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opinion

Jeronimo De Miguel is a Toronto-based brand strategist.

Facebook claims that people in the United States now have just 3.5 degrees of separation, just a bit more than half the famous six degrees of separation suggested by Frigyes Karinthy in 1929. With every tweet, post or friend request, it is now harder to find someone you aren't connected to than it is to find someone who shares a connection.

This shrinking world offers organizations the opportunity to effectively create and nurture new relationships at scale. Given the hikes in the minimum wage and the potential for tax increases, businesses can't just rely on cutting costs to meet profit expectations. They must generate new revenue, and every relationship, whether it is found online, at a conference or at a Starbucks, has the potential to drive growth. But it's not just about sourcing new customers. A robust network can provide the opportunity for unlikely partnerships that allow a business to expand its reach and offerings without building something from scratch. Partnerships allow each party to leverage the other's audience, expertise and technology.

What can an unlikely partner look like? Bixi, a bike-sharing service in Montreal, teamed up with Manulife, a life insurer. At face value, there appears to be little in common between insurance and bike rentals, right? Not so fast. What does an insurance company ultimately want? It wants healthy clients. And what's a great way for Canadians to get healthier? Exercise: such as cycling on demand.

On top of giving Bixi the sponsorship it needed to grow, the partnership supports Manulife's health strategy. It is certainly more effective than running an ad campaign about getting active.

These unlikely partnerships are not only relevant for global insurance companies. They can also exist in different sectors: government, private and not for profit. They can exist on any level or scale.

A bakery might be struggling to find ways to boost sales, so does partnering with local bike couriers to deliver cupcakes make the most sense? Or something different altogether, such as surprise pop-up bricks-and-mortar shops around the city? Maybe it's something totally off the radar, such as working with local artists to create murals or street art to brighten up the neighbourhood.

There is a near-infinite number of opportunities for developing partnerships, but how do you find the right one? Where do you start?

It may seem obvious but it is surprising how many businesses have not developed a core purpose: the "why" behind its value proposition. This can be anything at all, but it must be the "North Star" that drives every business decision. It must also be meaningful to employees, customers and potential partners. A core purpose will also help identify a business's challenges and shortcomings. One of the gold standards of core purpose is that of Patagonia. Its mission statement is: "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis."

Armed with a core purpose, businesses will be better equipped to understand if a potential partnership will be able to develop a shared sense of purpose. This shared purpose can lead to enhanced products and services that are inherently more effective in delivering value. A shared purpose also makes it easier to complement one another, and hold each other accountable.

It is important not to confuse shared purpose with shared goals. Shared goals can lead to profit pragmatism and kick your core purpose to the curb.

For example, if iTunes and Spotify partnered up, nothing would likely change for consumers. But if either of them partnered with Ticketmaster to offer live music subscriptions based on listening habits, or if they created once-in-a-lifetime experiences with artists, that would be a completely new and enhanced offering for their customers.

Partnerships can be undeniably beneficial, and the ability to find partners is easier than ever as businesses can work outside their immediate inner circle and explore the benefits of 3.5 degrees of separation.

In the wake of Bombardier giving a controlling interest in the C Series aircraft to Airbus, Andrew Willis asks: What will it take for Canada to stop being a loser when it comes to high-tech industries.