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Posts Tagged ‘Dunbar’s Number’

Replacing half your friends every 7 years – and the tattoo consequences

June 8, 2011 8 comments

I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about the research undertaken in the Netherlands which concluded that most people replace half of their friends every 7 years. It was brought to my attention by a couple of on-line friends – Jordi Robert-Ribes and Ben Wirtz – who both happened to raise it when we met up in the real-world for the first time. Maybe they were both hinting there was only a 50:50 chance we would still be in contact in 7 years … or less!

The research came out of a project in Holland called “Where friends are made. Context, Contacts, Consequences,” and was set up by Beate Völker. Beate doesn’t seem that keen on connecting – she has one of those Twitter accounts with protected Tweets! The actual research was run by Sociologist Gerald Mollenhorst of Utrecht University (not on Twitter at all!). It always baffles me when

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Sociologists/Anthropologist/academics don’t “come out to play” in the world of social media.

Mollenhorst conducted a survey of 1,007 people aged from 18 to 65. He contacted them twice – with a 7 year gap in between. From the original group, 604 people answered on both occasions. The survey contained questions such as: Who do you talk with, regarding personal issues? Who helps you with DIY in your home? Who do you pop by to see? Where did you get to know that person? And where do you meet that person now?

The results showed that personal network sizes seemed to remained stable, but that many members of the network were new. About 30 percent of discussion partners and practical helpers had the same position in a typical person’s Personal Network seven years later. The big finding was that only 48 percent of the original contacts were still part of the network.

I have thought for a while that this was interesting research – and it became more relevant after I saw the video of a lady – Suzy (also from the Netherlands) – making a permanent record of her 152 Facebook Friends in the form of a tattoo!

Currently the video has been watched by over 300,000 people. It’s not getting as many likes as dislikes – as I write the score is 511 likes to 1,018 dislikes. Let’s hope that there are not too many of her friends in the disklikes.

Well, Suzy is on-target with the work of Robin Dunbar. She’s bang on with 152 friends and his Dunbar Number of 150. However, she might have also given some thought to the work of her fellow Netherlander Gerald Mollenhorst. She’s in for a lot more than a 7 year itch!

[UPDATE – Tattoo story was a hoax (a good one at that) – changing 50% of friends every 7 years was not! More at CBS News]

Twittering and a Dunbar discovery

November 23, 2010 4 comments

Well – I’ve finally done it! I’m on twitter… I’ve got to bolt the doors to the house tonight – because about 6 months ago I did tell a couple of friends that “If I ever start twittering – please shoot me!”. It’s part of my research – so finally, I’ve taken the plunge.

If you want to find me – I am apparently @personalnetwork. Once I can understand what’s going on – I will start to twitter. It’s quite daunting.

My conversion was down to a comment on my last post (made on a private LinkedIn Group where my blog is re-broadcast). The commenter made a good case

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for twitter being a great tool to reach an audience. Well, I’m ready for more than 20 hits on this blog a day (I once had over 50, you know) – so I thought I’d give it a try.

Call it beginners luck, but just found a wonderful tweet from a slightly scary looking tweeter called Howard Rheingold.

Key point of his twitter was “For boys, relationships R strengthened by doing things together; 4 girls, by talking.” Even better than that, his source lead to an excellent video of a lecture by Robin Dunbar (yes, you know Dunbar’s Number) at Oxford University.

There are some real nuggets in his lecture. Things like “Big Brains = Big Social Networks” – and I always thought getting lots of connections in LinkedIn was willy wanging! I’m off to get more friends (to compliment my new twitter account) – and prove I do have a HUGE brain.

Robin Dunbar is excellent in the video – makes me wish I’d had a University education. He uses simple slides to explain his theory, maintains that even with lots of maintenance those weak ties will drop away to his 150 – and is humble enough to tell us that Aristotle and Plato got these numbers right well before he did.

He continues to justify his 150 in simple form. He shows a bar chart analysis of the average number of people we send Christmas Cards to, cites military units and tells us that even Facebook recently analysed their network and the average friends per user was 120-130 (very near).

I like his style. Explaining a complex, well research subject in a fun way. He’s happy to intersperse his serious research with a bit of fun. He analysed that boys spend on average 7.3 seconds on a phone call, whereas girls spend massive amounts of time on the phone!! I like amusing academics….

Dunbar’s Number – is it 22,500 in practice?

November 1, 2010 12 comments

There are probably two key numbers that are referred to in Personal Networking – they are 6 and 150. Six being from “Six Degrees of Separation” – the idea that everyone is at most six steps away from any other person on Earth. One Hundred and Fifty coming from Robin Dunbar, the British Anthropologist who created the theory that the limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships is 150 (Dunbar’s Number).

