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    Your 735 Facebook friends? They're probably not.

    I've written before on the blog about the famous 'Dunbar's Number', from the seminal piece of research by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar that theorized that the number of stable, close social relationships, (typically what we'd call 'friendship'), that humans can sustain at any given time is about 150.

    In the old post I referenced some additional academic research that suggested that even with the ubiquity, popularity, and increasing familiarity with the concepts of online social networking, that Dunbar's number still more of less holds.  Or said differently, no matter how many 'friends' you make on social networking sites, unalterable things like brain size and the human capacity to form and maintain relationships have not changed, even though your 903 Instagram followers suggest otherwise.

    But better than taking my word for it, or reading through a tedious academic research paper, check a recent, short interview with Robin Dunbar himself, that plainly re-states what I know you know is true - no matter how large our social connections grow, we can't truly expand significantly the number of stable relationships that can be maintained.

    From the interview on the Technology Review blog:

    Q. You famously posited that humans have the cognitive capacity to maintain about 150 stable social relationships. How have tools such as Facebook changed our capacity to handle social connections?

    Dunbar: Apparently not at all. It is important to remember that the 150 is just one layer in a series of layers of acquaintanceship within which we sit. Beyond the 150 are at least two further layers (one at 500 and one at 1,500), which correspond to acquaintances (people we have a nodding acquaintance with) and faces we recognize.

    All that seems to be happening when people add more than 150 friends on Facebook is that they simply dip into these normal higher layers. If you like, Facebook has muddied the waters by calling them all friends, but really they are not. (emphasis mine).

    This isn't to say that social-networking services don't serve a useful function in facilitating our interactions with our "friends," but what they don't seem to do is allow us to increase the number of true friends.

    So what, you might be thinking. We inherently know, no matter how many hundreds or thousands of social connections we make, with whom we want to or even have the capacity to maintain close, stable relationships with, the kind of relationships that Dunbar's number suggests max out at about 150.

    And that may be entirely true. But as the lines between personal and professional networking and relationships are almost completely gone for many people in their use of social networks like Facebook, I wonder if we are slowly starting to lose the capacity to distinguish the differences. 

    Google+, and to a lesser extent Facebook, do offer tools to help us sort and categorize these relationships into buckets or groups, but for the few people that seem to bother to attempt this kind of stratification of potentially thousands of contacts, the effort almost seems overwhelming. So, eventually everyone ends up in the same bucket, something that we continue to erroneously call 'friends'.

    Will there be, eventually, a kind of kickback effect, i.e., will we start seeing more people actively looking to reduce the number of their connections and even the time they spend cultivating and maintaining these ever-growing, (and demanding) networks?

    So far the answer to that seems like no, but if more people come to conclude that all the time, effort, and energy spent online doesn't actually add to your capacity to form and maintain additional meaningful relationships, then perhaps we will one day arrive at a place where one's Klout score begins to diminish with each 'friend' added over 150. 

    If that were to happen, then maybe 150 would become the new 10,000.


    Pass it on: Connecting Engagement, Community, and Results

    Earlier in the week I co-presented along with Trish McFarlane on how HR and leaders can use social tools and technologies to empower their organizations and engage employees, (because you know 'empowerment' and 'engagement' are important buzzwords). Kidding aside, we do have continuing evidence, even if it is mostly observational and anecdotal, that connecting people to each other, creating environments where they are free and also challenged to collaborate, and linking these efforts to greater organizational and/or personal goals are likely to lead to increased capability, engagement, and (trust me), operational results.

    One of the examples we used in the presentation, and that I'd like to highlight here, is global financial giant Aon's 'Pass it On' program. The program, (home page screen shot below), is described in Aon's words as:

    A multi-faceted, global program that combines elements of employee engagement, community service and client partnerships to demonstrate to the world how Aon's 60,000 colleagues in over 120 countries focus every day on empowering results for their clients and communities.

