Dunbar's Number (Friends vs Acquaintances)
There are limits to the amount of information our brain can store about the people in our lives, so we must make each interaction with the world around us memorable and intentional.
Are you ready for the world’s worst walk into a bar joke?
I promise it will be over soon. Stick with me.
A “super-connector” (someone like us) and a British anthropologist walk into a bar.
The bartender says, “Hey there, Super-Connector and Dr. Dunbar!”
If they are regulars at the bar, then the bartender is one of the roughly 150 people the super-connector and Dr. Dunbar would consider a casual friend.
If they’ve only been to the bar once before, then perhaps the bartender is one of the 1000 people for which the super-connector and Dr. Dunbar can put a name to their face.
Either way, they’re all drinking to the fact that you’re still reading this post.
The phenomenon above is called Dunbar’s Number, proposed by Robin Dunbar in the 1990s suggesting cognitive limits to our social constructs.
In his book Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language, Dunbar explained this concept informally as, “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.”
Hence my awful “walks into a bar” joke above.
There are limits to the amount of information our brain’s neocortex can store about the people in our lives, so we must make each interaction with the world around us deep, meaningful, and memorable if we wish to positive impact others.
Dunbar’s number is actually a series of limits, generally multiplicable and divisible by three.
You will know the most detail about the five closest people in your network. These are family, children or spouses, and your best friend(s).
From there, there are likely around fifteen people you’ll turn to for support in your darkest moments, which may include extended family members and other very close friends. You have rich, long-lasting relationships with these people.
There’s about fifty people with whom you communicate often. You would invite these members of your network to group dinners, ask them for advice or help, and perhaps have them watch your child if you went out for date night.
For about 150 people, you’ll be able to keep up active friendships and some awareness of the happenings in their lives. Along with Durham University anthropologist Russell Hill, Dunbar confirmed his general rule of thumb by studying the destinations of Christmas cards sent one year by households across the U.K., only to find each individual’s network was roughly 150 people, with circles of increased relative closeness of 50, 15, and 5 people when card-senders described who on their lists were family, friends, neighbors, and other contacts.
You may be lucky enough to know around 500 people as “acquaintances” with little understanding of their lives in great detail, and super-connectors with incredible memories may be able to remember up to 1500 face-and-name combos.
In my opinion, this is pretty limiting.
How are you supposed to choose which 150 people to keep in touch with regularly?
What do we do with the other hundreds, or thousands, of people we work with, want to meet, and rely upon to run our businesses and enrich our lives?
How can we enjoy various levels of intimacy with friends, family, mentors, colleagues, and fellow super-connectors based on Dunbar’s Number?
Well, that’s where this newsletter comes into play!
We have tons of resources on how to build a world-class network in record time, so if you haven’t read these posts in a while, or you’re a newer subscriber, go back and check out:
Of course, you can reply to this email at any time to ask me anything related to networking, relationship-building, business development, sales, marketing, etc.
I’ll be more than happy to reply and be helpful where I can.
P.S. - if you’re curious about the internet’s impact on Dunbar’s Number, check out this TEDx talk from the man himself 👨💻.
Jared Kleinert is the founder of Meeting of the Minds (motm.co), as well as a TED speaker, 2x award-winning author, and USA Today's "Most Connected Millennial".
Meeting of the Minds curates "super-connectors" and subject matter experts as invite-only attendees to 3 day summits in places like Napa Valley, Bermuda, and elsewhere, as well as “deep dives” such as this Marketing and Biz Dev strategy & implementation workshop. Members of the MOTM network include CEOs of 7, 8, and 9-figure businesses, creators of globally-recognized brands and social movements, New York Times bestselling authors, founders of pre-IPO tech unicorns, c-suite execs from Fortune 500 companies, and others.
Jared's career began at 15 years old when he started his first company, and took off at 16 while working as the first intern, and then one of the first 10 employees, for an enterprise SaaS company called 15Five, which today has raised over $40M and has almost 2000 forward-thinking companies as monthly recurring clients.
Later, Jared would become a delegate to President Obama's 2013 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Malaysia, write multiple books including the "#1 Entrepreneurship Book of 2015", and speak at TED@IBM the day before he turned 20.
As a highly-sought after keynote speaker and consultant, Jared’s clients range from organizations like Facebook, Samsung, Bacardi, Estee Lauder, IBM, Cornell, Berkeley, AdAge, and the National Speakers Association. His insights on entrepreneurship, networking, marketing, and business development have been featured in Forbes, TIME, Harvard Business Review, Fortune, NPR, Entrepreneur, Mashable, Fox Business and more.
Don’t forget to share! :)