Six Degrees to Mental Health: The Importance of Networking

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Few would disagree that networking and relationship building are essential to success in most professions.  If you make the effort and become good at networking it can help you in a multitude of ways – through the formation of strategic partnerships, lead generation, untold promotional opportunities and so on and so on.

Networking is powerful because it helps connect people to one another, thereby introducing us to new worlds and new ideas.  We sometimes hear the saying, “It’s a small world” when we’re surprised by seemingly impossible connections and coincidences.  But should it be surprising?  If you make an effort to expand your horizons, enter new worlds and new social circles you place yourself in a position of intention where opportunity and prosperity often reside. When you choose to do this, the world does, in fact, become smaller.

Have you ever played the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”?

Malcolm Gladwell (a man who is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors!) in his book, The Tipping Point, states that researchers have actually explored the phenomenon of this game in great detail and their findings are fascinating when looking at the role and functionality of networking.  One such study at the University of Virginia found that anyone who has ever acted could be linked to Kevin Bacon in fewer than three steps.  The reason for this phenomenon can be explained through the idea of “weak ties”.

When we take action and begin the process of networking our first instinct is to interact with people who exist in social systems we already know – friends, co-workers, business partners, families.  This kind of networking, however, is the least effective.  Why? Your friends and those who you consider “close” to you most likely occupy the same small world you do.

Research shows that the true power of networking comes not from your friends but from your acquaintances – the “weak ties”.  These people occupy different worlds, and as a result, are most likely to know something or someone you don’t.  In addition, their value systems and personal experiences may create a perception shift that gives them the ability to see opportunity when you see only obstacles and limitation.

Kevin Bacon has had a rather eclectic acting career and this has caused him to move in a wide variety of circles within his profession. One could argue that he has traveled across different generations and within different film genres, more so than most actors.  The result is a level of connection that is remarkable.

Gladwell states that, “Acquaintances, in short, represent a source of social power, and the more acquaintances you have the more powerful you are.” If we are looking at generating word of mouth marketing for our business, or if we are looking for someone or something to launch our careers forward then take note of the six-degree phenomenon.  It would stand to reason that the more willing you are to expose yourself to new situations and circumstances, the more chance you have of meeting the right people and the right situation that can launch your practice, your job search or your career in new and limitless directions.

In your efforts to build a strong network, take some time to explore areas and interact with people with whom you feel there is little to no connection.  Chances are there are more linkages than you think.  And while you may not be able to see how things connect you might meet someone who does.  That “someone” may have a different way of seeing what you offer.  That “someone” may have a complex and far-reaching social network.  And that “someone” just might believe your idea is worth spreading.


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