Home Articles What ‘Dunbar’s number’ and ‘your weakest links’ can teach you about business.

What ‘Dunbar’s number’ and ‘your weakest links’ can teach you about business.


Are you feeling average? Then it’s time you discovered what ‘Dunbar’s number’ and ‘your weakest links’ can teach you about business.

As popularised in Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘The Tipping Point’, ‘Dunbar’s number’ is a theory suggesting each of us can only maintain stable relationships with a maximum of 150 other people (i.e. meaningful contact once a year minimum) at any one time. This theory was first introduced in the 1990s and is widely accepted worldwide.

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar theorised that this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, which in turn limits group size. Supporters believe that numbers exceeding 150 require more rules and laws than the average person can handle in order to maintain a stable group / network of meaningful contacts.

It was initially believed that Dunbar’s theory only applied to offline relationships (i.e. the ‘real world’ as opposed on ‘online’), yet this might soon be disproved. In 2010, Dunbar turned his attention to Facebook. He began a new study (not released at the time of writing) to investigate whether his ‘offline’ findings held true for ‘online’ communities and relationships. In an interview with UK newspaper Sunday Times, Dunbar said:

“The interesting thing is that you can have 1,500 friends, but when you actually look at traffic on sites, you see people maintain the same inner circle of around 150 people that we observe in the real world . People obviously like the kudos of having hundreds of friends but the reality is that they’re unlikely to be bigger than anyone else’s.”

At the time of writing, Dunbar has held fast to this observation. What’s more, the theory is backed up by Facebook itself. The social networking juggernaut reports the average user has 130 friends, which slots nicely into Dunbar’s average range of 100-150 meaningful relationships per person.

Weak Links Yield Better Results

Our networks are a reflection of our ideals and values. They allow us to feel supported through being around like-minded individuals who we feel know and understand us.

But this is also where the problem lies. If you’ve made the commitment to evolve, and are in the process of becoming more than you were/are, don’t be surprised if stretching yourself beyond your comfort zone makes other people uncomfortable.

In his book ‘Collaboration’, Morten Hansen suggests that the real value of collaborations and networks isn’t found in the strong, established relationships, but in further developing the weak (yet aspirational) ones.

Access Points to New Realms of Influence

Research has shown that the aspirational (not damaging) ‘weak links’ in our networks offer access points to new realms we don’t currently belong to or are yet to earn the right to call home – tapping into these ‘weak links’ can make a massive difference to our immediate outcomes.

By definition, our current social networks can only take us so far before we a re required to ‘ step- up,‘ and move into the upper echelons.

The question is: “Are your existing networks supporting or hindering your growth?”

Recognise the weak links within your community of friends/colleagues/clients for what they are and take action to better cultivate new relationships and access points to faster results (i.e. business deals, personal relationships, media contacts etc).

Step Beyond Your Existing Networks

It’s likely you’ll need to step beyond your existing networks. Only some of the individuals within your immediate reach will have the capacity to journey with you and be genuinely supportive, opening doors to greater success for you.

Now, go out and network with your weakest links — they may be stronger than you first thought.

Ben Angel is author of ‘Bigger, Better, Harder, FASTER! Sleeping Your Way to The Top’, containing over 50+ scientific studies on human behaviour. Jacket-copy: “It will show you how you can; achieve more in 30 days than in 3 months, decode the ‘X’ factor , unlock your potential and discover the secrets to INSTANT influence.”