Who Ya Gonna Call?

British anthropologist and author Robin Dunbar observes the magic number for meaningful contacts in our lives is roughly about 150. There are several layers to this, but essentially Dunbar bases this onhis theory that relative to our brain size, there is a corresponding number to the size of our ‘cohesive social group’.  

Lost? Bear with me.

Dunbar sees the numbers in our personal and professional networksmuch like the circles that form when you drop a rock in a pond.  In our closest circles typically there are 5 loved ones, 15 close friends, 50 good friends, 150 meaningful contacts, 500 acquaintances, and finally 1500 people you can recognize by name.  Do these numbers square with your network?    

I can see my way to agreeing with most those numbers but coming up with 1500 people I recognize by name might take me awhile.  But then, social media certainly provides the ability to connect with multiple people. And not only connect with that particular person, but the ability to see and connect with their network of people we share in common.  So maybe 1500 isn’t totally out of the question after all.

Either way, Dunbar’s theory has me thinking.  So much so, as part of my new year’s resolution, I’ve been taking a little closer look at all my networks—focusing initially on those first three circles of loved ones, close friends, and good friends. To do this, I’ve borrowed some advice from author Joe Polish’s book What’s In It For Them?, who suggests we ask ourselves if we’re doing a good job fostering these relationships.  Are we investing time, effort, and energy in our closest relationships? Are we aware of the challenging things they may have going on in their lives?

Inspired by both Dunbar and Polish, Ive started making some phone calls to some of those folks in my closer circles. In this age of texts and emails, making an actual phone call has almost gone the way of the slide rule, but sometimes old school really is the best school when it comes to connecting with people—especially those you’ve not spoken with in a while. Not only that, but I’m also discovering a really great way to gauge how I’m doing in my smaller circles of relationships is whether someone actually picks up when they see it’s me who’s calling.

Typically this seems to go one of two ways.  If it’s been a while since we last spoke, some have picked up immediately becausethey’re just curious to see the reason for the call.  

On the flip side, some go straight to voicemail because not only could they be busy at that moment, more than likely they’re wondering why the heck Tom Rohr’s calling all of a sudden. No matter how it plays out, I still hope to be the person people want to talk to when I call.

But what about those outer, larger groups Dunbar identified. While my pro tip is to make sure we’re nurturing those people closest to us, I also know there’s great value in investing in those wider pools of folks too—particularly as that relates to running a business.  

Coming from a purpose driven company where we’re continually focusing on new capacity, new mindsets, new and greater landfill conversion rates—relationships are everything. Developing that connection with others who share the belief that the world can attain better levels of sustainability is more important than ever, no matter what level of relationship you’re working from.