It IS a Small World: the “6 Degrees of Proximity”

It is a small world

It IS a Small World: the “6 Degrees of Proximity”

Do you remember the last time you were on a holiday and met another compatriot? Ten-to-one you discovered you had a mutual contact and that one of you made the remark:

“It is a small world, isn’t it?”

This happens a lot on holidays. It even seems that this happens more abroad than in our daily lives. Is this a coincidence? Or is there more?

It is not that odd. We indeed live in a small world. The first person who started doing research in this area was Stanley Milgram. In his 1967 “small world experiment” the theory of the “6 degrees of separation” was born. This theory states that everybody in the world is connected via 6 steps (read: people). Several other studies between 1967 and today have proven that this is indeed the case.

Let’s also look at this theory from another angle, from a more mathematical one. Let’s assume that everybody has on average 250 contacts (professional and private ones). Each of these 250 contacts also has 250 contacts. If we conservatively assume that you know half of those people yourself then every contact of yours knows 125 people you don’t know yourself. This means that in the second degree you have access to 31,250 people. And that is where the real power of networking is: in the second degree. You don’t only have many more opportunities, you also have a bond of trust via your mutual contact.

If you can contact anyone in the world via only 6 people you are rather connected than separated, aren’t you?

This principle of the “6 Degrees” that I call the “6 Degrees of Proximity” can also be found in online networking Web sites like LinkedIn (, Ecademy ( and Xing ( You don’t only see how many people you can actually reach in the second degree, but also who these people are!

What is the value of this insight for me?

That we can deal with each other in a different way on events, cocktail drinks, online networks and other networking functions. Too often participants of events don’t feel comfortable because they feel like having to “sell” themselves or their organizations (see the article about “The Difference Between Selling and Networking”). And because they don’t like someone else approaching them with this attitude they don’t want to radiate this themselves to others as well.

But if you know that the greatest value of the network is in the second degree, you can deal with people in a different way than “selling”. In your next conversation at a networking event, look and listen for what the other person can do for your network and what your network for his of hers. And the other way around: what the network of this person can do for you and you for his or her network. You won’t only discover more opportunities, but also have another kind of conversation and more enjoyable one !

PS: If you discover that you and the person you are talking to can help each other or can do business with each other, don’t miss this opportunity! You don’t have to exclude yourself and only think about the needs of your network instead of your own. However, by starting your conversation with this networking attitude, you can get another kind of conversation with surprising results!

Jan Vermeiren is the Networking Coach and author of the network book “Let’s Connect!” (soon also available on Amazon) and the CD “Let’s Connect at an event”. Jan and his team don’t only give presentations, training courses, workshops and personal coaching concerning networking and referrals, but also advice organizations how to stimulate networking at their events and how to integrate networking in their sales and recruitment strategy. The Networking Coach team works for large international companies like Alcatel, Delta Lloyd Bank, Deloitte, DuPont, EDS, Ernst & Young, IBM and SAP as well as for small companies and freelancers.

Go to to get your FREE networking e-course and a light version of the book.

Creative Commons License photo credit: hawken.dadako