What’s Your Story?

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Michigan alum and legendary podcast host Glynn Washington extols the power of storytelling

“Story is the most powerful thing. In fact, it is everything,” says Glynn Washington, University of Michigan graduate and host of NPR’s Snap Judgment. “The most important thing I learned at Michigan’s Law School was that whoever tells the best story wins.”

Glynn Washington, a Detroit native and U-M graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Japanese Studies and JD from U-M’s Law School, was on campus recently for Story Lab, an event featuring great storytelling from notable speakers about transformations in their work and lives, sponsored by the Design + Business student organization and Sanger Leadership Initiative at the Ross School of Business.

Washington enthralled his audience at Story Lab with a captivating story, a sharp tongue and wicked wit, and genuine love for his alma mater. He described his time at the University of Michigan fondly, saying, “I was rescued here: intellectually, spiritually. People here gave me a shot and pulled me out of my craziness.”

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That “craziness” first started with Washington nearly falling in with a religious cult when he was a kid. He explained how a man by the name of Herbert W. Armstrong, a leader in his church, told the congregation that the End Times were near, and in order to be saved, they had to flee to the Caves of Petra in Jordan. Ironically, years later, as Washington was researching an idea that would later become Snap Judgment, Armstrong appeared in his life once more, this time as an example of one of the best storytellers.

“Whoever tells the best story wins,” said Washington. “I spent my entire life running away from Herbert, but there I was trying to emulate his mastery of story.”

Washington would wield this power for good, however. “What if we could harness the Herbert in all of us toward aims that are good?” he asked. And thus, Snap Judgment was born.

NPR’s Snap Judgment, of which he is the host, now has over a million weekly downloads and is played on 360 NPR stations. The show digs into the nitty-gritty of narrative, and explores what it means to impart meaning and inspiration through story – especially if the method flies against conventions.

 Of course, like most start-ups, creating Snap Judgment was not easy, and even though it has garnered immense popularity and success, it’s still not easy to keep it going. Washington noted that he still faces harsh criticisms of his work, despite running the show. He’s had to learn how to trust the people he works with to handle his precious stories with care—even if that means sometimes killing those stories, a phenomenon he refers to as “killing your babies.”

“Not everyone is a storyteller, but everyone at least needs to know how to tell their own story,” said Washington.

Storytelling is an incredibly important skill for everyone, but especially entrepreneurs — they need to take that fire and passion for their product or service and learn how to effectively tell its story. Washington offered advice to the storytellers in the audience—advice that is incredible applicable to the future entrepreneurs at U-M right now.

Step one? Deal with criticism. Share your work and ideas with people who understand what you’re trying to do and where you’re trying to go, because they are the ones who will give you the best unfiltered advice. Step two? Get out of your comfort zone.

“I’m an introvert,” said Washington. “But you don’t get good stories unless you’re living a good life. Engage with the world. Do what you’re best at.”

Washington also stresses the importance of giving yourself deadlines and to produce the very best work you can within those parameters. Washington credits his hard work and success not to inspiration, but to something he calls “Ass Power.”

“That means you gotta sit down and get to work,” he said. “The idea of a muse is nothing. Inspiration is for amateurs. Real writers [or entrepreneurs, for that matter] know that ass power saves the day every time.”

Though, sometimes, despite all the “ass power” you have, you’ll still fail, and that’s okay. Washington embraces failure. He urged his audience to not let their failures hold them back but, rather, inspire them.

“The best writing comes from disappointment in yourself, the things you’ve done wrong,” said Washington.

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This may possibly be the most crucial piece of advice Washington offered, because an overwhelming 90% of startups fail. But failure should not deter you; it should propel you forward. Failure is, ultimately, just the beginning.

Finally, allow yourself to explore, especially while at the University of Michigan. “Try to find out who you are,” said Washington.“This is an incredible place to do that.”

He’s right, of course. Being “saved” by Michigan helped lead Washington to success with Snap Judgment. And he’s not alone. Current and future entrepreneurs who know how to tell a story, are open to criticism, get out of their comfort zone, stick to deadlines, embrace the importance of “ass power”, and aren’t afraid to fail, can find themselves and their passion at Michigan too.

 

Learn more:
Snap Judgment
Design + Business student organization
Sanger Leadership Institute
Written by Hannah Gordon, Innovate Blue Student Associate

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