The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #110 - Jon Levy
Jon Levy is a behavioral scientist best known for his work in influence, human connection, and decision making. Jon specializes in applying the latest research to transform the ways companies approach marketing, sales, consumer engagement, and culture. His clients range from Fortune 500 brands, like Microsoft, Google, AB-InBev, and Samsung, to startups.
More than a decade ago, Jon founded The Influencers Dinner, a secret dining experience for industry leaders ranging from Nobel laureates, Olympians, celebrities, and executives, to artists, musicians, and even the grammy winning voice of the bark from “Who Let the Dogs Out.” Guests cook dinner together, but can’t discuss their career or give their last name, and once seated to eat, they reveal who they are. Over time, these dinners developed into a community. With thousands of members, Influencers is the largest community of its type worldwide.
In his free time, Jon works on outrageous projects. Among them spending a year traveling to all 7 continents, or to the world's greatest events (Grand Prix, Art Basel, Burning Man, Running of the Bulls, etc.) and barely surviving to tell the tale. These Adventures were chronicled in his first book: The 2 AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure.
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2:10 - Follow Melanie On Instagram To See The Latest Moments, Products, And #AllTheThings! @MelanieAvalon
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3:50 - FOOD SENSE GUIDE: Get Melanie's App At Melanieavalon.com/foodsenseguide To Tackle Your Food Sensitivities! Food Sense Includes A Searchable Catalogue Of 300+ Foods, Revealing Their Gluten, FODMAP, Lectin, Histamine, Amine, Glutamate, Oxalate, Salicylate, Sulfite, And Thiol Status. Food Sense Also Includes Compound Overviews, Reactions To Look For, Lists Of Foods High And Low In Them, The Ability To Create Your Own Personal Lists, And More!
9:00 - The Influencer’s Dinner
12:30 - The First Dinner
14:25 - Building A Community
15:45 - The Degree Of Effect
16:45 - Social Integration: Sardinia
19:05 - The Perception Of Belonging
21:30 - DRY FARM WINES: Low Sugar, Low Alcohol, Toxin-Free, Mold-Free, Pesticide-Free, Hang-Over Free Natural Wine! Use The Link DryFarmWines.Com/Melanieavalon To Get A Bottle For A Penny!
23:10 - Introvert Vs Extrovert
24:30 - The Connection Between Physical Pain And Social Pain
27:00 - Drug Addiction
28:15 - The Brain Bias
29:25 - Trust
32:05 - What Role Does Intention Play?
34:45 - Can Fake Friendships Become Real?
36:15 - Kindness, And Community In Social Media
40:30 - The Loneliness Of The Current Time
41:05 - The Tendency To Isolation
42:15 - Vulnerability Loops
43:45 - The Practical Solution To Isolation And Loneliness
45:50 - LMNT: For Fasting Or Low-Carb Diets Electrolytes Are Key For Relieving Hunger, Cramps, Headaches, Tiredness, And Dizziness. With No Sugar, Artificial Ingredients, Coloring, And Only 2 Grams Of Carbs Per Packet, Try LMNT For Complete And Total Hydration. For A Limited Time Go To Drinklmnt.Com/Melanieavalon To Get A Sample Pack For Only The Price Of Shipping!
48:25 - Dating
50:45 - The Ben Franklin Effect
52:50 - Matchers, Givers, And Takers
54:55 - Love Languages And Gift Giving
57:55 - Predicting Behavior And Biases
1:00:55 - How You Are In Person Vs How You Are “On Paper”
1:02:15 - The Mona Lisa
1:04:35 - Group Think
1:10:15 - Inclusion
Melanie Avalon: Hi, friends, welcome back to the show. I am so incredibly excited about the conversation that I'm about to have. So, a little backstory on this. I was exposed to this author-- Actually, backtracking. I was familiar with this author's event that he does, which we will dive into, I was already familiar with that. But then, this author released, well, two books. But the most recent book is called You're Invited: The Art and Science of Cultivating Influence. For my audience, this is a book and a topic that I normally would not be exposed to. It's not the typical diet, health fitness type of content that I normally have on this show. But the publisher submitted it to me, and the title really caught my eye, and like I said, I was already familiar with the author's work that he does beyond this. I read the book. Oh, my goodness, friends, it was literally just a consistent series of mind-blown moments when it comes to everything. Humans, connection, cultivating trust, our experience of community and events, and how we relate to people. I read my books slowly. I tend to read them over a few days, if not weeks, and pretty much every day, I was sharing the most recent mind-blown thing that I learned from this book. Another little tangent side note is, I have my assistant who helps me create prep documents for the show, and occasionally, she chimes in about how excited she is about the interview after reading all of my notes and for this one, she was like, “I can't wait to hear this episode.”
So, guys, get ready. This conversation is going to be absolutely amazing. I am here with Jon Levy. Jon, thank you so much for being here.
Jon Levy: Are you kidding? I am super excited to hang out, and talk, and hopefully, share a few things that will really impact people's lives.
Jon Levy: Yeah, [laughs] I've just been looking forward to this for so long. I kept teasing the thing that you do. It is the Influencers Dinner, and I have heard about this for quite a while, and it's really a fascinating thing. So, for listeners, will you tell them a little bit about what that is?
Jon Levy: I'm going to first describe it in the most ridiculous way I can, and then I'll break it down, and actually explain it. I've spent much of my adult life convincing people to come to my home, cook me dinner, wash my dishes, clean my floors, and then thank me for it. I know that sounds absolutely ridiculous, but let me explain what really happens. When I was about 28, I came across some research that shifted my perspective on everything. It was a study by these two guys, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. They were curious about the obesity epidemic. What they found was startling. That if you have a friend who's obese, your chances increased by 45%. Your friends who don't know that person have a 20% increased chance, and their friends have a 5% increased chance.
What's incredible about this is that, this type of effect is also true for happiness, marriage and divorce rates, smoking habits, voting habits, basically everything passes through our relationships. So, I got really curious. If the people we surround ourselves with, and the larger community that we're a part of has such a profound impact on us, how do I at the age of 28 having an incredible amount of debt from college or no real career aspirations, and I was overweight, how do I turn things around? Because what I was doing was working a little but not at the scale that I wanted. So, I came up with this ridiculous idea. I was going to research the behavior of highly influential people, and then from that, I was going to figure out how they'd actually want to connect with me.
