There’s rarely a dull moment in Jon Levy’s life. But that’s largely by his own design. The 36-year-old entrepreneur is a behavioral scientist, focusing on understanding human influence and adventure. Seven years ago, he started an underground community called The Influencers, hosting small private dinners where guests cook and eat dinner together. He also holds events to celebrate arts, science and entertainment. Guests are treated to three acts, which often features comedians, musicians and illusionists. Levy’s first book -- The 2AM Principle -- about the science of adventure goes on sale on November 8.
What about your job most excites you?
As a human behavior scientist, I study two very fun topics: Influence and adventure.
I spend my time understanding the decisions we make and what affects them. This concept inspired me to create the The Influencers community, which is made up thought leaders ranging from Nobel Laureates, executives and Olympic medalists to celebrities and royalty.
In my new book, I wanted to better understand what makes our lives fun and exciting. In that process, I was crushed by a bull in Pamplona, battled Kiefer Sutherland in a drunken game of Jenga and nearly froze while swimming in Antarctic waters.
What’s your secret for maintaining a work-life balance?
Research about what makes us happy tells a consistent story: Sleep until you are rested. You can't enjoy life or be productive if you are exhausted.
There’s also "flow state," known as peak human performance that occurs when we’re engaged in activities that push our abilities. When it comes to my career, I focus on things that force me to grow. That is when I am happiest, and it is much more satisfying than a corner office or fancy title. The process of obtaining those things might be stressful to the point where you don't enjoy life. Earning past a certain amount doesn’t meaningfully increase happiness.
Levy at spray paint class in Berlin.
Life is about having the most engaging experience you can, and with that, you can create deeper relationships. This spawns greater success anyway.
What do you eat for breakfast?
Cottage cheese, a sunny side up egg, chopped veggies and a bunch of Sriracha. I consider Sriracha one of the basic food groups.
Levy brought Sriracha with him to Antarctica.
What’s your passion project?
I’m trying to develop a model for understanding how people make decisions. Human beings are beautifully irrational. Have you ever eaten a candy bar and hated yourself for it? We can’t predict what will make us happy in 5 minutes, yet we think we know what will make us happy in six months or the rest of our lives. If we could get more insight into that, it could impact people’s lives.
If you could pitch to one person, who would it be and why?
The U.S. president because… go big or go home. I’d like to create a government division dedicated to human behavioral science. We need to quantifiably study what influences lives and decisions, so that we can create policy based on research, rather than opinion.
What was your first job and how much did you make?
I helped my dad out with construction and repairs to his childhood house in Israel. I’d carry buckets of sand and cement to help the workers. I made about 15 shekels an hours, which was about $3 USD. But I got to be around my dad and it kept me from getting in trouble.
What's your favorite city and why?
I’ve traveled to all 7 continents and more than 30 countries. I’ve lost track of how many cities I’ve visited. While it’s not a city, Antarctica is by far the most stunning place on the planet.
Levy swimming in zero degree water in Antarctica.
What’s the most important company we’ve never heard of?
Magic Leap is one of the most exciting companies out there. We aren’t really sure what they are doing, but the part we’ve seen is amazing. If it lives up to the hype, it has the ability to redefine storytelling and exploration.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the tech industry today?
I see a lot of highly capable, smart entrepreneurs trying to solve problems that don’t need solutions. They build companies that are essentially useless and waste a lot of resources. Often, the problems that need to be solved aren't “sexy” so they are overlooked. But solving them has the biggest potential to create value, jobs and impact.
If you won a trip to the moon (all expenses paid for), would you take it?
Yes, I’d probably even take it if I had to pay for it. The training for it is probably super cool, especially with anti-gravity.
What travel tips have you picked up over the years?
I have six:
1. Always carry trail mix. You never know when you are going to eat next and if it will be safe. Once you’ve eaten scorpion in Bangkok and sour milk in Morocco, you know to pack snacks. Levy eating a scorpion on Khao San Road.
2. Get enough sleep. It’s easy to get sick on the road. Not only will it increase your focus and productivity, but it will also protect your immune system.
3. The dirtiest place on the planet is probably your folding tray on your flight. Avoid touching it at all costs.
4. Low cost airlines are low cost for a reason. They have virtually no customer service and sometimes the seats don’t even recline. I once suffered from dehydration because an airline wouldn’t give out free water and I didn't have local currency. Luckily, the person sitting next to me was nice enough to share a little.
5. Talk to strangers any chance you get. I once convinced a duty-free sales representative at Stockholm Airport to leave her job and travel with me. She is now one of my very close friends.
6. Say yes! If an experience scares you but won't kill you, it is probably a good idea.
What’s the best book you’ve read this year and why?
Robert Cialdini’s Pre-Suasion. It is incredible how susceptible we are to being influenced and how few times we are actually aware of it. We make decisions without realizing where the initial thought came from. Cialdini shows how everything from the words we select, questions we ask and colors we see impact on our feeling and choices. We would never think something so subtle could influence us to buy a product, but it does.
What’s the best piece of advice you've been given?
A seminar leader once told me, "The quality of our lives is deﬁned by the people we surround ourselves with and the conversations we have with them."
It’s critical to curate the people around you, if you want to have an exceptional life. Anything you want is available through your network. This influences almost every aspect of your life, from voting habits and divorce to obesity and happiness.
Levy with his best friend Liam at Art Basel in Miami Beach.
What keeps you up at night?
I meet so many people and test different approaches to interaction. I’ll often go to bed feeling like a complete idiot for saying something that didn’t go over well. None of us get to escape that experience of being human.
If you could tell your 18-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
I grew up incredibly unpopular. In grade school, nobody wanted to sit with me. In high school, I focused on academics because I didn’t really fit in anywhere. I’d tell 18-year-old me, “It’s going to work out. The world is a big place and no matter how bad you screw up, there’s always an opportunity to start fresh, especially if you’re willing to put the time and work in.”