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The Rise of Change Mavens! Why 3 Degrees (not Kevin Bacon) is the New 6 Degrees of Social Impact.

Origin of “The 6-Degrees Formula”

Most people are familiar with the basic concept that all people may be within six degrees of separation, such as friends of friends, peers, or relatives. In theory, we could therefore connect any two people in as little as six steps (also known as the “six-handshakes rule.”

Before high-speed communication was a thing however, the pony express or post office were the best tools for friends (or thought leaders for that matter), to shake hands and exchange messages from a distance. Then along came the Communication Age with radio, television, fax, Internet, e-mail, text, and smart phones — enabling each generation to share ideas and introductions faster and faster. Equally important, anyone could champion causes for political, social, or economic change with greater speed. FANTASTIC! But it also meant propaganda and misinformation were out there in gross volumes too. This left change mavens with a social dilemma — how do we get closer to sourcing and distributing truth for good, with better control of our own narrative so it’s not lost in the weeds? To that end, we might turn to a few social experiments and party games that shed light over the last 50 years.

On Nov 22, 2011, a team of scientists at Facebook and the University of Milan released a study based on 721 million Facebook users (today Facebook has 3 billion users). Back then, the study suggested 69 billion friendships could be formed by any two individuals connecting through just 4.74 acquaintances. The study also revealed that mutual connections at the initial touch were often of similar age and came from the same country.  The algorithms used in the study even postulated that degrees of separation were shrinking over time as the networks got bigger ( just three degrees of separation in many cases). I’m no math maven but it sounded like fuzzy math, so I thought I’d take a deeper dive on why these studies might be a formula for good, not merely a back door for bad behavior such as manipulative advertising, invasion of privacy, and misappropriation of user data as the world becomes more connected. Turns out, Facebook wasn’t the first such experiment on degrees of social connectivity…

…In 1929, a short story titled Chains was written by a popular Hungarian poet, journalist, and playwright named Frigyes Karinthy (1887-1938). In the story, a group of people play a game trying to connect anyone in the world by a chain of 5 others. Sound familiar? An accomplished author and translator, Karinthy’s written works explored everything from fictional adventures, artificial intelligence, dark satire, and even our battle of the sexes. Based on my research, Karinthy truly deserves original credit for the 6-Degrees of Separation storyline.

The Plot Thickens…

In 1967, a psychologist named Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment with hundreds of people in Omaha, Nebraska. It was seminal work that preceded social media and the Facebook / Milan study by nearly half a century; but 38 years after Karinthy wrote Chains. 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 friend then passed along the same instructions, hoping an acquaintance might know Milgram’s stockbroker in Boston. 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. And so begins a more scientific formula for “6 Degrees” being the number of people required to find a desired connection.

The Gamification of Actor Kevin Bacon …

Fast-forward 23 years from Milgram’s experiment to 1990, when an American playwright named John Guare wrote a Pulitzer-Prize nominated play titled Six Degrees of Separation. The story was later adapted as a feature film in 1993, inspired by a real-life con artist named David Hampton, theorizing that any two of us on earth are connected at most by just five other people — or a total chain of just six acquaintances. Keep in mind that these stories all pre-date  Google, text, email, and smart phones. For that matter, personal computers were only a decade into our zeitgeist.

A year later in an unrelated story, actor Kevin Bacon joked in an interview that he seemingly worked with everybody in Hollywood at some point in his career (or someone who worked with someone). The social buzz of Bacon’s quip exploded shortly after when three Albright College students (Craig Fass, Brian Turtle, Mike Ginelli) invented a party game called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. After watching two movies (Footloose and Up In The Air), the students began speculating on the number of films Bacon had appeared in and how everyone might be connected to him one way or another, especially when you connect popular players in the entertainment Matrix (actors, artists, writers, directors, producers). The students then wrote a letter to a popular talk-show host Jon Stewart, telling him Kevin Bacon was the center of the entertainment universe in their “silly party game.” The students soon found themselves on The Jon Stewart Show explaining their “Six-Degrees of Separation” premise. A book and trivia game were soon released and “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” became a cultural juggernaut game, much like Trivial Pursuit.

