“We may be able to amass 5,000 ‘friends’ on Facebook but humans’ brains are capable of managing a maximum of only 150 actual friendships, a study has found. Robin Dunbar, professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University, has conducted research revealing that while social networking sites allow us to maintain more relationships, the number of meaningful friendships is the same as it has been throughout history. Dunbar developed a theory known as “Dunbar’s number” in the 1990s which claimed that the size of our neocortex — the part of the brain used for conscious thought and language — limits us to managing social circles of around 150 friends, no matter how sociable we are. Dunbar derived the limit from studying social groupings in a variety of societies — from neolithic villages to modern office environments. He found that people tended to self-organise in groups of around 150 because social cohesion begins to deteriorate as groups become larger.”
The Social Brain
“Dunbar has gone through anthropological literature and found that the number 150 pops up over and over again. For example, he looked at 21 different hunger-gatherer societies around the world and found that the average number of people in each village was 148.4. The same pattern holds true for military organization. Over the years, through trial and error, military planners have arrived at a rule of thumb for the size of a functional fighting unit – 200 men. They have realized that it is quite difficult to make any larger a group than this to function as a unit without complicated hierarchies and rules and regulations and formal measures to insure loyalty and unity within the group. With a group of 150 or so, formalities are not necessary. Behavior can be controlled on the basis of personal loyalties and direct man-to-man contacts. With larger groups, this seems impossible.
Further is the religious group known as the Hutterites, who for hundreds of years, through trial and error, have realized that the maximum size for a colony should be, low and behold, 150 people. They’ve been following this rule for centuries. Every time a colony approaches this number, the colony is divided into two separate colonies. They have found that once a group becomes larger than that, “people become strangers to one another.” At 150, the Hutterites believe, something happens that somehow changes the community seemingly overnight. At 150 the colony with spontaneously begin dividing into smaller “clans.” When this happens a new colony is formed.
Another good example of our hard wired social limits is Gore Associates, a privately held multimillion-dollar company responsible for creating Gore-Tex fabric and all sorts of other high tech computer cables, filter bags, semiconductors, pharmaceutical, and medical products. What is most unique about this company is that each company plant is no larger than 150. When constructing a plant, they put 150 spaces in the parking lot, and when people start parking on the grass, they know it’s time for another plant. Each plant works as a group. There are no bosses. No titles. Salaries are determined collectively. No organization charts, no budgets, no elaborate strategic plans. Wilbert Gore – the late founder of the company, found through trial and error that 150 employees per plant was most ideal. “We found again and again that things get clumsy at a hundred and fifty,” he said.”
Illusion Of Chaos
“The classic Gore culture began in the basement of the home of Bill Gore, who left DuPont in 1958 to create his own enlightened version of the workplace. Gore built the company upon four core principles–fairness; freedom to encourage others to grow in knowledge, skill and responsibility; ability to honor one’s own commitments; and consultation with others before taking action that could affect the company “below the waterline.” In Gore’s model, associates communicate directly with one another and are accountable to their peers rather than bosses. Ideally, leaders in the company emerge naturally by demonstrating special knowledge, skill or experience –“followship.” Thomas Malone, a professor at MIT and author of The Future of Work, describes Gore as a “miniature democracy. The way you become a manager is by finding people who want to work for you,” Malone says. The $1.84 billion company’s flat organizational structure makes it exceptionally nimble. “If someone has an idea for a new product, they don’t have to go up a hierarchy to find some boss to approve it,” says John Sawyer, chairman of the department of business administration at the University of Delaware. “Instead, they have to find peers in the organization who support the idea and will work with them. That open style of communication allows ideas to come up from the bottom.”