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

This series will go through human science regarding problem-solving. As you have noticed, even if we have taken our evolutionary prerequisites into account, we have not discussed any details about team size, the teams’ location, architecture, etc. so far, but soon we will have some more knowledge about that 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 also some laws and other common knowledge that we also need to consider 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. Roughly 150 is also mentioned as the number of progeny 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 [3](1956): The number of objects an average human can hold in working memory (part of the short-term memory) is 7+- 2. Later research is now pointing to even lower values, maybe 4, or only 3 objects [4]. 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) [5] (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 [6](1967): “organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.”

Chinese whispers [7] (1964): 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 [8] and his concept “Flow”, which we have when we are performing at our best, without distractions. Added can also be Hermann Ebinghaus’ [9] research and his coined term “Serial Position Effect”, showing that we recall early and end list items easier then the middle ones.

“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.

Visualisation (ancient): 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; organisation charts, architectures, work-breakdown structures, time plans, tables, drawings, diagrams, pictures etc. are needed as a complement to text, otherwise we will get massive misunderstandings.

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 oneselves 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.


*diversity must always be considered when putting teams together.

[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] Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Rouder et al, “An assessment of fixed-capacity models of visual working memory”. Link copied 2019-02-07.

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

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

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

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

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

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