Are “Degrees of Separation” Important to Networking?


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In the early 90’s three Pennsylvania college boys with too much time on their hands decided that every actor living or dead could be linked to Kevin Bacon.  Although never a big box office draw, Bacon has been in a significant number of films and the boys discovered that if you use Bacon as an end point, you can link him in six degrees or less to almost any other performer.  So, from that humble beginning The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon was born.


For example, Alfred Hitchcock and Elvis Presley can both be linked to Kevin Bacon.

Just for fun let’s imagine that Kevin Bacon is an open networker and all the actors in this example are currently living. Kevin would like to add to his suspense and psychological thriller genres and believes Alfred Hitchcock could be just the ticket.

Kevin Bacon contacts Jack Nicholson:

Jack, I hope all well!  Hey, I really enjoyed working with you on “A Few Good Men.”

I wanted to reach out to you and see if you could help with an introduction to Alfred Hitchcock. I know you are not directly connected to Alfred, but you were in “A Safe Place” with Orson Wells.

And Orson Wells was in “Show Business at War” with Mr. Hitchcock.

Based on those common connections, could I ask you to pass along my request?


Jack Nicholson replies to Kevin Bacon:


Kevin, you can’t handle the truth! “A Safe Place” was a critical and box-office disaster!  In fact, Time magazine called the film “pretentious and confusing.”


Wow, sorry to hear that.  But can I depend on you to sell my introduction to Mr. Hitchcock through Mr. Wells?


Son we live in a world that has walls, social capital walls, “what’s in it for me” walls.  But OK Kevin, I’ll do you a big favor, but I’m not making any promises.

Jack Nicholson contacts Orson Wells:

Orson, I hope all is well!  Hey, it’s been awhile since we worked together on “A Safe Place,” but I’ve got this young friend who would like to meet Alfred Hitchcock.  I noticed you and Alfred worked together on “Show Business at War.”  Would you be open to making that introduction?


Orson’s reply to Jack:


Jack, I had completely forgotten we worked together.  In fact, I almost deleted your message without even reading it.  You see, I’ve tried to erase the “A Safe Place” experience from my mind because it was such a disaster.  Concerning your request, no I can’t help.  I wouldn’t feel comfortable reaching out to Mr. Hitchcock.  You see “Show Business at War” was a short film, only 17 minutes in length.  It was sponsored by Time Inc. in 1943 to tout the United States film industry’s contribution to the Second World War effort.  And the fact of the matter is that I never personally met Alfred during that brief project.


So what point, conclusions or action steps am I trying to make here?


1. If you are an open networker, and that strategy works for you, keep doing what you are doing.  I would never order a “code red” on a strategy that is delivering results.

2. If that strategy is not working then order the code red immediately because “The Strength of Weak Ties” theory does not guarantee networking success.


Asking connections of connections for a favor is a difficult tactic to pull off.  In those situations it’s obvious that your focus is completely self-centered, and most people are afraid of being taken advantage of by people they barely know or have no emotional investment in.


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