Is 3 Degrees The New 6 Degrees?

Not to be upstaged by a game baring his own name, Kevin Bacon formed a non-profit in 2007 called His organization teamed up with a popular charity hub called Network for Good to power a website that linked its users to over a million charities. Over the next decade, the 6-degrees theory was not only put to the test as a social-media tool for charities, advertisers, research, business, and influencers, so too was the 4.74-degree theory postulated in the far-less-famous Milan-Facebook study. Was the true number actually shrinking?

The ALS Ice-Bucket-Challenge • A Game-Changer 

In 2014, the ALS Ice-Bucket Challenge inspired millions of people to champion awareness to a debilitating disease known as ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / aka: Lou Gehrig’s Disease). The Bucket Challenge encouraged charitable souls to make a short video of themselves dumping cold water on their heads, post it on social media, then challenge three friends to spread awareness by doing the same. The results raised over $30 million dollars and global consciousness in just a few months! This was a major game-changer for ALS charities since they had only raised a few million dollars a year earlier for the same period. Some folks even had a bad case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) if they weren’t included when a friend challenged three others to join the movement! The result? Many people just started their own bucket challenge and asked 3 friends to do the same. This begged a simple question: “Did 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon just get replaced by 3 Degrees of Change Mavens on social media?”

“What’s a Change Maven?” 

In a social-media world powered by influencers at every turn, anyone can launch a mission to make a difference whether they start a movement or support one. It starts with a passionate person who has a desire to make a difference and an idea that supports change.

PICK YOUR PASSION > The Arts. Climate. Human Rights. Education. Health Care. Kids at Risk.


  • Kid Mavens can launch a lemonade stand for a local cause.
  • Education Mavens can teach students & employees online.
  • Creative Artists can collaborate to inspire like-minded ideas.
  • Peaceful-Protest Mavens can influence laws and political winds.
  • Business Mavens can donate international resources to improve lives.
  • Philanthropic Mavens can help small entrepreneurs with micro-loans & mentorship.

Legitimate Altruism — not Lip Service

In today’s fast-paced world, there is a risk when criminals, corrupt individuals, misleading advertisers, and unethical media sources exploit social media to hijack the intentions of good people. Plenty of folks claim to “do good”, but it’s incumbent upon all of us to do our homework and support those who actually walk the good talk. Moreover, giving back is not mutually exclusive to gig missions and money campaigns. To the contrary, a giving campaign can start local, share resources, build brand awareness, improve customer loyalty, and develop strong partnerships, no matter what your mission — big or small.

In short, Change Mavens are the new Kevin Bacons and Party Players whenever and wherever good ideas & good people join forces. Best of all, none of us needs to be a Money Mogul or Hollywood celeb to make a difference. We simply need a common PASSION behind a common PURPOSE.

You may not know Kevin Bacon, but Change Mavens with big hearts might be just 3 DEGREES of YOU!

Cliff Michaels

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Tony Hsieh Interview by Cliff Michaels (Part 1 of 2)

A Happy Maverick on a Mission

In the Fall of 2011, The 4 Essentials of Entrepreneurial Thinking was 3 months away from launch when I received an endorsement from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh (pronounced Shay). Tony’s book Delivering Happiness had recently hit #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list so I was sincerely humbled.

As a token of appreciation, I drove from Los Angeles to Vegas with a basket of Tony’s favorite snacks (beef jerky, gourmet pickles, Red Bull and Grey Goose Vodka). Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised that my book was in the Zappos Library, snuggled between The 4 Hour Workweek and Tribal Leadership (#1 Bestsellers). A few months later, my book hit #1 on Amazon and #3 on the New York Times Bestseller list.

