Santa Claus, Easter Bunny and Six Degrees of Separation

I am pleased to announce that my new book, The 29% Solution, 52 Weekly Networking Success Strategies has just been released! Below is an excerpt from the book.

What do Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and “six degrees of separation” all have in common? They are all urban legends! I wouldn’t do an expose on Kris Kringle or the egg-laying rabbit. I don’t want to stir up any trouble. What I do want to take issue with is the six-degrees thing.

You’ve heard that there are “six degrees of separation” between you and anybody else on earth that you would like to meet. Right? Amazing, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s just not true! I know, I know–you’re thinking, “What? That can’t be! It’s common knowledge that we are all separated by six connections to anyone in the world.” Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but the idea that we are all connected through six degrees of separation is rooted in myth–not in fact.

The legend originally stems from several “small world experiments” conducted by Stanley Milgram in the 1960s and ’70s. These experiments involved sending folders or letters from a group of people in one part of the country to a specific person (whom they did not know) in another part of the country. The people were told to get the material to someone who might know someone who would know the individual to whom the material was to be delivered. This process formed a chain of connections linking the people together. It was, in fact, found that the letters or folders that eventually arrived in the right person’s hands took, on average, between five and six connections or degrees. This part is true; however, if you look closer, you will discover the problems that exist within the blanket statement that “we are all connected by six degrees.”

First off, though the average number of links for people who got the material through to the final contact was five or six connections, the majority of the connections that were made ranged from two to 10 (the average was five to six). This means that roughly half took more than six and roughly half less than six. Well, you say, that’s the average and I would agree that there’s nothing wrong with addressing this concept by the average, but there’s one small problem. The overwhelming majority of people in all of Milgram’s studies never got the material to the intended recipient at all! In Milgram’s most successful study, “217 chains were started and 64 were completed–a success rate of only 29 percent.” That’s right–a success rate of less than one-third of the participants! So what this means is that 29 percent of the people in Milgram’s most successful study were separated on average by six degrees from the final contact person. However, that means that 71 percent were not connected at all!

But wait, I’m afraid it gets worse. This was Milgram’s most successful study. In another of his studies, only 5 percent of the participants completed the chain, which means that 95 percent of the people in the study never made the link to the person they were supposed to connect to at all–ever! Don’t shoot the messenger, but I am afraid to tell you that we are not “all” connected with everyone in the world by six degrees of separation. We’re just not . . . not all of us.

So why would I, someone who has devoted most of his professional career to business networking, be telling everyone about the Achilles heel of this iconic concept upon which a lot of networking pros hang their hat? Well, there are two reasons. First of all, I believe this myth creates 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 and thus lulls them into a sense that the connection is bound to happen sooner or later, no matter what they do. Second, and most important, the studies’ findings indicate clearly that some people are better connected than others. I believe that’s important because it means that this is a skill that can be acquired. With reading, training and coaching, people can develop their networking skills, increase their connections and become part of the roughly 29 percent of people who are, in fact, separated from the rest of the world by only six degrees.

Milgram’s work was revolutionary. It opened up a whole new world of discussion and understanding. It has, however, been romanticized. The mythical version of his findings does no good for anyone. It gives people a false sense of security or an erroneous world view of the networking process. I believe we do live in a “small world” that is becoming smaller and smaller; and I also believe it is possible to be connected to anyone in the world by only six degrees. I just don’t believe that “we are all” connected by six degrees, and Milgram’s own findings support that.

The good news in all of this is that it is possible to be part of the 29 percent through education, practice and training. We 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 by knowing that being able to make successful connections is not an entitlement. Instead, it is a skill that only some actually develop. As for the 71 percent of people who are not connected and yet still believe in the six degrees of separation concept–keep the faith. You’ll always have Santa Claus.

Books are now available at your local bookstore or from Amazon.com. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the book and/or the general concept.

6 thoughts on “Santa Claus, Easter Bunny and Six Degrees of Separation”

1. Santa Claus says:

Ivan: Had you actually done your homework, you would know that I am not “an urban legend.” My legal name is Santa Claus. I’m a children’s advocate and candidate for President of the United States. I’m running against Obama and McCain primarily because neither has addressed the plight of the 2 million children in the U.S. annually who are abused, neglected, exploited, abandoned, homeless, and institutionalized through no fault of their own. There are 50 million adults (voters) who, as children, suffered the same political indifference these children do today. Instead of labeling me “an urban legend,” you should have directed folks to my website: http://www.SantasLink.net to discover something worthwhile. Santa

2. My apolgies, Santa. But I stick to my position on the Six Degrees!!!

Ivan

3. Ivan, really enjoyed listening to you talk about The 29% Solution last month in Salt Lake City. Thank you for exploring some the the myths on networking and always pushing your members, readers, and pod cast listeners to reach new networking levels.

4. Ann-Marie says:

Santa Claus –Thank you for writing in!! I need to talk to you about my pony. This has been back-ordered for over 40 years! Will it be delivered this Christmas–for sure?
(patiently waiting…)

5. Hi, Ann-Marie: After an exhaustive search, the elves have located your pony. He seems to be approaching his uppermost age-limit. So, rather than separate him from his reindeer friends, we are reviewing our lists to determine a suitable replacement gift for you at this late date. Our apologies and thanks for your patience (a virtue). See you in December! Blessings, Santa :-)} http://www.SantaClaus08.com

6. Rachel Pradhan says:

Santa: Thank you for the baby-doll in ’87. We had many fond memories together 🙂

Ivan: I really enjoyed your talk today! My big take-away from the talk: it takes a year to build a relationship. This little gem will especially be helpful for new members to our BNI group in San Juan Capistrano (Go Mission Possible!). Often, we expect that once we put down our money to join, and we start coming every week, that automatically the referrals should start rolling-in. But, we will be sadly disappointed in our results if we don’t take the time to build that relationship with our Power Team and referral partners. Thank you!

I’m looking forward to the key note with Brian Tracy in November and reading the 29% Solution!

PS: Barack Obama was one of our BNI member’s husband’s friend’s roommate from college. (4 degrees – although I doubt he’d take my call on that 🙂