Have you ever heard of a parlor game called ‘6 degrees of Kevin Bacon’? For those who haven’t, it can be fun but you really need to know your stuff about Hollywood blockbusters, TV and popular culture.
Here’s the background. In 1929, a notion that all people on earth were separated by no more than six hops was developed by Frigyes Karinthy, a Hungarian author, playwright, poet, journalist and translator. This notion gained quite a bit of momentum and was popularized in the movie Six Degrees Of Separation, and so an intellectual exercise became a game.
It’s not a complicated game. Here’s concrete example to help understanding. As the one picked to pose the puzzle I would give you two names. My choice for your challenge is Ronald Reagan and Nelson Mandela.
OK, so you have to build the link using up to six people. Here’s mine: Ronald Reagan defied sanctions against South Africa by agreement with Margaret Thatcher who discussed the issue with South Africa’s then President FW DeKlerk who later shared a Nobel prize with Nelson Mandela. Bingo, degrees of separation – two. Of course I had the advantage of knowing the two famous characters mentioned, but I’m sure that you get the idea.
There’s another variant (some say the original) where you can be asked to connect yourself to any random famous or infamous person. However, the variant that uses two famous people can pose bigger challenges.
Recent research by Facebook indicates that our interconnectedness is today even closer than six degrees. In fact Facebook puts the degrees of separation somewhere between four and five hops.
Facebook was able to come up with this number after looking at the relationship links of the 721 million user accounts. This data was reviewed with the assistance of a Milan University and the conclusion was that everyone was interconnected on average by 4.74 hops. The study is one of the largest of its kind and as Facebook has access to 721 million users, it meant that nearly 10% of the human population was surveyed and in total, 69 billion virtual relationships were examined. Wow.
Interesting in a way that would entertain the very bored you say?
Here’s the news; if you can master the mindset of six degrees of separation you can guarantee that your business writing as well as your creative and social media projects will not only be engaging to readers, but will also be original and stand out in an increasingly competitive environment.
Why is this? In a highly competitive increasingly globalised business environment there is one simple skill that an effective business writer will bring to the table to provide the business with extra value. It’s not the ability to structure an article, use grammar and language correctly or even to make sure that the subject matter and target audiences match the communication strategy of the company. Those are all ‘table stakes’ – what a writer brings to the table as part of their professional offering. You simply cannot play the game without these foundational skills.
Here’s the 6 degrees value add – the ability to gather seemingly random or unrelated information and pull these disparate data together into a cohesive whole that adds value to the professional writing that you provide will set you above the rest of the writing pack.
I’m not for a moment suggesting that you veer wildly off topic, just that you think carefully about the topic that you are writing about. You are the final arbiter of the relationships between the information you use – if it demonstrates the validity of your point or adds value then feel free to introduce your reader to a new viewpoint.
Today’s business writers are focussing more and more on engagement. Promoting engagement means you need to involve your reader in a dialogue, which in turn means that you have to provide unique and interesting information.
By providing this level of engaging content, whether you’re writing on the company website, in the social media or even providing copy for a piece of marketing collateral you can spark the imagination and start the conversation by motivating your reader to link to one of your company social media sites, your blog or even your website.
Here’s an example, based on a well known theory known as the Hemline Index. The Hemline Index is a theory presented by economist George Taylor in 1926. His theory suggested that hemlines on women’s dresses rise along with stock prices. In good economies, we end up with the 1960’s miniskirts seen in the 1960s and in poor economic times, like the 1929 Wall Street Crash, hems can drop almost overnight. Recent research confirms the correlation (but only up to a point).
Now tell me that isn’t fascinating? Who would have thought that there was a connection between the length and women’s skirts and macroeconomic performance?
As a writer you need to be interested in many things, a diverse range of interests is usually an indicator of a person who loves information and this usually means that they will be able to communicate this love of information in everything that they write.
Strangely enough it’s been our experience at Proof Perfect that great writers show an inclination toward reading matter and movies in genres such as science fiction or even historical fiction. We think it’s because these genres are fertile ground for developing a curious mind.
Today you don’t have to strain your brain to find connections between different subjects that will add a little spice to the more creative parts of your business writing. Connections or links are available to anyone who uses the Internet.
Set yourself a mental exercise and enter any business related term into your favorite search engine. Follow the most promising looking link and if you let yourself explore you will find that within half an hour you will be able to draw a connection between inner city housing values and the cost of peanut butter sandwiches (or any two more logical subjects).
Business writing can be extremely vanilla and formulaic. Sometimes the business writer needs to stick with an established formula – for instance there’s not a lot of room for imagination in writing an annual report (although imaginative concepts can be explored and have in fact won awards).
At other times, use your imagination. Use lateral thinking, draw from your own experiences or enliven your copy with infographics that draw a comparison between to seemingly unrelated topics. For example the amount of white papers written on the subject of mobile device usage every month would be higher than the Eiffel Tower if they were stacked one on top of the other. Or ‘A Chilli Crab in Singapore costs the equivalent of three Big Burgers’.
Your value as a writer is in part because you can make the leaps of imagination that others may not be able to make and convey those linkages in a succinct, understandable and engaging way. Once you have thought carefully about whether this approach fits into the framework of the project you are working on and the tone required from the client do not be afraid to explore the unusual.