According to this week’s guest, Jon Levy, your life can be exciting and full of diverse experiences, but only if you are able to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Jon is a behavioral scientist and the author of The 2 AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure. In his most recent TED talk, Jon talks about the science behind becoming influential and how we can use this approach to elevate our status and connect with the top industry leaders across our culture. Today, Jon speaks with host, Josh Martin, on diversity and how surrounding yourself with a diverse group of friends can lead you toward a more fulfilling and well-rounded life. He also talks about how finding adventures can lead to growth if you are willing to push and challenge yourself.
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Behavioral Scientist, Author and Adventure Expert, Jon Levy
I have my guest, Jon Levy, a friend of mine, behavioral scientist, Founder of The Influencers. We discuss human behavior, influence the power of the community.
The mission of your blog is to show people the world beyond or the path to growth beyond the standard focus on your career-type of stuff. You were sharing how when you were ready to look past athletics, then you could grow even more. My background is in behavioral science and there’s this interesting idea that we are essentially most engaged when we’re doing something outside of our skillset. When it’s not hard, we’re constantly failing and not easy that it’s boring. It’s at the edge of our comfort zone. That’s something that a lot of people who drove for mastery struggle with, which is that at a certain point, the incremental changes for each additional hour you put in is minute that going down the standard path won’t get you there. You’re no longer engaged. The ability for you to shave a tenth of a second off of your 100-yard dash, that amount of time isn’t going to make you such a better athlete versus maybe understanding how to read your opponent, understanding the strategies they use. Maybe developing a better muscle reaction time. I imagine football somewhere between dodgeball and hockey.
It’s funny that you mentioned that especially as players get older in the league, you’re not as strong. You’re not as fast. You have to find ways to compensate for that.
I was going to say you look weak at 60 pounds.
I do my fair share of weight training and speaking to this idea of discovering new ways to improve without being boring and being on this edge of this novelty of sorts. I know that’s something that you used to talk about.
Our brains are hardwired for novelty. If something is too familiar, it’s uninteresting. It doesn’t raise a response. If something is completely crazy, it will also scare the crap out of us and we won’t want to get anywhere near it. Fundamentally, when our brain responds to novelty, it entices us to explore and understand it. Some people theorize it like this. Imagine it was 40,000 years ago. You’re in a hunter-gatherer society. At that moment, you’re alive. You understand the environment. The moment something unfamiliar shows up, your brain wants to understand it in order to be able to continue to survive. We are rewarded for exploring and understanding things because they ensure our survival. We’re also rewarded for being scared of certain things. It’s this interesting dichotomy. One of the reasons that it feels good to come face to face with our fears and overcome them.
You mentioned dinners. For you, you also mentioned exploring other areas. Years ago, I got curious about what causes us to live exceptional lives. I wanted to understand by connecting with important or influential people. The thing is that I was 28 years old and wasn’t exactly living up to my potential. I didn’t have access to people like that. At the same time, there was interesting research that came out about how we affect each other. These two researchers, Nicholas Christakis, and James Fowler were examining the obesity epidemic. They were curious, does obesity spread from person to person like a cold or is it a percentage of the population Alzheimer’s? What they found was startling. If you have a friend who’s obese, your chances of obesity increase by 45%.
Your friends who don’t know them, their chances increased by 20% and their chances increased by 5% like their friends. Each has an effect three degrees out. It’s also true for happiness, marriage and divorce rates, smoking habits, and so on. I wanted to become an expert on curating the people around me. Like what you’re doing with this, that based on the people that you bring around yourself and have conversations with. Your readers get to read, their lives improve because they get to engage in conversations or ideas that normally wouldn’t.
I said, “If the people that we surround ourselves with have such a dramatic impact, how do I connect with the most important people in every field?” I spent a lot of time studying it. I founded a secret dining experience where twelve people are invited. They’re not allowed to talk about what they do or give their last name. They cooked dinner together, and when they sit down to eat, they get to guess what everybody else does. They find out that it’s the president of a major television network, the editor-in-chief of a magazine, an NFL player who has a podcast, a celebrity from a popular show. I’ve hosted about 1,500 people across 172 dinners. It’s been a trip.
