I have spent much of my adult life doing something absolutely ridiculous. I convince Nobel Laureates, Olympic medalists, Fortune 500 executives, celebrities, and the occasional royal, to come to my home, cook dinner together, wash my dishes, and clean my floors. You may have heard of this secret dining experience known as the Influencers Dinner from my TED Talk or the NY Times article about it.
I have hosted over 2000 people across 227 dinners creating what is probably the largest community of its kind in the world. Over the past several years I have been researching human connection, trust, and influence to write my latest book You’re Invited: The Art & Science of Cultivating Influence, and this is what I learned (hint: It has nothing to do with money or fame, as I was in debt and had no status when I started):
- The Influence Equation: Anything we care about, from human longevity to business success, is defined by who we are connected to, how much they trust us, and the sense of community/belonging we have. The fact is, you can’t influence someone who doesn’t know you or someone that doesn’t trust you. This means that if we can create deep and meaningful relationships with people, especially those we admire, chances are, our lives will be incredible, and thanks to those relationships we will have more influence over what matters to us.
- Connection doesn’t come from networking: It shouldn’t surprise you that research from Harvard Business School found networking makes us feel dirty since it evokes feelings that we are using people. Instead focus on making friends, no matter how shy or introverted a person is, we all love having friends. The key is remembering that friendships are formed over shared culture, activities, and interests. Instead of going to a networking event, participating or starting a soccer club, knitting group, book club, or prayer group, is an opportunity to make friendships around the things you already enjoy.
- Make it novel, generous, and well-curated: If you want to connect with influential people, realize that everyone is asking them for something, they have experienced it all already and most of their life is spent with their staff and admins. This means that if you can lead with generosity, offering them something that is novel or different and curated with other influential or interesting people, they will go far out of their way to participate. Realize, I have been hosting a secret dining experience with terrible food for over a decade—but, because the guest list is interesting and the format is generous and unique, people want to participate. If you invite people for a hike, make it novel, have each person bring a problem they are struggling with that can be explored while you walk, or if you want to host a cocktail event, have each person bring a story on a single word like “friendship” or “strength” that they can share. The point is, to make it stand out so people find it interesting.
- You can’t win people over with money: No one needs more party swag bags that they throw out or feeling like they are stuck at some overpriced business dinner. People build trust over shared effort, it’s called the IKEA effect, we disproportionately care about our IKEA furniture because we had to assemble it ourselves. At The Influencers Dinner, the guests cook together, causing them to care more about one another. Whether you go do volunteer work together, lift weights, or work on a mural, these joint activities will actually bond you. You will notice that none of these things cost a lot of money, they just require intentional design, actually thinking about what activities you enjoy and what will cause people to invest effort.
- We all want to belong: The greatest predictor of life expectancy isn’t eating kale every day—no.2 is strong social ties, no. 1 is social integration (being part of a community). Meanwhile, in business, a company’s stock price, employee sick days, and profitability can be tied to the level of oxytocin in employee’s bloodstreams. Whether you want to live a long time or succeed at work, it all comes back to the desire to belong. Unfortunately, we are in the midst of a loneliness epidemic and people who are successful, rich, or famous, aren’t immune to this. Having the people you meet not only connect with you but each other, will foster a sense of community and belonging that will not only strengthen your relationship with everyone but by being at the heart of a community will have the secondary benefit of increasing your influence.
Fundamentally, the people we surround ourselves with define our lives. If we want to cultivate more influence so we can impact a social cause, grow our business, get our children into great schools, or even just find a new best friend, it all starts with an invitation. It could be an invitation from you to participate in an activity that will bond people and create lasting friendships, or you accept an invitation from someone else to participate in something new. Whatever it is, find ways to make it novel, to get people to put in a joint effort, and then you have people feel safe so they feel they belong. In time, a community will form around you, and not only will you be able to impact what you care about, but everyone’s lives will improve. IF you would like to learn more about the science and stories about human connection, trust, and belonging pick up a copy of You’re Invited: The Art & Science of Cultivating Influence.
About Jon Levy
Jon Levy is a behavioral scientist best known for his work in influence, human connection, and decision making. Levy specializes in applying the latest research to transform the way companies approach marketing, sales, consumer engagement, and culture. His clients range from Fortune 500 brands 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 occasional princess. Guests cook dinner together but can’t discuss their career or give their last name, and once seated to eat, they play a game to reveal who they are. Over time, these dinners developed into a community. With thousands of members, Influencersis the largest community of its type worldwide. In his free time, Jon works on outrageous projects. Among them spending a year traveling to all7 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.