I’ve absolutely no problem with Dunbar’s work – and you will have seen in previous posts that I reference it a lot. However, I’ve always struggled with the “Six Degrees of Separation” bit. It’s not that I disagree with the theory – but I cannot see how it is usefully

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applied to a Personal Network. Maybe I am being unambitious – but do I really want to make those 6 hops to meet Barack Obama or the Queen?

There was a good article by Michael Southon in the FT Weekend “Networking is all about quality”. It’s well worth a full read – and his sign off pointed me in the right direction:-

So my advice for all business people, whether they are expert networkers or more naturally reserved, is to go through your online address books, identify the 150 people you like most, and make some quality time for them.

The mathematics is on your side. They also have 150 people they like and trust, which makes a total of 22,500 people in your close circle, or one degree separated. Whatever you do for a living, this is easily enough potential business for you and your company.

Mike hit the nail on the head. There might be Six Degrees of Separation – but it’s the first level (where the trust is focussed) that you should put your energy into. This creates a magical (and believable) number of 22,500 people you could make a realistic connection with. Eureka!!

Now I understand why I get uncomfortable when LinkedIn tells me that my 194 Connections link you to 3,860,237+ professionals!! Unbelievable!!

Personal Networking is about building a community around you that has integrity, trust and generosity – and if each of those “connections” has a similar community … then a realistic group of 22,500 people can be your Personal Network. I’m comfortable with that….. Thank you, Mike.

C.R.I.S.T. – Now I RELIABLY know who I should Trust!

September 5, 2010 3 comments

I finished Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s book “Trust Agents” while on holiday. It’s inspirational – with nuggets and ideas throughout. I tried out a new method for marking up interesting points in the book – using Snopake Index Tab Arrow High Lighters – as you can see from the picture there were lots of gems! Think the arrows will work out more expensive than buying the book…

The book is definitely a 5 star rating – I really like their style and ethos. Key points being that you should focus on building relationships – and sales will

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eventually come to you. Becoming an Agent Zero (getting in the centre of things) is important. Also, as mentioned in my last post, they argued that it’s OK to break Dunbar’s number and have more than 150 contacts (but only in each different network).

My favourite section was the Trust Test. Chris and Julien have adapted a formula originally thought up by David Maister, Charles H. Green and Robert M. Galford in “Trust Adviser” (another one for my reading list!). They put forward that Trust has 4 components that can be put together in an equation that gives a value for trusworthiness! Cool… And here it is:-

(C x R x I)/S = T

So Trust is calculated by multiplying Credibility by Reliability by Intimacy and dividing by Self-Orientation.

Credibility = the quality of being convincing or believable. Higher score the better
Reliability = consistently good in quality and performance. They turn up on time.
Intimacy = the measure of the closeness of your relationship. Feeling comfortable with someone. It’s an emotional judgement
Self-Orientation = low self-orientation would be if you had enough confidence to recommend a better competitor. High self-orientation would be the guy who is only interest in you because they want to make a sale (and now!). Lower score is better here – as it’s divided in to the other factors.

It made me think about the people in my network who I inherently like – but often don’t totally trust. Later in “Trust Agents”, Julien and Chris hit the issue on the head – “RELIABILITY IS THE BIG SECRET”. Interestingly, the other factors are more linked to people’s character (and hard to change/train) – however, there is no real excuse for not being reliable (it’s a matter of personal commitment). None of us are perfect on that score (I have in my head a particular apology I need to send after completing this post to someone I forgot to thank for a bit favour – whoops!) – but reliability is the thing we all could work on to make sure we gain others trust.

Thank you Messieurs Maister, Green, Galford, Brogan and Smith for this equation and insight into Trust and Reliability in your Personal Network.

150 Connections on LinkedIn – should I retire on Dunbar’s Number?

September 3, 2010 4 comments

The day has come when the worlds of Dunbar’s number (which I love/respect/believe in) and my LinkedIn connections coincide! It’s been a tricky 24 hours, when the LinkedIn counter hit 149 – and my commitment and belief in Robin Dunbar’s number (150) collided.

Typical of my active and creative mind, I tried to find several routes around this:-

1. Find a justification for not complying to Robin’s thinking… Well – I’ve just been reading Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s Book “Trust Agents”. On page 226 they give me the perfect opt out by

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saying “The Web allows us to work within Dunbar’s number. It means that we can build business relationships in different ways: Instead of just locally or in a specific vertical, we can channel and stripe and slide in many different ways.” Read more on Chris’s blog. Great – I can have 150 people in lots of different places!!