That’s how Jon and I met at one of his dinners and I bumped into a classmate of mine who I didn’t even know I was a classmate. Stephanie Nass, also known as Chefanie, the Millennial Martha Stewart. I met a bunch of incredible people.
You were at a dinner with the CFO of Sony. You came to dinner. I can’t even think who was there. Was it the one with the Girl Scouts of America, the CEO?
The last one I went to was the executive producers of Freakonomics and some artists in PepsiCo.
The Head of Beverage for Pepsi, she runs a multibillion-dollar company. We also had Allen Gannett, The Creative Curve guy. He’s brilliant. It was a fun dinner.
It was a cool experience. This whole idea of community is something that I’ve been exploring for myself. For me, it’s been more of having interesting conversations with incredible people and learning from those conversations. That’ll provide value to readers that stand to learn and gain from these conversations, which could be about anyone. This whole idea of community, inspired by these Influencer events and we talk about this journey that I’ve been on. We had a meeting, David, AJ, and I, to discuss finding a more particular purpose in the work that we’re doing together in the content that we’re producing, which I tied directly to my individual purpose, why I’m here.
That’s not to say that you can’t choose your purpose or something. You’re not destined to a specific purpose necessarily, but it’s been me taking a survey of all the things that I’ve done in the past and the interest that I have, whether it be my experience in football or this new found love for travel, for food, foreign dining experiences from foreign cuisines. This idea there’s something to be gained by developing a community or celebrating a community that is diverse and has all these different backgrounds and experiences. It’s something that you discussed specifically with your mission behind the influencers.
Most of us hang out with people who are like us and that’s fine. We’re attracted to people who have similar characteristics. I did a huge study on online dating and we looked at 421 million potential matches between people. What we found was that in essentially every characteristic, the more similar you are, the more likely you are to date, with the exception of introversion and extroversion. Introverts never start conversations with other introverts, so they rarely date. Aside from that, if you have the same initials, you’re 11.3% more likely to date. If you have the same educational background, it can be upwards of 48%, 60%. That can be fine with the person that’s going to be your mate, the person that you’re going to be spending every day with because you need a certain level of compatibility not to kill each other. The fact of the matter is that diversity, we’re used to thinking of as getting people of color, white people, women, transgender people together. The benefit of that diversity isn’t from the fact that let’s say you’re black and your friend is white. The benefit is that as a black man, you have a unique perspective on the world that is distinct from an Asian woman. The thinking causes and the knowledge and the background and understanding, that brings new access, new opportunities. Whereas if you have 40 economists in a room and you add another one, you haven’t added anything. They probably all went to the same schools have the same opinions, but all of a sudden if you add a school teacher, then you can tackle a problem in a new way. Do you know XPRIZE?
I’ve never heard of it.
It was started by Peter Diamandis, who’s a major thought leader in the Silicon Valley area. They said there’s little innovation happening in certain fields. What if we put a prize for X amount of dollars and let the public come to figure out how to solve these problems? One prize was how do we get a payload of a person or two people into space and back down safely. That solution was then bought by Virgin Galactic, which became Virgin Galactic. One of the issues was how do you deal with a large oil leak. The Gulf of Mexico had huge amounts of gasoline that got there and then cleaning it up was a real pain. There wasn’t a clear solution on how to deal with something at that scale.
They put a huge sum of money and said, “If anybody can figure this out, we’ll give you this prize.” It’s an XPRIZE in whatever it was. The second runner up was a tattoo artist. Not somebody you’d expect to solve an environmental physics problem. The solution that he came up with was based on the way that ink is cleaned up during tattooing. They use some material that has a large surface area so that the ink catches on it and then they produced that in a way to solve the oil, catching the oil. Those novel solutions come from bringing two disparate areas together in a new way. It’s a remix.We are essentially most engaged when we're doing something outside of our skillset. Click To Tweet
That stuff almost only happens these days when you bring ideas from disparate backgrounds. That’s the diversity that I care about. The problems that we have to solve now as a society aren’t going to be solved by a group of guys that all went to the same schools tackling the problem. You need diversity of thinking, backgrounds, people and so on. Not because it looks good from a public perspective of look at all the shades of people they have. Fundamentally, research has consistently shown that diverse groups function better, that they have better solutions, better ideas.
