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Oct. 14, 2021

98 How to Cultivate Your Influence and Build Powerful Connections with Jon Levy | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader

98 How to Cultivate Your Influence and Build Powerful Connections with Jon Levy | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader
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In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Jon Levy, behavioral scientist and author of the book You're Invited: The Art and Science of Cultivating Influence.Jon Levy shares how we can build stronger and more trusting relationships and how leaders can use the science of connection to increase team trust and engagement.   

Some highlights:

-Jon Levy's interest in building community and relationships

-Jon Levy talks about culture and psychological safety as essential keys to increasing connection in organizations.

-Leading with Benevolence

-Vulnerability loops as a way to build trust

-Jon Levy's Influencer Dinners and the science behind attracting Noble Prize winners, Olympic athletes, business leaders, artists, and royalty.   

-The Ikea Effect and how to use it to build trust and greater connection.  

-The mere exposure effect and its role in team collaboration. 

Also mentioned in this episode:

-Kent Grayson, associate professor at  Kellogg School  and the faculty director of The Trust Project

Books by Jon Levy:

You're Invited: The Art and Science of Cultivating Influence by Jon Levy

Book Recommendations:
Thinking Fast and Slow by Dan Kahneman

Predictably Irrational by Dr. Dan Ariely

Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

Dream Team by Shane Snow

Connect with Jon Levy:

Jon Levy Official Website

Jon Levy on LinkedIn

Jon Levy on Instagram

Jon Levy on Facebook

Jon Levy on Twitter

Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:


More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website: 



Mahan Tavakoli: 

Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I am so honored and excited to have you along with me on this journey of learning and growth where on Tuesdays, we have conversations with magnificent change makers from the greater Washington DC DMV region whose leadership has been impactful in their organizations and beyond. And then on Thursdays with global thought leaders whose leadership insights can be impactful on how we lead and our impact on our organizations and community at large. 

Now I'm really excited this week to be bringing to your conversation with Jon Levy. Jon is a behavioral scientist best known for his work in influence human connection and decision. That is critical, whether it comes down to networking for business or the human connection we need in our personal relationships. The loneliness epidemic has gotten worse, not just because of the pandemic, not just since social media, but for the past couple of decades. And Jon's insights, I believe can be impactful as leaders look to generate and have greater connection among their teams in order to align for greater impact of the organization.

Jon has had also great experience in putting on events of his own. He's actually the founder of the influencers dinner, which is a secret dining experience for industry leaders ranging from Nobel laureates to Olympian, celebrities, and executives. He has a unique perspective on what it takes to bring these people to the table and help them connect better with each other.

Lessons we can all learn, whether it's with respect to how we network more effectively and most specifically how we lead and engage our teams more effectively for that greater connection. A lot of the insights that Jon shares also come from his brilliant book You're Invited: The Art and Science of Cultivating Influence. An absolute must so can't wait to share this conversation with you. 

I also can't wait to hear more of your comments and thoughts and suggestions. I love those. Keep them coming. mahan@mahantavakoli.com. There's a microphone icon on partneringleadership.com. Leave voicemail messages for me there. 

Don't forget to follow the podcast that way you'll be sure to be notified of new releases. And those of you that enjoy these on Apple, leave a rating and review when you get a chance. That way you will get more people to listen to these conversations and become more purpose driven as you have become through looking at these different data points of purpose and impact putting them together so you can lead for greater purpose yourselves. 

Now, here is my conversation with Jon Levy.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Jon Levy. Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I am thrilled to have you in the conversation with me. 

Jon Levy: 

I'm super excited to be here. And I think we're going to give the leaders listening today something pretty special. So I'm really appreciative that you invited me.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

I have absolutely no doubt. I read your book, You're Invited and loved so many concepts, both with respect to connection, networking, which is important to business leaders. But also I think a lot of the concepts you talk about Jon transfer effectively to the work environment and how leaders can increase engagement, increased trust within their teams. So can't wait until we get to some of those elements of the conversation.

 But first things first, Jon would love to know about your upbringing. And I know as it impacts all of us, it has impacted you a lot. How has your upbringing impacted the kind of person you've become? 

Jon Levy: 

So should I start off by telling you how weird my parents are? 

I think that's something everybody says, especially when you're like an immigrant family. And you're like, "Oh wow, my parents are really weird."

My dad was a decently well-known artist, Benjamin Levy and my mom's a composer and conductor, her name's Hanna. But my dad was not like everybody else's dad. And my dad being an artist was covered in paint constantly and would show up sometimes to pick me up from school. And my dad's mixed race. So he's half Yemenite and either half Turkish or North African, we're not really sure. 

