I’m in the business of understanding people. In fact, I love talking to people. It’s what makes me good at what I do: discovering motivations, desires, needs and wants, and how those factors impact purchasing and brand loyalty. Connecting to people, then, is important to me, both professionally and personally.
The theory of six degrees of separation states that everything and everyone are no more than six steps away from being introduced to anyone in the world. Originally coined by Hungarian author, Frigyes Karinthy, the concept was characterized in his short story, Chains(Láncszemek), published in 1929. Karinthy died in 1938, long before the idea of networking took root in the business world, and certainly before the Internet made global interconnections so simple.
I believe that we’re all interconnected, but it’s no longer by six degrees of separation. (There is research, “Degrees of Separation in Social Networks” by Reza Bakhshandeh, Mehdi Samadi, Zohreh Azimifar, Jonathan Schaeffer, to support this). My own first-hand experience on LinkedIn bears this out. I’m only three steps away from Mick Jagger and from Bill Clinton. We live in a world of three degrees of separation, if not less.
Having connections vs. connecting
Connecting with people is more than just accepting an invitation to exchange contact info. Even if my first contact with someone is in the virtual world, when I do accept an invitation, I reach out to the person. I try to meet them personally if they’re local and have a phone call with them if they’re not. I want to find out who they are, what’s on their mind, how we can help each other, why our paths are meant to cross. Ultimately, I want to connect with everyone. I decided long ago I wanted to meet everyone on Earth before I got to Heaven. When I first started saying that I’d be asked how many people I thought were going to Heaven. Now I’m reminded that there are seven billion people in the world, and people want to know how I’m going to scale that.
There is no limit to scaling your network
Think about the people you meet during different times of your life, whether you meet them in person or connect with them first in the virtual world. The man you encounter on the plane is not merely someone you visit with on your way to Los Angeles; he is a recruiter who can connect you to 22 million veterans through his understanding of their needs. Connecting with my dance instructor on LinkedIn connects me to her 200 students, her peers and her 900 contacts on LinkedIn. One college graduate connects me to 5,500 graduates in his class and 240,000 alumni at that one university. Each person with whom you connect reduces the degree of separation between you and the rest of the world. (Are you singing, “It’s a Small World After All” yet?)
There is more to building a network than just networking, however. It’s not about just adding another person to your list of acquaintances, and it’s not about watching a number next to your name tick upward: 287 friends on Facebook, 500 connections on LinkedIn, 150 people in your circles on Google+.
There is a story in all of us, and we never know when someone’s story will make a difference in our lives. But we can’t even begin to realize the potential that another person has to offer us if we don’t take the chance to connect with him or her.
Where the Magic Happens
Anyone can push the “accept” button and add another connection, but actively connecting is where the magic happens. Connections happen when you click on the accept button. Connecting happens when you engage with and get to know the person behind the profile.
There’s no point in having the connection if you’re not connecting.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn