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Connecting brands and people with science.

Jon Levy is a behavioral scientist who uses science to meaningfully connect brands and people. He works with Fortune 500 companies and startups to help them apply the latest research to their marketing and sales efforts, engagement, and culture. His book You’re Invited: The Art and Science of Cultivating Influence debuted at #2 on the Wall Street Journal’s best-seller list. The book guides readers through the art and science of developing meaningful connections, and demonstrates how to gain trust, develop influence, and build community.

People on Instagram have an audience, people who follow them that enjoy their content. And yes, they have some influence over those people, but that's very different than the type of influence most of us actually care about.

Jon LevyBehavioral Scientist and Best-Selling Author


Katie Hankinson (00:01):

Hi, I’m Katie Hankinson and I’m Mickey Cloud. Welcome to Building While Flying a Sasha group podcast, where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever changing skies. Welcome to Building While Flying my guest today is Jon Levy, behavioral scientist consultant, specializing in influence human connection and decision making. I’m founder of the long running secret dining series, the influence of dinner and New York times bestselling author. Most recently with his second book, you are invited the art and science of cultivating influence, which hit the book stands this year. Congratulations to that, Jon, welcome to the

Jon Levy (00:56):

Show. Uh, I’m super excited to be here and I always have so much fun chatting with. Good,

Katie Hankinson (01:02):

Great. I think so, too. Well, I’m surprised we got you given your packed agenda. Cause I know you recently got back from a whirlwind trip around whole chunks of the, the planet. So

Jon Levy (01:13):

Fortunately the plane was fully built when I was getting on it. So I, yes, I felt a little bit more stable. <laugh>

Katie Hankinson (01:21):

A success for back in New York please, to hear it. Um, well, first of all, I think it’ll be good to just get a little bit of grounding. Um, you know, your, your background is fascinating with that grounding of just say behavioral science. Um, you really dug into the topics of influence and human connections that we discovered and you seem to have achieved the enviable state of baking, all the things you love meeting and connecting people, adventure, outrageous projects into the thing that you do for a living. So I wanna hear about how some of this came to be. Can you talk a bit about your, the beginnings of your interest in connecting people and influence and that positive effect of a shared experience?

Jon Levy (01:58):

Oh, for sure. So, uh, you know, when I graduated from college, everybody gave me the worst advice. I think you can give somebody, which is if you wanna succeed, you have to go out there and network. And, uh, I’ll be honest, networking stinks. I mean, it’s just a pretty awful experience. Uh, I don’t know, like it’s, it’s something you particularly enjoy? No,

Katie Hankinson (02:21):

Certainly not that like awkward event when you’re kind of shuffling around the outskirts of a room full of people you don’t know and trying to figure out how an earth to begin talking to them. <laugh>

Jon Levy (02:30):

So I, I looked at the research and not too long ago, uh, Francesca Geno from Harvard business school looked into this and found that our implicit association to networking is feeling dirty and the desire to wash <laugh>. And so it raised this question, like, why is that? And then she also found that we don’t feel that way about making friends, right? And if you kind of look at the way that we connect and build trust, it turns out that we do everything backwards. We try to network thinking that an official, you know, business capacity focus or whatever it is will actually increase our success. But it turns out that when we make friends, we feel a lot more comfortable, the process and those relationships last longer, right? So the question became all right, what’ll cause me to make friends. And at the same time I was, you know, a few years after college, I was super in debt because I’m American and that’s what we do.

Jon Levy (03:35):

And, uh, I was under, I was frankly also overweight. And I was like the typical kid, you know, not living up to his potential, right. That means, and I was in a seminar and the seminar leads leader said something that completely blew my mind. I’d never thought about this. He said that the fundamental element that defines the quality of our lives are the people we surround ourselves with and the conversations that we have with them. And I said, wow, that’s interesting because every day I’d set my alarm for 6:00 AM to work out and then I’d press the snooze a thousand times and then I’d beat myself up for not working out and <affirmative>. And you know, I keep trying to change my habits and improve my life. And a lot of it helped, but I never seemed to catch on mm-hmm <affirmative>. And, uh, at a similar time, the study came out about how human, uh, habits and behaviors are contagious.

Jon Levy (04:40):

Mm-hmm <affirmative> happiness, marriage and divorce rates, smoking habits, voting habits, all that kind of stuff. It started with obesity that if you have a friend who’s obese, you have a 45% increased chance of being obese. That’s insane. Friends who do not know that person have a 20% increased chance and their friends have a 5% increased chance. So that’s three degrees out. That’s crazy. That means that our behavior affects our friends, friends, friends. Now in my mind, I took all those things and I said, okay, not only does that mean that I need to connect with people that I really admire that have the habits that I want mm-hmm <affirmative> right. Those that exercise, if they’re all friends of mine, then I’ll start exercising. Because instead of going out for drinks, they’ll say, Hey, come for a run. Right. Uh, and so I, I then realize that if it’s all contagious, then the key isn’t just for them to know me, but for them to know each other, right? So that those relationships can have a positive impact. And this is another one of these really funny things about human beings that we do backwards. We think we need to hoard our most important relationships when really our best bet is to introduce those people. We admire the most to, as many of our great relationships as possible.

