The Six Degrees: Kevin Bacon at TEDxMidwest (Full Transcript)

We left Sundance, signed up a bunch of celebrities, and felt really, really good about what we had done. We created these badges, they are like floating websites. You could attach them to blogs, you could attach them to e-mails. And on those badges, there was a picture of the celebrity and the cause that they supported, and you could click on a “Donate,” and there was a ticker that kept a tally of all the money that was rolling in. I left Sundance, man, and I was like, “That’s it, I planted the seed. I’m just going to sit back and watch the dough roll in.” Not so fast.

What we found was that people want to smell like a famous person or wear a watch if the guy’s tough in the movie, and you want to wear that same watch, but when it comes to charity, it’s a much more personal thing. It’s more of a connection between family, and friends, and things that you care about, that have affected you deeply and personally. Animals are very, very important to people because you care about them.

So we put these badges up there, and there was some initial traffic but there wasn’t really that much rolling in. The tickers weren’t really turning, and I was embarrassed, and I felt, frankly, like a failure. Then we were on a conference call, and someone said, “Hey, how about if regular people can become celebrities for their own causes?” And I thought, “Well, that’s a cool idea. What if people can create their own badges and put them right up there next to someone that they admire, that is recognizable?” To kick this idea off, we offered six 10,000 dollar grants to the six people who could get the most number of donations. And this is important; not the most money donated to their causes, but the most number of people donating.

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And the reason we did that was we felt that the connectivity and the exponential spread of the idea of giving was just as important as the dollars and cents. Well, the results of that were really stunning. A couple of examples – a woman is diagnosed with MS; she’s in a hospital, in a waiting room or something, sees us talking about in this challenge on television. She’s like a triathlete, like a really energetic person; that takes all that energy and all that fear and sadness that she had surrounding this illness and puts it into raising money for MS research.

Another woman has a son who is autistic; takes this challenge up, reaches out to so many people in her community – thousands and thousands of people – and not only raises money but spreads the idea from personal experiences of her experience with autism. Later on down the road, we got some corporate sponsors who helped us out, and we did subsequent challenges. All of those have been extremely successful. A couple of years ago, we went back to Sundance, we launched something called Good Cards. A good card is a gift card you give somebody for say, 10 dollars, 20 dollars, 50 dollars, whatever.

You take that card home after you received it, you think about it, and you decide what you want to do with that money and where you want to put it. It feels great two or three times over: I feel good giving it to you, you feel good using it. It’s a win-win situation. We are trying to reach out now to college students, we are looking for the next big idea. Believe me, if anybody has the next big idea, let me know.

We’re constantly, constantly trying to shift it and change it. When we started Six Degrees, it’s not that many years ago, it’s going so fast, nobody knew what a hashtag was. And Facebook was just for hooking up really. We are trying to stay ahead of the curve if we possibly can; I’ve learned so much, and I’m constantly learning, but I do know that I’m no genius when it comes to web-based ideas. I do know you can’t just plant the seed and walk away, you have to be willing to water it, to fertilize it; if need be, you have to go out and buy it a grow lamp.

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And most importantly, if you take me out of the Six Degrees idea, it really is a beautiful concept because we really are all connected. The things that we do here, now, on our block affect people on the other side of the world, and they affect people on the other side of town. The Internet is the most powerful example of the connectivity of people; we created it. I believe we created it so that we could stay connected; and I think we have to keep thinking about ways that we can use it as a force for good. Thanks.


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