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358: We Evolved to Network - with Tim Ash
Episode 35822nd June 2022 • Social Capital • Lori Highby
00:00:00 00:26:34

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Meet Tim

Tim Ash is an acknowledged authority on evolutionary psychology and digital marketing. He is a sought-after international keynote speaker, and the bestselling author of Unleash Your Primal Brain and Landing Page Optimization. Tim has been mentioned by Forbes as a Top-10 Online Marketing Expert, and by Entrepreneur Magazine as an Online Marketing Influencer To Watch. He is a former digital agency head, international keynote speaker, and marketing consultant to top companies.

How does evolutionary psychology help us to understand our social natures?

Well, our brains evolved for a reason. And we share things with the earliest forms of life on Earth, like insects and more primitive or let's say, more ancient forms of life. And then, as we evolved, we layered on different things so that at the very end of our evolution, we gotten some really, really bizarre to species level stuff that makes us unique. In fact, I'd say that's why we took over the whole planet. And so understanding that evolutionary path, and some of the things that we inherited along the way, helps us to understand how to be in relationships with each other, whether that's in business, or in personal relationships.

Why is storytelling important? And, more importantly, how does it work?

I like to go back to first principles and evolution to define all this stuff. And so I like to ask the question, why is storytelling even something we do? Why do we have language? Why do we tell stories? And we're highly cultural creatures, we'll probably talk about that in more depth as well. But one of the things that we can do is learn from each other. So you know that you can learn from your own mistakes or other people's mistakes. And by being able to learn from other people's mistakes, we avoid danger, we increase our chances of survival. So if I said, hey, Lori, if you keep going down that forest path, and around the bend, you're gonna run into a really angry mama bear and it's gonna tear you to shreds. I got the scars to prove it right here. I'm still bleeding from the encounter with the bear. Right? That's probably useful information to you. Can we agree on that? Absolutely. So basically, what I did just saved us the danger, or the time investment, and the uncertainty of dealing with that situation by telling you about it. So what I did is I kind of transferred my experiences into your head. I don't know if you've ever watched the old Star Trek show. They had Mr. Spock, he was a very logical Vulcan and he could do this Vulcan mind meld where he'd put his hands on your skull and transfer his experiences directly into your head. And it seems so far-fetched, but that's essentially what stories do. They've shown on brain scans that if a teller is telling a story with a very slight delay, the recipient on the other end is activating the same parts of the brain. So you're really doing a kind of a mind meld and transferring your experiences into someone else by telling a story, a very powerful way to help you survive.

Lori: I love that. Your focus sounded like it was heavy on the education side of things, but also storytelling, from my perspective. And just the way that people connect is and want to be part of a conversation or pull more information is not only education, but also entertainment. I think it's a combination of the two.

Well, again, from an evolutionary standpoint, I don't think entertainment is a goal. But I'd say that entertainment helps the medicine go down. So if I'm telling you an experience, I might choose to be funny about it and then that makes you more engaged with it, which forms a stronger memory of my story. So absolutely, that's important. One other thing too, that's super important, is knowing that the morals that people get from the same story are going to be very different based on our experiences and our cultural beliefs. That depends on which tribe we're in. So the same objective reality will land very differently when I tell that story to different audiences. I'll use this example from the book. Imagine this objective reality which I can film with my cell phone and record a video of a matador. He stood in the center of the bull ring and the bull charged at him, he definitely sidestepped and plunged his sword between the bulls shoulder blades, striking its heart and killing it instantly. Okay, now that's something in objective reality, I can video record that. Now, let's think about potential audiences. For this, if I was telling this story to someone in Spain that liked bullfighting, the themes or the morals they get out of it would be along the lines of "okay, it's about man versus nature. It's about discipline and being an impeccable warrior. It's about tradition, all of these generally positive things. And if I told it to someone from PETA People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, they would think, well, this is cruelty and animal torture, and then followed by animal murder, and people are subsidizing the watching of this by paying money. And that should be stopped immediately. So the morals of the story are going to be different depending on your audience. And it's really, really important to understand who you're talking to.

Why do we form into tribes and groups?

Well, yeah, I mean, that's kind of a great follow on that. I was just describing two different tribes: bullfight lovers and PETA, right, those are two different tribes. And you can make a lot of assumptions about how they would respond to a story like that just by knowing they're members of those groups. The reason that we form into tribes from an evolutionary perspective is that we're weaker individually. So there are some animals that can survive on their own very well, alligators, sharks, mostly things that lay eggs. But when you start moving into mammals, where we might be weaker individually, but we have the protection of the herd, and we congregate we feel bad when we're cut out of the herd or alone, and so on, that's just part of our mammalian inheritance. But with humans, the whole last part of my book – the last several chapters – is called Hypersocial. We depend on each other to an incredible degree. And we placed one big, evolutionary bet on learning the cultural package around us from other people. That's what helps us survive. We live decades beyond our reproductive years, because we're transmitting culture to the younger generation, and things that are of value. So we're the only animals that live a couple of decades beyond our reproductive years. So we're definitely an outlier there. And all of that cultural transmission helps us to survive. And we can only learn that from our immediate tribe. So the tendency to cluster into tribes to pass on information in a way that's unaltered. In other words, if you're not a good team player, we're gonna kick you out of the tribe. So you have to be willing to pair it with information that the tribe is transmitting to other people without changing it even if it overrides your own direct experience. So your eyes are telling you one thing, but your cultural package is telling you something else, you better be passing on the cultural package, because overall group survival makes it so much easier for us individually that we're willing to override our own direct experience.