And so he's got like the Afro and he looks different from everybody. And especially back then, growing up was super, super embarrassing. But he would do this thing. He could bark and it sounds exactly like a dog. And he would go meet with clients and stuff to go out to dinners at nicest restaurants and he would bark and the staff would start freaking out thinking there would be a dog in the restaurant. And then he would look under the tables as if “Where is it?” And the family kind of knew to play it long and the staff would get upset and be like, "Sir, you can't have your pet in here." And all this kind of craziness. 

And so, yeah, he was a super odd dude, he's still around, but still a super odd guy. And that's part of the charm. But he would really love to gather people. Wherever we would go. It wouldn't just be the family, it would be everybody. So, he would host these cultural evenings in our house. And I grew up with this where we'd have musicians perform and poets present, and then people share ideas. So think the old school salons of the 1700 in France. And oddly, years and years later, I was probably eight when this was taking place, I ended up recreating it to a large degree. And I think that I have to attribute my very desire of bringing people together and the basic structure of building community from my parents, because my mom is such a loving person and my dad is such an oddball and both of them are so creative. I would say that that was probably a huge inspiration for what eventually became my career.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So you've had that inspiration. And what a wonderful example that your parents were for you bringing such diverse people together for the conversations that you learned from.

Now, growing up also in the shadow to a certain extent of these two unique artists, how did that by itself impact your personality, Jon? 

Jon Levy: 

First of all, I didn't understand that that was an odd thing. This idea that my father put four kids through college, being an artist and my mom being a composer, I would tell that to people and they're like, "Oh, your dad's an artist. Cool. But what does he actually do?" I'd be like, "No, no, no. That's what he actually does." 

And so it never occurred to me that I couldn't do a thing. It just seemed that the things that most people are like, "Oh my God, that's impossible. That's crazy." It was stressful because sometimes there wouldn't be sales for awhile or something, but it never occurred to me that it wasn't an option.

Both of them work from home initially, then they got an art studio for my father to paint from, but I saw the hustle day in and day out. And they very much set an example of serious work ethic. My dad would start usually about five o'clock in the morning. And his rule was, I don't understand people who tell me they're not inspired to work. If you're an artist, your job is to create. My job is to paint. I might not like what I make that day, but that's my job. And either I'm going to do my job or I'm going to give an excuse. So he was no nonsense about that. And he also knew that to paint as a skill, to sell as an art. He was very clear that the actual artists are getting this stuff to other people's homes, not just sitting in ours. It was an interesting example of growing up. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

That's also why as an artist, he was able to support you and your siblings going through college. Otherwise you would have starved. 

Jon Levy: 

He would hustle. That man worked his butt off. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Jon, one of the things that makes you interesting is that you don't only share your own personal observations. You actually pursued and became a behavioral scientist studying human connection. What got you interested in studying this? 

Jon Levy: 

I actually grew up a pretty lonely kid. I was really, really geeky. I loved computers and comic books. And in the 80's there weren't Marvel movies like there are today. People aren't into that stuff. And I figured that if I could understand how people behave, maybe I could make better friendships. 

And nowadays, culture changes, you can be a super geek and really fit in. And that's amazing. That's just so incredible. But it turns out that while I was researching this book, I came across something that really surprised me.

In 1985, the average American had just about three friends besides family. By 2004, we were down to two. Basically what's like less than a generation. We lost a third of our social ties. And I know that everybody likes to blame our phones and social media. It's probably more an issue of people moving. The more it becomes acceptable to move after college or for a job, then you lose your social ties. 

And the interesting thing is that when you look at the great predictors of our success or longevity, it comes down to human connection. For longevity. Number two is close friends and family. And number one is something called social integration that you've come in contact with a lot of people throughout the day.

And so I really got curious if our community and our relationships matter so much. Then how do we actually accelerate the process of feeling a sense of belonging? How do we actually impact the quality of people's lives so that they're not so lonely? Because it seems that that's going to be the biggest thing that I could maybe have some support in.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Jon, that's one of the reasons I love your book and your approach to it. Loneliness is a really big issue. The Gala just in May put out a study showing that we have fewer friends than ever before. 

Jon Levy: 

I have over 5,000 on Facebook. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And that's part of the problem where we think those connections are our friends, but in reality, we don't have friends. And as you point out, this is not the fault of social media. 

Jon Levy: 

Yeah, it's interesting. I would throw in an additional issue out there if I can. And I think that this is something that leaders are probably dealing with a lot right now, which is it has become more and more acceptable to helicopter our children and do everything for them. 

