Human science, laws and common sense to fully secure our set of principles – part 1/2

This series will go through human science we need to follow when we are building our way of working (including the people structures). As you have noticed, even if we have taken our evolutionary prerequisites into account, we have not discussed any details about our cognitive capacity limitations (constraints) like team size, the teams’ location, architecture, etc. so far, but soon we will have that needed anthropological knowledge regarding human limitations too.

So, now we will dig deeper into some body of knowledge from human science, which gives us necessary information about of our cognitive abilities and how we can reduce complexity, that we of course need to take into account for our set of principles. There are of course also a lot of common sense like the need of reducing complicatedness with visualization and to remember things; maps, line hierarchy structures, architectures, time plans, delivery plans, work structures, etc. – they are all examples of artifacts that can be divided into parts and aggregated to a whole. But, some of the are complex to make, where for example an architecture artifact is the result of a systems design where the transdisciplinary complexity/ complicatedness has been reduced. Other common senses are; that we humans have limits about how much we can learn, that we will forget things over time if we are not using information or our physical abilities that work the same with muscle memory, that redundancy is important – but everybody does not need to know everything, common vocabulary important to be able to communicate, etc. Regarding common vocabulary, it is important to have generalising (transdisciplinary) specialists in an organisation’s competence bank, since they can enable groups to find a common language, and by this create coherence across fields. There are other common senses that are also on a more heuristic level, see this blog post series about common senses, also including common senses when scaling.

Here are some scientific laws regarding our cognitive capacity limitations, and some explanations of common senses, which we always need to fulfil for a flourishing organisation’s way of working.

Dunbar’s number [1] (1992): The average number of individuals* with whom a stable inter-personal (social) relationship can be maintained is 150. Another way to put it is; the maximum number of people that we can remember name and face on and how they relate to all other persons. Roughly 150** is also mentioned as the number of progenies that can be expected in a hunter-gather community over four generations, where it is not far away to draw the conclusion, that this may be the reason for our social ability according to Dunbar’s number.

The number 15 (30 initially) [2]: From anthropology relating to natural levels of deep trust, but also matches sympathy group size, we have the number 15.

Miller’s magical number seven (1956) [3]: The number of objects an average human can hold in working memory (part of the short-term memory) is 7+- 2. There is continuous research to understand the underlaying mechanisms in the brain [4], and newer research is now pointing to even lower values, maybe 4, or only 3 objects [5]. Context and domain need definitely to be taken in consideration, and when dealing with complex activities, even further research, most probably with connections to Miller’s magical number seven, shows that not more than one complex activity at a time should be handled due to the big loss of time when changing complex activities; task switch time 20% between complex activities, with up to 27 min setup time.

Ringlemann effect (social loafing) [6] (1913): A collective group performance required less effort by individuals compared to the sum of their individual efforts. Social loafing is less common for unique subtasks, a part of the solution of the total group task.

Conway’s law (1967) [7]: “organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.”

Chinese whispers [8] (1964), or more generally, the unreliability of typical human recollection: The distortion of information, by mistake or by intermediate levels, filtering the information throughout the organisation. Strongly connected to Miller’s magical number seven, and also research by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [9] and his concept “Flow”, which we have when we are performing at our best, without distractions. Added can also be Hermann Ebbinghaus’s [10] research and his coined term, Serial-position effect [11], showing that we recall early (primacy effect) and end (recency effect) list items easier than the middle ones. The primacy effect means that the long-term memory function is in use.

“Go and See” (from Toyota Production System), “Genchi Genbutsu” in Japanese, is also very good for reducing intermediate levels, that is distorting the information for higher management.

Here are also some of the common senses mentioned above:

Respect for people.

We need a common vocabulary.

Visualisation and keeping track of information (known since ancient times): A picture is better than 1000 words. To make common documentation visible, transparent and easy to access. But, also a necessity for us humans when we are reducing complexity; maps, organisation charts, architectures, work-breakdown structures, time plans, tables, drawings, diagrams, pictures etc. are needed as a complement to text. This is common sense, since otherwise we will get massive misunderstandings, and neither be able to reduce the complexity, nor keep track of the complicatedness, that is needed in order to make complicated products; buildings, bridges, hardware, software, etc., and later produce in a clear way.

We need to respect our people. People in the organisation are no machines and must be treated as the humans we are, which many of Deming’s quotes circulate around. If there is not respect, the symptoms will be endless with low motivation and “no care” mentality, since there is no possibility to change one self’s own situation and no way to influence the organisation (the system) to become better.

I will leave the elaboration of the above information until tomorrow’s blog post, so I am sure you have the time to digest also all the references ;-).

Cu soon.


*Do not forget about the diversity when putting teams together.

**150 is the maximum number and requires a continuous social grooming, otherwise the size of this number will be reduced [1].


[1] Dunbar, Robin. Link copied 2018-09-14.

[2] Snowden, Dave. Link to blog post copied 2018-09-14.

[3] The magical number seven. Link copied 2021-10-25.
The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two – Wikipedia

[4] PMC – US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Timothy J. Buschman, Markus Siegel, Jefferson E. Roy and Earl K. Miller, “Neural substrates of cognitive capacity limitations”. Link copied 2022-03-13.
Neural substrates of cognitive capacity limitations (

[5] PNC – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Jeffrey N. Rouder, Richard D. MoreyNelson Cowan, and Michael S. Pratte, “An assessment of fixed-capacity models of visual working memory”. Link copied 2019-02-07.

[6] Ringlemann, Max. Link copied 2018-09-14.

[7] Conway, Melvin. Link copied 2018-09-14.

[8] Chinese whispers. Link copied 2018-09-14.

[9] Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Wikipedia. Link copied 2019-02-08.

[10] Ebbinghaus, Hermann. Wikipedia. Link copied 2019-02-08.

[11] Wikipedia. Serial-position effect. Link copied 2019-02-08.
Serial-position effect

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