As Melanie pointed out, I started something called the Influencers Dinner. 12 people are invited, they're not allowed to talk about what they do or even give their last name. They cook dinner together, and when they sit down to eat, they get to guess what everybody does, and that's when they find out that it's the editor in chief of a major magazine, a Nobel laureate, eight-time Olympic medalist, famous authors, celebrities, Oscar winners, Grammy winners, even the occasional princess. So, I've hosted over 2000 people at 227 dinners in 10 cities in 3 countries, and it's grown into this really wonderful community.
Melanie Avalon: That is just so cool. Now, I remember where I first heard about it. Was Dave Asprey, one of your guests?
Jon Levy: Yes, Dave is a dinner alumn. I've had the pleasure of hanging out with him several times since he actually had me speak at his Bulletproof conference.
Melanie Avalon: I was a guest in his Virtual Biohacking Conference a few weeks ago. That's when I first heard about it. I think he talked about it. It was a while ago.
Jon Levy: That was a crazy dinner too, because I think we had 15 people. It was way too many. They were just like a ton of celebrities for some reason at that specific dinner in LA. When people found out that he was the coffee guy, they're like, “Oh, my God, I love your coffee.” He's the unexpected like--
Melanie Avalon: Like excited?
Jon Levy: Yeah, exactly, the Trojan horse. The one nobody was expecting. Because Adam Savage was there that night, and we had a famous magician, David Kwan, you might know his TED Talk. We had cast members from a whole bunch of popular shows from Walking Dead, and we had Once Upon A Time the star was there. Yeah, it was just this confluence of talent, and then he was there, and that was like the showstopper.
Melanie Avalon: The very first dinner that you ever did, and I guess, a bigger question here as well. Did you know anybody? How did you get the first connections?
Jon Levy: The first dinner, I knew everybody. There's this impression that somehow, I was connected to all these people from day one. That was absolutely not the case. I started off with people that I knew. I didn't know people that were that impressive by any stretch of the imagination, but they're wonderful, and they were very respected hairstylist with a salon chain, a real estate developer in New York, any kind of random people I met at personal development courses. As I kept doing it, then people would recommend more and more impressive people. I discovered something really crazy. It's easy to get almost anybody's email address. It's shockingly easy. Every Nobel laureate, for example, is usually connected to a school. So, their email address is public from the papers I read, it's amazing.
Melanie Avalon: I've discovered this as well. It's very shocking.
Jon Levy: Yeah. Now, listen. Not everybody will answer. But if you know how to write a clear, concise email with a value proposition that doesn't sound creepy, and frankly, I'll be honest, my email probably sounds creepier because I’m some stranger inviting them to my house to cook me dinner. So, actually, during the cocktail portion at the start of the dinner, usually about 20 minutes in, I say, “By the way, if anybody needs to message their spouses or friends to let them know that you still have both of your kidneys and you're alive, then please go ahead.” Three people will go and start texting.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, I remember it, because when I first started this show, I got some really incredible guests right at the beginning, and people would always be like, “How did you get them?” I was like, “I emailed them.” [laughs] So, I love that. The broader question, I guess, with what we just discussed is, for people looking to form a lot of connections and create communities, to what extent does it matter, how much of a community you already come from? Can anybody do it?
Jon Levy: Here's what I'll tell you. It helps, but by no stretch of the imagination is it actually that important. There's a really interesting study. You know that six degrees of separation study that everybody talks about? That’s a really old study having to do with, if I randomly give somebody a package in California or Alaska, let's say, and I say this package needs to get to a specific person in Chicago, how many people does it need to get to before it gets to the final sender? So, like, “Oh, Chicago, I don't know anybody in Chicago, but I know somebody in New York. I'll pass it to New York.” Then, the person in New York says, “Well, I don't know that person in Chicago. So, I'll pass it to a friend in Chicago.” And so, passes, it was five and a half times. Facebook found that the entire planet average is somewhere between three and a half to four and a half. Which means that if you want to get to somebody in your own culture or own city, it's probably far less than that. So, it means that whoever it is that's important for you to connect with is probably a lot easier to reach than we realize. We just haven't gotten organized around it.
Melanie Avalon: If we have this effect, three people out, but we're also connected almost to the entire world three people out, wouldn't everything be affecting?
Jon Levy: Let's also realize that most of this stuff is on the community level. Melanie, let's say, for example, and I hope this isn't the case. Let's say we talk today and never talk again. Because of Facebook, we'd call each other maybe Facebook friends or whatever it is, but we're not really connected. The people that are in our inner circle is that first round, the people that we actually connect with. So, I might be able to have an effect on you three degrees out because we have a bunch of friends in common or something like that. But the average is three and a half to four and a half, which means that some people are more isolated, so it's six or seven. And some people are much closer like our family, which is zero.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, gotcha. The difference is the level of connection, like the effect that we have on other people, because something else you talk about in the book is-- and this blew my mind to consider to the mind-blowing facts, you talked about the population of Sardinia, and how they were analyzing longevity, and they were looking at relationships, and the role of relationships in longevity, and you said that the second most important factor in longevity was close relationships but the first was just loose connections.
Jon Levy: It's social integration. Yeah, it means that we're part of a community. I'll explain really quick. Sardinia has what's called a Blue Zone. I think it's Dan Buettner, who wrote the book. He looked at all these places that people live far longer than others. When analyzing it, there were certain commonalities among these different groups, but Sardinia is the only place where men and women live to the same age, which is strange, because generally, frankly, women live longer. They also have more centenarians people who live 100 or older than any place in Italy. It's a multiple of the mainland.
When researchers looked at what actually causes human longevity, I know we all love to do a kale cleanse, or whatever it is, or take supplements, and these things are probably good for us on average, but they're not great predictors of longevity. When we really look on the low end, it's clean air and water, exercise and getting your flu shot are on par with each other like your annual flu shot, and then it's quitting drinking, quitting smoking, and number two is having really close friends or family. So, someone you can rely on, somebody you can call for advice or event. Number one is social integration if you are part of a community. I think the argument is that when you are part of a community, you feel a sense of belonging. For human beings, if you look, the greatest punishment that we can give people in general, in most places in the world is actually solitary confinement or exile, which means that we're being pushed out of the community completely. So, for human beings, at the core of us is this need for belonging. When we have that, when we have safety in that feeling, we have a much more stable life.
