The power of your network isn’t just in its size. And it isn’t just in whom you know or in whom they know. The power of your network to change the world may come from just introducing two people in it to each other.

In 1935, my grandmother, Henrietta B. Seiberling, was experiencing some hard times. Separated from her husband and living in a small gatehouse in Akron, Ohio with her three children, she had been attending meetings of the Oxford Group, then a movement that was trying, in her words, “to recapture the power of first Century Christianity in the modern world.”

One of the group members was Dr. Bob Smith, who was an alcoholic but didn’t think anybody knew about it. So my grandmother arranged for a small meeting of a few people where she hoped people would share deeply about their own shortcomings and victories more than they did in the larger meetings. She later said:

“I waited and thought, Will Bob say something? Sure enough, in that deep, serious tone of his, he said, ‘Well, you good people have all shared things that I am sure were very costly to you, and I am going to tell you something which may cost me my profession. I am a silent drinker, and I can’t stop.'”

My grandmother knew nothing about alcoholism, but the next day she called Bob and told him to come over to her house for “a guidance.” When he arrived, she told him that, to his disappointment, “he mustn’t touch one drop of alcohol.”

In her words:

“He said, ‘Henrietta, I don’t understand it. Nobody understands it.’ Now that was the state of the world when we were beginning. He said, ‘Some doctor had written a book about it, but he doesn’t understand it. I don’t like the stuff. I don’t want to drink.’ I said, ‘Well, Bob, that is what I have been guided about.’ And that was the beginning of our meetings, long before Bill ever came.”

Months later an alcoholic named Bill Wilson arrived in Akron from New York to complete a business deal. The deal fell through, and Bill was left with nothing but a few dollars in his pocket, not even enough to pay for his hotel room. Even though he hadn’t had a drink in 5 months, he looked into a bar and thought, “Well, I’ll just go in there and get drunk and forget it all, and that will be the end of it.”

But instead, he looked in a ministers directory and picked a name at random, a man named Tunks. He called Dr. Tunks and he gave him a list of names to call, including a good friend of my grandmother, Norman Sheppard. Norman knew what my grandmother was trying to do for Bob, so he suggested that he call her. Down to his last nickel, that’s exactly what he did, and he told her, “I’m from the Oxford Group and I’m a Rum Hound from New York.”

So she got Bob and Bill together at her house the next day, just thinking that they each might benefit from talking with each other. Bob had promised his wife he would only stay for 15 minutes, but he ended up staying the whole day with Bill, and they shared their stories with each other. And while each had thought that telling their stories was going to be what helped them, what they found was that listening to each other’s story was even more helpful. And the seeds of Alcoholics Anonymous were planted.

Later, Bill Wilson, or Bill W. as he came to be known, talked about some of the precepts that developed into the famous “12 Steps” of Alcoholics Anonymous:

“We admitted we were licked.
We got honest with ourselves.
We talked it over with another person.
We made amends to those we had harmed.
We tried to carry this message to others with no thought of reward.
We prayed to whatever God we thought there was.”

Now, my grandmother wasn’t trying to start an organization to help alcoholics. At the time, she really didn’t understand what alcoholism was – nobody really did. She was just trying to help a friend never touch another drop of alcohol. But she put two people together and then worked with them to start an organization that has helped millions of people around the world.

Not for money. Not for fame. Just to help a friend.

In the new economy world where being heard through “Social Media”, Twittering, and accumulating Facebook “friends” is all the rage, just remember my grandmother and never forget the magic that can happen when two people simply meet, face-to-face, and honestly listen to each other.

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