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Jul 14th, 2017 Share: Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn

Dunbar’s Number

In 1992 Robin Dunbar suggested that the cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships — relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person — is about 150.

This might not be directly relevant to you now — but it will become relevant when you become successful. And it is relevant if you’re thinking about joining a company or the company you work for is growing to the point of hitting Dunbar’s number.

Companies change dramatically when they cross Dunbar’s barrier: Culture, the way things get done and people interact with each other shift dramatically. I have had the chance to experience this twice in my career (first at eBay Germany and later at Mozilla) and about to experience it again with Singularity University.

Having gone through this change and also have had experience with organizations which are well beyond Dunbar’s number, I found for myself that I can’t operate effectively when companies become too big. It was a fascinating and very visceral experience — I don’t function (well) in large organizations.

Does this limit my growth? Maybe. Can I overcome it? Presumably yes. Do I care? No. I know well what my sweet spot is and only optimize putting myself into situations where I maximize the value I bring to the table.

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