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ALTA SPRINGBOARD: The Secrets of Influence


Are you curious why people make the decisions they make and how to affect them? The world scientific community has amassed astounding research on human behavior but virtually none of it is applied. During an Idea Festival at the 2022 ALTA SPRINGBOARD, behavioral scientist Jon Levy helped more than 300 attendees learn how to apply cutting-edge science to help them influence their customers.

Sponsored by First American, Levy offered insight on how to influence decisions people make and how to use that knowledge to market, sell and create more loyal customers.

To open his presentation, Levy had attendees guess the application that’s in the lower right-hand corner of their phone. He did the same exercise again but asked people what the time that was on the phone.

“People have no idea. It’s not a flaw of the brain, but how it’s designed. If we have to pay attention to everything, we would go crazy,” Levy said.

The behavioral scientist said that most of life takes place in our blind spots, “where we think we know what’s going on but really don’t.”

More than 10 years ago, Levy was broke. He realized to have an extraordinary life, needed to surround himself with exceptional people. The work of professors Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler inspired him. In their research, they found that who you know influences your entire life. The correlation was deep whether you talked about weight gain, your odds of divorce, happiness, success, etc.

“The found that not only are we influenced by our friends, we’re influenced by our friend’s friends,” Levy said.

To get the most out of the people Levy admired in the world, he conducted a social experiment. He created a secret dining experience to bring influential people together to positively affect each other—including himself. Influential people prepare a meal together. During the cooking experience, they aren’t allowed to share their occupation or even their last name. During the meal, they play a game to discover what each person does for work. The participants found out they were sitting next to Nobel Laureates, Olympians, celebrities, editor-in-chief of a major magazine, an Oscar winner, a Grammy winner, etc.

Over the years, Levy has hosted over 2,000 people at over 227 dinners.

Levy said the dinners led him to think about what impacts quality of life. He’s a zealot for the importance of building connections. The quality of someone’s life, their career and overall happiness is a byproduct of who they are connected to, Levy said.

Connections between people are spurred in general by things that are familiar to them, and common friends and activities. “If you want to connect, you need to expose commonalities that make us feel safe.” Levy said.

In the traditional business world, people would take someone out to dinner and try to find a common bond. However, you can’t buy a relationship. It takes work. Levy said this is a critical blind spot. In reality, relationships are spurred by something he called the Ikea effect—based on the store that requires the furniture you buy to be put together before you can use it. You can apply this principle to building deep bonds with other people, Levy said.

If you want to get someone’s interest, Levy believes it’s better to email and ask if they have a favorite book. Find a small thing you can ask of people. It could be their opinion or their expertise. “You can’t just be a taker,” Levy said.

Fo years, he didn’t understand why this worked. “It turns out, there is this misconception of trust,” Levy said. “There’s this belief that trust proceeds vulnerability. It’s actually the other way around. If you both can be vulnerable, then trust skyrockets.”

Levy told attendees that he used to think he couldn’t bother anyone and that he could handle everything himself. “I didn’t realize how much I was preventing people from connecting and trusting me. If I asked for support, I thought I’d be viewed as incompetent,” Levy added. “Small screw ups make us more perfect. People who make small mistakes and shows your vulnerability. We think if we look perfect, we will be liked more.”

Levy offered some easy solutions to help leaders keep build trust with their employees.

  • Change how you run team meetings. Give staff an opportunity to feel engaged and connected.
  • Play online games such as Kahoot or Quiplash.
  • During video calls, put thing about you in your background and let people ask questions.
  • If don’t have a nice background, make a virtual one.
  • Get people to discuss passion topics.
  • Give staff a photo of the team to remind them of a sense of belonging.
  • Sour and sweet: Have people share something good and something bad.
  • Have staff discuss their proudest career accomplishment.
  • Include pets and children during calls if appropriate. This humanizes you and makes you often more endearing.


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