You see, these parents were still cutting their kids' foods at the age of 10. Like what's going on here? I'm at the age of 10, my parents were like sending me back from another country by myself. They're like, "We have three other kids. If something happens to them, it'll be okay." 

So it's become such a helicopter parenting culture that kids don't need to develop their own social skills. And then when they enter the workforce, they're completely underdeveloped from a social perspective. And that means that they have an inability to hear feedback in the same way they have inability to find mentorship and friendship and so on. 

So yeah, we're seeing a real issue because of what's called empty fragility, which is that things that are fragile, that when we drop them, they break. Then there are things that are antifragile like living systems, like people, when we get beat up a little, we learn from it and we get stronger. When we get feedback, it might not feel good at the moment, but we get better at getting feedback and then that feedback improves our skills. And if we don't allow our children to kind of mess up along the way, then we're going to end up with employees that can't handle actual social skills and work environment issues.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So Jon, the leaders I deal with, say that they understand in some respects that that is part of the societal issues that have brought up these kids that aren't able to handle stress and are unable to emotionally connect. Is there anything that they can do to increase that connection in their teams to increase that antifragility and resilience in their organizations? 

Jon Levy: 

So the first thing I would say is we want to establish a culture of entry or even beforehand. So there are certain companies that do this well, like Ray Dalio's Bridgewater. They have this radical candor policy. And radical candor is that you have to express what you're thinking, as long as it moves the conversation forward. I can't just say, "I think your shirt's stupid." No, because that doesn't actually do anything. But it could be, "I think that you did a subpar job today and here's where you could have improved. And what I think you could do better next time, or this is where I disagree with your thinking. And I would be doing you a disservice if I didn't tell you."

Now, a lot of people don't survive in that culture because it might, you need to really select well so that people aren't overly feel like they're being abused or something like that. It takes a certain personality. But it does develop a cult-like adherence to the culture because people who do well in those kinds of environments really love it. 

The other thing I think is important is that a big buzz topic right now is psychological safety. Psychological safety according to project Aristotle, which was a big research project at Google, they were curious what the greatest predictor of team success is. And they found this idea as it turns out it's psychological safety. It's not a bunch of geniuses or something like that. It's when people can express an idea without fear of retribution or being exiled from the group. So for human beings, the feeling of belonging is so critical. We evolve because we can work together. Those who couldn't be part of the society were exiled, were basically going to die. 

And there's a phenomenal Ted talk that actually explores this. It's, I think, called super chickens or something like that. Essentially, researchers were looking at what causes chickens to produce the most X. Let's measure productivity in the form of egg production with chickens. And what they did was they took a standard group and just kept letting them produce the eggs. And then they took another group, and what they did was they only took the chickens that were producing the most eggs. And then bred those to produce super chickens that produce more eggs and so on and so forth. And what they found was that the super chickens at the top consistently outperformed the others, but mostly because they developed such competitive chickens that they killed each other.

So they literally were out producing because they were forcing everybody else down. The chickens that were social and had a healthy function, although no one chicken was a superstar, on average they outproduced the super chickens. 

And that's, I think, the important point is that we live in a world of superstars. And that's not necessarily what's going to get us there. We need a whole slew of other characteristics where team success is really built on everybody having a voice. And in order to create that, in order to create psychological safety, we need to look at how trust is actually built and what it's actually made out of. 

And so here's, I think, the two key important points. And as a behavioral scientist, I just want to point out just about everything we do when it comes to human connection and trust and belonging and all these things are either just wrong or completely backwards.

So I'll give you a silly example. It's researchers generally agree that trust is made out of  Competence, your ability to do something, Honesty, you're truthful and Benevolence. I learned this from Kent Grayson who runs The Trust Project, a brilliant researcher. And what we end up seeing is that oddly, although there are three pillars to trust, they're not all equal. 

And here's a simple example. Let's say you have a coworker comes in. Normally he does a great job, bombs the presentation. Technically, they just breached competence. Would you say you don't trust that person ever again? Or do you say, oh, they probably had an off day. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

They probably had an off day. 

Jon Levy: 

Okay. What if you found out instead that the person lied about something, would you assume that that was a one-time thing? Or would you now begin to doubt what they say moving forward? 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Really start doubting a person. 

