Networking Lessons From The “Kevin Bacon” Game
Do you remember the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”? The idea was to link any actor or actress to popular American actor Kevin Bacon via the movies they’ve been in.
To quickly work an example, let’s use Elvis Presley. Elvis Presley was in Change of Habit (1969) with Edward Asner. Edward Asner was in JFK (1991) with Kevin Bacon. Therefore, Asner has a Bacon number of 1 (one degree of separation), and Presley (who never appeared in a film with Bacon) has a Bacon number of 2 (or 2 degrees of separation). Make sense?
The history of the game goes back to a 1994 interview Bacon did with Premiere magazine, in which he mentioned that “…he had worked with everybody in Hollywood or someone who’s worked with them.”
Shortly thereafter, a newsgroup thread titled “Kevin Bacon is the Center of the Universe” launched. After watching two Kevin Bacon movies back-to-back, four Albright College students claim to have invented the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. They began to speculate on how many movies Bacon had been in and the number of people with whom he had worked. From there, they would ask people for an actor’s name and then connect that actor to Kevin Bacon in as few steps as possible. And the game was born.
This led to talk show appearances, the book Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, and ultimately a board game based on the concept. All this publicity generated actual scientific curiosity about the application of the Kevin Bacon game to other areas.
A computer scientist at the University of Virginia built a program using data from Internet Movie Database (IMD) to determine, on average, just how connected Kevin Bacon was. He wrote the program and determined that, on average, Kevin Bacon was 2.8312 steps away from any actor.
That number, of course, can (and does) change each time Bacon (or any actor) does another movie. As hundreds of movies come out each year, the number is always changing.
The results of his first experiment led this computer scientist to run the same program for every actor in the Internet Movie Database. In so doing, he gave every actor a score and from that was able to rank the entire IMD population.
What he determined was that Kevin Bacon was not the Center of the Hollywood Universe. In fact, he only placed 668th among all actors. Among the top 50 were names such as Martin Sheen, Robert Mitchum, Gene Hackman, Donald Sutherland, Rod Steiger, and Shelly Winters.
Intrigued by the results, social scientists began to dig into the numbers. One anomaly that jumped out at them was that actor Burgess Meredith, who appeared in only 114 films, ranked in the top 20, while John Wayne, with a whopping 183 films to his credit, ranked 160th.
They concluded that, while John Wayne appeared in a significantly greater number of movies, the movies were of a similar type. In fact, over 50% of John Wayne’s movies were Westerns.
Burgess Meredith, on the other hand, appeared in fewer films but with greater variety: 42 dramas, 22 comedies, 8 adventures, as well as action, documentary, science fiction, horror, western, thrillers, crime, children, romance, mysteries, and even a musical and one animated film.
OK. Very interesting. But what do Kevin Bacon and Bacon Numbers have to do with professional networking and growing a business?
The social scientists concluded that variety within a body of work (films for Meredith and Wayne, network connections for you) is more important than overall numbers. Or, simply put, if your network looks like Burgess Meredith’s career, with lots of variety and diversity, you’re probably doing great. But if your network resembles John Wayne’s career – lots of connections but from relatively few sources – you need to diversify.
To diversify and maximize the networking potential in your life, you need to live in lots of different worlds. Get to know and connect with people through your business or career. Don’t limit yourself to the co-worker in the cubicle to the left or the right. Be sure to take the time to get to know Bob in accounting, Sarah in marketing, and have lunch with those new hires. Also attend company outings, serve on committees, and be known for more than just doing great work. Remember the people you work with today will in time move on to other opportunities, extending your reach and ensuring that you both know and are known by others outside of your workplace.
Another means of expanding your professional brand outside the office is to become involved with a Chamber, trade associations, or other industry organizations. By serving on committees and other initiatives, you’ll increase your exposure to vendors, prospective clients, and even competitors. Nothing but good can come from that!
Outside of your professional life, be sure to engage within the community where you live. No doubt, it is filled with organizations and social initiatives that would welcome you as a volunteer, giving your time and sharing your talents. At the same time, you’ll be rubbing elbows with individuals who are also passionate about helping and who serve as a connection to other professions and industries.
Finally, know and be known by people close to home. Mingle with your neighbors. Stick around after church to meet someone new. And be sure to have a social life, which can include watching sports with others, engaging in hobbies, participating in hikes or bike trips, going to the theatre, or just sitting around talking about life.
Greater diversity within your network results in more connections. And these additional connections will result in a greater variety of people with whom you can connect. This in turn will connect you to, you guessed it, a still greater network of people.
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