Turns out we’re hardwired to get along best in tight groups of no more than 150, and have been since we were living on the African savannah. Armies take advantage of this hardwiring, as do the smartest corporations, not to mention wedding planners.
Dunbar’s research looked at relationships among primates and didn’t take into account loose ties or electronically mediated & enhanced communications. It is not a fair comparison. But Taylor’s words on Tribalism triggered an old connection for me:
A study released this month shows that digital tribalism is alive and well in the social network era. The tribes I’m talking about aren’t nations, corporations or sports teams, though clearly these brands all matter as much as they ever did.
I’m talking literally about tribes — as in the kind of village-sized small groups most of us lived among for nearly all of human history, right up until the 20th century. Small groups that we now seem to be organizing ourselves into again — virtually.
A few years ago I came across a framework of our four primary historical modes of organizing – Tribal; Institutional; Markets; Networks. The TIMN framework shows how we have evolved as a society. It has not been a clean progression from one mode to the next but rather the new form built-upon and changed the previous mode.
A key point of this framework is that Tribes exist within Institutions, Markets AND Networks. We never lose our affinity for community groups or family, but each mode brings new factors that influence our previous modes. So yes, tribalism is alive and well in online social networks. It’s just not the same tribalism of several hundred years ago.
We are in a transition from a market to network-dominated society, and according to David Ronfeldt, each transition has its hazards. While tribal societies may result in nepotism, networked societies can lead to deception, as Mashable itself has reported. It’s interesting that tribes of hackers are a potential counter to network deception.
Ronfeldt states that the initial tribal form informs the other modes and can have a profound influence as they evolve.
Balanced combination is apparently imperative: Each form (and its realm) builds on its predecessor(s). In the progression from T through T+I+M+N, the rise of a new form depends on the successes (and failures) achieved through the earlier forms. For a society to progress optimally through the addition of new forms, no single form should be allowed to dominate any other, and none should be suppressed or eliminated. A society’s potential to function well at a given stage, and to evolve to a higher level of complexity, depends on its ability to integrate these inherently contradictory forms into a well-functioning whole. A society can constrain its prospects for evolutionary growth by elevating a single form to primacy — as appears to be a tendency at times in market-mad America.
So tribes are not dead, and neither are institutions and markets, in a networked society. We need to understand all four modes as we make the current transition. Saying that tribes render social networks useless after 150 connections is a bit trite. The real work is in figuring out how best to create organizations, and societies, that balance combinations of all four modes, emphasize their bright sides and remain in perpetual Beta [what Ronfeldt calls incomplete adaptation].
The TIMN framework is very useful for having deeper conversations and increasing our understanding of what we’re going through as a society. It should be required reading for organizational leaders and politicians as well.