Monday, 12 June 2017

Limits and numbers

"150 people."

Liverpool Arab Arts Festival 2016 Migrant Stories Event
Photo credit: Julia Thorne
Robin Dunbar is smiling at me from my laptop screen. His smile is one that says "I can't believe all this is happening". It is the smile of an Oxbridge anthropology professor, suddenly popular because his ideas are now cool. 

I first heard of Professor Dunbar when reading Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point". In the book Gladwell describes a the perfect size for human groups. The number 150 is Dunbar's number and somehow relates to the size of our brains.
Apparently our impressive primate brains can really only relate meaningfully to 150 people at at time. More than that, Gladwell argues, and problems start to arise. He describes how the company W.L. Gore and Associates - makers of Gore-tex fabrics and 52 on the Fortune 100 best companies to work for 2017 list - started subdividing it's operations once it reached more than 150 employees.