" You cannot travel the path until you have become the path itself " - A Buddhist Saying
Last night made for a disappointing TV viewing! Like millions all over the world, I had tuned into the broadcast of the Presidential debate. However, within 20 or so minutes I was exhausted, tired of looking at a hyper-ambitious career politician with a perpetual smirk or listening to the mumbling of a megalomaniac business tycoon with minimal scruples. I quietly thanked the Lord, the USCIS and the broken immigration system for sparing me of the right to vote for a “non-choice” that we face in this election. Not satisfied with the re-runs of the many football and soccer games and uninterested in any of the other sports I flicked through the channels. I chanced upon a movie playing - an old favorite. It’s a movie, that in my opinion helped cement Will Smith as an actor par excellence. One out of a handful, in which he has showcased his full repertoire of acting skills. No it isn’t Independence Day or Men in Black:). This movie is a 1993 classic called “Six Degrees of Separation”. It’s a crime thriller with no bloodshed or over mysteriousness. I like to call such movies a “Whydunit”. Not wanting to give too much away – the movie’s plot is based on a theory that anyone and everyone is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world. In short a chain of "a friend of a friend" can be made to connect any two people in the world within a maximum of six steps.
In the movie Will Smith plays a character named Paul Poitier who claims to be related to a very famous movie director. With his charismatic presence and apparent wisdom beyond his years, he is able to make an impression on New York’s rich and famous. He quickly builds a network and then applies his deceitful ways to its members. His carefully constructed web of lies has elements of truth interspersed within it - making it impossible to detect in the short run. His network is mainly attributable to his ability to throw the right names at the appropriate opportunity. Minus the deceit, there’s much to learn from his character.
I slept pretty soundly last night after I watched the movie. I admit I dozed off about two thirds of the way. This morning when I got up I started to think of a way to test the theory. I decided to find out what my degree of separation was from the famous personalities. What better way to do so than experimenting using a LinkedIn? I can choose random people who I would like to get introduced to and don't have to worry where to start from.
First on the list to check – President Obama of course! At first glance I could not decipher whether I could connect with him through my network or not. Same for Bill Gates and Larry Page. I could follow them for sure but how could I connect with them? Seemed my six degrees was more like a sixty feet chasm! Also, much to my dismay I did not find a presence for Elon Musk - my favorite entrepreneur. However, on further analysis I soon found a commonality in all of them – they were all connected to Jeff Weiner and a little widget on the right told me that I could possibly be introduced to him. A direct connection could introduce me to someone who had the ear of CEO of LinkedIn. Applying the separation logic that was equivalent to three degrees. It was soon clear to me that he was one degree from all of the others in the list I had checked prior. I checked on a few others and it soon dawned on me that in most cases the separation was four or maybe five degrees! So there it was – if I played my cards well I could potentially be invited to meet the leader of the free world at his White House digs or maybe play a round of Golf with him! Jeff, if you are reading this you please consider this as a request to connect.
Emboldened I started to think beyond degrees of separation. I wanted to know who the biggest "influencer" on my network was. Influential not in terms of the number of followers they had, but actual difference he or she had made to my professional life. I crunched some numbers on the 800+ connections I have and these are some stats (with data obfuscated to protect the identity of these Organizations. I don't know why I wanted to be so secretive since all of it is harmless data but I wanted to do this anyway. Maybe the effect of the "Whydunit" last night;)
Then a thought struck me and I realized I had been doing it all wrong! Maybe it was the fear of the Donald, maybe the Data Science course I am doing currently in my “not so much to spare time” or some other mysterious flash of reasoning that enlightened me. I instantly knew that I had to look at the Big Picture among my connections. I needed to find the common thread. I needed to see who transcended the categories that I have illustrated above. And then I found the person who has had the most influence on my career. He was the founder of a product company that I had worked for nearly 10 years who now sits on the board of two of my clients! While working for that company I had been introduced to people who then became my initial clients. My current partners had all come from that company too. I could even attribute some of the people I had met in the Misc. category to him since he had sponsored me to those conferences, training and so on!
With utmost humility I admit – my work life has not been constructed by me but something Frank has unknowingly concocted. Frank, even though you don’t know it – its your world that I live in! And if you are reading this feel very proud of yourself and when you get the chance accept the LinkedIn invite sitting in your inbox….
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