What’s one of the most successful networking experiences you’ve had?

Yeah, and again, I want to take this back to our psychology and why we do all of this. That turns out, you know, what we think of as the rational part of the brain, as opposed to the primal part, is there mainly to model and update our social relationships in real time. So for example, like, oh, Lori, I went on your podcast. And you might know this other person who's running this other podcast I want to get on their podcast. But I also know their sister in law, and we don't agree on political views, and she's not friends with you, okay, or something like that, right? The model of all of that social complexity is what our brains are really for. And so anytime we're not doing some kind of computational task, like, What's four plus 17, we instantly within a fraction of a second go back to modeling our social world. We do that when we sleep, we do that when we're awake. And having an updated model of our social standing in the tribe is a critical survival skill. So we're actually hyper-social. That's the last part of my book. The last several chapters are called that. So we network for a variety of reasons, including to improve our social alliances, they get access to certain kinds of resources to feel safety inside of our group or our herd, if you will. It's a very important mechanism.

Regardless of the size of one's network, or tribe, how do you stay in front of and best nurture these relationships?

Well, let's talk about different kinds of social relationships. Because a famous sociologist Robin Dunbar has said, the size of our brains is so big because we have the largest social group sizes. But what does that mean in practice? We can have close ties with between 100 to 200 people. I mean, I know what movies you like, “I'll invite you over for dinner” level of knowing someone. You'll help me move my furniture if I'm moving houses, okay, so hundreds of 200 people that we know, personally, and we know a lot about him, anything else beyond that as an acquaintance? And so it's really important that we have these kinds of strong ties and we have weak ties, people you meet in a networking setting are going to be most likely weak ties. So we automatically prioritize strong relationships. And we try to maintain a few networking relationships, sometimes we'll swap out these people in our inner circle for new ones. But over time, I'm sure you've spent less time with certain friends, and then you've gotten some new friends. Right? Well, that's a slow process. And that's not to be confused with social media, because I'm not kidding, I have 15, or 17,000, whatever it is LinkedIn connections. Doesn't mean I know them all. They probably connected to me when I keynoted at some giant conference, I was on stage, they were one of 1000s of people in the audience. They're not like my bestie. So be clear about whether someone's in your small tribe or your acquaintance tribe.

Lori: Yeah, I think that's a good way to position it. And then, and then as far as managing and fostering those relationships, you probably want to invest more time in those that are in your smaller tribe.

Yeah. And the rest if through social media, you can amplify you're essentially broadcasting one way, yeah, those people can like or comment, and you might respond to a few comments and have some intermediate relationships, but they're probably never people you've broken bread with or met in person. By the way, there's no there is nothing that can substitute for personal connections, in-person connections. Yeah, no, I know, a lot of us suffer from mental health issues I know my teens have during the pandemic, and nothing can replace face to face contact, shaking hands, all of that.

What advice would you offer the business professional who's really looking to grow their network or their tribe?

One of the most important things is you can't have the megaphone, you can't really shout loud enough to be heard over all the other noise out there. The brands, like Sony or Apple, or Disney or Coca Cola took hundreds of millions of dollars in decades to build. And I'm saying you're your personal brand equivalent of that. If you just try to be omnipresent, I think that's a mistake. A lot of people stretched themselves too thin. They're on every social platform, and they're active everywhere. And what they really are is a mile wide and an inch deep. So you're not really building durable connections. So what I'm a big fan of is having a really, really clear editorial voice; like, if I asked you three adjectives to describe your personal brand, most people couldn't come up with that. So what you can do is use that editorial or brand voice to attract people to you. You're saying, here's my crusade, here's what I'm passionate about. If you're in my tribe, come join me! And you want a pull effect like a magnet instead of a bullhorn. And so with that, but most people don't have a clear voice. So I'm just gonna take a stab at that: say, I'm on this podcast, I want you to know that I'm passionate, and I'm funny, and I'm direct. And so every communication coming out of your mouth, or in your emails, or on your social media posts, better embody all three of those. So you say, Oh, look, it's Lori. She's passionate, direct and funny. The point is, everything coming out of your mouth or your keyboard should have that very strong editorial tone. And that's one of the cheapest kinds of leverage you can get in networking.

If you could go back to your 20 year old self, what would you tell yourself to do more of, less of or differently with regards to your professional career?

Well, I would probably start focusing more on, I would say, foundational stuff. So the one advice I'd give my 20 year old self is get seven to nine hours of consistent sleep on a regular basis. Don't cheat yourself, actually don't do social media and flip through your phone just before you go to bed, have a phone-free evening, or at least the last half hour is coasting down into sleep and getting regular sleep as daily life support. I have a whole chapter on the evolutionary reasons for it in the book, but I think that's my number one self help tip for anybody.

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