A matter of degrees

Burgess MeredithYou probably know about the six degrees of Kevin Bacon.  But did you know Burgess Meredith has even closer links to most film actors? 

More surprising in terms of networks and connections are the Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg.

In that 1999 article, Malcolm Gladwell explores the phenomenon of people who seem to know everyone — and how they got that way.

He ambles entertainingly over Stanley Milgram’s original experiments and arrives, halfway through, at this insight:

Burgess Meredith was the kind of actor who was connected to everyone because he managed to move up and down and back and forth among all the different worlds and subcultures that the acting profession has to offer. When we say, then, that Lois Weisberg [a Chicago woman who’s the focus of his article] is the kind of person who “knows everyone,” we mean it in precisely this way. It is not merely that she knows lots of people. It is that she belongs to lots of different worlds.

Gladwell quotes Mark Granovetter on “the strength of weak ties.”  An effective network is more about extent of reach than about strength of connection. 

While people like Lois Weisberg seem to have an innate ability to move between groups, it seems to me that by being open to groups, by seeking out people whose interests don’t completely overlap with yours, you potentially increase the number and the range of experiences you receive.

And all this time I thought I was just easily distracted.