Jon Levy: 

Yeah, so you can see breach in honesty is a much bigger deal than a breach in competence. We value honesty above competence when it comes to trust. But there's a weird loophole. Me and you walking down the street. You say, "Jon. Oh, really quick. Can we stop at my friend's house? I need to pick something up." I say, "Sure, no problem." We get to your friend's house. The door opens, 40 of my closest friends jump out and scream, "Surprise!" It would be really, really, really weird if I turned to you and said, "You just lied to me. We can't be friends anymore." Why is that? Why would that be so weird?

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You did it in order to surprise me or give me a gift in essence of that experience. 

Jon Levy: 

Yeah, You lied to me for benevolent reasons because you care about me. It would be really weird if you care that much as to help throw a surprise party, that I'd get upset about this stupid lie. So you can see, we value benevolence above honesty and honesty above competence. And so when we interact either as leaders with our employees, or employees, with each other, with clients, or with whoever. The problem is, everybody tends to lead with competence. " Oh, our systems are 99.9% up. You don't have to worry about it." But what we really need to do is lead with benevolence. 

"I know how important your systems are for you. That's where your employee data is. That's where your customers are able to access theirs. And if they're ever down, I understand that that's your reputation. I'm not going to let anything happen to that. I'm going to put your data on our most secure servers. I'm going to give you my phone number so that if you have any questions, day or night or there was a problem. I'm on it."

Now in one scenario, I lead with competence. In the other, I led with benevolence. In which one did you trust me more?

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Benevolence by far, Jon. And I have to underline and emphasize that in leading your teams, as we lead teams, that is really, really important. A lot of times leaders stick with the facts, stick with the competence while what matters most to their teams is honesty and transparency. And then the benevolence you talk about, you also talk about vulnerability and you helped me see it differently. Can you talk a little bit about vulnerability and how that plays a role in trust?

Jon Levy: 

Oh, without a doubt. Here's what's kind of funny, companies really try to build trust in weird ways, especially in American culture. America is like the capital of business dinners and stupid gift bags at parties. For me dinner time is like family time. That's how I grew up. I don't know if that's how you grew up. My hunch is probably. But in America, there's this idea that if I take you out for a really awkward dinner that's very expensive, suddenly you will feel so entrusted in me that you're going to give me your business.

Now, I get it. It's like a convenient time and you want a bond, but overwhelmingly, what do you do with those gift bags? I tend to throw them out and never take them, or we give them. I don't know about you.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

For me, Jon, my wife tends to throw them out, but yes, I agree with you. They're useless. 

Jon Levy: 

So I want you to think about how much your effort, time and money, goes into these things and then they're absolutely useless and in fact, devalue the relationship. Gifts can work, but they would have to be really particular, right? 

There's a company called Giftology that does a great job. But it's really tough. Oddly, the exact opposite works and it's called the Ikea effect. It states that we disproportionately care about our Ikea furniture because it's a pain to assemble because we have to put effort into it.

People love their children, not despite the fact that they're difficult, but oddly, because we have to stay up late and help them with their homework or we worry and think about it. I think the classic example is if a child's adopted, they're loved just as much as if they were born to those parents. It doesn't matter. It's because human beings fundamentally care about what they invest effort into. 

And so that actually changes everything in the way that we interact, because I'm no longer trying to buy the relationship or win you over. What I'm trying to do is find ways for us to invest effort into one another.

Now, you know this, I've been running for the past 12 years or so a secret dining experience called The Influencers Dinner. We invite 12 people at a time. 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 does. And they find out that it's the CEO of a fortune 500 company and a Nobel Laureate and Olympic medalist and so on and so forth. And I've hosted over 2000 people. And they're all way more accomplished and fancier than me. But if you'll notice they came to my home, they cooked me dinner. They washed my dishes, cleaned my floors, and then they thanked me for it.And that's because of the Ikea effect because it's not about the eating of the dinner party. The dinners were terrible. The food is just not very good. It's because they had to invest effort into one another. And that's where trust is actually built. And it took me years to learn this. 

And I came across some research that was brilliant. We think that vulnerability follows trust. So like, if I trust you, you've got a good reputation. I'll be willing to be vulnerable. But it turns out it's actually the other way around. It's that as a by-product of vulnerability, we're willing to trust and it generally works like this.

So let's say the two of us are walking down the street again. And I say. "Oh, my God. I'm so burned out. I worked so hard on this book and I just needed a vacation.” Right in that moment. I'm signaling vulnerability. Now what would happen if you've made fun of me or ignored what I just said?

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You would go like a turtle back into your shell. 

