Should you accept Linkedin connection requests from people you don't know?

Do you hate receiving connection requests from people you don't know? Do you click the "I don't know them" button or even the spam button? Here is why you shouldn't: 3 degrees of separation.

According to Wikipedia: "Six degrees of separation is the idea that all living things and everything else in the world is six or fewer steps away from each other so that a chain of "a friend of a friend" statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. It was originally set out by Frigyes Karinthy in 1929 and popularized in an eponymous 1990 play written by John Guare."

In the digital age we have gone from secrecy to transparency. Personal privacy is hard in the Facebook era. But also commercial privacy. Even Apple isn't able to keep their new iPhones design secret. So the rules are changing. For disruptive businesses it is no longer about keeping things secret but to outrun everybody else faster and to build up big platform ecosystems. Startups are told to not keep their shinny idea secret but to test it with as many people as possible to get market fit and quickly sell their minimum viable product.

Also in other areas you can see enormous shifts. Head hunters used to be heavily connected people that knew excellent people you didn't know. LinkedIn has changed this and now the main job is not discovering a great candidate, it is quickly filtering between 100's or even 1000's of potential great candidates.

In the IT industry you have a problem I haven't seen in other industries yet: "you have one million solutions for every paying customer problem". Selling enterprise software often involves hiring large amounts of salespeople and spending heavily on marketing and costs of sales. Finding that one paying customer problem has become the urgent need. We are fast moving towards a world where software is defining everything in every industry so my prediction is that other industries will soon face the same problem.

Finally what happens if you are that person that has that one paying customer problem. Your traditional approach would be to work with the procurement department to launch a request for proposal and a proof of concept. Afterwards you would launch a complex integration project to finally hope to solve the problem. This was all needed because you had many commodity solutions that were opaque to you. In a world of cloud and devices app stores as well as disruptive innovations coming out at breadtaking speeds, you, or worse your competitors, can have transparency on what commodity solutions are available and the differentiator now is all about quickly finding that one disruptive innovation that can give you an edge. RFPs will not help you there.

So things are changing faster and faster, what has that got to do with accepting LinkedIn requests from people you don't know and what are 3 degrees of separation?

In LinkedIn you can see who is connected to you and who they are connected to, 2 degrees of separation. Now if your job consists out of recruiting, selling a solution, buying solutions or you urgently need a new job, then having as many people that can provide you this less than 3 degrees of separation away will make you a lot more effective.

You might not think a lot about that connection request from that student, but perhaps their dad is a mega CEO with an urgent problem your solution can solve. So not accepting that connection might just have lost you millions. You might not be job hunting right now but redundancy programmes often come unannounced and you want to be able to quickly talk to the right hiring manager or headhunter.

Even if you get connections that offer you a chance to collect millions from your great-great uncle that you don't know and unfortunately just died and wants to leave everything to you, LinkedIn invented the disconnect and spam buttons for a reason.

My personal moto is the opposite I want everybody that likes my profile, my blog posts, gives comments and shares them, to invite me or at least to follow me. Because if you do me a favour, then when you need a favour back, through my connections and other 3 degree mega connectors (people with over 10k connections), the chances that you find a solution less than 3 degrees away just got exponentially improved. The other day one of the people that likes a lot of my posts and asks a lot of sensible questions in the comments, asked me about where to get IoT sensors for smart cloths. I did not have the answer, so I asked my network. I was sharing that one paying customer problem with the world, and he got lots of responses. I learnt about IoT sensors for cloths in the process. This is just one of many examples where people ask me about which hardware, software, system integrator to use or candidate to hire...