By Sam Ellis – Membership Development Manager

Believe it or not, there’s actually a science behind networking. Well relationships actually, which is what networking is all about, right?!

Do you know how many relationships a human can actively maintain at any one time?

In 1990, British psychologist, Robin Dunbar, suggested that we can recognise around 1500 names and faces, but only truly maintain around 150 stable relationships, from acquaintances to those closest to us. 

After many scientific experiments, Dunbar did the math and judging from the size of an average human brain, he came up with the number of 150. As Dunbar put it himself, the 150 are, 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’

From there, Dunbar discovered that the number grows and decreases according to a precise formula, which in short, leads roughly to a ‘rule of three’. 

Robin Dunbar

Robin Dunbar

Think of a series of circles. With 150 being in the middle, the next smallest circle is 50-100; the number of people we call acquaintances.

Then there’s the circle of 25-30; extended family and general friends. 

The most intimate Dunbar number, from 5-10, is your close support circle. These are usually your closest family and friends, the ones you trust most above anyone else. 

Although other scientific researchers have predicted the numbers to be more within the 200’s, Dunbar suggests that 1500 is the absolute limit for the average person to simply put a name to a face. 

Dunbar's Number

Why is this valuable to know? Because this is your network! 

Let’s say you do only have a meaningful capacity for 150 people in your life, some of those including your family and friends. Which are the other relationships you want to spend your remaining time nurturing? 

‘Professional relationships’, I hear you say! Those that can add value to your business and that you can add value to as well. 

A popular quote the late Jim Rohn first said, ‘We are the average of the 5 people that we spend the most time with’. And for most of us, a number of those 5 people will be within our professional lives, not our personal ones (although due to Covid, that could temporarily be very different at the moment!) 

In terms of business, strangely we’re rarely presented with such opportunities from those closest to us. Most of our business opportunities come from those that we call our acquaintances. 

Acquaintance; a person one knows slightly, but who is not a close friend.

In others words, except perhaps from a few old school friends, most people in our lives are actually acquaintances and ones that are professionally related. Think of the opportunity if you put the time and effort into nurturing these relationships correctly.

With all that said though, Dunbar announced his theory back in 1990. There was no internet, no social media. 

Social media has undoubtedly changed the way in which we all connect with people in the last 10-15 years. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn – and now Clubhouse to name but a few. That’s not even considering online networking, something you should be familiar with by now. 

I personally feel lucky as I consider myself to be of the last generation of teens before messaging platforms and social media started to really impact our lives – and I’m only 33! Just goes to show how little time ‘social’ has been around, but perhaps more-so, how quickly it has grown and changed the way in which we communicate.

I got my first mobile phone when I was 15. I begged my Dad for 2 years to buy me an ever-popular Nokia 5110 and I very quickly became addicted to Snake (if you know, you know), but little did I know back then that the way I communicated with my friends started to change. Then social media appeared on mobile, changing social interaction forever!

Sure, social media undoubtedly has many positives. It easily keeps us connected with family and friends around the world and helps us stay engaged with our customers and easily market our businesses, but what are the negative impacts on true meaningful relationships?  

I would personally like to see a revised theory of the number of meaningful relationships one can now maintain and how important they really are to us in the technological era we now very much live in.

Nokia 5510

Different generations will of course have their own opinions that will likely have a common theme, but has the need for meaningful relationships decreased and the number of names and faces increased given that many of us have our own social followings and follow many others ourselves, or does Dunbar’s principle remain? 

Either way, I hope this blog gives you reason to start thinking more about your network; who’s actually in it, do you need to change it or grow it and how do you go about it? 

Networking is undoubtedly the strongest way to grow your network, fast. That’s why it’s called networking after all – you don’t need to be Dunbar to work that out. And given that, due to covid, we currently live in a more virtual world than ever before and online networking. 

It’s certainly made a positive impact when delivered correctly as many have recognised that they can now build professional relationships as well as personal ones remotely. Save time and money on travel allowing time for other business activity. Connect with new people and potential customers anywhere in the world. 

According to our annual member survey 81% of businesses will combine physical and virtual networking. 

Network My Club offers an exciting and innovative way to network online using Remo. It’s interactive, it’s conversational and it’s good fun. 

Come join us at an event soon.