How to Become an Influencer with Jon Levy


In this interview, Alan Olsen, CPA, MBA discusses with Jon Levy how to become an influencer.  Jon is a behavioral scientist, TED talk alum, and New York Times bestselling author.


Alan Olsen

Hi, this is Alan Olsen and welcome to American Dreams. My guest today is Jon Levy. Jon, welcome to today’s show.

Jon Levy

Alan, I’m so excited to be here. I always love hanging out with you. Thanks, Rob, I’m super

Alan Olsen

excited to have you on to well, we’ll go through and we’ll talk about some of the things that you’ve accomplished in life behavioral scientists, New York Times bestselling author, author, and then you’ve done a tremendous job at transforming companies. But before we get into all that, let’s talk about your path. How did you get to where you are today?

Jon Levy

I think it all really started that I was so unpopular as a child that nobody wanted to be my friend. Like, no joke. When I was in eighth grade, a school teacher secretly went all the students and said, Hey, you can privately submit to people you want to sit down next to it, and two people, you absolutely do not want to sit down next year.

And I discovered two things that they threw an awkward series of events. One was that there was one kid nobody wanted to sit with. And the second was that I was that kid. So I was really unpopular, super geeky as a child back before. Like, now you can be geeky and popular.

And, and I eventually figured that, if I want to make friends, it would help to understand how people behave. So I became a behavioral scientist who focuses on connection and trust and all these like, relationship things.

Alan Olsen

So it’s interesting, John, that I as I’ve gone through, and I’ve interviewed many, many people, you you really stand out. And, you know, the fact that you You’ve accomplished so much with so many, yet, when they asked you the question of how you got to where you are, I get an answer of it involves a lot of meekness on your part.

And, and, and I think there’s a secret sauce there that few people when they reach the pinnacle of, you know, being able to be that influencer. Stay meek. And so I I’m very, very impressed. So I’m going to talk about behavioral scientists. Okay. Yeah. So you studied to be a behavioral scientist? What exactly does that mean?

Jon Levy

So, you know, there’s a kind of fun way that I show people what I do as a behavioral scientist, by any chance, do you have your phone with you? I do. I do. Okay, put it facedown. And if you’re watching, you’re listening this, please put your face phone facedown on your leg, your table, whatever it is.

And now here’s a question for you. You know how everybody has an app on the bottom right corner of their screen? Without looking, I want you to guess what that app? It’s alright, do you have your guess?

Alan Olsen

Okay, I’m gonna I’m gonna guess. What is it? It’s my phone number.

Jon Levy

Oh, it’s your phone app? Yeah. Okay. Quickly, take a look at your screen, and then put it back. Coming through. Alright.

Alan Olsen

I have my phone up. But I will. I’ll booted up and we’ll, we’ll find out. Okay, we’ll find out. So okay, we’ll fast forward in the edit here. So.

Jon Levy

So, you’ll notice that most people, when I ask them that question, they will actually get about half of the people will get it right, half the people will get it wrong. But that’s not the real question. The real question for all of you out there listening is what time did it just display on your phone? Because you had to look at it in order to check the app? And the answer is you don’t know.

And that’s not a flaw of your behavior. That’s not a flaw of your memory. There’s far too much information coming at us at any moment. For any one of us to track everything. It’s called inattentional blindness. Now, this is where I come in. My job is to help us see what we’re missing. Because some of what we’re missing are things that we think work really well. And they actually just don’t.

And some of the things that we’re missing are things that if we were aware of them would make us a lot more effectively. So that might be the way that we talk to people, the way that we make friends, the way that we ask for favors the way that we run our businesses. And so there’s a whole collection of kind of these weird things or weird behaviors that human beings have.

And if you want, I’m happy to give a few fun examples that people will find. Alright, so Alan, you’ve been very successful in business. And in the business world, if you want to have a meeting or something. It’s quite common that I’d say, Alan, let me take you out for business dinner. Right. And overwhelmingly, those business dinners, people hate them.

They find them to be really awkward and uncomfortable. That doesn’t actually work well to build cost, what does is the exact opposite. It’s called the IKEA effect. And the IKEA effect says that we care more about our Ikea furniture, because we have to put it together and invest the effort than if it was just given to us. And my hunch is, you know, this, you have how many children,

Alan Olsen

I have seven, seven children yet.

Jon Levy

And you know, we love our children, because they can be difficult at times, because we have to change their diapers and they cry, and we invest effort. And if your children were adopted, you would love them just as much. It’s because of that effort we put into it. Which means that most of us are getting it wrong when it comes to relationships.

