EP 57: Why Deeper Connection Matters, with Chris Schembra
On this episode of THRIVE—now sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly chats with Chris Schembra of 7:47 about the empathy deficit in our society. Chris shares his story about filling the gratitude gap in business, as well as advice for creative and tech agency leaders on why giving works so well from a business development perspective.
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EP 57: Why Deeper Connection Matters
Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. Today, I am super grateful to have a really special guest and good friend of mine on the show today. Chris Schembra is the founder of 747, which I guess I would describe as sort of a facilitator of the Bespoke Events that help companies really show gratitude to their teams, their V. I. P. clients and their partners. I will get into a whole bunch of that and why that’s super important but Chris I’m just so glad to have you here today. I love connecting with you as you know and I’m just really excited for the conversation.
Chris: Thanks for having me Kelly. I mean, we’ve done a lot of great work together and we’ve shared many great friendship moments together and it’s such a beautiful thing you’ve created and such a wild success you’ve had in your career. So excited now this engaging conversation with you.
Kelly: Thank you. So 747 is such a unique concept. I think it would be really interesting for people to learn a little bit more about how you sort of arrive at the need to create this and really what your intention is and what the mission is of it.
Chris: Yeah, thanks for asking that. 747 is peculiar, strange, yet it’s needed. And, it’s been a wonderful journey to get here today. Our story that will tell starts back in July of 2015. At the time, I was engaged in theatre producing Broadway plays and overseas in both here domestically. And in 2015, a few thing shift in my life. The person that I was working for was getting married and we’re spending less time together. I just broken up with a girlfriend. I had just returned home to New York City from Italy after producing a Broadway play over there and when we got back to New York City essentially found myself in a rot. I essentially realize four things one day that I was lonely, unfulfilled, disconnected, and insecure. One would call that kind of a cross-section of the American workforce unfortunately and in that that kind of downtime, in that darkness.
I started experimenting with a bunch of things that would pick me up out of my funk and one of them was cooking. And so, I invented all these different kind of recipes in my kitchen. One day, I accidentally created a pasta sauce recipe and I figured you probably feed it to people to see if it’s even good or not and I decided to host a dinner. And so on July 15, 2015, we invited 15 of my friends over to our home and decided to give them the sauce. And 6:30 PM cocktails began. 8 PM dinner was served but at 7:47 PM, we put the pasta in the pot and because I was lazy as heck.
I invited the people into the kitchen to help me create the meal. And we ate together. We got comfortable together. And we asked them a specific question around gratitude. It just popped out of nowhere but the question we asked at that very first dinner was, if you could give credit or thanks to one person in your life that you don’t give enough credit or thanks to who would that be. And people felt so comfortable and so safe because the act of working together to create the meal and to serve each other somehow created connection. And because that question they opened up and they got vulnerable and a bunch of them cried. They love the sauce and so we did the dinner the next week.
And so for the first year of our dinners, we did a dinner every week once a week for free in our home. After the course of the year we had done 54 dinners feeding 808 people for free in our home, a little 350 square foot apartment in the Upper West Side. After a year, we started realizing that not only were the dinner saving my life, not only were the dinners having a transformational effect on the people attending, but maybe some companies could benefit from it. And so we started turning it into a corporate model, threw it down in the corporate space. We’ve been running ever since. The key metrics that we’ve had since day one the only thing we care about from dinner to dinner is if less than 6 people cry, we considered a failed night; the average is about 10. And that’s success.
Kelly: Yeah. And I just want to kind of share with whoever’s listening and watching that Chris and I worked together to create a kick off for a project that I had brought a couple of different partners into design, website development, copywriting, things along those lines for a company and we used Chris’ dinner model for the kick off and to really get everybody together and allow them to be vulnerable and allow them to tell the stories of what they loved about working with the company and the clients and all these things and it made the project so much more successful. It was definitely unique and it was the first time that we worked together in that way and I got it. I got it really quickly, what the impact was and what the benefit was to the outcome but that’s only one component, that’s only one use case, let’s call it for these dinners. I mean there are really so many. You talk a lot about the fact that there’s this empathy deficit in society so I want to hear a little bit more about the core theory that you have as to how we fix that, how we change from deficit to a more of an abundance mindset or how do we get to where we need to go.