2. Can I increase the number from 150?… Amazingly, the FT Weekend came up with just that. Page 30-31 of the Money Section last weekend had an article entitled “Build your connections, but go for quality, not quantity.” I can now safely increase my 150 to 250 … yipee. “Andy Lopata, who has built a business advising others how to network, claims that in an age of mass social networking, too many people concentrate on the quantity of connections they make rather the quality. “It is who needs you and what they say about you that counts, and that only comes from building better relationships, not necessarily more relationships,” he says. Lopata recalls a speaking engagement last year, where someone showed off the 2,000 contacts on his Blackberry address book. Lopata was not impressed. “My response was: ‘If you phone those 2,000 people, are they willing to take your call?’ If not, then you are just carrying around a telephone directory.” A philosophy that drives Lopata’s thinking is the Law of 250, the idea that there is an optimum number of contacts to acquire. The concept was made famous long before the advent of LinkedIn and Twitter by Joe Girard, an American salesman who earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records for his prowess at selling Chevrolet cars. Lopata admits that his own database of 4,000 contacts is too big, but qualifies his support of the Law of 250 by noting that good networkers also have a broad range of contacts. “You have to get the balance right,” he says.” Thank you Andy Lopata and Joe Girard – I can have another 100 connections!!!

3. Quit while I’m ahead/Go out with a bang… What better way to go – than to make your 150th connection on LinkedIn ….. ROBIN DUNBAR!! Well, I penned a small invite (my very first on LinkedIn to someone I did not directly know). Amazingly, Robin has only ONE connection on LinkedIn – go figure!!

The result was…. I received a reply back to my LinkedIn invite from the lovely Kathryn York. I’d invited Kathryn a month ago – and she finally came back to me to pop in as my number 150 connection! I am delighted. Kathryn is the Archivist at Wolfgang’s Vault in San Francisco. We met when she showed my son and myself around their music, video and art archives at Easter when we were stranded under the Ash Cloud. If you ever want to know about music from the 60s/70s/80s in the US – this is the lady!

Kathryn’s reply to my request to be a connection (and if she used LinkedIn much) was eloquent – “I don’t use Linkedin much, or my twitter or my facebook and myspace hasn’t seen me in so very long… I do know that folks find all of this does help with connecting (kind of like if I’d ever answer that ringing home phone), so I say thank you for reaching out and I shake your virtual hand with a connection acceptance!” Having a great Personal Network is a lot about diversity – and I’m very happy to have Kathryn in my 150!

I will await to see if Robin becomes my 151st connection (and his second) – but for now I will continue to extend my network onwards (and upwards from 150) with diverse, fun, stylish connections like Kathryn.

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell – Review

July 22, 2010 2 comments

Now this book is a little older than my previous review (first published in 2000).  It’s a great read – not just for the insight to certain elements of Personal Networks.  If anyone wants to get a better understanding of psychology, how to be a better parent … or maybe even make significant changes in a country with limited resources (sounds like a relevant challenge) – this is the book to read.

Malcolm is a great writer/journalists – and mixes some solid research with anecdotes and interview.  It makes for a very enjoyable read.  The only section that seemed a little dated was on Sesame

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Street and Blues Clues (which revolutionised children’s TV in the 1970/80/90s) – but the rest was as relevant today as when written.

One of the best parts of the book was the short conclusion.  Often books finish off with an enthusiastic/rushed repetition of the main themes – but Malcolm leaves you with key thoughts/actions.

The two areas that significantly touched on Personal Networking were:-

*  Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen.  I’ve mentioned the Connectors in a previous blog post.   The author explained these three types of characters well – and their role in the Tipping Point.  One thing he did not identify is how high a percentage of us have these characteristics.  I’ll have to research further on-line – or maybe ask him on his blog – http://www.gladwell.com/

*  Dunbar’s Number. He explains the principle of humans naturally having a most efficient group size of 150 people. Robin Dunbar (from Oxford University) has done research in to ancient civilisations – and modern business groups … and 150 keeps on recurring. There’s a great story about the Gore organisation (known for Gore-Tex) who only create buildings with 150 car park spaces, and when people start parking on the grass … they create a new building/division. Malcolm covers Dunbar’s ideas really well – and has set me on course to research this more thoroughly by reading Robin’s latest book – How Many Friends Does One Person Need?: Dunbar’s Number and Other Evolutionary Quirks.

Recommended reading – the research is great fun (my wife got bored with me telling her the amazing facts!!). I’m currently on a beach holiday – so will do the MindMap of the book when I get back to base. Anyone else read this book?

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