If I want to have a meaningful relationship with somebody, it’s not about buying, and it’s not about taking them for expensive dinners, those might be nine. But if I can find ways for you to invest effort into me, and for me to invest effort back into you, that’s when the caring begins, and the trust is built. That’s the IKEA thing.

Alan Olsen

You know, it’s interesting, because I’ve been doing this study recently on that of living a life of progression. You know, we we all go through life that the, you know, the same amount of time in a day, a week, a year, yet, in in that same span of time, different people accomplish different things.

And I’m trying to understand, why is it that some people make a choice to better themselves, while others make the choice? I’m just going to connect dots through routines, what have you have you come across the secret sauce to that formula?

Jon Levy

So if I had, I’d be so successful and rich that I’ve not tried to have the time to hang out with me, right? Like it’s the so the, here’s a few interesting things. There’s this concept called the locus of control, and the locus of control is the things that we believe that we can have an impact on.

So somebody who has a very small Locus of Control might think, you know, what’s the point in talking to my boss, they’ll never give me a raise. Whereas people have a very large Locus of Control believe, maybe erroneously, like it could be completely wrong, that they could affect and impact everything in their life.

Now, here’s what’s interesting, we probably have an ability to impact far more than we ever give ourselves credit for. And most of us probably walk around thinking, what’s the point for just about anything? Not only that, it doesn’t even occur to us, that there could be a way I, I had a very interesting experience where, you know, if you Google me, you find articles in every major outlet about me.

And I went to a resort a few years back in Mexico, and there was no internet connection. And people asked me what I did. And I told them, and we were all hanging out for a few days, just random people by the pool, are very nice. And then on day three, one of them came to me and said, John, I took a trip out of the resort and managed to get a signal and I Googled you.

I thought you were lying this entire time. And I was like, What do you mean, they go? Well, it just sounded so strange that you run these dinners, and that you’re a scientist and you wrote books and all that. I didn’t think that that was even a possibility. And so if you were to come to me on and tell me, you’ve accomplished all these things, I’d say oh, yeah, that makes sense.

Because in my mind, a person has so much influence on their life, if they’re willing to do the work. But if you fundamentally feel that you have a very small locus of control, then it does not occur to you and it becomes unbelievable, and literally you will not see opportunities that are directly in front of you. Because it does not occur to you that that opportunity is for you.

You have no influence over the snakes

Alan Olsen

you know, it’s interesting that that you say that and you know, when you think about no two of us are like we’re a different gifts, different mindsets. What’s your feeling on the the need to collaborate in life to take to have two individuals with different viewpoints? Is that a good thing?

Jon Levy

So I, I think that the answer for me would be that if you look at any A major endeavor that we’ve ever tried to accomplish, like a big stuff, you just can’t do it alone, you might be able to go to the supermarket and buy some stuff and do it yourself. But like, let’s look at raising seven kids, you need a variety of skills, a variety of temperament.

To be able to handle any of that, when you look at something at the scale of a company, or changing a social cause. You fundamentally need diversity. Now, when I say diversity, most people immediately go to race or gender or things like that. What I don’t think people realize is that the benefits of diversity aren’t that I’m working with a woman.

But that because I’m working with a woman, she was raised in a different way than me with different experiences. And as a byproduct, sees issues from different angles. Things that would never ever occur to me. Ideas are what’s called anti fragile. Meaning, there are certain things that when I put pressure on them, they break, like a glass, right?

A glass, I drop it, it shatters, then there are things that are anti fragile, things that when you apply pressure to them, they get stronger. So you go to the gym, you lift some weights, you might be sore for a day. But next time, you’re going to be stronger, right? It’s anti fragile. Ideas are anti fragile, when we put pressure on them, we begin to see their flaws, and they can improve.

So the benefit of diversity or having people that are different backgrounds, cultures, races, whatever it is that you can think of, is that they bring a different perspective to apply pressure to the ideas. And because of the pressure that they put on it, the idea becomes stronger as a byproduct.

If you want something really funny, researchers had people look, I think it was at mystery stories to try to figure out like who did it or whatever. And when they were told ahead of time that they were paired off with somebody that has an opposing political view. They solved the case faster.

Alan Olsen

That’s interesting. And you know, what’s even more interesting is how we’ve we’ve fallen into a very divided society today. Yet, yet, as you just pointed out, we need a diversity of opinion opinions to beat faster solutions. Now, I’m going to jump forward, you got this secret dining experience that you’ve done for the last 13 years? Okay. Can you tell me about it, how it started? And yes,

Jon Levy

so it got started because of a study about obesity. So, researchers were trying to figure out how obesity spreads, is it from person to person, or is it just, you know, luck of the draw of genetics.