The day I arrived, ABC’s Barbara Walters and her 20/20 TV crew were interviewing Tony. So I asked if he had 10 minutes for an interview with me too. He graciously said yes and we filmed an impromptu Q&A. The video highlights are at the end of this blog. Below is the article I wrote shortly after. The lessons are as true today as they were 3 years ago.

About Tony Hsieh

The son of Taiwanese parents and a computer-science graduate from Harvard, Tony Hsieh is very clear on why he wrote a book titled Delivering Happiness. In a world where attracting talent and satisfied customers is everything, Hsieh not only created a unique corporate culture driven by core values, but a global movement that includes “fun and a little weirdness.” If you don’t know the Zappos mantras, a few million fans and thousands of loyal employees will tell you why you should.

In 1999, Hsieh (24), sold LinkExchange to Microsoft for $265 million dollars. It was an Internet advertising network that he co-founded out of college. Shortly after, he invested in a series of companies, including the fledgling e-commerce company Hsieh started as an Advisor and eventually became CEO of Zappos, helping the company grow from almost no sales to a $1 billion dollar juggernaut. With Hsieh’s dedication to a happy corporate culture, Zappos also made Fortune Magazine’s list of “Best Companies to Work For”.

So Whats Tony’s Secret to Delivering Happiness?

On July 22, 2009, Amazon announced the acquisition of Zappos in a deal valued at $1.2 billion dollars. Then in 2010, Tony’s book, Delivering Happiness debuted #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list and stayed there 27 weeks.

Tony also hands over a Zappos culture handbook and provides free office tours (to competitors and street tourists alike). He understands that success begins with sharing. “You never know where talent or ideas come from. Why not invite everyone to the party,” says Tony.

Feel free to also lose the suit and tie at Zappos. Employees wear anything from jeans to Halloween costumes. The vibe is like a college campus party where employees are called friends and motivational mantras hang from rafters like championship banners.

As for Hsieh, there’s no private office. His cubicle is in the middle of the madness for optimal interaction with employees.

But it wasn’t always fun and games for Tony. Here’s what I learned from our Q & A …


Cliff: Thanks for your time today and congratulations on the successful sale of Zappos to Amazon. I really enjoyed reading your book Delivering Happiness. Could you take us through your story with LinkExchange as your first baby and Zappos as your big baby?

Tony: Sure. Back in 1996 after graduating college, my roommate and I started a company called LinkExchange. We specialized in online advertising and grew that company to about 100 employees. We ended up selling the company to Microsoft two and half years later for $265 million. But what a lot of people don’t know is the real reason we ended up selling — it just wasn’t fun anymore.

The company culture went completely down hill. When it was just five or ten of us, it was a typical dot-com. We worked around the clock and slept under our desks. We had no idea what day of the week it was, but it was fun. We started hiring friends which worked pretty well until we got to about 20 people and ran out of friends. Then we had to hire people based on resumes and interviews. We were fresh out of college and had never done it before. I did a decent job in terms of hiring people with the right skills and experience, but we didn’t know about company culture — so not everyone we hired was good for us.

By the time we got to 100 people, I dreaded getting out of bed and going to my own company. That’s really what led us to sell. We got lucky with timing because it was the first dot-com boom. So I started investing in companies. But after a year, I was tired of sitting on the sidelines. I missed being part of building something. Of all the investments, Zappos was the most fun and promising so I ended up joining the company and becoming its CEO.

Cliff: On that note, let’s talk about the famous Zappos 10 Core Values.

Tony: When we’re hiring, we don’t say, “This person has 9 out of 10, we’ll let them pass.” We really need all 10. The core values are:

1. Deliver WOW Through Service
2. Embrace and Drive Change
3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
5. Pursue Growth and Learning
6. Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication
7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
8. Do More with Less
9. Be Passionate and Determined
10. Be Humble

Cliff: Were those principles the inspiration for your book Delivering Happiness?

