This summer I’ll be heading to Los Angeles to practice storytelling. While not a traditional MBA internship, my friends and faculty at MIT Sloan have been super supportive, often connecting me with whoever they feel will be helpful on my journey. There is, however, one question that always crops up: Why storytelling? And what does this have to do with getting an MBA?
The seed for my journey was planted in 2005 when Christopher Adkins, my former professor at William and Mary, invited me to speak to his undergrads about potential career paths. As I thought about what to say, I remembered a recent article that I had read about Shotei Ibata, a Japanese calligrapher. As a young man, Shotei was advised not to go into calligraphy because it was super competitive, and prospects for earning a living were slim. Shotei nevertheless followed his passion, and in the process invented a completely new type of large format calligraphy (i.e. giant circles drawn with a 6 foot brush) that brought him worldwide acclaim and a steady stream of clients. As I relayed Shotei-sensei’s story to the undergrads, there are two lessons that I highlighted: First, passion is a competitive advantage. Second, behind every passion lies a business model (even if your passion is to draw circles).
So what is my passion? To answer this question, I sat down at my desk last Fall and I created a matrix. I plotted Creative, Business-Esque, Technical, and Intuitive on opposite ends of the X and Y-axes, respectively. Next, I took a deep breath, told myself to suspend all judgment and awareness of my work experience (e.g. an MBA with a consulting background), and started jotting down activities that I enjoyed. As I looked over my filled out sheet of paper, I felt a wave of joy: all of the opportunities looked exciting. As I mulled over the matrix over the next few days, another realization became clear: the more that the opportunity maxed out on the creative and intuitive ends of the spectrum, the more excited I was about it. The idea with the highest score? Storytelling. And thus my summer plans.
So what does storytelling have to do with my MBA? In short: I’m not sure. And that’s okay. In a 2005 commencement address at Stanford, Steve Jobs shared his story about dropping out of college and “dropping in” to activities that piqued his interest. One such activity was a local art class, where Jobs learned how to make beautiful typography. At the time he had no idea how this class would serve him, but as he was designing the Mac — the first computer with beautiful fonts — it all made sense. Jobs said, “It was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.” The essence of Jobs’ message is that there’s a lot of value in bringing together unlikely experiences, especially when they’re rooted in genuine interest. With this principle as my basis, I have faith that my storytelling internship will bring value to my MBA. In fact, some of the dots are already starting to connect.
So where do we go from here? Currently I’m working to raise funds to cover my expenses this summer, brainstorm potential storytelling frameworks, and build out my network in Los Angeles. If you suggestions on any of these, please drop me a line. Otherwise I will post updates on my new project website — www.mbastoryteller.com — as I continue my journey. Thank you to all of you who have supported me so far.