Flipped lecture: 6 degrees of separation

‘Did you know that you’re only six handshakes from anyone on earth?’

I didn’t.

The notion that there are only 6 degrees of separation between two people has been a figure of speech for years. Until watching a documentary on the study of this, I brushed it off, never considering it as a literal possibility.


The documentary suggests that ‘nature has a hidden blue print’ that is directly related to network theory. Societal networks are extremely important to marketers and individuals alike. If we don’t understand networks, we can’t understand markets and society.

It was related to the ‘6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon game’ (play here). Hollywood, as stated in the documentary, is a prime example for how the theory works. What started from a game made by college students was actually a fundamental role in the experiment; due to the motivation it gave scientists. It was found that,

a few random links shrunk the distance between a million actors.


The scientists wondered: How can a population of dissimilar individuals suddenly synchronise? How does order emerge from chaos? They figured the only way to find out was to study further. An experiment was conducted in which people from all over the world were given a package to give to an American man. These people included a dancer from Paris, a college student from Germany and a young woman in a small African village. Each of the few participants had different expectations and different views of the level of difficulty involved in their task.


‘We tend to know people like ourselves’ 

The suggestion that we are locked within our own circles was something I found to be true. For example, I know a lot of people who know other people I know, however they are all based in communities I am a part of.

Just a single random link has enormous effects

The findings of this experiment are supported by another study featured in ‘Proof! Just six degrees of separation between us’ in The Guardian (2008), in which the results of a study into the issue was published. The email based experiment found an average of 6.6 degrees of separation between its participants.


One of the more interesting things I discovered watching the documentary was the notion that the six degrees project helps us to understand the origin of disease. It makes sense: If we can know so many people that easily, why would we not be able to infect and be infected by these people? We all know someone who has moved away somewhere foreign. We all know someone who has been quarantined. The prevalence of disease and the necessity for needles and quarantine services helped me come to terms with this angle of the study. All I needed to do was think back a few years to the swine flu epidemic. It all started with a random connection.

Another thing that iterested me was that I could link myself to Beyonce. All in all, I think this doccumentary is well worth a watch. It widened my thinking in terms of global communication and let me to realise that the world is both small and big at the same time.

To watch the video in full, follow this link: