How Many People Are You “Connected” With?
If you’re thinking “too many,” you’re not alone.
NPR has created a charming story around Professor Robin Dunbar, of Dunbar’s Number fame. The evolutionary anthropologist believes that he’s found the number of people that any one human being can be “close” to at a given time.
So quick: Is Dunbar’s Number…
If you answered 150, you’re right. (And if you answered 40, as I did, you’re probably an introvert!)
Recounting how the CEO of GORE-TEX limited the employees at each factory to 150, NPR’s Rachel Martin noted,
“The reason 150 is the optimal number for a community comes from our primate ancestors, Dunbar says. In smaller groups, primates could work together to solve problems and evade predators. Today, 150 seems to be the number at which our brains just max out on memory.”
What Does That Mean for Networking?
It means a lot of things; all of them, IMHO, good:
- Take a deep breath and let go of the fiction that you’re going to be able to maintain close ties with unlimited numbers of people. 2674 Facebook friends? That’s nice; but how many of them do you actually care about?
- The 80/20 rule (which Wikipedia says was proposed in 1906 by quality control consultant Joseph M. Juran) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. You wear 20% of your clothes about 80% of the time. You eat in 20% of the restaurants roughly 80% of the time. And, if Juran is right, 20% of your business contacts provide roughly 80% of your actual business.
- This means that, while “putting yourself out there” is always important, you have to prioritize the (roughly 150) relationships that are actually worth investing in.
You probably do that anyway; but I always appreciate it when scientists validate our human limits!
Aren’t Our Social Capabilities Expanding?
You’d think so, from looking at Twitter. But human beings have been around for millenia. Social media has been around for… less than 25 years.
At some point, our capacity for managing information about other people probably will grow — and then Dunbar’s Number will grow as well. But evolution takes care of these things slowly. (And for now, the research shows that our fictions about multi-tasking, and other expanding capabilities are just that: Fictions.)
So for now, I’m happy to admit that more than 150 people probably aren’t going to be (and can’t be; and shouldn’t be) permanent fixtures at the core of my life.
Thank you, Robin Dunbar!