And what they found was that if you have a friend who’s obese, your chances increased by 45%, their friends that you don’t know, have a 20% increase chance, and their friends have a 5% increase chance. Everything from happiness to marriage, and divorce rates, smoking habits, voting habits, all of it spreads from person to person.

So I thought maybe instead of beating myself up for not going to the gym, and not waking up at 6am to do that. Maybe if I had some friends who are athletes, I would actually, it’ll just be part of my culture. Right? And then I’ll go exercise. And I thought, what if I also had people who are top business minds?

And so I started asking the question, What would cause the best in the world to want to interact with me because I was nobody. And not that I’m somebody now, but like, you know, I’m definitely not a Nobel Laureate, or an Olympian or anything like that. And so I ended up designing a secret dining experience.

12 people are invited, they are not allowed to talk about what they do, or even give their last name. So that whole thing that gave them their status disappears. And then we cook what many have described as a edible meals together, you have 12. People who don’t know how to cook a meal isn’t that great, but it’s fine. When we sit down to eat, we play a guessing game to figure out what the person does.

And then they find out that they’re with astronauts and Olympians and Nobel laureates and CEOs of major companies and celebrities, Grammy Award winning Oscar winning, so on and so forth. I’ve hosted over 3300 people at 315 dinners in 11 cities and four countries, and he just lately free to all the attendees. So it’s been a wild journey for the past 13 years. Oh, how fun

Alan Olsen

and then, you know, after the after the experiences everyone kind of come and you know, thank you, John, or is there a way that they can continue to stay connected with each other

Jon Levy

so My objective was to build a community. So after many of the dinners, we run the salons and the salons are about 100 people and then we surprise them with kind of like three famous speakers. So it might be Bill Nye the Science Guy talking about, you know, theories in science, and then we’ll have one the roots perform their famous band.

And then we’ll do have an F 35 pilot, talk about what it’s like to make decisions at Mach Five, you know, or whatever speeds they go. And so we share ideas that are really novel and unique, and everybody gets to bond further. And then we have other events like lunches and, and workouts and like all these opportunities for people to gather.

Alan Olsen

Now you’re also prolific book writer, you have New York best time seller. You’re invited as you share the experience of the secret of success for your your ability to write give us some give us some of the the books that you written on the topics, the motivation to share them with the world.

Jon Levy

My first book was kind of wild, it was called the to aim principle. I was curious what drives people to live an exciting and remarkable life. So I broke down the science of adventure through a series of stories. I battled Kiefer Sutherland and drunken Jain guy.

You might remember him, he was the star of 24. I within tents, by 10 seconds, give or take of meeting, the woman who was working at duty free in Stockholm airport, she decided to quit her job and travel with me and my family. We, yeah, a lot of kind of crazy stories. And then I break down the science of how things work out and how people interact.

My second book you’re invited, is about human connection, trust and belonging. Now, that was the one that became a New York Times bestseller, it came out in the middle of a pandemic. So when people were most isolated, it was a great book on how to connect. And then my next book is about team ship. So what is it that actually causes organizational success?

And my argument, or my belief is that we overvalue the leader and undervalue the team, that it’s how we interact with each other that defines our success, not just following some great inspirational leader. And so how do we really ensure that our relationships are strong, so that the team can accomplish what it needs to

Alan Olsen

the element of trust it you emphasize the importance? Can you share about maybe your perspective about how it works? Because there was a feeling I want everyone to trust me, so I can be their leader? Right? Yeah. Clearly, it doesn’t work that way.

Jon Levy

So you make an excellent point on trust literally works the opposite of the way that we behave. And I’ll share two kinds of concepts. One is we discussed the IKEA effect, right? We think we can buy relationships off of like, expensive dinners, when really, it’s shared effort or investment of effort. So me asking your opinion, is more important to build trust than me buying you something.

And there’s a little secret, it’s called stalking, researchers had people stopped on the street and asked them for really complicated directions. And nobody gave it well, for the most part. And then they had people stop on the street, and they asked them the time. And after they got the time from them, they got they asked for the directions. And they almost always got it.

And this is called stalking. So if I want you to trust me, I’m going to start off with something really small. Like Alan, I absolutely. Love your podcast, are there two books that you really recommend I check out? Then once I actually read them, I come back to you. And I say, Alan, they were fantastic. Is there any chance I could get like 510 minutes of your time to discuss them with you?

