Writing a blog for a few months now I’ve been intrigued by what seems to generate the most interest. By a factor of 3 to 1 it’s articles with the title ‘9 reasons to …’ or ‘3 things that …’. Either people are so busy they want to scan and capture insights quickly (“there are 3 here, what are they?”) or for some reason(s) numbers just resonate.
I normally write my blog then think of a title that best fits. This time, as an experiment, I'm starting with the title I think will generate the most hits (despite posting this in the dead summer season). So, now to try crowbar some insights into my list of 5 - as I’m sure that’s what most authors do anyway:
The World According to Dunbar:
4 - Casual conversation groups are limited to around four people. This appears to be due to the fact that we cannot get more than four people into a circle small enough to hear what the speaker is saying. Therefore, if you want decisions made quickly by a committee limit it to four people.
6 - Conversely, if you want your committee to brainstorm new ideas you'll need more than six. Less than this simply leads to a starvation of ideas and ‘premature convergence’ around sub-optimal positions as dissenting voices are less likely to be raised and more likely to be isolated if they do.
8 - The size of the average, well-off Victorian family (Britain end of 19th century) from where the phrase ‘children should be seen and not heard’ comes from for, with so many people round the dinner table, rules were needed to limit the noise. As families diminished in size and sheared off extended family members children are increasingly tolerated. The problems organisational leaders have with Generation Y are not because the children have changed but the environment has. It’s time organisations caught up with this.
12 - Is the number of people who are truly close to you, whose death would leave you devastated (not upset, but heartbroken). Jesus having 12 disciples was no coincidence.
150 - The Dunbar number suggest the optimal human social network size, beyond which bureaucracy encroaches. The relationship of the size of the neocortex relative to the brain seen across the mammalian world frames the extent to which humans can personally maintain relationships with other members. This relatively large group size helped humans safely venture out of Africa in the search for new habitats and has endured since in the size of the optimal military unit, local councils or modern start ups.
Yet, we shouldn’t be seduced by numbers alone. Without context they have little value. In his excellent book Professor Dunbar shares an anecdote of an enlightened head of a TV production team who, like an increasing number of leaders, recognises the important of organising people around the way they naturally are rather than the way HR would like them to be. But whilst keeping his production unit to a team of 150 he watched in horror as they lost cohesion, fell out and dissipated after a move to a new office. The culprit was eventually discovered - the coffee room, which had been the communal meeting and sharing place but had not followed them to the new office leading to poor maintenance of the intricate bounds of social cohesion. Numbers may be important, but they matter little without context.
If you'd like an opportunity to discuss how going beyond numbers to help your organisation address the issue of managing Generation Y staff successfully contact Marcus Guest at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit narrativeinsights.com
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