Nothing happens in business until a sale is made. Whether front or back office, how well are you leveraging the 4 or 6 degrees of separation from your network into outcomes?
6 Degrees of Separation (Audio)
How many people do you think you know? 500? 1000? 2000? Go on, have a think; More? Much less? How many people do you have in your telephone or address book? How many Linked-In (or other social network) connections do you have? Would you agree with me if I said that you probably knew many, many more than you think?
How often have you sat next to a complete stranger (on a plane for instance) and after a while of conversation found that you knew someone in common? Or that you heard people speaking of someone they couldn’t possibly know, but it ended up that they did? Or that you saw somebody you knew in the most distant village on the other side of the world? Isn’t it remarkable (even scary) how connected we sometimes appear to be, despite there being about 7 billion people on earth?
6 degrees of separation – we’re much closer than you think
Six degrees of separation is the theory that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries. The theory was first proposed in 1929 by the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy in a short story called “Chains.”
Although in the 1950’s, Ithiel de Sola Pool (MIT) and Manfred Kochen (IBM) set out to prove the theory mathematically, after twenty years they were still unable to solve the problem to their own satisfaction.
In 1967, American sociologist Stanley Milgram devised a new way to test the theory, which he called “the small-world problem”, randomly selecting people in the mid-West to send packages to a stranger located in Massachusetts. The senders knew the recipient’s name, occupation, and general location. They were instructed to send the package to a person they knew on a first-name basis who they thought was most likely, out of all their friends, to know the target personally. That person would do the same, and so on, until the package was personally delivered to its target recipient.
Although the participants expected the chain to include at least a hundred intermediaries, it only took (on average) between five and seven intermediaries to get each package delivered. Milgram’s findings were published in Psychology Today and inspired the phrase “six degrees of separation”, although his findings were discounted after it was discovered that he based his conclusion on a very small number of packages.
In 2001, Duncan Watts, a professor at Columbia University, recreated Milgram’s experiment on the Internet using an e-mail message as the “package” that needed to be delivered, and surprisingly, after reviewing the data collected by 48,000 senders and 19 targets (in 157 countries), Watts found that the average number of intermediaries was indeed, six.
Researchers at Microsoft recently studied records of 30 billion electronic conversations among 180 million people in various countries, according to the Washington Post. This was ‘the first time a planetary-scale social network has been available,’ they observed. The database covered the entire Microsoft Messenger instant-messaging network in June 2006, equivalent to roughly half the world’s instant-messaging traffic at that time.
Eric Horvitz and fellow researcher Jure Leskovec considered two people to be acquaintances if they had sent one another a message. They looked at the minimum chain lengths it would take to connect 180 billion different pairs of users in the database. They found that the average length was 6.6 hops, and that 78 per cent of the pairs could be connected in seven steps or fewer. But some were separated by as many as 29 steps.
A vast new study by Facebook’s data team and the University of Milan, which assessed the relationships between 721 million active users (more than 10 per cent of the global population) of the social network, has found that the average number of connections between people has dropped to four.
What do you think from your own personal experience? Isn’t 4 “hops” starting to sound more realistic than 6 for you too?
Is serendipity real?
Let me share a recent experience which inspired this blog. A few years ago I caught up with an old work acquaintance in Singapore who, when he learned that I was now a coach, suggested he connect me with someone who had coached him, which he did. This coach, an American, lives in Spain and we connected via Skype and immediately had a great rapport. He connected me with a fellow coach in Germany that was looking for coaches working in Singapore, and so she and I developed a great connection (also via Skype). A year or so later, she learned of a leadership development assignment one of her American consulting house clients was doing in Australia, and asked if I were available to be put forward as one of her coaches for this assignment, which we did. Last week I was introduced to and met with 4 of my fellow (Australian) coaches for this project. I shared the above story, when asked how I came to be there. When 2 of the 4 heard that the original connection came via Spain, they asked the name of this coach. When I told them his name, they both knew him well and had both worked with him. Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather.
Talk about co-incidence! Mmmm, that word comes up quite frequently, doesn’t it?
We have all experienced the most remarkable coincidences, haven’t we? Uncanny as they are, they do seem to appear quite often.
I have seen coincidence defined as a chance occurrence of events remarkable either for being simultaneous or for apparently being connected, or the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection.
I had written about this phenomenon in The blue Honda. It is where you “shine your torch” that you invoke things to “go your way”, to invite the occurrence of coincidences. It also refers you within it to Goosebumps both of which I would urge you to have a read of in the context of this article.
Of course there could be many “spiritual” associations and dimensions referred to here, which I firmly believe in. However, I’ve chosen to write this blog more in the context of you to “keep on keeping on” as I described in Dancing until it rains. If you are living a life pursuing your purpose and what really matters to you, then I believe coincidences are going to keep playing an important role for you. I often spoke about Gary Player’s mantra: “the harder I practice, the luckier I get”.
Action cures fear. Action creates results.
I am known to be a passionate networker and have often been called a “connector”. Apart from networking being the primary (actually only) source of business for me (through referrals), I teach and coach networking all the time. To me, pro-active networking with a purpose, alongside leadership skills and influencing / communication skills, is what differentiates successful business people from most others.
But they all really only work when we DO something. Positive thinking on its own doesn’t achieve very much (albeit much, much more than negative thinking will). LUCK is still spelled W.O.R.K in my book. I can virtually assure you that sitting on the couch or being “locked in the closet” will not invoke any of the above phenomena. Action cures fear, and action creates results.
So does it really matter whether research and science based knowledge and experience suggests we are separated by 4 or 6 or more or less intermediaries in terms of “degrees of separation”?
Isn’t the fact that we are becoming more and more “connected” (particularly in the last few decades through the monumental growth of the spread of accessible technology) something worth “stacking in our favour”?
That having faith in our chosen path and our journey (even destiny) makes it worthwhile to keep believing in ourselves and to keep chasing down our dreams?
That as long as we keep DOING something towards that every day we are bound to stumble over more and more coincidences that leave us shaking our head and wondering just how that could be? Inspiring us to keep on keeping on – just doing that one more step – then one more, and so on?
If through reading or listening this far I have generated some enthusiasm, even some inspiration for you to just believe in the possibilities this thinking may invoke for you, then my work is done for today.
What if you did, and what if it could?