AJ brought that up. We’re having this discussion of what will be forming the work that I’m interested in doing and not necessarily bringing groups of people together. Maybe in some way bringing people together but celebrating this diversity and recognizing the value in that diversity. It’s proven by science. It’s a fact. The more diverse opinions, views, experiences, beliefs, practices that you can get into a room constructively working together to solve large problems, the more likely you are to solve these large problems.
Even small problems. There’s a great book. The author’s name is Shane Snow and Shane wrote a book called Dream Teams. A look at what causes effective teams to function. One of them is cognitive friction. Cognitive friction means that you’re willing to go toe-to-toe on an idea. One of the great examples is the Wu-Tang Clan. I don’t know if you know well, but the way that they would pick who got to record the track was that they would battle it out and whoever had the best lyrics would get to be on track. They would all fight each other in order to earn respect. There was cognitive friction. There was also mutual respect that enforced that. They weren’t killing each other. One of the things that Shane looked at was an experiment done with Democrats and Republicans.
The researchers took people who are self-declared Democrat, Republican, and then they gave them a murder mystery or mystery book and they paired them off to figure out the solution to the story, who had done it or whatever it was. The groups that were told that they were paired off with a Democrat and a Republican, opposing views, caused the people to be more prepared when they brought their opinions and then let them come to a conclusion faster than those that were of homogeneous groups, both Democrat or both Republican. There’s this critical element that it’s essential to have diversity. It’s also essential to have dissension. When we say diversity, we often talk about race.
Here’s a simple example. I realize that every single person I know is not racist. You would think that that’s a good thing, but it is impossible for me to even get in the mindset of somebody who believes in slavery. It’s foreign to me. I come from a mixed-race family. I can’t imagine why my grandfather would have been a slave. It doesn’t make sense to me. In order to even function in a world this now and if I want to be able to access, there’s probably some absurdly high percentage of the population that is staunch racists. If I want to be able to connect with them and change their opinion, I’m going to need to let that into my world.
If you ever connect with people who are recovering Clan members or anything like that, one of the things that said that made the difference was actual exposure. You can’t see somebody as lesser when you’re surrounded by them on a daily basis, interacting and seeing the evidence that they’re normal guys like you. When you look at people who changed their opinion on gay marriage, they cite things like, “That show Modern Family. I saw that gay couple and it reminds me of my wife and me.” Those are the arguments we have and it humanizes something. If you don’t have access to it, it doesn’t even occur to you that it’s something that needs to be humanized. As infuriating as it is, that cognitive friction is essential to make progress.
I’m excited to continue to go on this journey and develop this idea that I have. I’ve also taken a trip to Southeast Asia. We’re going to Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, and Indonesia.
A few fun things that I’ve learned from my trips to Southeast Asia. The rural areas are by far the best parts, at least for me. I’m overwhelmed in the major cities. If you’re in Vietnam and you go to Ho Chi Minh, the number of mopeds or Vespas, depending on what you call it, that are attacking you as you cross the street. It’s an ocean of people. As a Westerner, I didn’t know how to process that many people are coming at me at any given moment. Between the heat and everything, there was something peaceful about being the basic bitch Instagrammer and going to photograph some rice paddies. Being the only person for a mile and seeing literally that. Are you going to Cambodia? Are you going to go to Siem Reap?
That’s on the list.
There’s a martial arts school that’s literally off the grid that’s right near Siem Reap. It’s dirt floors and they do traditional tattoos that are passed down from generation to generation. I got one. This is what’s on my arm. My wife and I have matching style tattoos. These gotten to popularity after Angelina Jolie got one because she adopted a Cambodian child or something like that. Maybe she was filming Tomb Raider and part of Tomb Raider was filmed at Siem at this mega-complex. It’s one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. She got one of these tattoos. They take a long pole with a needle and ink and they hammered into your skin. They’re these patterns that are supposed to be blessings that protect you. Mine is supposed to protect me from six directions. I don’t know which six. I’m always on the defensive. It’s supposed to make me charming and I’m hoping that works out any day now.
A lot of our trips, Sierra and I, this will be our third major international trip. We focus on these large metropolitan areas. We’ve been to Bogota or Buenos Aires. Those two major cities we traveled to in 2020. In 2017, we got to the more rural areas in Patagonia. It’s when we had the best experiences. Singapore is a large city. It’s easier to get into Singapore than the other countries. Not into, but travel too.