Jon Levy: 

Exactly. That's actually a perfect analogy. In that moment, trust is reduced. I have to protect myself. But if you acknowledge it and signal vulnerability back, "Jon, I know what you mean. Being sheltered at home with my two kids and my wife and trying to get work done has been so stressful." And suddenly we both signaled vulnerability to the same degree. And we're safe. So we now trust each other more. And that gives us an opportunity to do another, what we call vulnerability loop. And it's clear, person one signals vulnerability, person two, acknowledges it, and responds. Person one, acknowledges it, and then trust increases. 

So the reason that this Ikea effect works so well during my dinners is that, as we're actually cooking, as we're putting effort into one another, inevitably, I'll turn to you and say, "Oh, can you pass me the..." And suddenly you'll pass me the cutting board or whatever I need. And these loops are opening and closing really quickly. And so we're able to create a sense of belonging or trust in a matter of minutes. That's greater than if you wouldn't have known each other socially for years. 

And that's what people don't realize is that if you want to create a sense of safety and belonging, it begins with the willingness to be vulnerable or noticing when other people are. So that way, when your employees are signaling vulnerability, you can acknowledge and complete the loop. Or if you don't see them doing it, it means it falls on you to actually be the one to signal it. 

I want to emphasize something really important here. I'm not talking about discussing your, divorce. That's not necessarily appropriate for the workplace. I'm talking things like saying you know what? I totally messed up on this one. I got it wrong. I'd love your opinion. Or how can I do this better? Or here's a scenario that I don't know how to deal with. Do you have any thoughts?. Or I know you're a real expert at this. Can you talk me through this idea? 

I don't know about you, when I was growing up I spent a lot of time trying to show everybody that I got it handled like, I would try to not ask for favors. I've tried to save those favors. And then I realized something as I was looking at this research that if somebody says, "Hey, I see you're working on that. Anything I can do to help?" In that moment, they're signaling vulnerability. They're putting themselves out there. And I would say, "Nope, and I wouldn't complete the loop." And trust would be reduced. And by me trying to look perfect, it would intimidate people and it would reduce the amount of vulnerability and trust in the scenario because nobody then wants to be vulnerable around the person who has it all handled and who was so perfect that they don't need anybody. 

And so the key is if we want to create trust, we have to open and close these loops. And this becomes even more important when we're doing it at distance. Because what happens is that as distance increases, trust tends to reduce. 

So if you have a bunch of employees that you're used to seeing them work at their desks, and now they're at home and you don't technically know if they're working, it's easy to get suspicious. And that erodes that psychological safety.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Jon, this is really important for leaders to keep in mind. I have a lot of conversations about the power of vulnerability in leading teams and organizations. Satya Nadella of Microsoft has done that beautifully. But you present a great framework that vulnerability loops begin first by showing vulnerability. Then the other person can acknowledge it and take it further. And that's how the loop begins. 

Jon Levy: 

Now it might mean that you want to start with small things. I wouldn't throw it all out there on day one. Just like on your day one of going on a date with somebody you're not going to let them share all the crazy of your life. There's actually something that I call stacking. It has to do with this Ikea effect where researchers tested, asking strangers for complex directions and generally they didn't want to give them. So they stop you on the street. I'm like, "How do I get here?" You're like, "I'm in a rush!" I'm gone. But if I first asked you for the time and then asked you for the direction, then you're very likely to give me the directions. And the reason is that once you put in a little bit of effort, you seem like the type of person that received my effort and thereby I'm willing to give more of it.

And so if I can even get started with a little bit of a vulnerability loop, then I can stack bigger and bigger vigor vulnerability loops on top of it. And I think that tends to be the strategy. You don't want to start off crazy the first moment. But if you can pull it off, don't get me wrong. It's like a half court shot. If it works, bless you. But most likely it won't.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You've done these masterfully through the dinners, as you say, with the Ikea effect, building human connection. My question Jon is both from an individual perspective and then a team perspective, where do you go beyond that initial Ikea effect or connection. So people come to the dinner, they connect better with each other, through that shared experience than they would have if they had had just dinner sitting across from each other because of the Ikea effect.

How do you then continually deepen the relationships, both in your individual connections and then within the organization, in addition to the vulnerability loops, you talk about.

Jon Levy: 

So I think what we're saying is how do we give people a sense of belonging. There's a difference between, oh, I trust this person and they're at kind of a distance, Like a hub and spoke out there. And then there's how do I make them feel or give them the opportunity to get more involved or have a deeper sense of belonging. And that has to do with two factors. 