Katie Hankinson (06:05):

I love

Jon Levy (06:05):

That. And, and here’s why, like, here’s a simple example. Mm-hmm <affirmative> so let’s say we have no friends in common. We just know each other. Mm-hmm <affirmative> then me seeing an update on you or being in touch would require one of us to reach out, right? If we have 10 friends in common, then suddenly every time you bump into any of those people, there’s a really good chance I’m gonna come up. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, I’m gonna stay top of mind. My habits, my behaviors, my interests will have a greater chance of reaching you. And so it brings you closer into my community and strengthens our relationship. So if I admire somebody, what I wanna do is have them share as many contacts as possible. And that’s what led me to really look at how do we connect, build trust, and really create a sense of belonging around this.

Katie Hankinson (06:57):

I love that. And so this was the beginning. I I’ve literally just written down five different things. I, the idea of, um, not, not just connecting to one individual, but, but for those to know, one another is so fundamental to also creating diversity in those correct connections, you know? So you, you don’t just have the one, the one speed of that single connection. You’re actually creating multiple versions that immediately like are the greater than the sum of their past.

Jon Levy (07:25):

Interesting. Yeah.

Katie Hankinson (07:27):

So you took this early interesting connections. One of the things you did was to actually to literally create, uh, an event series that kind of facilitated those connections in real life need to talk quickly about that, but also within the context of that, talk about some of the other themes or elements that you uncovered that create, helped create that sense of community and camaraderie. Like what did you create in those, um, in those meetups that, that kind of facilitated an even greater sense of connection? Oh,

Jon Levy (08:01):

For sure. So I think the first thing to realize is that human beings fundamentally connect over common ground. Mm-hmm <affirmative> we know each other because we have friends in common. If I were to reach out to you cold, or you reach out to me cold, and it, it wouldn’t be as quick, a, a relatedness right now, common ground could be common friends, common interests. So both of us are huge fans of what you would probably call football. Uh <laugh> then, then real

Katie Hankinson (08:32):

Football, the actual

Jon Levy (08:33):

Football. Yeah. Course. Uh, I’m gonna let the listener interpret that in any way they want <laugh>. Uh, and then, uh, that might be something, if we have a shared, um, activity that we like to participate in, you might be a huge knitter. And so am I right? So there’s a greater chance that when we share that or maybe a shared culture yeah. Right. If you celebrate a certain religious day or holiday of some kind, and then there’s a greater sense of belonging or connection that we have, the problem exists when we have nothing in common mm-hmm <affirmative> and people tend to be really bad at uncovering their common ground. Right. Because we have a lot from our lives. Right. Um, and so when that’s not an option, it became clear that what I needed to do, if I really wanted to develop meaningful relationships with people was invent common ground mm-hmm <affirmative>.

Jon Levy (09:28):

So rather than going to a networking event where people stand awkwardly uncomfortable, not knowing what to talk about up, that’s not natural for people. We never connected 40,000 years ago in like awkward networking events, no, to survive. We had to go hunt and gather like your colleagues <laugh> and, uh, we needed to do something together. Right. And so it became and clear that if the two of us need to perform some task, the task will actually carry the weight of the social awkwardness. Right. And then we can naturally connect because we have this shared experience. The other side of it is it turns out that if we work on something together, and this is another thing that we get backwards. Yeah. As human beings, let’s say, I really want to, to get you as a client or as a friend, mm-hmm, <affirmative> the inclination in at least American culture is that I’ll take you out to an expensive meal and try to pitch you something mm-hmm <affirmative> right. Or I’ll invite you to a party and I’ll give you a swag back now, here’s the problem. What do you do with the swag backs?

Katie Hankinson (10:42):

<laugh> lives in a pocket, in a drawer somewhere. It’s like, find it, feel bad about throwing it away.

Jon Levy (10:48):

Yeah, exactly. It’s often they’re saying here, you throw this out for me. <laugh> which means we’ve just said, okay, I don’t actually value the thing that you’ve put effort into to right. You’ve given me this gift. Mm-hmm <affirmative> I don’t actually care about it. I’m gonna toss it. I’m devaluing the relationship and those dinners are super awkward. Yeah. So the question came up, what actually works and there is a place where you can give people a gift. So for example, uh, you know, somebody who’s a huge fan of records. If I gave them that rare record that they didn’t know, uh, that they couldn’t seem to find anywhere else, then they would feel like, wow, John gets, but that’s really near impossible to do at ski. Right. And it’s kind of creepy to do if the person has never met you before, I’ve talked

Katie Hankinson (11:45):

You for five. Yeah. It’s like Madison, what? 11 Madison approach to stalking every single person on social in order to give them a be spoke experience. Right?

