Wired for 150

Primates have huge brains.  And one part of the brain, the neocortex, is remarkably larger in primates than in every other mammal.  The neocortex handles complex thought and reasoning.

The neocortex as a percent of total brain volume varies widely, even among primates.  For a while, it was thought that that was because some primates were just “smarter” than others, or the ones who had learned to use tools had developed that part of their brain.  It turns out that the proportionate size of the neocortex is most closely correlated with the number of other primates you know personally.

Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist and evolutionary biologist postulates that because managing relationships is an extremely complex skill, the larger the group you live in, the larger the neocortex you require.  Think about it – if you are in a group of 4, you have 6 relationships to keep track of: the 3 you have with the others, and the 3 they have with each other.  If you live in a group of 20, there are 190.  So Mr. Dunbar crunched some numbers, and it turned out he’s right – for 38 types of primates, there is a high degree of alignment between the “neocortex ratio” and the size of communities those species tended to form.

So what happens when you run the neocortex ratio on Homo sapiens?  You get 147.8, which is commonly rounded to 150 and called, “Dunbar’s Number.”  There are plenty of examples where this has proven out – the size of prehistoric villages and primitive, remote villages today.  The Hutterites religious sect splits its communities when they reach 150.  Gore Associates, the company that makes Gore-Tex, always builds a new plant when the employees in one get to 150.  None of these things happen because they read about the Dunbar Number, it just “feels” right.

Up to 150 people, you can know everyone in the group, and even have a pretty good idea about how each of them feels about the others.  Beyond that, it’s too much, so people develop smaller groups — they become literally divisive.

So, shoot for 150 regular customers when you plan your bar.  If you start to get more than that, either make the club more exclusive, or open another location.



Selling Out

Over at Web 2.0h…really? today, I saw a post about a new service called Salesconx. It is an online marketplace for personal introductions. People buy and sell their friendships and business relationships for anywhere from dozens to hundreds of dollars. Let’s say that you know the VP of HR at a large company, and that that person is (inexplicably) willing to let you introduce them to random salespeople. Someone who sells employee management software might be willing to pay you $50 or $100 for you to set up a meeting with that VP.

Let’s leave the morals, ethics and viability of this concept alone for the moment – it is discussed intelligently at Web 2.0h…really. My question is, why not go to the next step? Instead of providing a forum for people to pimp out their friends, why not let people pimp out themselves?

Attention all salespeople: I’ll sit still and listen to you for 30 minutes if you pay me $100! Or you can take advantage of the weekly special and get a full hour for $175!

I’m semi-serious about this. Marketers pay a lot of money to get their message in front of the right people. BMW pays millions to try and influence only a small percentage of the total population that could realistically afford their products. Multi-tactic marketing campaigns, like the ones I’ve run for big-ticket software applications, can easily mount up to dozens or hundreds of dollars per qualified lead. If someone who had the Need, Authority, Timing, and Budget for my product offered to sit with one of my salespeople for an hour, I’d gladly pay $175 for that privilege!

As a matter of fact, marketers regularly do just that at various executive conferences hosted by the likes of Gartner. The way those events work is, Gartner invites various qualified executive decision makers to a conference where they will learn things valuable to their jobs, often actually paying for them to come. Then Gartner sells sponsorship opportunities to vendors who would like to sell stuff to these executives, and as part of the sponsorship, they promise you a certain number of private meetings with the executives. So Gartner is effectively taking the vendors’ money, then using it to bribe the executives (with a free trip to a conference at a luxury resort) to spend time with the vendors. One event Maximizer took part in, back when I worked there, cost $10,000 and got us a dozen or so private meetings. That’s significantly more than $175 per prospect.

How is that different from Salesconx? All Salesconx does it take out the Gartner middleman and replace it with some guy selling his relationships. And my scheme removes the middleman completely! Someone write up a business plan for this and I’ll split the first year revenues with ya’.