    The program also leveraged Aon's jersey sponsorship and relationship with world famous football power Manchester United, in an interesting 'pass it on' project, where three Man United footballs were 'passed' around the world amongst Aon's offices and where local Aon employees recorded videos documenting the ball's journeys throughout the world, (one example is below, email and RSS subscribers need to click through)

    Sure, Aon is a huge corporation, and has obviously poured pretty significant resources into the Pass it On project, but I think there are some simple and repeatable lessons that smaller companies can learn from this project.  One, is to connect an employee engagement initiative to the organization's external and perhaps better known market persona. Next, the introduction of a contest across the Aon regions played into the competitive nature of Aon employees and drove participation. Last, the awarding of the winner's prize of $10,000 to be donated to a charity of the winning team's choice further enhanced the value of the program and better connected local Aon offices to their local communities.

    Finally, I was just glad we found an example to talk about in our session that wasn't Zappos or Google or LinkedIn.

    Finally, finally - the link to Trish and my presentation is here.


    How's your network with talented middle school kids?

    The most interesting piece of news from the most cutthroat, vicious, win-at-all-costs recruiting niche in the world - no I'm not talking about the market for hotshot Silicon Valley techies, but rather top-flight scholastic football players that just like the rockstar coders, typically have their choice of fantastic options to pursue, will probably surprise and maybe disgust you.

    Here it is:

    Lousiana State University offers scholarship to promising 8th grader. From the ESPN piece:

    Last week, a hopeful prospect showed up at LSU's July football camp. He posted an impressive 4.46 40-yard dash, and he earned a scholarship offer from the Tigers' coaching staff for his efforts.

    It's a scene that plays out on college campuses every single summer, although this offer was different for one main reason -- Dylan Moses has yet to start eighth grade.
    Considering the Tigers are only just starting to hand out offers to members of the Class of 2014, it came as a bit surprise for a 2017 prospect to get one.

    Nice. Or a little unsettling depending on your point of view. LSU is a consisent national title contender, and plays in the most competitive and most talented football league in the country. They're one of the top organizations in an incredibly challenging market, and one where the difference between exceptional and average is often decided by the outcomes of one or two games. An environment where finding, recruiting, acquiring, and developing talent is the most important differentiator between success and failure.

    Perhaps, at some level, similar to the environment in which your organization operates and competes.

    The question I think the LSU recruiting the 8th grade athlete story raises for the rest of us isn't if is it proper or ethical for LSU to start the hard sell in middle schools, but rather one that challenges our own commitment to acquiring the best talent possible in our organizations.

    LSU is willing, for better or worse, to compete for talent at the highest levels, with the highest stakes, and for them, at least in this example, that means doing things that seem out of the ordinary, and taking actions that many of their competitors might shy away from.

    Is it wrong? Does it cross some kind of line? 


    But ask yourself - if you are one of the many companies that is having trouble finding that rare talent you need, are you doing whatever it takes to land the talent you seek?

    Are you?


    The more you Tweet, the more I'll know you're about to quit

    Check out the findings from a very cool study out of the University of Rochester, (hey, that's where I live), designed to assess whether or not researchers could accurately predict whether or not a given individual in New York City would come down with the flu based on analyses of geo-location tagged tweets.Adam Sadilek, University of Rochester

    Essentially, the answer was yes, that when applying a sophisticated machine-learning algorithm to over 4 million tweets, from over 600,000 users over a one-month period, the researchers were able to predict when healthy people were about to fall ill - and then tweet about it - with about 90 per cent accuracy out to eight days in the future.

    From the New Scientist piece summarizing the study findings: 

    If you've been walking around a public place lately, you've come in contact with a lot of people. Some of those people may have been sick. And if you've been hanging around enough of them as they cough and sneeze, then you might be about to get sick too.

    That may sound obvious, but Adam Sadilek at the University of Rochester in New York and colleagues have applied the idea to a pile of Twitter data from people in New York City, and found that they can predict when an individual person will come down with the flu up to eight days before they show symptoms.

    Makes perfect sense right?