Chris: Yeah, you bring up a good point. We live in a world that’s so digital and disconnected. Social media has empowered billions of people to connect around the world but are we actually connecting? Are we actually giving our heart the goodness that it needs and many would say that the answer is no. So you have President Obama talking about empathy and you have the pope talking about empathy. If all these people saying that somehow we’ve gotten so focused in on ourself and our own opinion and having social media as a speaker stand that we’ve forgotten about the feelings and perspectives of others. And I would agree with that. Roman Krznaric who is one of the founders of the School of Life wrote a wonderful book about empathy and in that book he defines empathy as the art of imaginatively stepping into the shoes of another person, understanding their feelings and perspectives and using that knowledge to guide your action. Empathy is this amazing power that has the ability to heal broken relationships. It has the ability to inspire and motivate entire movements into action. See we live in a world under the old Cartesian rule of I think therefore I am.
And we have the self-help space. We have activism. We have social media to blast our comments outwards therefore I think therefore I am but there’s an old African Bantu of, “You are therefore I am.” And that’s the ability to listen to the perspectives of others and use that to guide where you’re going. And so the good news is empathy can be developed over time and so this deficit that we face can actually be reversed. Empathy is a subset of emotional intelligence, the people that are watching this, emotional intelligence is actually a very important thing in people’s lives.
People that have high emotional intelligence $29,000 more per year on average than people with low emotional intelligence. And studies show that emotional intelligence is actually the only thing directly linked to earning potential, not IQ or technical skills but EQ, the ability to lead. So the need to reverse the empathy deficit is actually great for business. And so as we look at empathy, empathy came into our life in early 2016. We are doing our dinners, we’re having a great time. I mean heck in early 2016, we woke up in our bed bawling our eyes out realizing for the first time in my life I was starting to feel a little bit of joy, starting to slightly rid myself of insecurity though I’m still not cured, I’m still an insecure. And that it was all because the dinners.
And so one day our friend Jerry Schweitzer walked into our office and said, if your 747 dinners were gender, what would it be? I said, it’d be a woman. He said if that woman walk through that door right there, how would we feel? I said we would be overcome and consumed by the greatest maternal energy and empathy we’ve ever come across. And I realized that was the pain point we were solving, empathy. And so as empathy relates to our dinners. Empathy is listening to the feelings and perspectives of others. We, at our dinners, pride ourselves in creating the safe space for people to gather, to share, and listen to others in a small group format.
So if you remember that question that we ask at every dinner, that question is centered around gratitude. If you could give credit or thanks to one person in your life that you don’t give enough credit or thanks to, who would that be? Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect the dots looking backwards and that’s what this question around gratitude does. It gives people the platform to share stories from people that have positively or negatively helped them in their past so you develop empathy around the dinner table by listening to other share.
Kelly: Right. And you’re connecting and creating these deeper connections. You’re sharing probably verbiage and feelings that you’ve never shared before with this group of people so just in and of itself sitting around well first doing the work together to create the me, all right that’s part of the whole structure of what you’ve created, so everybody’s got a job at task we’re working together then we sit down, we commune. We have this meal together and we just have really organic beautiful conversations and a lot of people would say I don’t know this kind of sounds like airy fairy like I can’t imagine couple of guys from my office in suits like sitting down and doing this.
At the end of the day we are human. And we forget that. So it doesn’t matter how you come to work. This is a little bit different. This is really getting to that humanity because we are robots when we go to work and so that’s what it’s about. It’s about sort of bridging that gap between the work self and the personal self. There’s a million ways you can sort of talk about it but I think that is also the power of it. We get to see people for who they are, not who they want us to see when we’re in the workplace.
Chris: Yeah, I mean just talking about the team building aspects of this, I think one of the popular things that people are making distinctions between now on the speaking circuit is the difference between people used to talk about having work life balance. Now people talk about having a work life integration. Like it being a very synergistic blend between the two worlds. And in terms of team building, empathy has a really, really, really big part in employee retention. 87% of high powered CEOs believe that financial performance is directly linked to empathy and studies show that one in three employees would take a position at a different company for equal pay and the same job title if their employer was more empathetic.
Kelly: It’s that important?
Chris: It’s that important and so long gone are the days where you need to fear your leader. Long gone are the days.
Kelly: Thank God.
Chris: When that leader being a bully is how you get stuff done. That stuff in the past. Leaders who are empathetic and listen to the needs of their employees will create greater creativity, productivity and ultimately greater revenue.
