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Success is Only Six Degrees of Separation Away

We can all get so busy . . . rushing to the next appointment, meeting the next potential client, trying to figure the best person to see to resolve both our personal and business needs.

But, alas, perhaps we’ve got it all wrong. Could there be a better strategy than a frantic chaotic approach or even a frozen state where you don’t know where to start or to whom to talk? I believe the answer is Yes.

Is it possible the reason we are missing or not finding opportunities is that we are not acknowledging the power of the principle of Six Degrees of Separation? (I’ll explain that in a moment.)

Let’s stop to think and consider: isn’t the best place to start where you are? ― meaning what happened to intentionally networking with the people you already know versus trying to connect with individuals and organizations you don’t. Because, after all, those you already know can link you to everyone you don’t!

What is “the Six Degrees of Separation”?

You may have heard that everyone on Earth is separated from everyone else by no more than six degrees of separation or six friends of friends of friends.

The concept of six degrees of separation emerged from an experiment conducted by social psychologist Stanley Milgram in 1967. Milgram asked volunteers to send a package by mail to one of a hundred people chosen at random. The package had to arrive, however, from someone who personally knew the individual. He verified that most of us are no more than six contacts away from a target person, group, or organization.

The implications go farther than we think, but I’ll get to that in a moment. For you doubters, here is some additional research.

The concept was re-confirmed by Duncan Watts and colleagues at Columbia University in New York by conducting a massive email experiment to test the theory of Six Degrees of Separation ― everyone in the world can be linked through just six social ties. More than 60,000 people from 166 countries took part in the experiment. Participants were assigned one of 18 target people. They were asked to contact that person by sending email to people they already knew and that they considered potentially “closer” to the target. Chosen at random, the targets included a professor from America, an Australian policeman, and a veterinarian from Norway.

For everyone reading this article, I want to emphasize the next finding. The researchers were surprised to discover that message chains did not rely on a few highly connected individuals — so-called “hubs.” Previous research by Watts and fellow Cornell mathematician Steven Strogatz had suggested that such hubs were important to all social chains. So there’s no reason to despair if you are not part of the social elite of networking.

The researchers found that in most cases, it took between five and seven emails to contact the target. In this research, the medium used was email; most people, however, knew the individuals personally — outside the online world ― meaning high tech does not replace high touch. Watts says this shows that email has not fundamentally changed the way social ties are created. The implications of this are that each of us has the potential to reach anyone through our very own network.

So what, you ask? In our social media and at times impersonal, society, it is inferred that relationships are not as important as before. In fact, the opposite is true. Technology has simply allowed us to link more easily, but the basis of those connections are personal contacts where two people are investing in a relationship.

If you take a moment to think about it, the implications are enormous, from both a personal and business perspective. Here is a real example of ignoring this principle. Not that long ago, CRG conducted a test email-marketing campaign to over 1 million individuals or organizations. We were told it was an opt-in list of people interested in resources similar to what CRG offers. We had no relationship with these people and that was reflected in our results. The response was less than one 10th of 1 percent.

On the other side of the coin, we recently partnered with one of our Associates to send proactive communications to individuals he knew personally; we received a 10% response to the same information. In a very noisy world, it is personal relationships, not mass media, that will get the best response.

Prior to writing this, we reviewed CRG’s current as well as new business relationships on which we are working. It surprised us to discover that over 80% of all our current or potential business is through our established network (referrals, repeat business, increased sales, etc.). We are proof that principles are not negotiable.

Most of us already knew this but sometimes we take it for granted, getting caught up in other seemly attractive strategies or we simply ignore the principle of Six Degrees of Separation in our intentions and line of attack.

Many authors will say that business is the main application of this truth. I beg to differ. Life is a holistic event and the principle of Six Degrees of Separation could be applied to all facets of our lives.

What about all the other parts of your life that require connections? You may be looking for the best music teacher for your child. Or perhaps a loved one has taken ill and you cannot access the latest medical treatments because of a lack of connections. Or you wish to travel and need local assistance in a foreign country or you want to meet a famous person but you have no direct contacts that can get you in front of him or her? Everyone you need or want to meet is simply six contacts away.

It really is an amazing principle; if truly embraced, it can help each of us understand that in the end, living life is about engaging relationships and connecting with others. Success in life is as simple as one contact away.

Action Steps

8 Steps to Embracing Six Degrees of Separation

  1. To benefit from the principle of Six Degrees of Separation, you must first acknowledge and accept the fact that almost every single person on this Earth is simply six contacts away from you.
  2. If you agree to item one, embrace and honor your current relationships because these contacts can and will lead you to what you need, want, and desire.
  3. Be intentional and clear about whom and what you are seeking. Foggy directions will lead you nowhere. Saying I want to meet a successful businessperson is not clear enough. The 5 Ws must be answered first.
  4. Be proactive. Nothing asked is nothing gained; things normally do not happen by accident. Have you ever wondered why, in TV police shows, they use statements like “Get the word out to the street that . . . ” Remember the principle of Six Degrees of Separation is one of equal opportunity and it works.
  5. Be integrity and use the process for authentic and honorable purposes.
  6. People want to help; don’t hold back because you think you are bothering them.
  7. Don’t prejudge or limit this principle, meaning no matter how small or seemly impossible the connection, Six Degrees is Six Degrees. The principle does not know that the person with whom you need to connect is famous; it just knows you are merely six contacts away.
  8. Finally on a lighter note . . . I have no idea how each of us Human Beings — 7 billion and counting ― can be simply six personal contacts away but it really doesn’t matter. Principles are to be acknowledged and respected. Embrace it and enjoy it.

Until next time, keep Living On Purpose!


Ken Keis


Dying To Live: Breakthrough Stress Reduction & Wellness Strategies

A full online learning experience and ecourse based on the Stress Indicator & Health Planner. This is based on our half day live workshop converted to the online format just for you.