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Jon Levy is a behavior scientist, author of the book, The 2AM Principle, and a keynote speaker. Jon’s work largely focuses on two main areas: Influence and Adventure. While researching what makes and creates an ‘influencer,’ Jon created a private community and dining experience (with a twist!) for industry leaders. Through this dining experience, Jon has discovered the keys to designing a great social experience, and uses this knowledge to help brands cultivate strong influencer programs.
The 2AM Principle – Interview with Jon Levy
Hello and welcome to The Successful Pitch podcast. I am very excited to have Jon Levy on today because Jon is the author of The 2AM Principle. He is literally a human behavior scientist, a consultant and keynote speaker. He’s the expert on influence, networking, and most importantly for me, adventure. That’s the element that people don’t usually have I their lives, let alone in his business.
He’s going to give us some great tips on how to have your business become an adventure and what that does for your world. He’s known for having these incredible dinners that The New York Times has written about, and how that transforms your life when you give people a reason the get together in a unique situation. Jon, welcome to the show.
It’s great to be on. Thanks for having me.
One of the things that I really find so fascinating about you is, starting with your Twitter handle, not just your name but the initials after it, TLB. Would you tell everybody what that stands for and why? Because I think that’s a really fun place to start.
Absolutely. I was about 17 years old. I was about to graduate from high school. I was thinking what do I want next. I noticed that a lot of the adults around me were seeming unenthusiastic about life. Like the only reason that they got out of bed was that they didn’t die the night before. I wanted to understand why it is that I can hang out with my nieces and nephews and they’re excited about everything all the time. There’s a certain point where things change.
I went back and started reading a lot of children’s books. One of them that I read was Peter Pan. Peter Pan has this group of rambunctious kids that go along with him on his adventures. They’re called The Lost Boys. I wanted to dedicate my life to wonder and adventure in the hopes that that same excitement that we see in youth is retained throughout life. It serves as a constant reminder, an admiration of these characters. It’s JonLevyTLB, or the lost boy.
Isn’t that great? One of the things I’m constantly telling my clients when they’re pitching for funding is you have to be memorable and you have to brand yourself in a way that people instantly get who you are and what you do. You do that better than almost anybody else I’ve ever had the pleasure of interviewing. Because it’s so specific and it pulls people. Can you tell a little bit about how you started the idea of these incredible salon dinners?
Just to give the listeners a sense of what these dinners are. Twelve people are invited at a time. None of them know each other. They’re not allowed to talk about what they do or even give their last name. They cook dinner together. When they sit down to eat, everybody gets to guess what everybody else does. They find out that it’s a famous author sitting across from a Nobel Lit, the president of a television network sitting across from the editor in chief of one of the top magazines in the world, or a two time Olympic Gold Medalist sitting across from a famous actor or actress.
I’ve hosted about 900 people across close to 100 dinners. Everything you could imagine, from members of royalty through Grammy award or Tony and essentially any kind of award winning artist or even Fields Medal winners or mathematicians. It’s developed into this community that’s pretty wild and incredibly humbling to spend time around.
It’s so interesting because investors say all the time, if you can’t figure out how to get a warm introduction to me, you probably can’t figure out how to get to your customers. You have some amazing ideas not only of what you’ve done and how it’s changed your life. But also you have some suggestions I think from listening to some of your other interviews, on how people can not have to spend a lot of money and make it their own.
Without a doubt. One of the things that I suggest is that if you want to connect with people, the first thing is it’s not about networking. Networking brings up ideas of people at conferences, handing out business cards and trying to find clients. It’s a very one way interaction, where I’m trying to collect as many names or people. It’s up for a specific objective. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just not a very powerful context to be in.
The reason is that if you look at research by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, they wrote a book called Connected. It’s all about these surprising impacts of our social networks. What they started off studying was the obesity epidemic. They were curious if it passes from person to person the way a cold does or if it’s a percentage of the population, like Alzheimer’s. You don’t get Alzheimer’s because you’re hanging with somebody who has it. It’s not contagious.
What they found was obesity actually transfers from person to person. If you have a friend who’s obese, you’re chances increase by 45%. Your friends who don’t know them, 25% increase. Their friends by 10% and their friends by 5%. What they actually also found was that everything passes through our networks like that, from happiness to voting habits to smoking habits, exercise, all that.