Jon Levy (11:55):

So it turns out that what actually does work is something called the Ikea effect. Mm-hmm <affirmative> the Ike effect states that we disproportionately care about our Ikea furniture because we had to assemble it. And so literally anything we put effort into, we care about more. That could be people work, whatever it, we just value it because we put in the effort. And so this is one of these great additional things that human beings do backwards. We try to win people over rather than doing the natural thing, which is find ways to invest shared effort. And so I want to find ways for you to invest effort into our relationship, and that will actually get you to camera more about me. And so bringing all these ideas together became clear that if I wanted to connect with people, I needed to find a shared activity that they’d wanna participate in mm-hmm <affirmative> because that would give them a background of relatedness, this common ground, while getting them to invest effort into one another will cause to care more about one another. And that’s kind of the origins of what the dinners begin.

Katie Hankinson (13:00):

I love that. So the dinners themselves were, um, and we’ve discussed this and obviously it it’s in your it’s covered off in your books as well around the idea. You have a shared task of making food together that did again, a timer you Aren allowed to talk about certain topics so that you are kind of almost forced to uncover little other less related, less work oriented aspects about yourself. And as a result, the kind of artifice of the individual is removed. And you have this common task that distracts from the awkwardness of all being new to one another and suddenly you’ve eaten your final course. And you’re all best friend. So

Jon Levy (13:37):

By, by the time the final course, uh, comes around. You realize that that was maybe not the best meal you’ve ever had. <laugh> we had a, a famous journalist come and she said, I was expecting a fantastic meal in company. I got the exact opposite. And so, uh, what we do is we focus really hard on curating people. And we intentionally don’t go for the highest, most status evoking foods or anything like that. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. And the reason is that I really wanna prove to people that money isn’t going to be the defining characteristic, right? You can bring together extraordinary people <affirmative> and connect them and build relationships for a meal that costs almost nothing. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. I had the chairman of one of the largest companies in the world, a prime minister of a European nation and a Pulitzer prize, winning author, all cooking for me and hanging out together, you know, just enjoying themselves. Amazing. And there was nothing of any status there except interesting people.

Katie Hankinson (14:49):

Right. And, and you all enjoyed a wonderful set of beans on toast and realized you don’t have to be a foreign dignitary. You cannot, it’s okay to be a foreign DIGT and not be an incredible chef in the same way.

Jon Levy (15:01):

Yes <laugh> yeah. They cook and the meal comes out fine. It’s nothing special. And the company’s fantastic, but, but it’s, it really goes to show that, you know, when I started this, I didn’t have any status. Mm-hmm <affirmative> I don’t come from a particularly, you know, famous family or anything like that. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, there’s no multi-generational wealth or anything. It’s, you know, me just trying things out and seeing what works.

Katie Hankinson (15:34):

So, as you’ve talked, there are some really clear themes, as we talked about that, that, that transcend the construct of a dinner mm-hmm <affirmative> and speak more to the, the circumstances or the, the conditions that it is useful to create. If you are, if you are hoping to bring people together in this way, and one is your point curating the right people. It’s not status and splash. It’s about quality and how well they’re gonna connect with one another. Yeah. Creating a reason or a kind of icebreaking experience or moment to collect a common task. And the, I, the Ikea effect, I think is so, so immediately intuitively true. Like you’ve worked on something together. So of course it’s the, the principles of team building, I guess, as well. And so, yeah, so it’s,

Jon Levy (16:17):

It’s interesting. Uh, you’ll notice that, uh, I’m sorry for interrupting. No, no. Uh, you’ll notice the interesting thing about human beings is that there tends to be a funny motivat towards status and towards, um, looking perfect and seeming like you’ve got it all together. Um, but when we actually look at the reasons behind that, it’s because we wanna belong. And for human being belonging might outweigh, you know, food in shelter, right? Like people will starve themselves to look skinny so that they’ll fit in like, how ridiculous is this, right? There’s, Maslow’s higher order of needs. We need food in shelter and we will give up those things in order to feel like we belong. And if you look at the statistics in America, it’s terrifying because in 1985, the average American had about three friends besides family. Mm. By 2004, we were down to two. That means in less than a generation in 19 years, we lost a third of our social ties and social. And we’ve

Katie Hankinson (17:38):

Replaced it with a kind of chewing gum, social media connectivity. <laugh> oh yeah.