Now that you’ve invested effort into me with a recommendation, I’ve shown them a person willing to do the work. Now, you’re willing to potentially dedicate more time. And that’s because people think that trust precedes vulnerability. If I look like I’m perfect, maybe you will trust me. The truth is it works the opposite. And it’s called a vulnerability loop. Person, one signals vulnerability.

So I just had a child three months in, I frankly, have no clue what I’m doing. I’m still half the time gotten the freaking out. Now if I say this, and you make fun of me trust is reduced. And said, if you say, John, I’ve had seven kids. I absolutely get it. The first time I held my child. I had no idea what I was doing. But at this point, I’ve quite a bit of experience, what are you dealing with?

I’m happy to talk you through the moment that I’ve seen that you signaled vulnerability by saying, John, initially I had no idea. Now I know that you can be vulnerable with me. And we are safe to the same level of vulnerability. So trust increases. So person, one signals person to acknowledge this person to signal person one acknowledges trust increases, that is the base unit of trust. So if you want

Alan Olsen

let that you know, interesting thing about a child that is a parent, you look down at the child absolutely helpless. Yeah, you know, you need to feed him, you need to clothe them, you need to care for their needs, and they’re just going to love you. They’re not going to complain or say that you did anything right or wrong. They’re just going to love you.

So we learned a lot. So yeah. So John has been absolutely a pleasure having you with us today. Let me ask one last question here, because it’s at the end of life, when everything is said, Dan, how do you want to be known?

Jon Levy

That’s such an interesting question. I don’t know if I actually care about that. And here’s why. I’ve really cared that people have friendships and relationships in their lives. And if I’m not remembered, but there’s a lot more people connecting, and having fantastic relationships. And then I feel like I’ve done my part. Because I think eventually all of us are going to be forgotten.

But if I can have a lasting impact, a few generations down because friendships exist and relationships and kids are born and all that. I really feel like that was life was spared.

Alan Olsen

Well said, Well, Jon has been a pleasure having you with us today. Alan, thank you so much. This has been a joy. I really appreciate it.

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    Jon Levy on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
    Jon Levy

    Jon Levy is a behavioral scientist and New York Times bestselling author known for his work in trust, human connection, belonging, and influence. Jon specializes in applying the latest research to transform the ways companies approach marketing, sales, consumer engagement, and culture. His clients range from Fortune 500 brands, like Microsoft, Google, AB-InBev, and Samsung, to startups.

    More than a decade ago, Jon founded The Influencers Dinner, a secret dining experience for industry leaders ranging from Nobel laureates, Olympians, celebrities, and executives, to artists, musicians, and even the Grammy winning voice of the bark from “Who Let the Dogs Out.” Guests cook dinner together, but can’t discuss their career or give their last name, and once seated to eat, they reveal who they are. Over time, these dinners developed into a community. With thousands of members, Influencers is the largest community of its type worldwide.

    Jon’s second book, You’re Invited: The Art and Science of connection, trust and belonging, was released in 2021 to incredible fanfare quickly becoming a New York Times, and was selected by the Wall Street Journal as a “Book of the Month”. In it, he demonstrates the importance of human connection, trust and community to accomplishing what is most important to us.

    In his free time, Jon works on outrageous projects. Among them spending a year traveling to all 7 continents, or to the world’s greatest events (Grand Prix, Art Basel, Burning Man, Running of the Bulls, etc.) and barely surviving to tell the tale. These Adventures were chronicled in his first book: The 2 AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure

    Alan Olsen on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
    Alan Olsen

    Alan is managing partner at Greenstein, Rogoff, Olsen & Co., LLP, (GROCO) and is a respected leader in his field. He is also the radio show host to American Dreams. Alan’s CPA firm resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and serves some of the most influential Venture Capitalist in the world. GROCO’s affluent CPA core competency is advising High Net Worth individual clients in tax and financial strategies. Alan is a current member of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (S.I.E.P.R.) SIEPR’s goal is to improve long-term economic policy. Alan has more than 25 years of experience in public accounting and develops innovative financial strategies for business enterprises. Alan also serves on President Kim Clark’s BYU-Idaho Advancement council. (President Clark lead the Harvard Business School programs for 30 years prior to joining BYU-idaho. As a specialist in income tax, Alan frequently lectures and writes articles about tax issues for professional organizations and community groups. He also teaches accounting as a member of the adjunct faculty at Ohlone College.

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