It’s a major hub. HSBC is Hong Kong Singapore Bank. It’s a major financial institution in one of the richest places in the world. If you watched Crazy Rich Asians, is it Jon Chu?
I watched that movie though. It’s a cool movie and I’m excited to go to food markets out there.
The Bieber Movie, the director of that, he was also the director of GI Joe: Renegade Force. He did The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers. It is warm. There’s amazing food and you’ll be spending lots of time in malls. It’s if you go to Dubai or something. I went to the Philippines, Bali, Singapore, and we went to Myanmar. That was crazy because it’s essentially on lockdown. It’s ruled by a regime. The funny thing about that country is that the word for Facebook is the word for the internet because Facebook gave free Facebook access to the entire population. It led to this incredible spread of racism and misinformation. There’s crazy ethnic cleansing and violence because Facebook didn’t moderate its content there. Myanmar is beautiful. It has the Bagan, which are pagodas. It’s another UNESCO site. You can go ballooning over it. It’s gorgeous. For more, check out my Instagram at @JonLevyTLB.
This idea of community and traveling the world, I know that you have some interesting stories from your travels. I know you don’t have any warrants out there. This idea of adventure. I know you explored your last book.
My last book was called The 2 AM Principle. The 2 AM Principle is that nothing good happens after 2:00 AM except the most epic experiences of your life. It’s either you end up in a drunken Jenga battle with Kiefer Sutherland, fighting for your life, or you are at a pizza place wishing you had gone home. You’re too drunk and your friends are like, “Let’s go and meet girls.” You’re like, “What are you talking about? You’re drunk. Go home.” There’s little in between. It’s either the craziest experience of your life or it’s not worth being awake. I tried to codify and understand what causes people to live exciting lives. I broke down the science. I spent years traveling around the world. At that time, I did stupid stuff like I got crushed by a bull in Pamplona. Within ten seconds of meeting the woman behind the counter at Duty-Free in Stockholm airport, she had accepted an invitation to travel to Israel with me and quit her job.Our brains are hardwired for novelty. If something is too familiar, it's uninteresting. Click To Tweet
We put it all to the test and its absolute craziness. What we did was we broke down the science so that you don’t have to go through as many awkward and stupid incidences as I did. You can apply the research and I’ll give you an example. Imagine you go on the most amazing date you’ve ever been on. You’re three hours in, you’re head over heels for this person, and you’ve reached a point in the date where you’re going to lean in for the kiss. As you do, the person looks you in the eyes and says the most awful thing you have ever heard in your life. You go home and somebody says, “Good date or bad date?” What do you say?
How is it possible that it’s three hours of perfection and three seconds of bad and it’s terrible? The reason is that human beings don’t process the duration of pleasure or pain. They process the peaks of experiences and how they add and the end is disproportionate. It’s called the Peak-End Rule. It was discovered by Dan Kahneman, who’s a Nobel Laureate who essentially established with Amos Tversky behavioral economics, the entire field of research. The important thing about this is that most people go out and they try to push an experience way past the point of enjoyment. It ends on a sour note and it’s often late at night.
Unless you’re sure you have what it takes to make it even better, soon after when things peak, it’s a good time to call it because you’ll remember the experience more fondly and be willing to participate in more things in the future. You’ll get a full night’s sleep and the next morning you’ll be functional rather than regretting anything. If you want to enjoy yourself the most and remember it more positively and engage with things more, remember always to end things on a positive note. That might mean that you don’t always make a move and try and kiss somebody. It might mean that you miss out every twentieth time on something crazy, but 19 out of 20 times you’ll be happy that you did go. Frankly, nothing good happens in those late hours except for the most amazing things.
I’m taking this trip to Asia. If you could give one point of advice to have the best trip. We’ll be there for a few weeks, so there’s plenty of time.