Melanie Avalon: With that feeling of community and that feeling of belonging, does your own perception affect things and what I mean by that is, some people identify as introverts and some people identify as extroverts. I feel some people feel as introverts, they might feel safe and connected without having quite as many relations. How does that play a role?
Jon Levy: I don't know if anybody's studied this, specifically. What I can point to are two things. One is that, it's not that we belong. It's that we have a sense of belonging. It's not that you are part of a community, you have a sense of community. It's a feeling, kind of like being in love. Nobody's quantifying the amount of dopamine or oxytocin in your bloodstream and telling you, “Oh, Melanie, you're in love.” You either say you are, you aren't because of the way you feel. If a person feels a sense of belonging with two other people, and they don't feel like they need anything else, then that's great. That's for them. In general, if you look when people talk about introversion or extroversion, except for the people on the very edges, which are like, “Oh, my God, that guy's the biggest introvert in the world or that woman is wildly extroverted, and we can't stop her.” Dr. Ruth is the biggest extrovert I've ever met. Then, there are people who are like so satisfied and happy being at home, alone, quiet for days on it.
Besides those extremes, most people fit into like this, what they call ambivert area. They like being social, and then at a certain point, they like being by themselves. Regardless of how introverted or extroverted you are, we all like having friends. We all like having a sense of belonging. I think the key is also to separate being shy from introverted because shyness is this fear of social judgment. It's that I'm scared people are going to judge what I say or do, and then I'll be exiled. Whereas introversion is your capacity and scale for being around people. The opposite of shyness is actually those gregarious people that say things that they just shouldn't and whereas the opposite of introversion would be extroversion. So, you can be a wildly shy extrovert, and you could be a gregarious, putting your foot in your mouth introvert.
Melanie Avalon: I know I'm reconceptualizing because I had always identified as an introvert. I’m trying to think if that's accurate. Where do you feel like you fall on the spectrum?
Jon Levy: If I were completely honest, I think that we need to reevaluate the entire thing. I think we need a different metric than just saying I like being around people or I don't. I think it's unfair for us. I think it might be a question of how many people I like being around for how long. I could be around my wife indefinitely. I can be around 100 people for three hours and then I get really tired.
Melanie Avalon: That's similar to what I had heard before, when you go to a gathering of people, does it bring you energy or is it draining? For me, I love going to events for lots of people, but at the end, I'm like, "I'm tired. [laughs] I want to go home."
Jon Levy: I've never met anybody who's like pure energized from being around people. I've met people who come alive in a different way around. You look at that great actor, Robin Williams, would turn on when he was around people and come to life. Supposedly, I didn't know the guy. But I've never met somebody who's had unlimited energy as long as they were around people. It's exhausting being on.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah. Another thing related to our perception, and our feelings, and our relationship to others. Another mind-blown fact. You talk about the connection between physical pain and social pain. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that and the Tylenol experiment.
Jon Levy: It's super interesting in our society, if let's say, Melanie and I got into a fight, and clearly, she would beat me up, she could get arrested for it. It makes sense. Or, you could get arrested for it because you beat me up. We're used to relating to physical pain as this very serious thing that we cannot allow to happen. But this researcher or these this duo, I think it was Matt Lieberman and his wife ran this crazy experiment. They had people come in to have their brain scan while they played a really ridiculous game called Cyberball. In this experiment, people are playing this video game where they just pass a ball from one person to the next, and there's three of them. There's three people in total, you play one of them. The ball keeps passing around, and then at a certain point, the other two players just pass the ball to each other, and start ignoring you. Suddenly, people start feeling really socially alienated. They're cut out to the point that as they get out of the machine, they're like, “Wow, that was so strange. Why would that happen?” Now, when researchers looked at the brain scans, the same areas of the brain that light up when people are experiencing physical pain, were lighting up when people were experiencing social pain.
So, the researchers started getting really interested. What if we then ran a second experiment? What if we had people take a pill for two weeks before coming in playing the game? Half of the people got a placebo, half of the people got a painkiller. When they came, the people who got the painkiller demonstrated no social pain, and those who got the placebo did. So, we began to realize that maybe social pain and physical pain are more similar than we realized. Maybe when people are experiencing being made fun of, bullying, ostracization, loneliness, the level of pain in their brain is so profound, they might as well be dealing with broken bones. In the book, we begin to explore this question of, if social pain is so great, well, then maybe it begins to explain a few other things like drug addiction. Because if I'm feeling lonely and isolated, could part of the problem of drug addiction be that I'm trying to self-medicate? There's these theories and some examples that we dive into that seem to corroborate this or at least part of the problem.
Melanie Avalon: It makes me wonder, I don't know if they looked at this at all in the studies or if there have been studies on this, to what extent I wonder is the social and the physical pain, the same brain state, but then the brain contextualizes it based on what we're experiencing, and then that's how we experience it as physical pain or emotional distress? Do you know how much the brain's bias?
Jon Levy: I think that the areas are very close to each other, but they're not identical.
Melanie Avalon: Okay. So, it's not the literal exact same.
Jon Levy: It's not like a single button being pushed by both, the physical hand and the emotional hand. I think they're very close, and they probably function similarly. But it's not the exact same thing.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, gotcha. Yeah, one of the things that made me think about that was, you talk a lot in the book about our brains, how we have all these biases about things, because you talk a lot about trust. You talk about the bias of how we instantly form whether or not we trust somebody and it's a little bit misleading. [laughs]
Jon Levy: I've seen a couple of photos of you, because you're prettier for example, then you're more likely to be trusted. Now, let's be honest. There's a lot of attractive people out there who we definitely shouldn't trust. Cheekbones and the size of your philtrum, which is the trapezium under your nose, all these kinds of things can have an effect on whether we trust people instantaneously. But it's just stuff that's programmed into us and most of its absolutely useless. It's not a very good evaluation. In fact, I don't think I talk about this in the book but judges are supposed to be the best estimators of trust, have I think it's a 53% accuracy and guessing if somebody's lying to them or not. So, we are terrible judges of character in general. I think the funniest is the number of people who work on like scam artist research that then get scammed.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah. Oh, my goodness, the irony. Yeah, I loved the whole section on trust in the book. It had me thinking a lot, because my audience often tells me how much they trust me all the time and I didn't consciously set out for that to happen. I wasn't like, “How can I make people trust me?” I did what I did, or I do what I do, but after reading your book, I was like, “Oh, now, it makes sense.” Because you talk about the parts of trust.
