On one of my many jaunts to Europe for business, I happened to crack open a very interesting book by Robin Dunbar titled “How Many Friends Does a Person Need“. While packed with many interesting ideas and facts, as Mr Dunbar in this tome brings together a number of related papers he has written over a decade of time where he explores the concepts of human social interactions. However my interest with this book in my mind fit with helping explain the “Facebook” phenomena as well as its potential future, as this new “social-tool” is reshaping the way we as people interact.
One of the main points which struck me at the onset of the work was what the Author put forward as the “Dunbar Number” which was denoted as the number of people whom you know personally, that you can trust, as well as feel some emotional affinity for*. Per Dunbar, this number is no more than 150 (thus forming the “Dunbar Number“) as he also claims it has been 150 as long as we have been a species and will remain so into our future**.
He also supports this value with several very strong examples citing the size of historical “villages” where this was the average size, to sect communities such as the Amish who break their communities into separate “communities” much like meiosis upon reaching this magic number. Dunbar also furthers his claims with industrial examples referencing in one case the Gortex ™ company, who rather than expand manufacturing plants as demand would increase. They will instead build new plants as to never cross the “magical” line of 150 persons per facility.
How and why does this work you may be asking yourself and the answer is relatively simple so to say. It is peer pressure, as within this realm it is still possible for everyone to know everyone within the contextual elements listed above. Therefore it is achievable to maintain the perspective of being a “tree” without being lost in the “forest” if you will.
The practicalities of this concept hit hard in my mind as especially applied in high touch cultures where the concept of interconnectedness is of greater importance then in high context ones***. Here having multiple separated groups of no more than 150 people would yield a result of implied uniformity as opposed to a number larger which would introduce implied anarchy if you will as the “social-system” will try to return itself to the balanced equilibrium of the lesser number.
From a commercial standpoint, there is a world of sense here as economies can be gained from lower managerial costs, along with achieving higher workgroup controlled results. Isn’t it time you looked at the Dunbar Number?
*Note: Basically put if you ran into them in an airport, would you have felt some form of remorse (small or large) for not stopping to say hello in passing.
**Note: Dunbar’s rational in the book is this is the approximated top of what our minds can handle much like the average number our short term memory can juggle is 7.
***Note: The Dunbar Number applies to all people, the association which I am introducing here is to suggest the way a high touch culture will attempt to seek a return to equilibrium will differ from that of a high context. However both, regardless of type will seek the return to or re-association itself to the 150 person level regardless of type.