu tinggi. Karakteristik itu adalah hasil dari keterampilan yang langka, sehingga orang mau membayarnya dengan harga tinggi. Inilah keterampilan yang harus kita bangun.

Untuk mendapatkan keterampilan itu, kita harus membayarnya dengan ketekunan dan kerja keras. Kita harus sering mencoba dengan sungguh-sungguh, dan mendapat umpan balik yang jujur dan jelas dari mereka yang dalam bidang itu.

Sikap inilah yang oleh Newport disebut sebagai mentalitas pengrajin (“craftman mindset“). Orang yang mengadopsi mentalitas pengrajin selalu berpikir tentang bagaimana mereka bisa menjadi lebih baik dalam bidangnya sehingga mereka bisa memberi nilai lebih.

Newport membandingkan mentalitas pengrajin dengan mentalitas renjana (“passion mindset“). Disadari atau tidak, orang yang hidup dalam mentalitas renjana sering mempertanyakan apa yang ditawarkan dunia buat mereka —seakan-akan dunia punya kewajiban membuka bidang pekerjaan yang sesuai dengan renjana mereka. Saat berhadapan dengan kesulitan dalam pekerjaan, mereka akan bertanya, “Apakah pekerjaan ini sudah sesuai dengan renjana saya? Adakah pekerjaan lain yang lebih cocok untuk renjana saya?”

Mengadopsi mentalitas pengrajin dan membangun keterampilan yang langka dan berharga bisa membuat kita menjadi berhasil dalam pekerjaan kita. Namun akankah ini akan membuat kita mencintai pekerjaan kita, dan mendapatkan kepuasan dari situ?

Newport merangkum berbagai studi yang menunjukkan bahwa atribut yang membuat orang mencintai dan mendapatkan kepuasan dalam pekerjaannya bersifat universal. Maksudnya, atribut ini bisa ditemui dalam semua bidang pekerjaan, bukan hanya dalam area tertentu. Atribut-atribut itu adalah

  • Kita merasa mempunyai otonomi dalam bekerja; kita bisa mengendalikan bagaimana kita bekerja (“sense of autonomy“)
  • Kita merasa cakap dalam melakukan apa yang kita kerjakan, dan bisa terus meningkatkan kecakapan tersebut (“sense of mastery“)
  • Kita merasa bahwa pekerjaan kita memberi pengaruh atau berkontribusi pada dunia atau ummat manusia (“sense of purpose“).

Jelas bahwa mentalitas pengrajin dan membangun keterampilan yang berharga akan mengantar kita pada “sense of mastery“. Selain itu, keterampilan yang berharga bisa kita jadikan modal untuk mendapatkan otonomi dalam pekerjaan kita. Kita akan memiliki posisi tawar yang lebih bagus dalam memilih proyek yang kita sukai dan menentukan gaya atau cara kita bekerja.

Bagaimana dengan “sense of purpose“? Semakin kita menguasai bidang kita, semakin mudah buat kita untuk melihat bagaimana kerja kita dapat berkontribusi pada dunia. Semakin kita menguasai bidang kita, semakin mudah buat kita untuk melihat “the big picture“. Kita semakin punya waktu dan kemampuan untuk pergerakan terakhir di dalamnya. Di sinilah kita bisa melihat lebih banyak peluang melakukan terobosan dalam area lain yang bersinggungan dengan bidang kita.

Sebagai contoh, di tangan Steve Jobs komputer tidak lagi adalah sekedar alat kantor untuk meningkatkan produktivitas. Jobs menjadikan komputer sebagai alat yang tidak saja bernilai estetis, tapi juga memberikan pengalaman estetis saat digunakan. Saya cukup yakin, Jobs bisa melihat kemungkinan ini dengan lebih nyata pada saat ia sudah cukup menguasai teknologi dasar hardware dan software.