Jon Levy: I have a bet on this one, which is-- When we look at what trust is actually made out of and I explore this in depth, and you're invited. Researchers generally agree that it's made of three things, which is competence, your ability to do something. Honesty, that you're truthful. And the third is benevolence, that you have people's best interests at heart. What's funny is that, although it's made up of three pillars, they're not all equally valued. So, I'll give you a simple example. Do you follow a sport of any kind?
Melanie Avalon: Oh, goodness.
Jon Levy: Competitive chess playing?
Melanie Avalon: [laughs] USC football.
Jon Levy: Oh, my God, I know nothing about that sport. But let's just say, you've heard of LeBron, right? If LeBron misses a shot, we don't say, “Oh, LeBron is incompetent. We can't trust him to play basketball anymore.” It would be silly to miss one shot and for us to lose trust in the person. That's because we're pretty much okay if somebody messes up in terms of competence. But if you were to find out that somebody lied to you, you'd probably doubt everything they have said and everything they say moving forward. But there's a weird loophole and it works like this. So, Melanie, the two of us were walking down the street, and you turned to me and said, “Jon, can we stop by a friend's house really quick?” I'm like, “Yeah, of course.” When we get there, 40 of my closest friends jump out and scream, “Surprise.” It would be really, really weird if I turned to you and said, “Melanie, you just lied to me. We can't be friends anymore.”
Melanie Avalon: Right. So, if it's a good intention.
Jon Levy: Yeah, if you're doing it for benevolent reasons, we tend to be understanding. We value benevolence above honesty, and honesty above competence. So, my hunch is that you do these podcasts because you really want to contribute to others. It is built-in benevolent intent. Then, you probably share things that to the best of your knowledge are truthful. So, you do it, honestly. Hopefully, you do it in a competent way consistently. My hunch is that since you've done that over the long period and demonstrated that, that's built trust.
Melanie Avalon: It sparked a question in my mind though, which you address in the book, because so, I read it, and I was like, “Oh, okay, this makes sense. Why I feel like I've created a lot of trust?” But then I was like, “Oh, no. Now, I'm not going to be calculated?” So, what role does like when implementing because all throughout the book, you talk about all these ways to build connections, form trust, create networks. What role does calculation, or intentions, or ethics play in all of that?
Jon Levy: I think it's an interesting question. If I'm trying to connect with influential people, am I doing it because I just want to progress my career or because I really want to develop friendships. My objective personally is not just to become friends with people, but for them to connect with each other so it improves their lives. There's two important points here. One is that everybody wants to contact. Everybody wants those relationships. But let's say, Melanie, I think you're awesome. I want to have a really great friendship with you. If I actually want to have an amazing friendship with you, it's in my best interest to introduce you to the other extraordinary people I know. The reason is that, the more friendships we have in common, the more likely we are to stay in each other's inner circle. But if you exist as this person who's really far away, I'm the only person in my world that you have contact with, it's really hard to maintain that friendship. It becomes much easier to have, let's say, benevolent intentions when my objective is for you to meet as many extraordinary people as possible.
The other thing I do is that with my knowledge of behavioral science, I also tell people everything that I designed in order for our friendship to exist. For example, in American society, the traditional thing is if I want to do business with you, I'll take you out for an expensive dinner or something that, try to win you over. But it turns out that doesn't really work. What does work is the exact opposite? It's called the IKEA effect. That's that we disproportionately care about our IKEA furniture, because it's a pain in the butt to assemble. Anything that we invest effort into we care about disproportionately. So, when people come to the Influencers Dinner, they cook dinner together, so that they can invest effort into one another. I tell people that straight out. I say, “Hey, I want to develop a friendship with all of you. This is how human behavior works. So, we're all going to be cooking together.” People actually really appreciate it. They actually think it's thoughtful that I put that much effort into building those relationships and those friendships. The caveat is, if I did it to get you hooked on cigarettes, then it stops being benevolent and starts being manipulative.
Melanie Avalon: Even if a person did have manipulative intentions, do you think you can form fake friendships that become real? In a way, does it take care of itself, because you would only ultimately maintain or stay in a friendship, if it was something that was possible being a real friendship?
Jon Levy: I think we can definitely get addicted to people that aren't necessarily good for us. Do I think that manipulative takers can change? I think the phrase I once heard is, "I don't believe it, but I see it every day." People do change. It's just really, really, really hard. My general view is that if you can create a community where certain behavior isn't acceptable and certain behavior is expected, then you can mitigate it. You can limit the desire to manipulate or the personalities that do. Just like how hanging out with people who are happier tend to make you happier and so on. So, I think that the culture that we create will define what we draw out of people. But I also do believe that in the extreme scenarios, there are people who are just awful and we shouldn't be around them.
Melanie Avalon: It's not going to happen. Yeah, actually, in bringing that all brings things full circle with the community, and the kindness, and the connections like my Facebook group, for example, which is sort of my group community attached to the podcast. It's just really wonderful people, and so I also really enjoyed you have a section in the book on technology, communities, and stuff. So, I really appreciated that. I often get feedback about that group, about how everybody just loves it, and feels just so accepted. We don't really have a lot of rules but my only rule is to be kind and to be open to other people's perspectives. Otherwise, everything else goes. But I've just found that takes care of as far as like interpersonal relationships and people feeling connected and safe. That pretty much works.
Jon Levy: The more open the community, the more moderation you need. If it's just closed to the people who are already fans of the podcast, people don't want to risk being kicked out of a group. That’s not a place where trolls are going to come and hang out. So, it becomes easier to create a sense of belonging. Frankly, that sense of belonging is what drives us. When we look at the pillars of community, it comes down to membership, so there are people on the inside and those on the outside. If it's a closed group, you already have the first barrier to entry. If it's an open group, it might just be for those who choose to participate. You have influence, which is they both feel like they have an impact on the community and the community has an impact back. That's why online communities can be great, because we can comment, post, support others, get support. The third is that there's an integration and fulfillment of needs. Meaning, the people who are part of your community are people who care about their personal wellness and development and so by their participation, they get to experience it.