    If you happen to go to enough places where other sick people have been, the chances increase that you'll get sick as well. And in the social media age, with our insatiable appetite to share the mundane and pedestrian developments in our lives with the entire universe, 'OMG, I feel so terrible today. I just want to crawl back under the covers' as you check-in on Foursquare, smart machines can mine that data, compare it to actions of the next batch of (for the moment), healthy people, and offer really informed predictions about the likelihood of who will fall ill next. Thanks for speading your disgusting germs all over town by the way.

    Taking the premise and approach from the UofR (that is a well-known shortener for the University of Rochester up here), to additional and logical ends, then it certainly seems possible, and probable, that soon we'll have smart machines that will be able to examine the social network signals to predict all kinds of likely actions and behaviors.

    It used to be a dead giveaway in offices when a colleague had a job interview somewhere else - he or she would suddenly show up to work dressed impeccably - new suit, new shoes, hair just right, etc. That signal, (while still solid), morphed to the digital age in the form of the LinkedIn profile update. Hmm. Why did Joe just update his profile and add a picture after all these years? What's he up to?

    But the showing up in a new suit at work, or even the LinkedIn update are behaviors four, five, or six steps removed from whatever initial signals someone might take who is thinking of a career move. That new suit had to come from somewhere? Did Joe check in at the local Jos. A Bank in the last two weeks?

    That LinkedIn profile update? Was that preceded by joining a few new groups, or connecting to a few new people? Did some Facebook pictures from the last company picnic, taken after perhaps a few too many PBRs were consumed, suddenly disappear?

    Truth is, whether used for predicting who next will get the flu, or who might be giving their 2 weeks notice on Monday - increasingly the clues are out there - in a string of Tweets, check-ins, status updates, and the like. 

    As we continue to live our lives online, and on display, the signals we send as to what we really have in mind, and our devious little plans will become more and more discoverable.

    Eventually, we'll know even more about each other. Not just what we have been doing, but what we are about to do next.

    Happy Monday everyone!


    VIDEO: Rebranding Diversity

    We love, love the employee referral as a source of finding that next great hire.

    We've heard the reasons a million times why referrals are such a great source of new talent.  Namely that existing employees are the ones that truly understand the culture and the work, so they are able to know who in their networks would be a fit. The people they are referring in to the company are usually friends or close business acquaintances, and the employee will want them to succeed and as such, will make more careful referral decisions. Finally, the referrals themselves and how they perform if hired, are a reflection on the judgement of the referring employee, again underscoring the motivation of the employee to make good referrals.

    All solid, probably valid reasons. The sometimes considered downside of relying too heavily on the employee referral source? That the organization continues to bring in people too similar to the people it already has in place. That a kind of circular process of hiring people from the same backgrounds, locations, or general sets of experiences takes hold, since, it is often thought, existing employees tend to refer in people that are kind of like themselves. They think, logically I suppose, 'I'm doing pretty well here, and Joe Boggs is just like me, so I be he'll succeed here too.'

    While that kind of potential detrimental effect of too-heavy a reliance on referral programs is commonly explained or rationalized away by statements like, 'Our employee population is very diverse, as long as we are sourcing referrals from a large cross-section of staff, we will not have a problem at all', still it seems like the kind of potential negative effect that can end up causing real, long-term problems for firms, and even entire industries.

    But don't take my word for it, spend some time this weekend watching the video below, (email and RSS subscribes click through), titled 'Rebranding Diversity: Colorblind Racism Inside the U.S. Advertising Industry', a presentation overview of the doctoral dissertation of Christopher Boulton. 

    Doctoral Defense from Christopher Boulton on Vimeo.


    In the video, Boulton examined the perceived and observed lack of diversity at the executive levels of the U.S. Ad industry, offers some recommendations for the industry to begin to make the kinds of changes needed to address this problem. Chief among Boulton's recommendations is to significantly reduce the importance and use of various employee referral schemes that have, over time, continued to foster a climate that lacks diversity, particularly in the managerial and executive ranks.

    Certainly the use of employee referral schemes was not the sole reason for Boulton's overall findings, but these programs, and how they were administered were definitely a contributing factors. The study presents a good reminder that even the best-intentioned plans can sometimes have negative consequences, and that we need to regularly validate our gut feelings with some solid data.

    Have a Great Weekend!