Six Degrees of Separation: Why You Can’t Always Trust Conventional Wisdom

It’s fascinating how information can get distorted in the minds of the public and turn into urban myths.  Just think about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny (Kris Kringle–I know you’ve written me to let me know you are real but . . . work with me here).

A classic example of the process that breeds urban myths is the idea that everyone on earth is separated by just six degrees of separation from everyone else.  It’s a popular piece of “conventional wisdom” and was the basis for a film starring Will Smith and Donald Sutherland.

The idea actually stems from some experiments done in the late ’60s by social psychologist Stanley Milgram, who asked participants in Nebraska to send a parcel across the United States to a stranger in Boston via people they knew.  Milgram found that there tended to be about six degrees of separation between the senders in Nebraska and the recipient in Boston.

So, why is “six degrees” an urban myth?  Well, the fact that has been omitted time and again is that only 29 percent of the parcels ever got to the intended recipient in Boston.  This means that only 29 percent of the participants were truly connected by six degrees, and the other 71 percent of participants were not.

What does this teach us about business networking?  The answer is this: To become a successful networker, it’s critical to be a part of the minority of people who truly are well-connected.  There are a few key behaviors that will get you there, and I give a few essential tips on joining the connected 29 percent in my new show on yourBusinessChannel.  Watch the show now by clicking here.

0 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: Why You Can’t Always Trust Conventional Wisdom

  1. Dr Misner, great comment and thanks for this.
    I fear that many people are a little lazy when it comes to networking as they believe we don’t have to work at it as we are all connected anyway.
    I am finding the 29% Solution a great business tool and love my BNI chapter.
    Thanks and regards,
    Ruth Thirtle

  2. Wow, we are so gullible – thanks for putting that in perspective. Makes so much sense when you think about it.
    Thanks for your fantastic, informative sites. I have benefited greatly and continue to be educated everytime I read or listen to your articles. Keep up the great work!! I love BNI and have grown in leaps and bounds both personally and in business since becoming a member.

  3. That only 29% of parcels got there (and thus the participants were connected)does not imply that 71% were not conncected. All it means is that the parcel failed to arrive. It is quiet possible that sending it via a different path would have allowed it to get through. 29% is a pretty good strike rate given that nobody knew whether next person could get the parcel closer!

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