Tony: Originally, it was about spreading the idea of “happiness” as a business model to other companies. That includes making customers, employees and business partners happy. Along the way, we decided to go on a book tour. It felt like planning 80 weddings over 4 months. We actually got the bus from the bass player of the Dave Matthews Band.

Cliff: What evolved from the tour?

Tony: Delivering Happiness was written as a business book but people took away something more. That surprised us. We had moms e-mailing us, saying they were now the CEOs of their families and thinking like value-driven corporations. We heard from charities that said they were going to focus more on their culture. We even heard the book was going to be required reading at certain colleges.

Cliff: That had to be rewarding. What happened next?

Tony: The tour led us to start a company called Delivering Happiness. This whole idea of inspiring and being inspired fostered a movement with happiness beyond the business level.

Cliff: So what’s the biggest challenge in getting that happiness message adopted within a large organization like Zappos, since everyone has a unique definition of success … or happiness?

Tony: If you want to go with one, simple principle, just be true to yourself. One of the things we really encourage at Zappos is to bring your true personality to the office.

Cliff: (smiling) One of my favorite quotes on that theme is by Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” Where’s your biggest passion these days?

Tony: I’m still CEO of Zappos ad we’re moving to downtown Las Vegas. We’ll integrate the Zappos campus and city together.

Cliff: So you’re spearheading a renaissance. Is there a city you might use as a model?

Tony: I think it’s got it’s own personality (neighborhoodie) and community feel. There’s an area (Fremont East) with eight or nine bars and cafes where owners hang out in each other’s bars. There are tech companies and start-ups there too. I’d like to see a growing art scene and more live music. Ultimately, everything you need to live, work, and play would be within walking distance. On my wall at home there are about 70 post-it notes. They’re passion projects for downtown. These ideas aren’t coming from me. They stem from anyone with a passion about their community.

Cliff: You’ve now evolved from a technology CEO and bestselling author to a community builder. It’s great to see an entrepreneur cross bridges. Did you ever imagine you’d change a city the way you changed a business model?

Tony: Not at all. We were originally thinking Apple, Nike, and Google all have great campuses, but they’re very insular. They don’t really integrate with the community or contribute to the environment. We want to take more of an NYU approach; almost a seamless transition between the city and campus.

Cliff: Great stuff. Who were your mentors?

Tony: There wasn’t a single mentor or book. There’s something to learn from almost anyone. Here at Zappos, we have a large library with something to learn from countless books.

Cliff: Yours library is like a museum. Thanks for including my book The 4 Essentials of Entrepreneurial Thinking. From all you’ve learned, what are your biggest fears?

Tony: Based on past experience, I want to make sure the Zappos culture not only scales, but gets stronger. That’s why this campus move to downtown is exciting. It will take our culture to a whole new level. Every bar or bookstore will become an extended conference room. Employees are already gravitating downtown. On any given night, every bar feels like Cheers.

Cliff: Walking through the Zappos halls, I hear cowbells, pride, and passion. Your co-workers speak of you as a friend. That culture is rare and stems from how much you give back. Can you speak about the charitable aspect of Zappos?

Tony: It’s funny because it all goes back to what people are passionate about. When we were smaller, we could only afford to give to one local or national charity. We basically sent a survey out and asked employees what they would suggest.

Cliff: So you engage employees to make decisions, even about charities?

Tony: Right. Now that we’ve grown, we can do more and still leave it up to the employees.

Cliff: Do you think boredom is what drives you to constantly improve?

Tony: I don’t think that’s unique to me. Everyone wants to grow and flourish. Everyone may not instinctively know how because they’ve been stuck in a boring job for ten years. But I think once you push people slightly outside their comfort zone, they realize there’s more potential in them than they may have realized.

Cliff: On that thought-provoking note, thanks for your time today Tony. It’s been an inspiring interview. Good luck with the new Zappos campus … and keep delivering happiness!

Part 2 of this interview provides Tony’s Top Tips on Social Media. Part 2 with Tony & Cliff.