Business Insights

BNI Podcast Episode 8: The Six Degrees of Separation

Synopsis –
In this episode, Dr. Misner explodes the myth of Six Degrees of Separation and uses it to explain that networking doesn’t just happen, it’s a skill which can – and must – be developed to increase the number of people you can connect to:

  • The Definition of Six Degrees of Separation
  • “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”
  • Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny and Six Degrees of Separation Are All Myths
  • The Original Studies by Stanley Milgram
  • The Important Missing Fact
  • How To Apply This Fact As A BNI Member
  • Some People Are Better Connected Than Others
  • Networking Is A Skill Which Can – and Must – Be Developed
  • You Can Be Part of The 29% Who ARE Connected to the Whole World

Complete Transcription of BNI Podcast Episode 008 –

Frank Felker:
Hello everybody, and welcome back to the official BNI podcast brought to you by, the leading site on the net for networking downloadables. I?m Frank Felker in Washington DC, joined on the phone today by the Founder and Chairman of BNI, Dr. Ivan Misner, calling in again from BNI headquarters in sunny southern California. How are you today, Ivan?

Dr. Ivan Misner:
I?m doing great. Thanks.

You have a great topic today. It is something that I have heard relative to somebody completely different. I?ve always heard this relative to Kevin Bacon. What exactly do the six degrees of separation mean to you in terms of networking?

Let me ask you first, Frank. Do you know what the six degrees of separation are? In your own words, how would you describe the six degrees of separation?

It was originally that every person on earth could be connected to every other person on earth by a no more than six degrees of separation or six people in between.

That is a great summary. That is exactly the concept of six degrees of separation. Of course you?re talking about the Kevin Bacon web site with Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon where he’?s tentatively connected to every other actor. That’?s an interesting game to play.

Let me ask you a question. What do you think Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, and six degrees of separation all have in common?

I don?t know, but I think you?re going to tell me.

I am. The answer is that people all around the world believe in them, but they are, I am afraid, myths. They are untrue. As much as I definitely do not want to do an expose on Santa Claus or the Easter bunny, I thought maybe I would talk for a minute or two about six degrees of separation.

Sure. There would be less political flak coming from that.

The legend of six degrees of separation originally stems from several small world experiments that were conducted by Stanley Milgram in the late nineteen sixties and early seventies. These experiments involved sending folders or letters ? he did several variations of it ? from one group of people in one part of the country to a specific person who those people didn?t know in another part of the country. People were told to get the material to someone who might know someone who would know that individual.

This process basically formed a chain of connections linking people together. The result from the small world experiments that Milgram did was that they found, in fact, that the folders which eventually arrived in the right persons? hands, took on average between five and six connections or degrees. I have no problem with the concept that it took five for six connections to get there. That part is true.

But there is one small problem with the concept that we are all connected by six degrees — that is that the overwhelming majority of people in all of Milgram?’s studies never got the material at all. Frankly, I don?t think it was really left out by him from what I’?ve read directly. He reported his data straightforwardly. But when others wrote about it, they pretty much left that important part out.

In Milgram’?s most successful study, 217 chains were started and 64 were actually completed. That is success rate of only 29%. That is less than one-third of the participants. That basically means that 29% of the people in Milgram’s most successful study were separated on average by six degrees from the final contact person.

However, 71% were not connected at all. So when you talk about the six degrees of separation concept where we are all connected by six contacts, it\’s not true. Based on Milgram’?s study, only 29% of the respondents were connected by six degrees. The other 71% were not.

So how can we apply in this as BNI members, in terms of our networking?

That is a really important question. BNI members who are listening to this have to wonder why would I, as someone who has devoted most of his professional career to business networking, be telling everyone about basically the Achilles heel of this iconic concept? There are really two reasons for it.

First, I believe that it creates some complacency. The thought that everyone is absolutely connected to everyone else on the planet by six degrees gives some people a false sense of expectation. It lulls them into a sense that the connection is bound to happen sooner or later no matter what they do.

I have met people before who were not good at networking at all. Their networking skills were very poor. They would say, “?Oh, it doesn?t matter. I can make this happen. We?re all connected by six degrees.?”

I was thinking this guy doesn’?t have any networking skills whatsoever, and he thinks that he can connect with Bill Gates or some other connection he wants to make. That?s just not going to happen. Clearly he has this false sense of security and complacency.

Second, I think this is most important about Milgram’?s studies? findings– and again he did many of them–one of them had less than 5% of the people getting through. That was an unpublished study that was found in his archives. The findings indicate clearly that some people are better connected than others. Clearly, 29% are better connected.

I believe that is important because it means it\’s a skill that can be acquired. With regular training and coaching, people can develop their networking skills, increased their connections and become part of that roughly 29% of the people that are, in fact, separated from the rest of the world by only six degrees. That?s what I love about what we are doing with BNI. We try to teach people the skills and we give them a venue to practice the skills so that BNI members can be part of that 29% .

That’?s fantastic. I agree completely with you. Part of my learning process as a BNI member was that I thought I am a fairly sociable person so I thought I could just passively become a good networker. I didn?t realize until I started engaging with BNI that it\’s a skill that you need to develop. It requires practice and training. I?m very thankful that I?m getting all these things from BNI and I agree with you that this is something that we have to focus on to develop. It is not just going to happen by accident.

You are absolutely right. The good news in this whole podcast is that you can be part of the 29% through education, practice, training, etc. You can be connected to anyone through the power and potential of networking. In fact, by understanding that, we can set ourselves aside from our competition. As individual members of BNI, we find that we are able to make the successful connections and that it\’s not just entitlement. It?s by learning how to network more effectively and using BNI as a vehicle to make that happen so that you can be part of the 29% are, in fact, connected to the rest of the world.

Well, is there any last pearl of wisdom that you want to share with the listeners this week, Ivan?

Absolutely Frank. You know, as for the 71% of the people who are not connected and yet still believe in six degrees of separation, keep the faith. You’?ll always have Santa Claus.

That?s great. For Dr. Ivan Misner, I am Frank felker saying we will see you next week on the official BNI podcast.

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