Kelly: And loyalty.
Chris: Exactly. Because right now employees are lonely. Loneliness is a massive crisis. The Sergeant General of United States says that 51% of the American workforce reports being lonely on a consistent basis which is equivalent to the reduction of lifespan of smoking 15 cigarettes per day 7 years of your life. And so if you as an employer can take that stand and help bring your people together not as co-workers but as friends, then you’ve added tons to your bottom line and around the dinner table just so happens to be the unique way that we do it.
Kelly: Right. So transitioning this conversation a little bit too sales or business development but still along the same lines of deepening connections and gratitude, why is it that gifting as the first the thing that we do with a prospect, what is that, that works so well?
Chris: Our wonderful friend, mentor, partner John Rowland he’s the founder of the Rowland Group and the author of Gift ology, he advocates that companies should dedicate about 5% of their net profits in gifting back to their clients and I’m not talking about the chat keys where you put your logo on a mug and you give them out at a trade show. We’re talking about getting to know the needs, the personal needs of the people you serve and honoring that with a gift. So there’s 5 different love languages that you can use in life and we believe that the five love languages should come into the workplace especially into customer relationships. So the five love languages determine how you like to receive love. Words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Obviously we don’t want people touching their customers.
Kelly: That’s a whole different show.
Chris: Yeah, that’s a whole another thing. But gifting and generosity are good for business. And so, I’ll end up talking about the dinners in a second but Adam Grant wrote that wonderful book, Give and Take, where he studied 700 sales leaders and essentially could quantify what made them a successful salesperson. Were they a giver, a taker, or a matcher? Well, Adam Grants study showed that givers are actually the least successful type of people as salespeople. But the findings of a study had a catch. The results of givers were split down the middle and givers also became the most successful type of salespeople better than matchers, better than takers. When you’re generous and you’re giving and you can give gifts and you can know the personal motivating factors of those you serve, you will win over time.
And what do I mean by personal motivating factors? What is the intangible benefit of someone doing business with you? Not your product or your price or what business benefit it has but if your business is to make a manager’s life easier by saving them time, that’s one benefit but what would happen to their life if you help them save more time? They could spend time with their kids. They could retire quicker. They could be happier. Those are intangible things. And so, personal motivators like you want to help your customers not just make more money but you want to help them feel fulfilled, a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose, a sense of connection. These things warm the soul and engender people to you.
And so when you talk about gifting and you talk about generosity, we use our dinners as a way to help companies give the gift of community and belonging and show more gratitude to their V. I. P. clients and partners because when you can create the experience that brings emotion around the dinner table, emotion into a B2B sale, you make customers 5 times more likely to consider purchasing, 12 times more likely to purchase and 30 times more likely to pay a premium. So if you have a product or a service-based business you want to charge premiums to your customers and it’s guaranteed to increase upsell cross-sell revenue referral by bringing emotion into that sale.
Kelly: And I think that’s a great place to sort of it end because if this is not airy fairy. We are talking about business. We are talking about top line and bottom line revenue. We’re talking about driving all of those things. We’re just kind of approaching it from a little bit of a very different standpoint and I think it’s the conversation that people have been a little leery to have for far too long and I do think it’s time people are very open to it and people are realizing that we can’t separate anymore humanity from business. They’re not separate. They’re not a dichotomy. They cannot be a dichotomy because we make decisions especially purchasing decisions based on emotion. Everybody in advertising knows that.
Chris: Oh yeah.
Kelly: It makes all the sense in the world.
Chris: Especially in a B2B capacity. Emotion is every part of the deal. If you’re in B2C space and you’re selling pencils, someone buying a two dollar pencil from you, there’s not much to lose if the deal goes bad. Not very emotional. 10 billion dollar deal on the line if you’re about to acquire a company of which you’ve never met the founding team, that’s huge pressure. And that emotion, you need to check those emotions, you need to take care of them. I mean to connect with the people. A lot of companies that are going through mergers will bring us in on the fourth date with the founding team of whoever they’re buying because if that doesn’t jel, then what’s the point. The net loss, the loss leader of having a bad founder, that the founder’s not jelling is worse than not doing the deal at all.
Kelly: Right. Well Chris this has been an amazing discussion as I knew it would be. I love connecting with you every time. So thank you so much for being here today.
Chris: Thanks for having me.