What makes us similar

Yesterday I attended a Northwestern University alumni event in New York City where all-star Professor Rives Collins reminded a group of alumni about the importance of storytelling.

It was a classic post-work crowd in NYC. Rainy day. Hectic midtown hotel. There was even a protest happening on the street right in front. People were trickling into the lecture room on an even drip, settling into their seats and trying to shift focus from “work brain” to something different.

He told us stories of his children. He quoted Einstein, who famously said that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” It was intense, energized, and all spoken in reverie.

And yet — there were a few distracted people still on their phones. People who were still “stuck at work” in their heads. Or scanning the room for people they wanted to catch in the networking portion of the evening.

Then the most compelling moment for me was when he played for a room of 100+ alumni this video. It’s an ad campaign from Denmark that I highly recommend you watch:

What happened next in the room was palpable. The energy shifted. Everybody was rapt. Even the people who had been thinking to themselves moments earlier, “Is this guy for real?” started to believe in the power of story and connectedness in a whole new way.

Somebody asked, “How can we apply storytelling like this to our everyday lives at work?”

His advice? Work harder to find and share the story. “A spreadsheet is not a story. But a spreadsheet contains stories.” (As my husband pointed out, Rives has the uncanny ability of sounding incredibly wise with everything he says.)

I walked out of the session feeling lighter and having remembered what it’s sometimes easy to forget: That we are all just people. To me, this feels more important than ever right now.