Then, I think one of my favorites has got to be the fourth pillar, which is there's a shared history or values. Why I like this so much is that, our shared history doesn't even need to be real. So, there’s this amazing photo of two young women. They're probably about 24 years old. They're at Universal Studios, the theme park in Florida where Harry Potter World is or whatever it's called. They're dressed in full Hufflepuff, head to toe with wands, and they're on Diagon Alley, and they're crying uncontrollably. I love this photo, because for the first time in their lives, those two young women got to be part of the storyline that has meant so much to them. They had this shared history of the horcruxes, and the Deathly Hallows and Voldemort, and Harry and Hermione. For them, it existed as movies and memorabilia and books. In the moment that they stepped foot onto the lot, it became real to them. It was so overwhelming that they were crying. That's one of those amazing things about community is that, you can feel an incredible level of belonging that's completely invented. That's okay. You can love My Little Pony or it could be Harry Potter, it could be Transformers, I'm a geek, apparently, all I can reference are like cartoons and--
Melanie Avalon: Star Trek?
Jon Levy: Yeah, and Star Trek, are you a big Trekkie?
Melanie Avalon: I've seen every single episode of the original series. You could probably tell me a plot of one of them and I could probably tell you the title.
Jon Levy: I feel bad challenging you on recorded podcast. But once the recording is over, you can keep recording. We can challenge each other and see if we could see who the real geek is.
Melanie Avalon: Okay. You'll probably win.
Jon Levy: I don't know. I have no idea if you've got receipts, if you got street cred. But my point in all of this is, as I was researching the book, one of the things that caught me off guard was, in 1985, the average American had three close friends besides family. By 2004, we were down to two. That means in less than a generation, we lost a third of our close social ties. The greatest predictor of our longevity is our social integration in our connection. That's terrifying. We're now lonelier than we've ever been. And because of the pandemic, it's gotten even worse. I think one of the most important things we can do for our health is to connect with people. What worries me is that the people who have lots of friends who are social, will be fine. They'll make more friends and they'll be social. But the people who are feeling lonely at the start of the pandemic will probably have the tendency to feel even lonelier and more isolated, and might end up just feeling left behind. So, I'm really concerned about how do we reach out to people and give them a sense of belonging and a sense of community.
Melanie Avalon: People who are feeling that sense of isolation, are they joining virtual communities and not connecting or just not connecting at all?
Jon Levy: Truth be told, I don't know. I think that it's all over the place. They might be on some subreddit or they might be sitting at home lonely hanging out with their cat. I have a cat. I had to say that, having good cats, the solution to loneliness. I think the issue is that the tendency is moving towards more loneliness and an isolation in general. What's a shame about this is that of all of the public health project, the ones that cost a fortune to stop drug abuse, or homelessness, or any of these other things, loneliness is something that actually doesn't require very much money to tackle. It requires a willingness to reach out and for people to accept the invitations.
There's this perception that trust precedes vulnerability, but it actually doesn't. It works on something called the vulnerability loop. So, if let's say, we're chatting or walking down the street, after you've forced me to a surprise birthday party, and I say, “Melanie, I'm totally overwhelmed. This book launch has just drained me so much." In that moment, I've signaled vulnerability. And you have two options. You can ignore me or make fun of me and trust will be reduced. Or, you can acknowledge what I just said, and then put out your own signal. Like, “Jon, I know how you feel. I've been recording so many episodes. I'm totally burned out. What are you struggling with specifically?” In that moment, you've matched my vulnerability and you've completed the loop. Now, both of us know that we can trust each other at this higher level.
Fundamentally, that's why that IKEA effect works. Because when you're doing something that's too big for any one person to complete by themselves, when we're putting in joint effort, then it naturally opens and closes vulnerability loops. With each loop, what's probable is that we release oxytocin, that cuddle chemical, and it causes us to trust each other more, and it creates a more pro-social experience. The issue is that if you're really lonely and isolated, it's hard to start those vulnerabilities loops. Either somebody needs to open one by saying, “Hey, Melanie, do you want to grab some food or take a walk?" or you need to find someplace to open it by going to a friend or saying something?” But if you're already isolated, it can be really scary.
Melanie Avalon: For people who are lonely, is it going to require some sort of outreach? Because you're saying giving an invitation, what do you think is the practical solution of all of this?
Jon Levy: I think there's a whole lot. First of all, the tendency is to want to network. I have to say networking is the worst.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, I love that part of the book.
Jon Levy: It's so bad. Literally, are--
Melanie Avalon: It makes cringe.
Jon Levy: Yeah, and it should. There's nothing natural about it. It turns out that if you look at the research on networking, human beings feel dirty from it. They feel like they're-- what's the phrase? They need to clean. Now, they don't feel that way when they talk about making friends. I think that that's really interesting. So, if I'm making a friendship, that feels natural for us. So, the question should be, how do people make friends? In general, people make friends over shared interests. So, both of us really like Star Trek. Shared activities, which is something I love. Maybe you like hiking. You said, what is it Quidditch and football or something, what was that thing you said?
Melanie Avalon: Oh, USC?
Jon Levy: Yes, or cultural heritage. If you celebrated some cultural or religious holiday, then it would be easy for us to connect or easier and we forget that. First and foremost, I'd say find-- You could just go into meetup.com and find people in your area who have similar interests and activities. I prefer activity based and the reason is that, that's what's natural for us. So, Melanie, if the two of us went on a hike, part of the hike will be engaging in terms of the conversation and then at certain moments, what will happen is that, we'll just stop chatting and we'll enjoy the scenery. That's what's nice about activities is it takes the pressure off. So, you'll also notice that with the right activity, you have that IKEA effect built in. For on a hike together, we're investing effort.
Melanie Avalon: When people go on dates, does it have those characteristics built into it?
