On Nov 22, 2011, a team of scientists at Facebook and the University of Milan released a study based on 721 million Facebook users. The study suggested 69 billion friendships could be formed by any two individuals connecting through just 4.74 acquaintances. Sounds like fuzzy math so I thought I’d explore the “separation theory” myself. Could it mean something more to modern innovators, game-changers, and social media mavens.

In 1967, a psychologist named Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment with 160 people in Omaha, Nebraska. It was seminal work that preceded the social media phenomenon. As part of his Harvard dissertation, Milgram asked participants to forward a package to a friend 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 an acquaintance might know Milgram’s stockbroker. Milgram tracked progress through return postcards in each letter. There was an average of “six degrees of separation” between the original sender and the recipient in Boston who received the package. Sound familiar?

Kevin Bacon’s 6 Degrees

In 1990, an American playwright named John Guare wrote a Pulitzer-Prize nominated play titled Six Degrees of Separation. It was inspired by a real-life con artist named David Hampton. The 1993 movie based on Guare’s play starred a young Will Smith as the lead protagonist. The story proposes any two of us are connected at most by five others.

In 1994, actor Kevin Bacon joked in an interview that he seemingly worked with everybody in Hollywood; or at least someone who worked with someone. The social buzz exploded that year when four college students invented a party game called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. They began speculating on the number of films Bacon had appeared in and how everyone was connected to the famous star one way or another. The students then wrote a letter to talk-show host Jon Stewart, telling him Kevin Bacon was the center of the entertainment universe in their “silly party game.” Soon after, the students found themselves on The Jon Stewart Show explaining the concept. A book and trivia game were released and “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” became a cultural juggernaut.

In 2007, Bacon also formed a non-profit called SixDegrees.org. His organization teamed up with a popular charity hub called Network for Good to power a website that linked users to over a million charities. Great concept. But I can’t help but wonder if we can improve on 6 degrees … maybe even lower the 4.74 degrees in the Milan-Facebook study?

Is 3 Degrees the New 6 Degrees?

The recent ALS Ice Bucket Challenge inspired millions of people to dump a bucket of ice on their heads to bring awareness to a debilitating disease called ALS (aka Lou Gherig’s disease). You shot a home-brewed video of yourself calling out three friends on Facebook or Twitter (maybe even 3 clubs or companies) and the frenzy began. Results? ALSA.org raised over $30 million dollars in just a few summer months of 2014 compared to less than a few million dollars in 2013 for the same period. People who had no idea about ALS didn’t want to miss the social train. Even those who didn’t donate supported the movement. In turn, ALS and other charities were rewarded with funding and global awareness. This begs a question: “Is the paradigm shift for social impact this simple? A Change Maven would say, “THE SHIFT ALREADY HAPPENED.”

What’s a Change Maven?

The average entrepreneur is not a boat rocker. He or she takes minimal startup risk to compete in an existing market the same way competitors do. Change Mavens on the other hand are disruptive innovators. They push the envelope and try something new. We know some of these mavericks as The Crazy Ones featured in the famous “Think Different” Apple commercial (Gandhi, Ali, Parks, Picasso, Earhart, Dylan, Dr. King, Jobs). They are the misfit pioneers in art, music, sports, science, medicine, business, civil rights, and education.

Chaos & Challenge in a Connected World

Now that the world is hyper-connected through social media, the biggest causes are harder to ignore, regardless of political, religious, or social positions. While 87% of us have access to food, shoes, shelter, education, and medicine, over a billion people are hungry, homeless or physically and emotionally challenged. Over 2 billon people don’t have clean water. There are communities without schools and schools without books. Our collective battle is as much against disease, disaster relief, and kids at risk, as it is with terrorism or dysfunctional governments. And the world is watching more than ever on Twitter, and Facebook as much as CNN.

Are You a Change Maven?

Making a difference and making money has never been easier. A kid maven can start a lemonade stand for a local cause and friends across the globe will know instantly. Education mavens can teach anytime, anywhere through 24/7 e-learning. A lending maven can help small entrepreneurs in third-world countries with micro-loans as little as $25. In other words, personal, professional and community impact are no longer the start-up challenge they once were. In a socially conscious world of tech savvy Millenials, Change Mavens can also be Average Joe or Plain Jane. They don’t need to be genius outliers. A passion behind a worthwhile movement has already proven that purpose can be just as strategic as profit motive.

Gone are the days where success or ability are measured strictly in terms of money. Corporate responsibility is the new paradigm according to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. “If you’re not giving back to the communities you serve, you’re not building a sustainable business model in the 21st century,” says Schultz. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh echoes the sentiment with core values that “Deliver Happiness” to employees and customers. TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie spearheaded a 1-for-1 movement that encouraged individuals and companies to always give something back (with each sale, TOMS gives a pair of shoes to a child in need). Similarly, Cliff Michaels Academy provides free books and e-courses on life skills, leadership, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship to students and schools in need worldwide.

If you’re a Change Maven who believes in social impact, you don’t think in terms of “What’s in it for me?” You think in terms of “What’s sustainable for you and me?” You’ll join forces with leaders who share similar mission, vision, and values. You might bring together three like-minded students, teachers, or club presidents from different schools. You might challenge 3 competitive CEOs to fight for a common cause like cancer or the environment. You may even help three charities work together for a global event where the sum of their teams is greater than their individual parts.

Clearly, Change Mavens don’t need to be celebrities or social media moguls to launch powerful movements. The right movement with the right message attracts high-profile messengers. Meaningful movements can also generate huge profits and that’s a big part of the paradigm shift too. So find your 3 degrees of social impact, and don’t be afraid to make money while making a difference. If you can do that, there’s a good chance you’re already a Change Maven!

Cliff Michaels Academy Giving Mission – CliffMichaels.com
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