The biggest piece of advice I can give is the main reason to live an adventurous life is to have the opportunity to grow. As I define an adventure, it’s an experience that is, one, exciting and remarkable. Two, it possesses adversity and/or risk. Three, it brings about growth. You have to have something to overcome. It has to be something worth talking about that has a challenge to it. Preferably a perceived challenge like get a gun away from somebody, and that it causes you to grow. Long past the point that you’ll forget that story, you’ll be a person with an expanded capability. The stories get replaced with more recent stories that are more salient, but the growth never goes away.
You’re always the person who has done that thing. If you’re going to go out there, the size of your life is going to be proportionate to your willingness to be uncomfortable because growth is fundamentally uncomfortable. If I was going to give you any piece of advice, it’s that you should seek out experiences that make you uncomfortable and there’s a sweet spot. You don’t want it uncomfortable that you have a nervous breakdown or a panic attack. You want it outside your comfort zone and you want to find the right people that will push you into that. That’s what will make the difference. Go out there and be uncomfortable for sure.
You build on these growth experiences and taking these incremental steps.
It’s called the winter effect. With each win, you get more confident and it gets a flywheel. It starts carrying its own weight. It’s a lot more complex than that. There are four stages. Establish, push boundaries, increase, continue. Each of these stages has characteristics. If we were to boil it down, you have to be willing to be uncomfortable and put yourself out there and know that you’re going to screw up a lot because all of us do, even the best.Nothing good happens after 2:00 AM except the most epic experiences of your life. Click To Tweet
I can say that through my travels, and we’re talking large international trips, but it could be anywhere. You’re going to the next town or the next state. Wherever you may be going, the next neighborhood, anywhere new to you, the reader. My trips have gotten increasingly more adventurous. The first trip we did was to Asia and we stayed in the major metropolitan areas. We had Tokyo and a few other cities and we didn’t do much relative to our trip to South America where we hiked a glacier, hung out with wild penguins. We’re in the middle of nowhere in Patagonia, this winery. One, I wasn’t comfortable with being there because of how remote it was if something were to happen at the winery.
Was there a serial killer living there?
There wasn’t a serial killer, but there was some history of some raids of the winery because it’s a posh spot in the middle of nowhere. It’s isolated. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Mendoza. A lot of money visiting coming in and out, but it’s not necessarily wealth that’s distributed throughout the community. You have people that see that and try and rob, take advantage of that.
When you were first talking about it, I was imagining Get Out. A community of freaky people who are wealthy.
Not quite Get Out, but even little things like that make me uncomfortable. I know there’s no way for me to get out if something did go down. I wouldn’t know where to go because there are no lights.
Isn’t your job to hit people professionally?
That’s under controlled circumstances. I would say that even for an NFL linebacker, taking risks has proven to be difficult even though I’m becoming more comfortable with getting outside of my comfort zone. I appreciate you coming out and being here, Jon. It’s been a long time in the making and it’s coming full circle. Jon introduced me to the producer who helps edit and create this with me. It’s always exciting and happy to have you here. It’s been a cool relationship as it grows forward. I’m excited to share more experiences with you and to learn more from you. I know a lot of other people feel the same way.
This has been a treat.
Is there any way for people to find you online or for the tag?
I am JonLevyTLB everywhere. It’s @Jon Levy TLB on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram. I only use Instagram. I’m super easy to get ahold of. I have a website, JonLevyTLB.com and TED Talk. That’s not JonLevyTLB. You can search Jon Levy. I’ve spoken at pop tech and there’s plenty of content out there.
Any cool projects coming up we should look out for?
I have my first book. The 2 AM Principle is now in discussion for a 22-minute lighthearted comedy for one of the streaming broadcasting companies. We have a book about influence. A working title is The Influence Equation. There are a ton of fun projects with brands that I can’t talk about. There are lots of secrets.
Lots of secrets next to Jon. Thanks for coming and until next time.
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About Jon Levy
Jon Levy is a behavioral scientist and author, best known for his work in the fields of influence, community/customer engagement, and adventure. Levy is affiliated with C-Lab and specializes in applying research to transform the ways companies approach marketing, sales, consumer engagement, and product development.
Levy also founded “The Influencers”, secret dining experience and community, whose participants includes more than 1,400 leaders across industry, ranging from Nobel laureates, Olympians, and celebrities, to executives, editors-in-chief and royalty. In 2016, Levy released his first book, The 2 AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure, which explores the science of living a fun, exciting and remarkable life.