One is how consistently are we participating together? Am I seeing you once and that's it? Am I seeing you once a year, once a month, once a week? Because human beings have this thing called the mere exposure effect, which is that the more we're exposed to something, the more we tend to trust it and like it. So consistency is key. Churches, synagogues, whatever, wouldn't be successful if they met once and never again. They have daily and weekly services and all that kind of stuff. Then big holidays.

Now, in my organization, the influencers, we have these salons. The salons meet after the dinners, we have about 60 to a hundred people come, we have three presenters, we have drinks and all that kind of stuff. And people have a blast together. The presenters are pretty awesome. Think Bill Nye, the science guy, and then a band member from a famous band performing.

Now that's great for us, but what do we do at a company? And there, it really depends on company culture. How does the culture express itself? Do you do happy hours? Well, okay. I mean, like in my mind getting drunk over zoom, isn't exactly an appealing prospect. Is that a healthy cultural note? Is that something that we should be doing considering how many people are sober or religious and don't drink. Or are there other cultural moments that you can push to do? Maybe play games together, do trivia nights? But it could be volunteer work. It could be something else completely. 

The key is that it has to be consistent with the team or company culture that you actually want to develop. And those are the things that will give that sense of belonging because you want to do things consistently. You want to give excuses for interaction for sometimes people call them collisions. Because it turns out that when there's a greater level of connection across divisions of companies, the companies tend to do better. Because then if you know the head of accounting or whatever it is, and there's an issue, it's not, “Oh, accounting is such a pain.” It's “Oh, Steve's totally overwhelmed. Let me just give him a call. See if we can handle this.” That familiarity and that personality actually aids in preventing issues.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So it's the shared experiences like the Ikea effect you talked about that you have at your influencer dinners, a sense of belonging. And you also mentioned the exposure effect. You give a great example. I am still a DaVinci fan. My wife comes up with all this rationale for Mona Lisa that the smile DaVinci had dissected so many animals and people that he knew how to draw a smile. You actually come up with the reason why MonaLisa is as popular as it is. 

Jon Levy: 

Yeah. In 1911 a guy named Perugia I think was his name walked into the loop on a Monday when it was closed. It's like the largest building in the world. I think it's like a thousand rooms and it was protected by 11 guards who I believe were mostly drunk. Walks into the Renaissance section, finds an obscure painting, literally the smallest one in the room and ripped it off of the wall. And the painting disappears for three years. During that time it goes viral. Everybody's talks about the theft. It's right before World War One, they want to embarrass the French government and people start standing in line just to see the empty spot at the Louvre. And then when the painting is finally returned three years later and he's caught, once again, the story goes viral. And the only reason that we know the Mona Lisa is because of this mere exposure effect. This idea that because it's gone viral and more people had seen that painting than any other, we thought it was great. And then it continued on with that status.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It is important for us to keep that in mind that that exposure has a big impact. Now, one of the challenges that the leaders in organizations have, whether in many instances, they have been virtual, in some instances, they're planning to come back in a hybrid environment. And there's a stop and go with the different iterations of the virus.

You also mention the Allen curve. So my question to you is how can leaders of teams and organizations ensure a certain level of human connection will continue to exist. Whether people are virtual or operating in a hybrid environment. 

Jon Levy: 

Great question. So I'm going to answer this in two ways. One is I have no idea in the sense that I can make a bunch of suggestions. But the world in total is far more creative and smarter than I am. And we're all figuring this out together. And as we do, there'll be more and more answers to this question.

 So, we're still in the early stages of trying to figure out how to make hybrid work, environments work or digital distance teams. I have a bunch of ideas and I can share the science. But there will be no doubt six months after this podcast comes out 50 ideas that are far more improved than anything that I've come up with. So I just want to tip my hat to all the people out there working on this. 

So the first thing to realize is this, as you pointed to this Allen curve. The Allen curve essentially states that communication between people grows exponentially the closer they're desks are. So if we sit next to each other, we'll chat a ton across every platform.

Now that goes to near zero, as we get further apart from each other, because much like the Mona Lisa and the mere exposure effect, out of sight, out of mind. If you don't see somebody, you don't think about them. And that's a problem because in offices, it's easy to bump into people. You see people from other divisions, it reminds you, you update them that causes a network effect of conversations. So we need to figure out ways for people to bump into each other in virtual. 

Now there are some companies that have started like office hours and people come in. And game nights where people are competing against each other. I think that there's a lot of options there. Some people see each other over slack. And we'll see people posting and it provides a reminder or Microsoft teams provide a simple environment for that kind of stuff. But it can mitigate the impact. It doesn't solve the problem. Which is that in certain jobs, it might not be that critical if you're an IT person trying to just repair people's computers. It might be less critical because you might not need interactions with other divisions in the same way. If you're in the creative department or you're in marketing or you're in accounting and you need to actually integrate with a lot of other groups, this can be a real issue. 