Jon Levy (17:43):

It’s, we’ve just, we’ve replaced it with distraction and working. Right. Um, and so now this isn’t to say that social media is to blame. I wanna be very clear mm-hmm <affirmative> the social media didn’t exist in 1985, right? The decline more likely occurred because it became more and more acceptable for people to move for college, for work, all these things. Every time you move, you reset your social times. Mm-hmm <affirmative> because it’s to maintain long distance relationships. And so the reason this is so concerning is that the greatest predictor of human longevity, like the, the idea that we will live a long time, right. Is

Katie Hankinson (18:23):

How many people you’re spending time with. Yes.

Jon Levy (18:25):

It’s our close social ties and something called social integration, which is number of people. You come in common. The, when you look at like team success, it’s, you can track it to trust or psychological safety, this idea that we feel like we can express an opinion and not be kicked outta the group, even if the opinion opposes the group. Yeah. And so I think that the biggest thing we can provide people these days is belonging, because we’re really not finding it in anywhere else. The traditional communities that people grew up in,

Katie Hankinson (19:04):

Right. The constructs of organized religion used to do a lot more of it the way in which small towns were structured, have all, all disintegrated and something else has not yet stood up. And instead

Jon Levy (19:15):

Harvard school of divinity did a study trying to understand where are people going if they’re not at church, right. Or synagogue and what they found soul cycle and CrossFit, it’s these organizations that have cult like followings, right. Where

Katie Hankinson (19:33):

Tony rope in seminars. Yeah.

Jon Levy (19:35):

<laugh> uh, and where people can feel belonging through shared effort, right. Through a consistency. And what I, I have seen over and over again is that companies say, oh, we have built a community. No, you’ve maybe built a customer audience, but that relationship is one way or, oh, we do, we have a community of CMOs that we service or something like that. I say, great. How often do they meet once to twice a year? <laugh> okay. How are you building community of people have met once or twice.

Katie Hankinson (20:11):

I love this question. And actually my, this, this topic. And it’s actually my, where I wanted to go with the next question. So one of the kind of obvious places that you could take this, this, this conversation, some of those themes that you’d uncovered as you were running the influences dinner is how do you create, and I know you do this, you do this with brands, you advise brands, how do you create a, an event series or a, a, a, a, you know, a, an activation which pulls some of these levers to create a moment in time where everyone is brought together, um, is in way more than engaged, but almost you begin to sow the seeds of loyalty. That that’s one area. And, and I, and maybe we can come back and talk about that. The, the other piece which we’ve started to talk about here is community a longer term, deeper connection with a group of people that isn’t just the word, cuz you’re right.

Katie Hankinson (21:03):

It’s, it’s a, it’s a hot thing right now. There’s so many brand that describe themselves as community driven brands. And you can start to see the ones that are truly built around a community and those who are just using the word to describe their customers. <laugh>. Yes. Um, and you know, we interviewed, um, quite recently, uh, Jess Tilia, who is on the, the leads brand at rein, which is the organization that Meghan Rapino and a number of her fellow, amazing female athletes set up that is a lifestyle brand, but it’s also a movement around helping people reinvent themselves and giving you the tools to go and do that. And to me, that’s an example of a brand who is quite thoughtfully trying to build out’s community, who are connected to one another who have a shared purpose, and they’re helping to provide them with the tools to do that. What, what are you seeing in this space of kind of brands that are, or aren’t, you know, are doing great work in starting to build out community, either those who you work with, or just themes that you’re starting to see, like where that’s, whether actually is successful and authentic versus the word

Jon Levy (22:12):

There’s, uh, a great men’s fitness brand called Ron. Mm. And what they did was they started doing workouts for fitness trainers and kind of like fitness, Instagramers and Dockers, all that kind of stuff. But they didn’t ask for anything. They didn’t ask, oh, they, they literally said, Hey, we’re working out on this date. If you wanna come, we’ll arrange for a free class for you. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. And it really developed comradery because they did it consistently. And community comes from four characteristics. They a sense of membership. Those there’s clear line of those who are on the inside and on the outside. Right. Mm-hmm <affirmative> the guys that work out together. They’re part of the community, those who don’t, aren’t, there’s a, uh, sense of influence. Mm-hmm <affirmative> like I have an impact on the group, right? Most brands aren’t producing community because it’s one way I’m talking at you. We’re not, and Instagram is a frankly terrible platform for community. It’s great for content, but it’s terrible for community

Katie Hankinson (23:19):

Showcasing. Maybe <laugh>. Yes,

Jon Levy (23:21):

Exactly. And it’s fine. Like, I think it’s a really interesting platform. It’s just not a community platform. You’re better off on Facebook or Reddit or something else, or even email right. Or Google groups. Uh, and this gave people an impact on each other, as they worked out together on the group to make suggestions, offer, to host things at their gyms and so on mm-hmm <affirmative>, there was a, uh, kind of an alignment between what they’re trying to accomplish and what they need. So everybody wants to be fit mm-hmm <affirmative> and learn more about how to become more successful. So these guys come together and it’s really fantastic. Yeah. And then there’s a shared values and, and history, and those shared values come from the brand. And that’s where they get to instill the brand ethos into the cultural conversation while also outfitting all these like top trainers in their clothing.