Lalu apakah saran untuk mengganti “ikuti renjanamu”? Newport sebetulnya enggan untuk memberi saran singkat berbau slogan, namun ia sadar ia hidup di jaman 140 karakter. Menurut Newport,

Passion is not something you follow. It’s something that will follow you as you put in the hard work to become valuable to the world.

Don’t follow your passion, let it follow you in your quest to become useful to the world.

Jadi janganlah mengikuti renjana kita. Jadikan renjana sebagai sesuatu yang mengikuti kita pada saat kita berjuang membangun keterampilan yang berharga, untuk menjadi lebih berguna buat dunia.

Untuk mendengar langsung dari mulut Cal Newport, silakan saksikan video saat ia menjadi pembicara di 99U Conference, tahun lalu  (waktu putar 22 menit):

Buku oleh Cal Newport
So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love

Artikel oleh Cal Newport
Follow a Career Passion? Let It Follow You
Why ‘Follow Your Passion’ Is Bizarre Advice

Wawancara dengan Cal Newport
Cal Newport on how you can be an expert and why you should *not* follow your passion
‘Follow Your Passion’ Is Crappy Advice
7 Steps to Developing Career Capital – And Achieving Success

advertising, life in general

Can one live a meaningful life working in advertising? (Part 2)

Yesterday I left with an unanswered question, “By working in advertising, am I serving a purpose bigger than me?”

Some friends are kind enough to volunteer with answers. There are different kinds of answers, and they remind me of this story.

A gentleman saw three men laying bricks.

He approached the first and asked, “What are you doing?“ Annoyed, the first man answered, “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m laying bricks!“

He walked over to the second bricklayer and asked the same question. The second man responded, “Oh, I’m feeding my family.“

He asked the third bricklayer the same question, “What are you doing?“ The third looked up, smiled and said, “I’m building a cathedral.“

I suppose we are free to think we’re building a cathedral (or mosque or synagogue or temple, whatever floats your boat) by working in advertising. I also believe it is up to us to define our own version of cathedral.

This is a little story about my cathedral. You can say that I got the glimpse of my cathedral even before I knew what I could do to help build it.


Marilyn and Mother got me into advertising.

Both of them are two versions of print ads for Nike Women in 1989, written by Janet Champ and Charlotte Moore when they were still at Wieden + Kennedy. I was still in high school back then (yes, I’m old). My mother worked in the magazine business, so she often brought home imported magazines for her reference and our entertainment. From her I borrowed a copy of a women’s magazine, and this print ad stopped me. I read it several times; each time I got goose bump.

"Mother" print ad for Nike Women

"Mother" for Nike Women, 1989. From the photo-stream of The National Museum of American History

Let me rewrite the body copy:

You do not have to be your mother unless she is who you want to be. You do not have to be your mother’s mother, or your mother’s mother’s mother, or even your grandmother’s mother on your father’s side. You may inherit their chins or their hips or their eyes, but you are not destined to become the women who came before you, you are not destined to live their lives. So if you inherit something, inherit their strength. If you inherit something, inherit their resilience. Because the only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.

Few days afterwards, I borrowed another women’s magazine from her. Lo and behold, I couldn’t get my eyes off Marilyn.

"Marylin" for Nike Women

"Marylin" for Nike Women, 1989. From the photo-stream of The National Museum of American History

The body copy:

A woman is often measured by the things she cannot control. She is measured by the way her body curves or doesn’t curve, by where she is flat or straight or round. She is measured by 36-24-26 and inches and ages and numbers, by all the outside things that don’t ever add up to who she is on the inside. And so if a woman is to be measured, let her be measured by the things she can control, by who she is and who she is trying to become. Because every woman know, measurements are only statistics and statistics lie.

I’m not being dramatic by saying that those ads helped me to become what I am today.

The ads moved me, beyond making me feel that Nike was an “it” brand for women. They made me believe I didn’t have to accept being measured by what society considered normal. That I was not destined to be someone who came before me. That I should choose how I measure myself.

Also at that moment, I realized that I was fascinated by the power of advertising.

