>The Dunbar 150 and Enterprise Architecture


We need a network of people in our life (family, friends, and colleagues) to accomplish most anything meaningful, including building an enterprise architecture to grow and mature an organization.

But is there a limit to how many significant others we can have?

The Wall Street Journal, 16 November 2007 reports that “several commentators and news articles have cautioned that there is a natural limit to a friendship circle. They typically cite the so-called Dunbar number, 150, as the ceiling on our personal contacts.”

However, with social networking sites and other technological means of keeping in contact (cell phones, email, instant messaging, and so on), we are looking at an expansion of our ability to connect with others and the numbers of others we can stay in contact with.

Some have questioned, whether as you increase the number of casual relationships, it comes at the expense of those closest to you—“those you turn to when in severe distress.”

Others have questioned whether technology really enables close relationships. In other words, technology helps communicate and stay in contact with larger numbers of people, but to be close “you really do need to be touchy-feely with people.”

What social networking sites do help with is “less-close friendships and acquaintances,” those “at the outer edges of your friend group…people who you don’t talk to regularly…but your likely to swap tales, or more, should your paths cross…you have a history.”

The Dunbar 150 limit on effective social interactions seems more limited to a time when people were less mobile and were confined to a single village or a lifetime job. “But modern man moves among several groups in a fragmented world.” New ranges for maintaining effective relationships are between 100 to 300.

In the end, while cheap and readily available communication can “enrich your life wih more contacts,” real relationships require more than just communication, such as mutual investments of time, giving (sacrifice), trust, and respect to name a few,

Clearly, a large undertaking like building and maintaining an enterprise architecture (that influences organization-wide decision-making, serves as a true planning mechanism, and is utilized for IT governance, cannot be done by a single architect or by a staff of architects. It is an endeavor that requires outreach and communication up and down and across the organization as well as reaching outside for best-practices and looking at market trends. To build an EA for large organization, I think the Dunbar 150 may be a limit easily exceedable by a good chief enterprise architect.

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