I stepped into the elevator with two other office building tenants–probably co-workers by the context of their conversation. I pressed the button to my floor, they pressed the button to theirs and the elevator began its ascent.
That’s when something odd happened. The elevator decelerated, simultaneously halting their conversation and causing the three of us to exchange confused glances. The elevator stopped, the doors opened, and a woman joined us on our vertical journey–but not before she apologized to us.
So, why did the coworkers stop talking? Why did we exchange confused glances? And why would a woman apologize to three strangers for merely stepping into an elevator?
Because she defied the odds.
I, like most of the building’s occupants, had ridden in this elevator at least four times per day: up in the morning, down at lunch, back up in the afternoon, and finally down for my commute home. The rides accumulate. Consider that four elevator rides per business day adds up to approximately 1,000 elevator rides per year. If two hundred people occupy the building, that’s 200,000 elevator rides per year–plenty enough for the tenants to understand some statistical probabilities. We learned that rides heading up only stopped at the floors indicated by the lit buttons. Rides heading down, however, frequently stopped to pick up lunch-going or homeward-bound passengers. Thousands of elevator rides helped establish two types of expectations: no interim stops on the way up with likely stops on the way down.
Until the day that woman intercepted our elevator going up.
Not only did this improbable act cause confusion within the elevator, but she, knowing that she had broken a well-established pattern, felt compelled to apologize to us for breaking it.
Storytellers love improbable moments because odds-defying experiences break us out of our routines, make us pay attention, and therefore, frequently contain the seeds to a story.
The next time that you’re looking for a business story, search for an improbable moment. You just may uncover the beginning of a great story.
Photo Credit: Bain News Service, Publisher. Elevator girl, Martha Washington Hotel. , ca. 1915. [Between and Ca. 1920] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/ggb2005024433/