Seth Godin just wrote a really interesting post about the size of one's network, or as he refers to it, the "tribe". The magic number, apparently, is 150 and it's known as Dunbar's Law or Dunbar's Number. Dunbar based this number on the processing power of the human brain -- he theorized that we just don't have the brainpower, as a species, to handle a larger number.
Here's a quote from Seth's post:
Dunbar postulated that the typical human being can only have 150 friends. One hundred fifty people in the tribe. After that, we just aren't cognitively organized to handle and track new people easily. That's why, without external forces, human tribes tend to split in two after they reach this size. It's why WL Gore limits the size of their offices to 150 (when they grow, they build a whole new building)...
Some people online are trying to flout Dunbar's number, to become connected and actual friends with tens of thousands of people at once. And guess what? It doesn't scale. You might be able to stretch to 200 or 400, but no, you can't effectively engage at a tribal level with a thousand people. You get the politician's glassy-eyed gaze or the celebrity's empty stare. And then the nature of the relationship is changed.
I can tell when this happens. I'm guessing you can too.A few thoughts about this:
- First, I'm willing to bet that the vast, vast majority of professionals, even those who pride themselves on being effective networkers, have nowhere near 150 real contacts. My take on this, which is more than a little biased, is that unless you have that many, you really have no excuse not to work on growing your network. You can do it.
- Second, this concept nicely illustrates the difference between, say, LinkedIn contacts or Facebook friends, and networking contacts. It's very possible to manage thousands of people on Facebook, but the relationship you have with them is broader and shallower than a true networking connection. That doesn't mean it's better or worse, but it does mean that it's a different kind of relationship.
- 150 is about the size of a standard law-school section. Interesting.