This also means that if I meet somebody extraordinary, it’s not only important that I get to know them and spend time with them. But that they end up spending time with my friends, because that will lead them to having a positive impact on my friends, who will in turn have a positive impact on me. It’s less about networking and more about community building.
What you’re describing Jon, sounds like the ripple effect, the whole wave, the physics behind it.
It’s absolutely that. If you can find the right people and bring them together, then by having a positive impact on each other and being able to change the cultural conversation taking place, you can achieve essentially whatever it is that you want for your life, your business, your community.
The mission of the influencers became to impact the quality of our members lives, their communities and hopefully, one day, the world with the understanding that by bringing extraordinary people together, we would be able to have further and further reaching goals. Not only that, but the age or the time when a single human being could have a dramatic impact on the world has changed. Now, you need such a diversity of knowledge and experience to create major impact.
What you need to look at are groups of people from varied backgrounds. I’m a huge supporter that let’s say you have a startup. It’s a tech startup. You’re used to hanging out with tech people. Adding another tech person might be nice but it won’t necessarily increase your knowledge. You all are reading the same books, you all are hanging out at the same social circles. It’s a bit of a stagnant experience. Adding somebody in finance, adding somebody in medicine, all of these people that bring new ideas that can trigger inspiration and also expand your second degree network significantly.
A study was done that looked at how people actually get their jobs. What they found is that most people get their jobs based on loose ties, the people you kind of know. Because there are far more of those than the people that we know closely. If we diversify our communities, then it increases, in general, the number of people that we kind of know or have ties to.
It’s so valuable. Speaking of reading the same kind of books and not reading the same kind of books, The 2AM Principle is a very different kind of book for people to read. I love the title. Let’s start with that. What does it mean, The 2AM Principle?
Let me start off with, I spent a lot of my life searching for adventure. Last year, I went to all seven continents. Every ideal big travel project, like I once did one where every month, I travel to the biggest event in the world, wherever it was.
What I found is that there’s this line in the sand where either things become completely, exceptionally fun and exciting, or you should just go home. There’s no benefit. In New York, that line is 2 AM. The book title is The 2AM Principle, Discover the Science of Adventure. The 2AM Principle is that nothing good happens after 2 AM except the most epic experiences of your life.
If you’re going to stay up past that point, you better make it incredible. Also, know that in different cities, it’s a different time. In Chicago, it might be 1 PM. In certain Latin American countries, it might be 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning because you don’t even go out until 2:00.
In your book, The 2AM Principle, you have a great definition of adventure. Would break those three concepts up for us?
Gladly. One of the things I really was happy with when I was looking to define adventure was, as an entrepreneur, to find the incredible overlap that it has with the entrepreneurial experience. As I see it, an adventure is an experience that is one, exciting and remarkable. This is important because as a society or as a species, we’ve passed out our knowledge through an oral history. If it’s not worth remarking about, actually speaking about, it’s not culturally significant.
As an entrepreneur, if what I’m doing isn’t remarkable, if it’s not worth talking about, it’s not relevant as a company. If you’re pitching, if you’re selling, whatever it is, you have to really be able to express that element of what you’re producing that is remarkable, that people will then talk about. Two, posses adversity and/or risk, preferably perceived risk. What does that actually mean?
In an adventure, you have to overcome an obstacle. But people often confuse these dangers, like climbing Everest, with perceived risks, like going parachuting. The important thing is that as an entrepreneur, there’s always this impression that we take on immense amounts of risks. If you look at the most successful entrepreneurs, they mostly take risks that are highly mitigated, highly calculated. Did you ever read Originals by Adam Grant?
Excellent book. Grant is a brilliant researcher and writer. One of the things I love is he shares the story of the founders of Warby Parker. These people are brilliant because what they did is they kept their I think jobs and internships long past the point that Warby Parker was profitable and showing signs of success. The reason was that there’s no need to take on the additional risk.
You can have a startup without throwing everything else aside that does great and that makes money and grows at a healthy pace. Once it’s fully established at a point where you can support yourself and you’re not spending your time worrying about how are you going to pay for lunch or you start eating Ramen noodles, then you go full time into it.