Jon Levy: Oh, for sure. If you want to design, you can actually hack dates to get the experience to be even better. There's something called and before your mind starts wandering on what I mean by this, there's something called the misattribution of arousal. The misattribution of arousal doesn't mean sexual arousal. It's referring to-- that our body is in an aroused state like a heightened level. The famous study is men were invited and they were individually, they crossed either a standard bridge or a high ropes bridge. When they got to the other end, there was an attractive woman there. The woman said, “Here's my number. If you have any questions or need anything, please be in touch.” The men who crossed the high ropes bridge, the one that had their heart beating fast and had them all excited, because adrenaline was pumping, called her out disproportionately to ask her out. That's because we have a really tough time separating our physical state from what's around us. So, we associate the person who participates in exciting activities as exciting. If you want to do something really cool, then have exciting fun dates. If you want to be viewed as more like normal and quiet, then have a quieter date. But you could plan a super fun date, that's crazy, if the person is up for it, like skydiving, and there's probably going to be a large misattribution of arousal there. They also might associate you with absolute terror.
Melanie Avalon: This explains I think to me so--
Jon Levy: Like your exes?
Melanie Avalon: Oh, yeah.
Jon Levy: That’s why I dated that person.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, this is so funny. Well, I did date a well-known magician for a while, and now, I wonder, because there's a lot of excitement in the magician world. I wonder if how much of that transfers over. I really love speakeasies, because I love the obstacles that you have to go through to get in, and the secrecy, and the excitement. So, I wonder that maybe explains a little bit why I'm so obsessed for that experience. You’ve talked about the IKEA effect. There were a few other little effects that you talked about that I really loved. So, one was one that I had heard of before and I remember the first time I ever heard about this, I was like, “This is so freeing,” because I hate asking people for things. I don't want to bother people, it makes me really uncomfortable. So, hearing about the Ben Franklin effect [laughs] was really nice. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that?
Jon Levy: Oh, sure. The Ben Franklin effect is the like person-to-person version of the IKEA effect. Franklin had this contentious political rival he wanted to win over, but he knew that that's not going to happen just by being nice to the person, just like taking people out for an expensive meal isn't going to win them over. So, what he did was, he asked to borrow a rare book from the man's collection. When he did, the person had to go far out of their way to bring it to Franklin. The two ended up being friends until the man's passing. That's because once somebody is willing to invest some effort into you, then in their mind, you're worthy of more effort, and you must be important.
There's this funny thing called stacking favors, where researchers had people stopped on the street and asked for directions. Mostly, they wouldn't give them. But if you first ask them for the time and then ask them for the directions, then they will. That's what's crazy, is that because they invest a little bit of effort, you can then ask them to invest more effort and they'll agree. The key here is that human behavior is counterintuitive. If there's somebody that's really important to us, or they're like really fancy, or influential, or whatever, we actually want to ask them for favors. We want to ask them for small favors, and then stack to bigger favors. So, don't start by asking somebody for a kidney.
Melanie Avalon: Go slow.
Jon Levy: Yeah. Ask them for something a little more along the lines of, “Hey, which one is nicer, A or B?” And then, go from there and keep coming back. But here's the important thing. You need to come back with and also provide value. You can't just be a taker. Nobody likes takers.
Melanie Avalon: Actually, that was something else that you touched on, the difference between matchers, takers, and givers, and their success rates. Would you like to talk about that?
Jon Levy: This is actually research by Adam Grant, who's a brilliant guy who wrote a book, Give and Take. One of the things I emphasize in the book is that if you want to connect with really influential people, everybody's after something. So, as a byproduct, we want to be able to reduce their concerns that we're just after something from them too. We want to be generous. It turns out the research supports it. So, Grant looked at givers, those who are generous takers, those that are selfish, and matchers, those who mimic behavior. What he found was that the least successful were the givers. But oddly, the most successful were the givers. What separated the two groups of givers were those that knew where to draw the line. Melanie, you're super generous and you help everybody. You help them so much that you don't get to finish your own work, your business is going to suffer. But if you allocate some time to support people, and then get your work done, then what happens is that you'll end up getting the support of the givers, getting the support of the matchers, and also making sure that your work is complete. So, it's oddly the best strategy for success, plus it feels really good.
Melanie Avalon: Basically, give as much as you can without sacrificing your own performance, or energy, or successful completion of things?
Jon Levy: I think it's-- sometimes, it's hard to draw the line. Nobody's going to get this perfect. The issue is that, you should give because it feels good, and it helps people, and it normally doesn't have any negative impact on you, and understand that it's also a really good strategy. But it's also important to have really healthy boundaries, and know when to say no, and know when to say that you can't. If you can't, then you should say so. People will need to respect that.
Melanie Avalon: A related tangent to that. I'm wondering what your thoughts are on people's love languages and how that relates, and the reason I bring it up is my giving language for love is gift giving. So, I was wondering what your thoughts were on gift giving, and when relating to other people, I don't know if you have any thoughts on people's love languages, if you think that comes into play?
Jon Levy: I'm going to be really honest about gift giving. It's really a hard one and the reason is that most gifts aren't really valued. I'll give you an example. Let's say, it's the holiday season. I buy you a T-shirt I think is really cool and then I send it to you. First of all, what are the chances that I actually know your size and taste?
Melanie Avalon: Not so good.
Jon Levy: Yeah, not so good. A shirt that I spent, let's say $100 on, you might value at $10 because it's not really your style. So now, we've just lost $90. That's a bit of the problem with gift giving. Also, corporate gift giving is the worst because they send you a logoed T-shirt with their logo. Why do I want to be a living billboard for you? There are gifts that work really well. Here's a wild one. I know that we've spoken about Harry Potter a bunch. It's just an easy example. The CHRO, Chief Human Resources Officer of Verizon, which is a huge company, is a huge Harry Potter fan, I mean massive. Her son's name is Harry. Ridiculous. She's about as delightful a human being as one could actually ever meet in their life. She's beloved by the staff, just an awesome person. I wanted to get her a gift. Now, I could have sent a bottle of wine or a holiday low for whatever junky thing people tend to get, but I also know that she loves Harry Potter. So, I tracked down a woodworker to make a film-replica scale reproduction of the Elder wand from Harry Potter. Then I had it sent to her house with a note that quoted Dumbledore about how greatness or something I don't even remember what it was. She loved it so much. She didn't know this is from me, because the person messed up the note that she kept it either by her bed stand at night or on her desk as she worked. Now, that's a gift that means something to people. That's a vulnerability loop. I took a risk because I knew something about her and the loop was complete by her appreciation of it.
