Monday, May 7, 2007

Debunking the Six Degrees of Separation Myth

Most of the time I don't set out to debunk myths. When one comes along (usually sent to me via e-mail) I look up the Urban Legends Reference Pages to check on its validity just to satisfy my curiosity. I then stuff my new found knowledge deep inside my brain where other trivia lives, or I'll point the sender of the myth in the direction of the Snopes page that dispels the myth (or validates it) in order to steer them away from further embarrassment.

Urban legends are very entertaining. The ones that are the most fun are those that leave you wondering if it really is true. The one legend or myth in business and society is Six Degrees of Separation which simply states that anyone, anywhere can be traced back to another person, anywhere, through their relationships (business, personal, familial or otherwise) in 6 steps or less. In the last 10 or 20 years, Six Degrees became very popular with the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, which states that any actor can be retraced back to actor Kevin Bacon through the roles they have played in movies in 6 steps or less. Six Degrees has even become popular as central themes to current television shows such as Lost or Heroes.

Recently I found an article called Debunking the Six Degrees of Separation Myth. I somewhat agree with the author's view that Stanley Milgram, the man who came up with the theory of Six Degrees, didn't really prove anything with his studies. The responses to his study hardly warranted the establishment of a new theory. All he proved was that some people were really good at networking and knew a lot of people while others did not. The author also said that folks shouldn't get too hung up on this theory.

The point is networking, and using it to its fullest potential, is a learned skill. As consultants it is our best form of marketing. Most consultants will tell you that's how they got their first contract or where most of their leads come from. I know that Six Degrees is just a theory, but knowing about it and thinking how it could be applied to networking in a business setting makes the actual act of networking a little easier, doesn't it? After all, it is just a theory. It isn't fact. Aren't theories supposed to experimented with?

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