Jon Levy (24:18):

So now these guys are getting to experience higher levels of success, friendships, greater bonds, and the brand gets to live its ethos in an activation. That’s not expensive. You call up a gym, you say, Hey, can we do a takeover? They’re probably going to post about you and you’ll get most, all the social media about it. Mm-hmm, <affirmative> the only thing it’ll cost you is having a trainer there. And so everybody wins out it’s promotion for the gym it’s promotion for the brand. When people post people get new relationships and they get to fulfill on the things that they care about. So I think that that’s an example of a brand doing it really well because they’re doing it also in a way that’s easy to experiment it expensive.

Katie Hankinson (25:08):


Jon Levy (25:09):

Oh, go ahead. The brands that I think are not doing it well, don’t do it well because they don’t actually care about community and they see it as, oh, we’re a high end liquor brand. Our things need to cost a fortune. No, they don’t run some inexpensive experiment. Start building relationships, have that person that actually knows how to build relationships and cares about them, lead it and keep investing into it over time. Because what these brands keep doing is resetting over and over again, the communities that they’re building. And so there’s no longevity or consistency. And so that they lose any momentum. And then people say, oh, it’s just another event by this brand. Whatever. It’s not special in any way, because there’s no sense of belonging,

Katie Hankinson (25:57):

No continuity. And also, yeah, that, that, that sort of the history and authenticity of how the brand is evolved gets lost every single time they re rethink their brand yeah. Strategy essentially. So, so are those four pillars? I think, I mean, that speaks to so well. And like, as you were talking, I was thinking of so many other examples, you know, the, the idea of membership influence, shared values and like that kind of emotional connection with

Jon Levy (26:22):

Yeah. It’s uh, that, there’s the third thing is that they’re, there needs to be an alignment between what the group is doing and what the individual cares about. Mm. Right. Which is, uh, that if you’re a competitive, you know, eating champion and I’m a knitter, then it wouldn’t make sense for me to join your eating community. Right. <laugh> I

Katie Hankinson (26:49):

Did. Cause your hands would be very busy kniting yes. Yes. You wouldn’t be able to the hot dogs in you

Jon Levy (26:55):

Precisely <laugh>. Uh, but there are communities of like competitive eaters and that’s amazing, and it’s great that people find their place in the world to connect and feel belonging. And what’s funny is that being a part of that community will probably extend their life. <laugh>

Katie Hankinson (27:13):

More maybe council out the

Jon Levy (27:14):

Yeah, exactly. Versus the hot dogs. I don’t even know like hot dogs are, I recently rated incredibly dangerous in terms of like each one, you eat pieces your life by what, like smoking a cigarette does or something like that.

Katie Hankinson (27:29):

But at least they’re all doing it together and therefore, yeah. And

Jon Levy (27:32):

That’s the important thing. Right. Which is like the there’s a famous study that looked at a, a small town, uh,

Katie Hankinson (27:41):

Is this the Italian, the elderly Italian.

Jon Levy (27:44):

Uh, so there’s two elderly Italian studies that are kind of famous. One is, uh, done, uh, when looking at, uh, blue zones. Mm right. And, uh, there’s a, a small town where there’s a disproportionate number of, uh, centenarians. And they’re like, the houses are tightly knit people stop in, in each other homes. If you walk in, you’ll often see multiple generations cooking together. Um, it take me there. The, the other one is the, the town that like, they didn’t understand why heart disease wasn’t killing everyone because their cholesterol and like food intake was through the roof. But they found that the positive impact social relationships was so great that it reduces stress. It makes people feel belonging. And it, this is sometimes referred to as, as the rabbit effect. Mm. And it comes from a, a study where researchers didn’t understand why some rabbits, they injected with a, an infection would die very quickly and some would survive. And, uh, it turned out that when the researchers would come in and pet the rabbits and that feeling of affection and belonging would actually increase their,

Katie Hankinson (29:00):

That is like a super dark version. I think, of the, of the, the pose impact of together there,

Jon Levy (29:07):

Somebody, well, there’s a great book called the rabbit effect on this topic. It’s quite brilliant. Aw.