Melanie Avalon: This resonates with me so much. When I do make gifts for people, I try to make something like personalized or handmade that relates to something I know that they really, really like. I sort of have this fear that I'm going to give a gift to somebody just because it's something I like and then I feel like that's selfish in a way, like you're just giving it to them, because you like it. So, yeah, I'm just really intrigued by the whole gift giving concept. That was inspirational. One other thing. You spoke about predicting behavior, and our biases, and how we don't consciously-- the decisions we make about people aren't always based on reality. You have a really fascinating section on predicting behavior and you talk about Disney World.
Jon Levy: Oh, that was something that was told to me. I didn't do that research. But the people at Disney, the thought that they put into every little detail is incredible. Have you ever been to Disney World?
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, it's my favorite place.
Jon Levy: Okay. Have you ever noticed that the floors are a shade of red?
Melanie Avalon: Yes. They're like a rose.
Jon Levy: It turns out that they picked that shade, I think it was developed by Kodak, to reflect just the right amount of red onto your cheeks. You seem rosier and happier in photo. Nothing is left up to chance there. I think that every garbage can is 25 paces away and the reason is that at 28 paces, people drop stuff on the floor. There's an incredible level of design, and the key here is that-- I share the story about trying to predict a person's behavior. This guy named Jeff Davis came to LA and, within a few months, his Google searches started getting really creepy. They started being about beheadings, and ceremonial sacrifices, and serial killers. Google doesn't have this obligation to report it when people start going off the deep end in their searches. As a result, I think it was like 200 and some odd people were killed, more accurately characters were killed. Because Jeff was the creator of Criminal Minds. It goes to show that just because somebody has weird search habits, it doesn't mean that that's what they're like. Jeff is literally the nicest guy in the world. He's known for really creating community between his writers and giving people their shots in Hollywood.
But when you look at one person's data, you can come up with these conclusions that are completely wrong. But when you look at large sets of data, then you can maybe find patterns. That's the stuff that Disney does. They looked at the number of steps before somebody throws something on the floor and they found that most people, it's about 28, so they put their garbage cans 25 steps away. What we want to do when we're designing experiences, interactions, product, is really look at how do people actually behave? Not how do we want them to behave, how do we hope they behave, none of that actually matters. The fact is, human beings generally act insanely irrationally. We are ridiculous.
Melanie Avalon: How do people often pan out in real life compared to on paper, especially people on dating apps are looking to make friends?
Jon Levy: Oh, there's some really funny stuff. I think you know this. I did the largest study in history on mobile dating, I think it was at least. We looked at 421 million potential matches. What we found was that the more similar you are, the more likely you are to date. Opposites do not attract at all. That goes down to like religion, which school you went to, all these kinds of things, the more similar you are, the more likely you are to date. With one weird exception, that is we thought introverts would date introverts, and extroverts would date extrovert, but it turns out the introverts almost never start conversations.
Melanie Avalon: So, it requires an extrovert.
Jon Levy: Yeah, just somebody needs to get them going. There are some introverts that talk to introverts. It's just really rare and two extroverts, oh, my God, extroverts date a ton. I think that that's a funny thing. The other thing we discovered was that if you have the same initials, you're 11.3% more likely to date. Super weird. That's called implicit egotism. Anything that reminds us of ourselves is more attractive or appealing. The fact is that the things that affect our behavior are so irrational and so stupid. But that's what it is to be human, frankly.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, one of the stories I learned from your book that I now tell everybody, whenever it remotely relates the Mona Lisa.
Jon Levy: Yeah, that's crazy, right? For the listeners, if you didn't know this, the Mona Lisa until 1911, nobody had heard of it. It was painted in the early 1500s. In the mid-1800s, finally, somebody even noticed it as a good example of Renaissance art. Then in 1911, a man walked into the Louvre, walked into the Renaissance section, the smallest, most random painting on the wall, nobody cared about it, ripped it off the wall and disappeared with it. The story of the painting went viral and it became so popular that over the following years, people stood in line just to see the empty spot on the wall of the loop. Three years later, when it was returned, the story went viral again, making it the most famous painting in history and now people think it's this insane work of art that's better than all the rest. But really, it's just that it was stolen and became famous. The more we see something, the more we tend to like it or trust it. So, the Mona Lisa, now, I think gets 8 million viewers standing in line for a selfie with it and it's all because of some crazy story about how it got stolen.
Melanie Avalon: That is crazy. Yeah. Now, whenever it remotely relates to the conversation, I'm like, “Do you know why the Mona Lisa is famous?” [laughs] Nobody knows.
Jon Levy: This is my fun fact of the day for you.
Melanie Avalon: Exposure effect, it doesn't have to necessarily involve other people. It could just be exposure to anything like an object or anything.
Jon Levy: The mere exposure effect could be exposure to anything, yeah. It could be a painting like the Mona Lisa, it could be somebody's voice, it could be literally anything, it could be a dress. It could be-- why is Kim Kardashian famous? Just famous for being famous. That takes a skill set and it's impressive that she's been able to accomplish it. But it's not like she's a famous for the same reason as Tony Robbins. She isn't doing research and trying to help people develop or she didn't even really make a product of any kind.
Melanie Avalon: I'm just thinking about how much our exposure to things, and then other people affects us, and it's not necessarily based on any logic or sound reason. The other day, I was walking-- outside of my apartment, it's a two-way street, but you can park along the sides, and I realized on one side, there was one open spot, but every single car was parked the wrong way, like parallel parked but opposing direction of traffic. I had to park and I was like, “Do I park the right way or do I park the wrong way with everybody else?” So, I parked the wrong way with everybody else.
Jon Levy: I love that you did this. There's a bunch of very famous experiments that play into this and the way it works is, you walk into a group setting, I asked you which option, A, B, or C, is a shorter line than in the example line. It's very, very clear that option B is the answer. Very clear. But everybody in the group says option C, which is clearly longer. What happens is that almost everybody who is put in the scenario will say option C, even though they know better. The reason is that we assume that if everybody else is doing something, then we must be wrong in our view. All it takes is if there was just one car parked the other way, we would have had permission. I have some good news and some bad news for you, Melanie. The good news is I'm sure your car is fine. The bad news is you're a follower.
Melanie Avalon: I thought about you, Jon, I thought about the book, I thought about what I learned. I was like this is what this is.