Those Nike women ads got me into advertising. I saved them in my computer’s desktop, to remind me that I should not give up working in advertising until I can produce something that’s comparable to Marilyn and Mother.


I guess that was my cathedral. It is not about working for a brand like Nike Women (although I will never say no to that) or places like Wieden + Kennedy (yes, please!).

Yes, of course advertising supports the free-market economy, something I truly value and am ready to defend. But in my version of building the cathedral, it’s about making advertising that does much more than that.

It’s about making advertising that opens up to people –heck, maybe just a young girl or a young boy– that there’s a different way to live your life. That’s there’s a different way to see the world. Yes, it’s about making advertising that expands, not shrinks, possibilities for people.

It’s about making advertising that proposes something beyond bigger, faster, or shinier objects: a different perspective.

It’s about making advertising that propagates different narratives about who we are and what life is.

I think this is important. I believe everybody flourishes and has a bigger chance to prosper in a society that allows and nurtures plethora of narratives. A society that knows how to agree to disagree without having to resort to conflicts.

I want Indonesia to be a place for societies like this. Very much so.

I believe we Indonesians, having been under faux-democracy for so long, still need to develop these important skills: to think critically, to live with different opinions and narratives, to agree to disagree. And advertising provides us a safe training ground to train them.


Of course you can disagree with me, pointing that it’s just a feeble attempt to justify my “evil” day job and my decent paycheck.

Nevertheless, I will still keep Marilyn and Mother on my computer’s desktop. I need them to remind me to continue trying and be humble.

Are you building a cathedral, dear readers? What is it?

advertising, life in general

Can one lead a meaningful life working in advertising? (Part 1)

Many years ago, I somehow found myself in one party, on a Saturday night in a house in Kemang, Jakarta. The host was an American expat working for an international NGO. Understandably most guests there were also expats working for international NGO in Indonesia.

Besides some friends who dragged me to that party I didn’t know anyone there. At that time my friends were already busy with whatever tickled their pickle, so I ended up with a bunch of expats in one corner near the makeshift bar. It turned out nobody knew anybody either, so an American guy came up with this idea of introducing ourselves to one another.

He started, “’I’m Brian (no real names here, of course), now with WFO here, we give assistance on… .” Then another continued, “I’m Ann, now with USAID, my project is …”

The pattern thus emerged, “I’m (insert name), work with (insert an abbreviation of an international NGO) to do (insert important project or noble activity that benefit Indonesians)”.

When it came to my turn, this was how I introduced myself –obviously after several rounds of vodka tonic.

“My name is Mita, and I’m a Y-U-P-P-I-E” (I spelled the word ‘yuppie’ by the letter).

(Naïvely). “Oh, what is that? Never heard that organization before.”

“It’s just yuppie. I’m just an employee in a private sector.”

(Laugh). “But of course you work somewhere.”

(Reluctantly). “Yes, in an ad agency. Nothing to be proud about, I suppose.”

(Polite laugh). “That’s not so bad. So what are you working on?”

(Deadpan). “I work for skin-lightening cream”. A pause and then, “Oh, no. That is bad.”

I suppose it doesn’t take a genius to figure out I left companionless from that party that night.


Thanks to Twitter, nowadays I also hang out with people who are doing important, noble things for Indonesia. They work to influence policies, make better laws. Or to eradicate poverty. Or to fight corruptions. Or to make an honest, competent candidate have a fighting chance in the next election.

I enjoy hanging out with them. They are smart, opinionated bunch. They are passionate about what they’re doing. I find them admirable. They are fully aware they are facing uphill battles. Yet they still keep on trying, as they’re doing this for a better Indonesia.

Seligman, the father of positive psychology, will agree that my friends are living a meaningful life, as they employ their strengths for a purpose greater than themselves.

Yet on the flip side, hanging out with these people get me thinking, “What’s the purpose larger than myself I’m serving by working in advertising?”


Have you ever asked the same question to yourselves, dear reader?
If so, when was the last time you did it?
Do you like your answer?