Katie Hankinson (29:13):

Well, I mean, I, I, for the

Jon Levy (29:14):

Listeners, it’s not quite as brilliant as my book. <laugh>

Katie Hankinson (29:18):

Yes. Let’s start with you invited and then move on to animal testing. Uh, alleges. Um, well, I just, I think so for me, I think the topic of community is relevant to brands of all stripes mm-hmm <affirmative> and it is so key to driving a greater sense of loyalty. So I think just understanding just some of those principles is, is super valuable. I did wanna take a few minutes and we’ve only got a few left to talk a bit about your book. Um, you know, I is this, it’s sort of the combination of some of the, the topics that you’ve already explored, you know? Yeah. The connectivity of people, the human behavior that drives, um, how they, how do they think and behave, what drive, what ultimately drive creates that sense of belonging. Um, can you talk about, well a, how, how everything is dominating that, and also kind of what would be the kind of, well, I don’t wanna give anything too much away about around the book, but perhaps talk a bit about the itself is called you are invited the arts and science of cultivating influence. And when we spoke last, um, I think you made a really important point about the fact that influence today has, has become associated with a whole different meaning. Yes. That has kind of muddied the story a bit. You know, the kind of world of social influencers is kind of loud and garish right now, but, but actually when we think about cultivating influence, it means something a little bit more sort of deeper than that. Can you talk just a little bit about that and, and for sure tease people on the potential of the book too.

Jon Levy (30:55):

So if you look at our association for this word influence, our immediate response for a lot of people is thinking of like someone bikini clad, eating avocado toast <laugh>, or, you know, some other kind of fanciful travel around the world to really gorgeous places living this idealistic lifestyle or something like that. And I, I’ll be honest, I’ve a lot of respect for people who can create high quality content, right. Uh, I’m not, that’s not a skill that I have that’s particularly great. I don’t make these stunning photos on Instagram or anything like that. <laugh>, uh, but that’s very different than what we mean by influence in, in reality, uh, in reality influences the ability to have an impact on a person or an outcome mm-hmm <affirmative> and people on Instagram have an audience, people who follow them that enjoy their contact contact, and yes, they have some influence over those people, but that’s very different than the type of influence most of us actually care about.

Jon Levy (32:02):

So the kind of influence we care about is generally like, can I get my kids to go to bed at a certain time? <laugh> can I, uh, get my boss to think that my ideas are good and give me a promotion, can I get into that fitness class? That’s got one spot left and you know, I may or may not be able to, to book it. Hmm. And those things you’ll notice, have to do with who you’re connected to, right. How much they trust you and the sense of belonging that you have. It’s not based on follower count. Right. And so the question then becomes, can we figure out what triggers connection at every level? Yeah. Right. If you wanna connect with Oprah or you wanna connect with the CMO of a global brand, or even some community leader, what causes us to build trust, because I’ve given you one example of what we do backwards, but the there’s about four or five or six others that are really important that I cover in the book because we have so little time often when we meet people, how do we really make that impression?

Jon Levy (33:12):

Yeah. How do we maybe get them to invest the effort so that they care more about us? And then the third is how do do you actually give people a sense of belonging? I mean, people are lonelier than ever now due to the pandemic. If we can give them a sense of belonging, either as a brand or as an individual, then they’ll stick around forever and they’ll wanna engage with us. And if we can be the source of that for people, that’s incredible. It’s also going to, frankly, you work for a company that takes that strategy, the employees working there are going to be far happier working at that kind of environment than in company. That’s just saying, oh, we treat people as these pure numbers that, uh, you know, who’s inspired by selling another tube of toothpaste. I don’t know. I mean, sure. There’s somebody out there, but

Katie Hankinson (34:01):

Yeah, in a, in a world where a people are really hungry for connection, and we’ve just been through a time where we’ve been starved with it and B people are pretty savvy about being sold to yeah. It, it is a, you’re getting savvy. Yeah. It’s a, it’s a no brainer that actually it’s, it’s not even about Aing authenticity because people see through that too. It is about authentically finding ways to yeah. Connect with people in a, a kind of what, even if it’s at scale in a way that feels individual one on one.

Jon Levy (34:35):

And, and this is something I, I wanna emphasize the current, a company that does this fantastically well is, uh, Salesforce. Mm. Uh, they’ve, they’re probably the best example I’ve seen of a large corporation building community. And their current CMO, I think, was at the heart of it back before she was the CMO. She was the head of, um, their community. And she did a fantastic job. Her and her team really like these are people who fundamentally care about other people and want them to succeed. Mm. And if you’re going to take a community approach, and that’s not your skill, find one of these people that is likes to just love on everybody, because you need somebody who’s fundamentally benevolent who has other people’s best interests at heart. And at times it’s a good thing. If that conflicts with what’s going on at the company, love that they will keep you on course with making sure that your most important customers and your future customers feel like they belong as part of the company.