It’s almost like the Maslow principle. Get the basics handled of food and shelter, and then you can start doing self actualization. The Originals really talks about you can be yourself. Don’t think that if you’re not an early bird, you’re not going to be successful. That’s I think a big sync with what you’re all about too. Be who you are. No matter what time of day that is, then you can work.
Without a doubt. People often ask me for advice on networking and so on. One of the things that I often emphasize is that there’s this perception that the right way to be in American culture is this extrovert, larger than life personality and so on. There’s no real evidence that suggests that makes you more successful. In fact, you just have to be respectable of if you’re an introvert. That’s the way you are. You just have to take on different practices.
Be remarkable, mitigate your risks. The third of an adventure?
It’s exciting and remarkable, it’s possesses adversity and/or risk. The third is it brings about growth. The person you are at the end is distinct from the person who started. If you look at any great journey, it’s not necessarily reaching the objective that’s important. It’s the growth that the characters take on or experience as a byproduct. They get to be expanded versions of themselves.
That really explains in a new way for me that whole phrase that I heard as a kid and never really understood, which is it’s about the journey, not the destination. When I was a kid, it was like, what are you talking about? These car rides are boring. I want to get to where we’re going. Now, the way you framed it, I totally understand that it’s about the growth you experience during that journey. Not just arriving at whatever location you’re getting to.
Yes. I got out on these wild adventures. I drop myself off in a foreign city. I won’t have a place to sleep, I don’t know anybody, I don’t speak the language. Either I convince somebody to put me up for the night or I sleep on the street. I have a clear mission and an objective. It’s not necessarily about the success of it. If I have to pull an all-nighter and just walk the streets, I’ll survive. I’ll be fine. The type of person that I have to be in order to get a stranger to take me in is an expanded version of myself.
This is what fascinates me about you Jon, and how it relates to getting investors to trust a startup to invest with them, is they have to trust them first. You’re giving an extreme example of someone having to trust you that they just met you, to invite you to spend the night on their sofa or what have you. It really is a micro chasm of what’s going on when someone is getting an investor to trust them to give them all this money.
Without a doubt.
What’s an expanded version of yourself? How could someone take what you do, I’m going to have you tell what you do to expand yourself, and then go, “The next time I’m in front of an investor or even just connecting with people at an event, how can I be an expanded version of myself to break down the initial trust issues?”
One of the things that I do as a practice is that if something scares me and it’s going to kill me, it’s probably a good idea to do it.
That’s like that opening to your book. Tell that story really quick, because that’s so riveting.
Oh my God. It’s about 9:00 in the morning, July 7th, 2014. I’m in Pamplona, Spain and I’ve just made it through the running portion of running with the bulls. I end up at the stadium. There’s this really weird thing called the winner effect, which is if you have a success, your body fills with testosterone to prep you for the next battle, so you have a higher chance of being a winner. The problem is that if you keep winning and keep winning, you flood with so much testosterone that you don’t make really good decisions. In nature, animals spend too much time in the open.
That’s exactly right. They’ll get killed or they’ll get into unnecessary fights and die. In my case, what I thought would be a really good idea would be to run up to a bull and smack it. I do that a couple times. I realize, what would be super cool is if I let a bull jump over me at the entrance. That’s how they get in and out. I take the safest position I could and the bull comes in full speed.
It slips and tries to make the jump, but I realize I’m totally in a bad situation. It misses its jump and lands on my back and crushes me. I lose all feeling in my torso. Literally, everything goes silent, times stops. I’m pretty sure, in that moment, that I might be paralyzed because I can’t feel anything. I can’t move.
I have this internal conversation where I’m like, “Jon, you’ve decided to live a life as this adventure. It may have totally screwed you. You have to be okay with the fact that you did this and that it was just a fluke and you may not get out of this and you may be in a wheelchair for the rest of your life.” I was like, okay, I can handle that.
Time started again and I somehow managed to stand up and search for medical assistance, but nobody could help me because they were literally dragging bodies out of the way from people who were hit 10x worse than me.
Eventually what we found was that, I went to Triage, that it had crushed my left shoulder. Luckily, miraculously, nothing was broken. But the pain was so intense. I started going unconscious. I ended up needing wheelchair service at the airports and all that and six months of physical therapy.