Jon Levy: Listen, I say this laughing but I'm not immune to it either. We all do this. I could literally be the person who does this research and then, there's funny experiments where people go and wait at a doctor's office. Every two minutes, there's a buzzing sound, and all the people there stand up, and then sit down. Walk into the scenario and you see all these people standing up and sitting down, and you think maybe you need to do it. So, people start doing it. And slowly, they call people in. All the original people have left but all the new people continue to do it. It's not like it's a you thing. It's an all of us thing. I might make fun of you and say, “Oh, you're a follower.” So, am I.
Melanie Avalon: It's so funny. I think was the first moment where it happened and I've just was so aware, and that I still made the conscious decision. [laughs]
Jon Levy: You'll get uncomfortable, because you're like, “I know, I should know better. But I can't help myself and I don't know what to do right now.”
Melanie Avalon: Oh, my goodness. Well, this has been absolutely amazing. One of the first things and one of the reasons it's been so amazing is one of the first things you say in the book I think is, you talk about the quality of life and how the quality of life is determined by, is it the people around you and the conversations that you have?
Jon Levy: Nailed it.
Melanie Avalon: I was like, that's a keeper quote [laughs] remembering that.
Jon Levy: Can I speak to this for a second? Because--
Melanie Avalon: Oh, please. Yes, please.
Jon Levy: Clearly, the people we surround ourselves with, like if your friends don't want to exercise, and they just want to eat tubs of popcorn, you're probably not going to have the best of habit. But I do want to emphasize that there's a second half of the sentence. Because it doesn't mean that you have to get rid of all your friends who you don't like all of their habits. It's the conversations that we have with them. So, the first story I share is about this woman, Jean Nidetch, who views herself as really overweight and in fact gets confused for being pregnant. She ends up saying, “Okay, I want to lose weight,” and realize is at a certain point, she cannot do it by herself. So, she invites all of her friends who are overweight to play Mahjong together. But really what it is, is an opportunity to change the conversation that their community has, to talk about their shame and their struggles in an open way. It worked so well that they decided to do it. I think it was twice a week from that point on. That turned into Weight Watchers. So, traditionally, you'd think, “Oh, it's a bunch of overweight people that I'm bringing together, that's actually going to increase my weight.” But when you change the conversation to something empowering, if you can create a safe space where those vulnerability loops can open and close, suddenly, you can change everything. I think it's important to realize that whether it's meeting new people or it's starting a new conversation with people, it all begins with a vulnerability loop, and that vulnerability loop is an invitation. It's the fact that they're invited to participate in something, either a community, a friendship, an activity, or a conversation.
Melanie Avalon: That is so incredible. For listeners, now you understand why I was so excited about this particular conversation for so long, because it's just absolutely mind blowing. I love when you learn things-- I guess this is what like behavioral science is, but you're learning to see things that were already there and then once you learn about them, then you start seeing them as opposed to-- I learned a lot of completely new information, but as opposed to just learning facts, it's like you learn a new way of seeing, and it just provides such insight to your behavior in your life, and friends, you've got to get this book. You're invited. Was there anything else you wanted to touch on for listeners? I know there's a lot more in the book.
Jon Levy: I think there's tons in the book. I think the most important thing is, we really make an effort to include people. Those friends that are sometimes quieter and more lonely, I just don't want to find a situation where we could have really contributed to people, and they just became more isolated. Especially, just because you're lonely, it doesn't mean that you're a bad person. There's no relationship between those two. Some of the most wonderful friends I have are quiet introvert, and I will forever be inviting them, because I know they'll never invite me and that's fine. That's just not in their personality, but I really enjoy our time together. So, my job is to keep inviting and their job is to keep accepting, even if they're scared to.
Melanie Avalon: I love that. That's really beautiful. Greater mission and purpose to everything. Are you writing your next book?
Jon Levy: Oh, my God, I'm not done even promoting this one. So, I'm already thinking about it. I'm thinking of doing something around burnout, I'm thinking of doing something-- There's all these ideas floating around, because I can't help myself, probably much like yourself. I always have more ideas than I have time to do them, but I'm kicking the tires on a lot of things.
Melanie Avalon: Awesome. Well, hopefully, for your future work, I'd love to bring you back on the show if you're open to it. The very last question I asked every single guest on this show, and it's just because I realized more and more each day how important mindset is surrounding everything. So, what is something that you're grateful for?
Jon Levy: Ooh, what am I grateful for? I have to say that I'm grateful that people accepted my invitations, all 2000 plus people. I've a really wonderful life, and it's because of the absolutely terrible cooking that I've had to endure over the past 10, 12 years. I've hosted phenomenally fantastic and successful people, and had the privilege of becoming friends with many of them. My life is really great because of that. I guess I'm thankful for terrible Mexican food, which is what we cook. We make burritos.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, it's Mexican every time?
Jon Levy: Yeah, it's really hard to find meals that work for everybody's diet. So, if like you're keto, you can just do it in like--
Melanie Avalon: Not do the tortilla. [laughs]
Jon Levy: Yeah, exactly. If you're vegan, we have options. Everything worked. That's really what I think I'm most thankful for these days.
Melanie Avalon: Awesome. I love it. Well, thank you so much, Jon. I am so grateful for your work, everything that you're doing. I can't wait to share this with listeners. They're going to love it. I'll just ask you, what's your favorite Star Trek episode?
Jon Levy: Oh, wow. I have a few favorite quotes. There's an episode of the Next Generation where Picard and Data are talking. Data is playing a game that he just can't win for some reason against this gamemaster, and he assumes that he's broken as a result, and he's running all these diagnostics. Picard stops by his [unintelligible [01:02:03] and says, “Why aren't you on your feet working?” He says, “Well, clearly, there's a problem with me. I can't win.” Picard's responses something to the extent of Data, “It is possible to make zero errors and still lose. That's not a flaw. That's life. Essentially, get over it.” I think that's really profound in the sense that as a behavioral scientist, most of us judge our decision making based on the result, and that actually doesn't work. You can make a terrible decision, and have an amazing result, and you can make great decisions and have terrible result. What I care about is, did we make good decisions and was the thinking there? So, I really loved that episode.
Melanie Avalon: I love that. That was amazing. That was incredibly freeing and it was from Star Trek. I'm so happy right now. [laughs] So, thank you for that. Well, thank you for your time, and hopefully, we can talk again in the future.
Jon Levy: Ah, I'd love to come back when the time comes.
Melanie Avalon: Bye.