Katie Hankinson (35:49):

Um, that is such a powerful thing and, and sort of knowledge to drop. I, and I think as well, the idea of the good tension, you know, mm-hmm, <affirmative> the, the kind of democratic people, first community driven sensibilities need to occasionally crash into the results, sales, performance, driven, operational side of things in order for yeah. The move forward to happen. If there

Jon Levy (36:15):

Isn’t some cognitive friction, which is what chain snow, another great book called dream teams, it’s about what makes teams work effectively. If there’s in some cognitive friction, then you might not be exploring things. You might just be

Katie Hankinson (36:31):

Drifting. Yeah. Oh, Salesforce example is marvelous. Well, in our last couple minutes, I mean, I, I would like to sort of just read the, is it your, your own building while flying trajectory? Mm-hmm <affirmative>, um, I feel like you have kind of been your own behavioral, social experiment and kind of trying a lot of things out and connecting many things. And, and I would describe you as a perfect example of someone who’s built a sort of portfolio career in some ways of like lots of things, you know, know connecting together. What is next what’s what’s kind of now and next for you? The book came out this year.

Jon Levy (37:05):

Yeah. I I’ll be honest. I was not, I was hoping for popularity around the book. I was not expecting this. It hit the New York times. It was, uh, wall street. Journal’s book of the month in August. That’s awesome. Congrats. Thank you. Was like not expecting that’s being translated into its fifth language now. So if you speak, check you’re in luck, you’ll be able to get it in the check Republic. Um, that being said, uh, the, I think what’s next is, uh, twofold. Uh, a lot of companies have come to me to train their sales people and their HR people, uh, or their vice VPs and so on, in how to create more meaningful connections, especially at distance. The fact is that creating a meaningful relationship, uh, at distance requires a ton more intentionality because the things that are natural for in person don’t translate right. Automatically. And so I’ve been doing these kind of extensive multi-part training programs with some of the biggest companies in the world. It’s been fantastic. I mean, the results so far are incredible. And since it’s all built on behavioral science, it’s not just like, oh, this is what I think will be done. This is my

Katie Hankinson (38:21):

Thesis. Yeah. Let’s test it.

Jon Levy (38:23):

Yeah. It’s stuff that’s actually been tested and is still the test of time for the past 30 years plus, um, or some of it’s more cutting edge than that. But, um,

Katie Hankinson (38:36):

But the humans that they are based on haven’t changed much. We like to think we have, but we have, oh yeah.

Jon Levy (38:41):

It’s, it’s pretty funny. I often get, will this work on everybody? And the answer is everybody. I don’t know. But if you take 10,000 people it’ll work on most of ’em, right? Like, uh, you might be really weird and should go see a doctor. I don’t, it might not work on you. Uh, so, uh, that’s been a really big one. And then I’m working on my next book, which is about burnout. Oh,

Katie Hankinson (39:05):

That’ll be a hot topic. That’ll jump off the shelves. After the 2021 experience, I

Jon Levy (39:12):

Worked such absurd hours. And the more I looked into it, the more I realized that this is something that’s endemic to the way that we’re doing business right now. Yeah. And, uh, we can mitigate some of it with human contact, but since we’ve lost so much of that, because of the pandemic, it’s an issue, uh, and women are affected by it. Sign more than men mm-hmm <affirmative>. And I think there needs to also be a male voice out there being like, guys, cut it out, go help your spouses, your significant others, your family, whatever it is, women are working like two full-time jobs, often caring for family and having a career. Uh, and we’re doing damage on our relationships and, and lovely. Oh,

Katie Hankinson (39:57):

Well, John, thank you so much for joining us today. Um, the book is awesome. Do do read it for those of you who have not yet. Um, we’re excited to see the, the next one. I that’s a topic that I think will be very, very, very, uh, pertinent from most, most listeners. Um, but yeah, thank you for joining us and all the

Jon Levy (40:18):

Best. Thank you so much for having me. This has been a treat

Katie Hankinson (40:23):

Well, now that we’ve finished that thoroughly interesting interview, we’re getting ready to land, but before we do Mickey and I caught up on some of the themes and topics that

Mickey Cloud (40:31):

Stuck out to us, yes, we liken this to the post-game show where we break down the key lessons. We all, including us here at the Sasha group here is the Sasha sidebar.

Mickey Cloud (40:48):

Katie, what a fascinating guy, Jon Levy is.

Katie Hankinson (40:50):

I know I am. I kind of am envious of that. <laugh> whole thing that he’s built. Like I remember thinking like literally when I first moved to New York, I had this idea about having salons and that was gonna be how I was gonna meet people. And then it just remained the idea and I didn’t actually execute it the classic. Whereas John went and turned it into not only a really interesting and intriguing format, but something that has been kind of growing, expanding and making a whole network over a number of years

Mickey Cloud (41:22):

And, and turned it into a business, right? Like he took like this, this secret dinner series as like a way for, you know, creating relationships, meeting people and then started studying it. Right. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. And so then started studying it and researching it and wrote a book about it. And then now people are asking him to consult on how do you strengthen relationships within companies and, and, you know, HR training and some of these things. I just, I love that it went from this fascination to now a, an expert career, you know, an expert in, and now a consulting business built off of that.

