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29 August 2009

Networking and the Six Degrees of Separation.

Tag(s): Networking

Networking is a development of the theory of degrees of separation. Originally put forward by American sociologist Stanley Milgram in 1967, the ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ theory is that every person on Earth can be linked to any other person by just six ties. He first argued that a person could maintain a social network of about 150 but through that network he could connect with the whole population of the USA, (then approximately 150 million) in just six steps.

While Milgram’s original experiment to prove his theory worked, it was conducted on a small scale. A random selection of just 96 people around the Americas had to reach their designated target through the US Mail. The messages that made it to their destination passed through an average of six people.

More recently, the Internet has allowed researchers to add significant weight to Milgram's theory. In 2003, a team at Columbia University asked 60,000 e-mail users from 166 countries to reach one of 18 target people in 13 countries around the world. The average completed chain comprised just four people. However, having factored in the drop-out rate, the researchers calculated a median chain length of between five and seven people.

At University my daughter played a game with her friends called the Kevin Bacon game. The trivia game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, is based on a variation of the concept of the small world phenomenon and states that any actor can be linked, through their film roles, to actor Kevin Bacon. The game requires a group of players to try to connect any film actor in history to Kevin Bacon as quickly as possible and in as few links as possible. The game was played across various college campuses as early as the early 1990s.

Kevin Bacon is not a particularly distinguished actor but he’s appeared in a lot of films with a lot of people and it is quite remarkable how few steps are needed to connect him with more established stars of a bygone era.  For example, George Formby (who made his last feature film in 1946) can be linked to Kevin Bacon (who made no film appearances before 1978) in two moves. George was in I See Ice (1938) with (a very young) Roddy McDowall. Roddy was in The Big Picture (1989) with... Kevin Bacon!

I play a variation of the Kevin Bacon game connecting myself to random figures in recent history and found I can connect to Stalin in three, Mao Tse-tung in three, and Hitler in just two. When I was Managing Director of Sony UK an aging Edward Heath asked me to show him the products. He had met Hitler as a young man.  Churchill met Stalin at Yalta, Tehran and Potsdam and I have met several people who knew Churchill. Among the closest connections was the daughter of the present Duke of Marlborough, who went out with a previous Chairman of the company where I was CEO.

My wife, who is Chilean, has a close relationship with a distinguished priest in Chile who runs a famous charity, Hogar Del Cristo. He has met Henry Kissinger a number of times and Kissinger brokered rapprochement with Mao before setting up the famous meeting with President Nixon.
 
The point is that one can connect with just about anyone if you try. But it is important to nurture these relationships. Thus of my non-executive engagements I was recommended to the investment trust by the same head hunter who had introduced me to the company where I was CEO.  I have known him for years. Another head hunter asked me to join the University’s Board of Governors - she has been its Vice Chairman and is one of the leading head hunters in the country. An old friend, also ex-Procter & Gamble, ex-Mars and fellow Fellow of the Marketing Society was on the Board of the AIM-listed company and approached me to become its Chairman. The head hunter who introduced me to the Government backed company where I am Chairman was the one whose training course I had attended. Thus even where head hunters were involved in placing me they were ones I knew well.

29th August 2009

Copyright David C Pearson 2009 All rights reserved




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