The other area that it really impacts pretty dramatically is mentorship. Because if we're sitting in a meeting and you've just presented. And we're walking out. I can give you feedback without having to schedule another call. Otherwise I have to say, okay, bye, everybody else go. And Mike, you stay on. Or Lisa, whatever. That gets a little awkward, because then people feel like they're in trouble and so we need to adjust for these kinds of dynamics.

There are kinds of things that you can do which are to reduce meetings and increase check-ins. Like message people over slack and say, " Hey what are you struggling with today that you could support or whatever it is, I can support with?" That increases email communication, but it might give people belonging cues so that they feel like they're more part of the team.

The other things we might see are pods of people who support each other, who like, oh, this group is all remote. We're going to take half of the group and combine them with people who are all in person. So the way they have advocates in the office. But I think that what people have to realize is that if you want promotions and the managers in the office, and you're not, it's going to make it less likely. The wall street journal just did a big thing about it. And frankly, I wrote about it for the Boston globe and people didn't like the reality of it, which I understand. People feel like it's not fair. But regardless of if it's fair or not, it's kinda the mechanics of being human.

You probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about your high school friends because you never see them. So it's not fair for people to see your contributions as much if you're not physically there.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And it is important for us to keep in mind that at the end of the day, human connection happens better when we are in human experiences with each other than through the virtual environment. So I absolutely agree on that. 

Now, I'm very involved, Jon, in many regional organizations. Leadership Greater Washington, the economic club that brings senior leadership of organizations together,which pre-pandemic thrived on primarily having speakers and or panels in front of the room. In some instances they work, then in some instances they didn't work as well. So in creating the future of events, learning lessons from your own influencers events. What do you see happening for the most impactful in-person experiences that these leadership organizations can learn from and build on?

Jon Levy: 

So I think that there's a couple of things. First is when I talked to people who are traveling 200 days a year or something like that, now that they've stopped doing it. I hear them saying never again, I'm just not going to get back on the road. So the value proposition now has to be so good, so important that it will justify them leaving their family. I think that for the big stuff, you'll probably see a lot more consideration for family in terms of here's things that family activities can do in the meantime. And then the evenings or the mornings is family time. And then in the afternoon or evening it's like networking or whatever you want to call it.

The second is that with the pandemic, we'll probably see a lot more intimate events rather than ultra large. I don't know what's going to happen to the CEOs of the world. I think companies will be hesitant to send their people. And the liabilities are still huge, especially with things like the Delta variant.

So I think intimacy is the new scale. And then I think that what we're going to really have to focus on is doing things that are novel. It used to be okay for a company to splash its logo on something, have a bunch of A and B list speakers and kind of talent. And then you've got yourself a conference and you can sell a bunch of tickets.

I don't know if that's going to make the cut anymore. The location might become more important because if I'm going to already get on a plane and go through the annoying difficulty of getting a COVID test and all that, then I'm probably going to want to stay there awhile. And then if it's within your city it's a good question. What will happen? I think that there'll be a lot of hesitancy in the short. I don't know if I'm going to host anything more than 50 or 60 people in the next year. And I host normally thousands of people a year. So, there, it's going to have to be protocols and safety and people claiming that they've been vaccinated and haven't, and all this weird stuff that we're going to have to deal with. 

We actually ended up being asked to design something because my company does a lot of design work for brands and they said, "We want to do an in-person experience." And this was the height of the pandemic. And I was like okay. We can design something. And what we realized is that most versions of stuff were a punishment diversion of the real thing. You want to go to a comedy club. Great. You have to go sit in your car and there'll be somebody on stage doing comedy like it's a punishment version. You can't drink. And all that. 

So we said, okay, what if we sent people head to toe, like legit personal protective equipment PPE. By the way, this wasn't when there was a shortage, we weren't taking any medical equipment for many. Everybody there was fully stocked.

And when they arrive at the location, what they discover is that they're being met by one of the world's top street artists. And for the next couple of hours, they're learning how to do street art and spray paint and activity that requires head to toe PPE. So you don't get paint on you and you don't breathe the fumes.

So suddenly instead of it being a punishment version, it's a really novel experience that integrates it. And so you can drink while you're doing that. You can hang out. There could be like five, 10 people, you're doing it outdoors. It's perfectly safe. And then once you're done, it was for a non-profit. The idea was that the art would then hang in the building that they just funded for the top donors.And that gives you that Ikea effect in this feeling of ownership of this project that you just funded. And it was like a completely different way to approach this in-person experience. 