And a great opening to your book, The 2AM Principle.
Absolutely, well worth it.
Man, thank you for that. I just had to let everybody hear that story personally because reading it is a page turner. Now, back to how do you, so we can learn from you, create an expanded version of yourself to create trust in a stranger to let you spend the night on their sofa?
There’s a few things. There’s two ways to look at it. One is understanding the science behind it. The second is understanding the practices that fulfill on that. From the practices standpoint, I speak to everybody. I speak to everybody and embarrass myself pretty consistently. The reason is that I’m willing the be uncomfortable. I believe that the scope or the size of your life is in direct proportion to how uncomfortable you’re willing to be.
That’s fascinating. The bigger your willingness to be uncomfortable is, the bigger your life will be. Would that be accurate?
Yes. Your tolerance for discomfort will define the size of your life. I am willing to be incredibly uncomfortable. It’s something that I embrace. I know not everybody is like that. I’m very clear that most of the concerns that I have are completely perceptual. I end up feeling like a jackass after, but those feelings will fade. What I’ll learn in the process about engaging people is invaluable. That’s the practice.
The science behind it is interesting. There are certain things that clearly make people trust you more in general. Assuming you don’t have a creepy smile. There’s also some interesting characteristics, like the Ben Franklin effect. The Ben Franklin effect is we all know that if I do you a favor, you’ll like me more. That’s reciprocity. These are general rules. They don’t apply to every single person, but in general.
The Ben Franklin effect, Franklin had this contentious rival politically. Rather than try to win him over, he decided that what he would do is ask a favor. That way, the rival will have to invest effort into their relationship. He asked to borrow this rare book, the man does it. What happened was his demeanor totally changed after that point because now he’s invested into the relationship rather than fighting something.
I’m a strong believer in asking people for favors. Because one, it will get them to invest into the relationship. Two, then it will make you more likely to invest into them. It serves to build a community, which is something that I’m always committed to. When you’re asking for favors, there’s additional research that suggests that you should stack them from small to large.
Meaning, if I can get you to invest a little bit of effort, you’ll then invest even more effort because I am seen as somebody worthy of your effort. If I wanted to ask a stranger for complex directions, I would first ask them for the time and then for the complex directions. Because once they’ve invested, they would be willing to invest more.
Love it. That’s so valuable. It’s almost counter intuitive to think, how can I ask somebody I don’t know a favor? But you really explained it well. Before I let you go, I want to dive into this last topic because it’s so fascinating for everybody, which is routine is the enemy of excitement.
I’m a huge fan of routines for productivity. I get up, I do my first most important thing every morning. I knock it out. I have routines for everything from fitness to communication habits. But routine fundamentally is not an exciting experience because the more we’re exposed to something, the less novel it will be. If you want to lead an exciting life, you have to be willing to go outside of your routine. You have to go explore things that are novel and different from what you’ve already experienced.
That’s great. The other thing that’s a big takeaway from your book on the 2AM principle, and I highly recommend everybody to get a copy instantly, is you don’t have fun, you create fun. The moment you stop creating it, it will disappear. I think that totally shifts everyone’s perspective. If you go to Disneyland, if you’re at Disneyland, I’ve had fun here before or I hear it’s a fun place. They brand it as the most magical place on earth. I better have a lot of fun. Guess what, you could be miserable at Disneyland. You have to bring the fun.
Yeah, it’s a mental state, it’s an attitude and it’s something that requires practice. People often are surprised by the amount of effort I put into ensuring my own happiness. It is a lot of work. Our natural state isn’t happiness. We have to work at that the way we work on our relationships, the way that we have a fitness routine for our health and wellness. Everything is a practice that’s deserving of its time and attention.
And the benefits are so worth it, like you said. If you want to have a small life, stay in your comfort zone. If you want to have a big life, constantly push yourself. I can’t thank you enough, Jon. The book is The 2AM Principle on Amazon and wherever books are sold. You Twitter is @JonLevyTLB, for The Lost Boys. How else can people follow you and keep track of your adventures?
On Snapchat, Instagram, you’ll see completely insane photos, sometimes of my great friends that I met through the dinners, traveling around the world. You can also find me on my website, JonLevyTLB.com.
Love it. Thank you so much.
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