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DUNBAR'S NUMBER

BLOGROLL

DUNBAR'S NUMBER

FEBRUARY 27/MICHAEL BAYLOR

I recently read a review by Ben Rothke of Bruce Schneier’s new book, Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive. Rothke says that although Schneier touches on subjects ranging from sociology, psychology, economics, criminology, anthropology, game theory and much more, the overarching theme of the book is that “society can’t function without trust.”

According to Rothke, Schneier makes frequent reference to Dunbar’s number. Dunbar’s number is suggested to be a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. The “magic” number has been proposed to lie between 100 and 230, but 150 is the most commonly used value. In his review, Rothke provides this insight; “So when someone sees a person with 3,000 Facebook friends, something is clearly amiss”.

This got me thinking about my LinkedIn connections (yes, I spend a lot of time contemplating this because it’s important to me). I am highly selective about whom I invite to connect with and those from which I accept invitations. Believe it or not, my first question is “could I possibly hope to add any value to this connection?”

Another consideration is that I place myself at the disposal of my connections (e.g. I don’t charge for ideas, thoughts or opinions), and if I am not highly selective about those I connect with my days could potentially be consumed (yikes, that sounded arrogant). Not that I would mind that but I do have to eat after all, and my good looks (sarcastic emphasis) won’t get me very far.

Initially, I was so thrilled to get an invitation that I would accept from anyone. This was wrong, as time has shown that most of my early connections have not derived any value from our being connected. Further, I have had no direct communication with many of them. I fault myself for this as I struggled initially (and still do) with how to be a valued connection without intruding on one’s privacy. I make myself available and hope they feel that I have some shred of intellectual value to offer and give me a call.

So, as I look at my valued connections I must accept that in order to be of any potential value to them and avoid the dilution of value to my connections overall, I must start thinking about imposing Dunbar’s law. In order to be available and responsive I will diligently guard the connections I have by exercising extreme care when inviting someone to connect or when accepting an invitation.

To my highly valued connections, I remain committed to bring something of value to the party and thank you for allowing me to be a part of your LinkedIn circle of trust.