On the digital side, what we ended up realizing is that most of the events that people were hosting were absolutely terrible because they were taking their in-person stuff and putting it online. And that's not what the medium is designed for. What the medium really allows for is to give each person a sense of influence and a sense of connection. I can suddenly connect people from across the world that would never come in contact. If you're on the tail end of a thousand person WebEx, you feel like you're irrelevant. You have no voice, you can't do anything. So when we started hosting stuff, we started putting people into breakout rooms right away, so that they get to meet people and give them games or activities to do together so that they had that Ikea effect to bond over. Then we'd keep the talks portion actually very short.

We'd have two 10 minute talks with a bunch of Q&A. And so that way we could do things like highlight ,non-profits have performances, but everything is at a rapid pace. And suddenly, instead of just having somebody talking at you, you're a part of an interactive game show, and variety of shows. And that was really awesome. People were staying on for three or four hours. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Those are a couple of great examples, Jon of human connection, whether in personal events or virtual events, taking advantage of some of the challenges and building on it, rather than trying to do things the way they were done before. So I love a lot of the content that you have in your book.

We just barely touched the surface of the book. So you are a student yourself, you are a behavioral scientist. In addition to your own book, are there any books that you particularly recommend to leaders as they look to create more connection, more engagement within their teams? 

Jon Levy: 

So I think,, there's Behavioral science classics of Dan Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow. Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational. The upside of irrational for Brene Brown, Dare To Lead. I think that those can oddly cover the basics. There's a great book by Shane Snow called Dream Team which is all about how great teams function. And he provides a phenomenal model that I, wholeheartedly ascribed to and really respect. So I'd recommend that one.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Fantastic. And how do you recommend for the audience to connect with you, Jon? 

Jon Levy: 

So, my website is jonlevytlb.com J O N L E V Y T like Thomas, L like lion B like boy. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

What does TLB stand for? 

Jon Levy: 

TLB as in boy was that I have the most common name in New York. Jon Levy is probably literally the most common name in New York. I needed to find a way to differentiate myself. I really liked the story of Peter Pan and the lost boys. They live a life of wonder and adventure. And my first book was about the signs of adventure. So I kind of just said, I'll take these three letters, just so I have a differentiator. And then the other, I'm Jon Levy TLB at all outlets. So on Instagram, clubhouse, Facebook, Twitter. So people can easily just get a hold of me. You can just message me on those sites.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Jon, there are at least a half a dozen things I absolutely love about your insights and your book, which is why I'm thrilled that you took the time to join Partnering Leadership and share your thoughts with the audience. 

First of all, your book You're Invited is outstanding with respect to people that want to understand networking and connection better. I get very frustrated, very active in the business community over the years where people see networking as an exchange of business cards. And even worse than that, sometimes come up to you and say, "Hey, we, after the exchange of the business cards, we should do lunch sometime. It's like, oh my God, I don't want to go."

Jon Levy:  

No chance. I get to be stuck with you for an hour. That sounds lovely.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

I mean, we are fortunate in the first world and in the luxuries that we have that most of us are not looking for another meal, let alone for an hour to spend with someone with that meal. So there's a lot of great insights on networking. 

In addition to that, as I was reading your book, I think there are a lot of great insights on human connection that are important for leaders to keep in mind as they look to get their team members to connect with each other more effectively and with the leader. 

And then most specifically, Jon, I love your humility. The fact that you are a behavioral scientist yourself, but you do have a humility in terms of experimenting and learning from it and coming to all of this, from that perspective, rather than the guru perspective of I've made it all work and it's so brilliant and successful, and you can have some of this theory magic dust that I have too. 

Jon Levy: 

Oh, yeah, I have to say that's possibly one of my least favorite approaches is, just because something works once for one person at a specific moment in time doesn't mean it's going to work for everyone. And although I've been able to create this community, that's not necessarily what other people want.

I should also mention I'm not a billionaire. If you want to make tons of money, you can use these approaches and techniques. Sure. But what I was most concerned with was just having a really great life and surrounding myself with people that I enjoy interacting with because that extra a hundred, 200, 500 million probably won't make us any happier. But the right relationships will have a profound impact on our life. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You have enriched a lot of lives. Mine and through this conversation, countless others. I truly appreciate the brilliance you have shared in your books, including You're Invited on this podcast. Thank you So much, Jon Levy. 

Jon Levy: 

Thanks so much for having me on. It's a pleasure.