Do You Know Your [Kevin] Bacon Number? Six Degrees of Power Networking

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We all know Kevin Bacon. From Animal House to Footloose to his show The Following, Kevin has been working steadily for over thirty years. So steadily, in fact, that a popular game was created to illustrate all of Kevin’s connections.

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is based on the “six degrees of separation” concept, which suggests that any two people are six or fewer acquaintance links apart. The challenge of the game is to find the shortest path between an arbitrary actor and Kevin. For instance, to connect Dean Martin with Kevin,

  1. Dean Martin was in My Friend Irma with Jerry Lewis
  2. Jerry Lewis was in Cookie with Dianne Wiest
  3. Dianne Wiest was in Footloose with Kevin

This then generates Dean’s Bacon Number, which is three. The higher the number, the farther away from Kevin Bacon the actor is. Knowing this, my question is whether you know your Bacon Number.

The strangest [Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon match] was somebody connected me to John Wilkes Booth in six degrees or less. And what’s interesting about that is that when John Wilkes Booth was an actor, there were no films, but someone that he acted with, who would I guess be quite a bit younger than him, was in some stage production grew up and became old enough to be in … silent films, and then it kind of went on from there to the talkies, and I was connected to him in six degrees. So, you know, a dubious distinction. – Kevin Bacon

For our purposes, your Bacon Number is not about how closely associated you are to Kevin. While interesting (mine is a 2*), I’m more interested in how connected you are to the leaders in your organization, industry, professional organizations, and community. The importance of a powerful network cannot be understated.

  • MIT researchers found that the more socially connected employees are, the better they perform.
  • 60-80% of all jobs are filled by people who have a personal connection.
  • 70% of workplace learning takes place through informal interactions.
  • Those with larger networks full of weak ties are three times more innovative than people with small networks of close friends.

To grow your network and ensure you have the lowest possible Bacon Number with the power players in your slice of the world, consider these six tips.

Change your outlook on networking. Research shows that many people feel “dirty” when networking in a professional setting. They associate it with inauthenticity and immorality. This does not have to be the case. Stop seeing potential connections as customers and start treating them like people. Hold off on “selling” (for now) and focus on having real conversations where you actually try to get to know the other person.

Maintain realistic expectations. Instead of approaching an event with the intent of meeting everyone (the quantity approach), set a goal for how many quality conversations you will have. This will relieve your self-imposed pressure to “work the room” and give you a meaningful objective to work towards.

Do your research. In this day and age, there’s no excuse to walk into a networking event unprepared. Linkedin, Twitter, Google, etc have all the data you need to focus the conversation. This is not synonymous with stalking or being “fake.” The idea is to look for people with common interests to ensure that it’ll be an engaging conversation.

Practice time management. At a recent event, I got sucked into a conversation that lasted far too long. There were interesting moments but with only 30 minutes of “pre-conference time,” I did not use my time wisely. In these situations, set limits on the length of conversations. If there’s more to say, schedule a follow up.

Utilize empathetic listening. Pay attention to what they are saying while being alert to social cues, tone of voice, and all the other non-verbal signals. When they speak, control your inner monologue that is preparing your response. Listen, then consider your retort.

Share personal stories. As important as it is to listen, you also need to contribute to the conversation. Personal stories forge quality relationships. They build trust, uncover commonalities, and make you more interesting than the guy who talks about the weather.

Play a real-life game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon where, congratulations, you are Kevin Bacon. Find the connections that will build and strengthen your network. You’ll lower your Bacon Number and maybe make some new friends.

* My Bacon Number of 2 is because:

  1. I was in an elementary school play with a girl who had a bit part on How I Met Your Mom, starring Neil Patrick Harris
  2. Neil Patrick Harris was in Beyond All Boundaries with Kevin Bacon
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