Dunbar’s Number

This post could be subtitled: I am pruning.

About 4 years ago, Seth Godin blogged about Dunbar’s number. Basically, the maximum optimal tribe/community size is 150.  And it really hard for most of us to maintain more than 150 strong connections. Wikipedia Link. Add someone new; someone old needs to go. The concept has been percolating in my brain since then. And yes, sometimes I stew on things for a very long time. During this time frame, I’ve had a number of publicly facing jobs; and, my number of personal and professional contacts grew from about 80 to 1800 – and that’s just my email contact list. I use Plaxo  to sync Outlook to Gmail. And just about every day Plaxo sends me birthday reminders for people in my contact list, oftentimes people I don’t know or would never send a birthday greeting.

And, just about every day I get a request to connect on LinkedIn or Facebook from someone I have never met or even corresponded with by phone/email, who often is not even connected to anyone that I know well. This perplexes me. These requests do not come with a personal note in terms of why the person requesting the connection thinks it would be a good use of either of our time – do we have shared interests personally or professionally?  With Twitter I somewhat get it….just about every artist from Germany follows me because my last name is Kunst (Art in German)…But other than that, sure I know many amazing people that other people want access to; but, I only ever give referrals if I can unequivocally state that the person being referred, in my opinion, walks on water in whatever capacity they would like that introduction/reference. This is rare. And the people that know me, know this. Even those whom I’d gladly refer sometimes request cautiously. Let me put it out there…I always let the person see my draft letter/intro before sending, and ahead of deadline. That way, if it’s not what is needed there is time to find someone else.

In terms of Dunbar’s number, I suppose I think in circles – inner circle – you are in my will (currently this is 6 people, not all related by blood; only my brother knows the full list); next circle – you are important to me, family, not always by blood; next, next, next….The thing that interests me is that I may not be in the circles of people who are in mine, or at least not in circles of the same depth. This used to bother me, a lot. But, for me, this is a system in flux; dynamic; a moment in time. Over time I do believe it will equilibrate, at least mostly.

But if Dunbar’s number is 150 and one has 1800+ contacts….what is one to do? Luckily I annotate my contacts – when did we meet, how, where, why. I am deleting. Actively. I don’t think I will get to 150 today, but I’d be delighted to get under 1000. Facebook and LinkedIn will be next. I feel lighter already.