Do we all know each other? The theory of six degrees of separation
Networking is a crucial skill. It makes you noticeable in business environments. You can practice your communication and small talk skills. You may inspire others or be inspired. But most importantly – you build relations with people. These relations can help you to gain knowledge, find partners for your business or… get in touch with other people.
Let’s imagine a very popular situation. None of your friends, co-workers or partners can help you achieve your goal but they have a friend who might. This is the typical “a friend of a friend” situation. We make use of it very often both in personal and professional lives.
We are often surprised to find out that we have mutual friends with people we have just met. Even if that doesn’t come up during the conversation, Facebook makes sure that we know it by showing these mutual friends to us. “It’s a small world” is what people say when they realize that their new colleague is a current partner of their ex. It is not always this dramatic, sometimes it is simply nice to find out that you have something in common with people you have just met.
It’s a small world we say. But how small is it really?
Social scientists have been studying this area for quite some time now. In 1929 Frigyes Karinthy coined the term “six degrees of separation” for a theory that describes how strictly connected we are with people around the world. The theory states that we can connect with any person in the world by taking just 6 steps. That is why this theory is sometimes called the “six handshakes rule”. And what are these 6 steps exactly?
Let’s imagine you want to contact the Pope. It seems rather impossible for most people, doesn’t it? But if you tell your understanding and supportive friend that you are trying to do that, and he tells it to his friend, and his friend to his friend and so on – it takes only 6 steps starting from you to contact the Pope. As crazy as it sounds, this theory has a strong mathematical background.
I will not get into it because you are meant to be learning English but if you are a fan of maths, I am sure you can find all the calculations online.
Being able to reach anybody in the world by taking only 6 steps seems insane enough. But let’s dig into this theory a little bit more. It was created in 1929. It’s almost been a hundred years. Something has changed. We live in a world full of technology. We are all connected by a magical thing called the Internet. Physical distance is no longer a barrier in meeting people. Some scientists speculate that due to the development of technology, the chain connecting us with anyone in the world might have shrunk to 5 or even 4 steps!
So how can we use this knowledge?
The possibilities are endless. You can’t find a job? Ask around. Your friends or their friends can tell you about job openings that you would normally not find online. You have a brilliant idea for a start-up but don’t have the funding? But you know that if you pitched your idea to the CEO of Google he would love it. So what are you waiting for, contact him! You would like to visit Iceland but the hotels are expensive and you can’t afford that. Even though Iceland is not highly populated, the theory should apply and among your friends of friends you should find someone living there. Looking for a life partner? Why pay for dating apps, use tools that are already available – your friends.
Sounds too perfect to be true?
There are of course downsides to it. Information spreads very quickly, even the kind of information we might not want to spread. Rumours, fake news, private data. This network might also explain why infections and diseases spread so quickly. But don’t worry, these don’t spread via the Internet. Not yet, at least.
The theory is sometimes criticized for being applicable only to civilized areas and people who speak a common language. It might be hard to reach an indigenous person living in the middle of a forest even if you use 10 steps. But English is a tool that helps you connect with people outside of your culture, so this can help with the limitations of the theory.
The takeaway message is – this is the age of networking taken to a different level. Make the best use out of it! Don’t be afraid to ask around, use your connections. You might really surprise yourself with how small the world really is.
Do we all know each other? Dig deeper:
You’ll find the words in bold here:
It’s only our suggestion. Select your own words to study.
Suggested video: The Science of Six Degrees of Separation (10 min)