Katie Hankinson (41:55):

Totally. There were so many really good nuggets in there in terms of just human behaviors. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and like the whys behind things and the kind of principles that drive them. Like, you know, the whole idea that you, you really are so heavily influenced by the people that you surround yourself with, like in ways that you would never even imagine the idea that like, obesity is like contagious. Right. But so is attitude towards like how you live your life or run your money or whatever, the, the things having a

Mickey Cloud (42:29):

Positive outlook, you know, I mean, that’s, that’s a thing that Gary HARs a on, right? Like if you’re, yeah. It’s a huge

Katie Hankinson (42:35):

Gary philosophy. Yeah.

Mickey Cloud (42:36):

If you’re unhappy, like cut out your unhappy friends, <laugh> get new friends, you know, like they, and so, yeah, it’s a personal growth thing, but then it also does apply to like the culture and climate that you’re building within an organization within a business mm-hmm <affirmative>

Katie Hankinson (42:49):

Network. Right. Something kind of grubby and grabby about word. Yeah. But actually, you know, what it is to create more authentic connections to people is, and when you start to think about it that way, unlike what the ingredients are to doing that, it unlocks a lot of ways to think about not only personal connections, but also how to do that from a business

Mickey Cloud (43:11):

Brand perspective. Yeah. I mean, if, if every conf and organizer applied John’s thesis to the time you get, when you’re standing around and like, there’s, I mean, there’s usually, it’s like food in a bar and you’ve got a name tag on, and then you like, are there standing around introducing yourself? Like if we instead had a common activity to do, whether, you know, it’s a, you know, the, it, the effect that he was talking about, mm-hmm, <affirmative> like find a way to invest in your relationship with your shared activity. Like, I, I would like going to conferences way

Katie Hankinson (43:42):

More. <laugh> it’s so true. And what a nice way do you like take people out of that light? It’s a bit like, I always used to think it’s nicer to sit next to someone at a restaurant at a table at dinner than opposite, because the pressure is off having to be like, like literally like gazing into their eyes and the conversation flows so much better.

Mickey Cloud (44:02):

Yeah. Maybe, maybe John needs to just consult for all of the, the conferences of the world as that as people are coming back into the world maybe, and starting to attend those things. Yeah.

Katie Hankinson (44:13):

And what are time to be thinking about how to invest in relationships and create connections? That’s that about how people used to have three friends on average beside family. And then we were down to two, like a decade later. And like now we probably just have like 15 digital friends in the metaverse, but no one left in real life. <laugh> so important

Mickey Cloud (44:36):

Time. Yeah. Um, so what’s our, maybe what’s our, what’s our question for, for folks out there,

Katie Hankinson (44:43):

Let’s have a fun one this time. If you were hosting a, an influencer dinner mm. A secret dinner show would be sitting around the table with you, who would you invite?

Mickey Cloud (44:54):

Yeah. What a, what a fun compliment that one guest gave John too, of like a, I was expecting a fantastic meal in decent company, and I got the exact opposite, like, uh, that was, that was quite, quite nice.

Katie Hankinson (45:06):

Thanks for joining us for building while flying today. I hope you learned much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.

Mickey Cloud (45:18):

If you’d like to hear more about how business owners and brands are navigating these times, tune in to the next episode. And if you’re so kind, please rate and review us, plus we’d love feedback. So let us know what you think, what you’d like us to dig into next on building while flying across brands, business says marketing and more

Katie Hankinson (45:33):

Original music by Fulton street music group.

Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson and Mickey Cloud, will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.

Jon Levy is a behavioral scientist who uses science to meaningfully connect brands and people.

He works with Fortune 500 companies and startups to help them apply the latest research to their marketing and sales efforts, engagement, and culture. His book You’re Invited: The Art and Science of Cultivating Influence debuted at #2 on the Wall Street Journal’s best-seller list. The book guides readers through the art and science of developing meaningful connections, and demonstrates how to gain trust, develop influence, and build community.

In his conversation with Katie, Jon dives into building community and human connection, and what it means to have influence. He describes a phenomenon he calls “the IKEA Effect” and how that impacts our relationships. He shares the origin of his Influencer Dinner series, and what he’s learned from hosting those events for over a decade. Through all of this, Jon says the biggest thing we can offer people these days is a sense of belonging.

If you’ve read and enjoyed You’re Invited, check out Jon’s first book The 2AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure. 

Other in-flight topics:

  • Why networking stinks
  • Creating community and human connection
  • Origin of the Influencer Dinner
  • What it means to have influence
  • Fostering community as a brand
  • A peek into Jon’s latest book
  • …and more!

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