On Nov 22, 2011 … a team of scientists at Facebook and the University of Milan released a study based on 721 million active Facebook users with a connectivity of 69 billion friendships. The study showed that any two individuals in the world can be connected through 4.74 acquaintances. Hmmm? Is 4.74 the new 6 degrees of separation?
Scientists and mathematicians have been conducting social network experiments for decades. But in 1967, a social psychologist named Stanley Milgram set the six-degrees standard when he conducted a small-world experiment with 160 people in Omaha, Nebraska. It was seminal work that preceded the Facebook phenomenon.
As part of his Harvard dissertation, Milgram asked participants to forward a package to a friend who they believed could bring it closer to a stockbroker in Boston who was the subject of Milgram’s experiment. Each participant received instructions to mail a folder to a friend they knew on a first name basis. Each person passed along the same instructions, hoping their acquaintance might know Milgram’s stockbroker.
The experiment sounds like an old-fashioned chain letter, but Milgram tracked the progress through return postcards attached to each letter. Statistically, chains varied from two to ten letters, with an average of six degrees of separation between the original sender and the target recipient in Boston who received the package.
Fast forward to 1990 >> American playwright, John Guare, wrote a Pulitzer-Prize nominated play titled Six Degrees of Separation, inspired by a real-life con artist named David Hampton. The 1993 film based on Guare’s play stars Will Smith, Donald Sutherland, and Stockard Channing. The story sets up the premise that any two individuals are connected by at most five others (great movie by the way – check it out if you haven’t seen it)!
The Origin of Kevin Bacon’s 6 Degrees
In 1994, actor Kevin Bacon joked in an interview that he had worked with everybody in Hollywood or at least someone who’d worked with someone. Sure enough, the social buzz around Bacon exploded that year when four college students from Albright (Craig Fass, Christian Gardner, Brian Turtle, Mike Ginelli) invented a party game called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. On the heels of Bacon’s statements, the students began speculating on the number of films Bacon had appeared in and anyone connected to the famous star one way or another.
The students then wrote a letter to talk-show host Jon Stewart, telling him that Kevin Bacon was the center of the entertainment universe in their “stupid party game.” And just like that, the students found themselves appearing on The Jon Stewart Show to explain the game.
Before long, a book and trivia game were released and Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon was a cultural juggernaut. In 2006, a television series (Six Degrees) hit the airwaves about six New York residents and how they were all connected through six or fewer relationships.
In 2007, Bacon formed a non-profit called SixDegrees.org. His organization teamed up with a popular charity called Network for Good to power a website that linked users to over a million charities. You’ll tell friends, they’ll tell friends, and soon enough you have a movement. But how how can we take these amazing resources and double or even triple the impact?
3 Degrees of Social Impact
87% of us have access to food, shoes, shelter, education, medicine, and clean water. A billion people don’t have such luxuries. 1 in 7 are hungry. Kids are at risk. Millions are physically and emotionally challenged. There are communities without schools and schools without books. Disaster victims need our help (Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Hurricanes). Research in science and medicine need our support too (Malaria, Cancer, AIDS).
Today’s humanitarians come in all shapes and sizes. From students to celebrities, the ability to make a difference has never been easier. Non-profits such as KIVA enable anyone to lend as little as $25 to small business owners in third-world countries. Educators like Salman Khan, Founder of Khan Academy are posting thousands of free lectures in math, science, and history, making quality education more accessible to the masses. Blake Mycoskie, Founder of TOMS Shoes is widely credited with spearheading a one-for-one business model that encourages giving back. With each sale, TOMS gives away a pair of shoes to a child in need.
So what can we draw from a Facebook study that says we’re separated by 4.74 degrees of separation and a world on the brink of social entrepreneurship? If nothing else, seven billion people are closer to 3 degrees than 6. This means each of us has the ability to make a greater impact than ever toward local or international causes.
As a corollary to the above, I challenge everyone to find their unique style of giving. For every dollar earned, perhaps you’ll give a small portion to charity. If you own a business, maybe you’ll donate products and services to a school. For everything you’re thankful for, consider giving something of equal value to a child in need.
6 degrees? 4.74 degrees? Think 3 degrees of social impact. Together, we make a difference.
CliffMichaels.com – Giving Back Mission
With each sale at CliffMichaels.com, we give FREE books and e-courses to students in need.
The 4 Essentials of Entrepreneurial Thinking
In his New York Times Bestseller, Cliff Michaels dispels the myth of born entrepreneurs and proposes a paradigm shift in global education. Taking readers on an inspiring personal journey, Michaels shares his foibles, triumphs, and tribulations as a young entrepreneur, then unleashes a dynamic system of timeless lessons
anyone can follow.
On the cutting edge of success training for over 20 years, Michaels draws on classic and modern mentors from da Vinci, Edison, Mozart, and Einstein to Jobs, Oprah, Branson, Spielberg, and more. Street-smart & thought provoking, The 4 Essentials isn’t just for entrepreneurs. It challenges all of us to earn a real-world MBA – your Master’s in Basic Abilities.