Group Structures and Population Clusters

How do teams form groups and groups form networks and how do networks settle in regions, ecosystems, cities and neighborhoods. And what does it mean to have 7.5 Billion humans on earth?
In the Numbers Series I am looking to find meaning in numbers. What is a million? What is a thousand? What is a billion?
Group structures and population clusters looks at group formations. Starting from how how team structures are used to build large organizations and how Dunbar’s theory of cognitive capacity to manage cohesions in group sizes, I look at some numbers in the context of population economics and group structures.

Work in progress

How can you picture 1 million people? Well, 50.000 people fit into a football stdium. So 20 foot football stadiums. But what are 100 million people? Well, that is 2000 football stadiums. How do 2000 footbal stadiums look like? Well, it is a ocea cruise ship where all passengers are footbal stadiums. Aaah. And 7.5 Billion people? Well, that is 75 such cruise ships. SO essentially a parent teacher conference of a large class filled with cruise ships that carry 2000 football stadiums full of 50.000 people. Aah.

Hierarchies. A look at military organization,

What is a better entry point into looking at numbers in human organization than the military design. Building scaled – in numbers -, cohesive and top-down directable groups of humans was and is a critical skill that any army needs to master to win a war or just fade. And anyone interested in the subject will see similar patterns of numbers appear.

  • Optimal team sized range from 3-5
  • Combining teams into a higher unit creates an overhead
  • The Dunbar circle pattern (see below) somehow emerges

The interesting part of military organization is that it creates organizations that work. They are purpose aligned, goal-driven and doing so are effective under highest level of cortisol and stress. They are not naturally inspiring and support fun and self-actualization of all individuals, but they get the job done.

Despite being so simple and well studied, they are a bit mor complex in the why and how. While when looking at city designs and growth the question „what cannot be missed for the group to miss something“ principle, but what governance and structure drives a metric.

Group Sizes and Chains of Command

So yes, in this model the smallest unit is a team of 4, the squad. One leader, 3 operational specialists forming a team. Likely a defense player, an offense player and a variable. A good team of four. And usually in all cases, the squadron should remain and be in shouting distance.

A level higher, when combining squads, you are looking at a 10 people team called Section. Instead of just looking at 2 squadrons and having 8 people form a section, there are 2 more added. Because you still want a highly effective squadron of 4, but need to coordinate the two. That adds one communication need. There might also be a doctor in the battle field. Or someone communicating outside of the section into the Platoon or eve to the Batallion leadership. WIth the Section, you have two shouting distance teams and you can attach an enemy from two sides.

Now 3 sections form a platoon. Which is interesting in its own respect again, because no no additional overhead. With 3 x 2 x 4, we now have 24 operational attack forces on the ground, capable of forming 6 shouting distance teams and – oh wonder – having 6 more overhead units for communication and alignment. Wonderful. And 30 people typically can be hosted by any form of village with more than 500 residents. The supply logistic is still okay allowing independent off-site deployment.

With 4 platoons we get a company. That is roughly 100 attack forces, capable of forming 24 teams, or 12 sections. You can do quite some damage with such units. But then, the supply logistic problem starts. That is why you need an additional 6 overheads. One looking for food and one looking for shelter. One coordinating troop movements. Etc. And the whole thing is deployed for shorter periods of time.

6 companies now are a Batallion and have around 600 attack forces. That is enough to fight efficiently against troops of a small country if used skillfully. And it can do a great amount of damange or monitoring. So this is a more permanent, but still tactical deployment unit that essentially requires the logistic capacity of shipping an entire village of soldiers around. Add the wives and kids, you look at 2000 heads to be shipped around. So you only fit into a town. Or you are your own small town. But then you have no hair dressers, no bakers, etc. Things get messy. And it raises the question on how to design city-like communities. How does the numbers game work there?

Cities. Bottom up communities.

Looking up the definition of cities, we again find numbers that somehow remind us of Dunbar circles. Team sizes and relationships obviously matter. To understand the emergence of residential structures from hamlets to metropolis, one has to always ask „at what size do we need something more overhead, or the structure breaks down“.

Growing structure

Above we start with a family. A simple family or household living in nowhere has a lot of problems. Sanitation, water and food supply, energy and heating. Kind of annoying all alone. WHich is why smallest settlements typically do not survive at that scale but need 4-5 households. Those are called dwellings. One household gets wood. One gets deer. And one shuffels the poop away. Already three households.

Things get more interesting however when looking at a hamlet, or a group of 150 people. In Dunbars framework, the connectivity and relationship levels here cooled down already. Everybody still knows everybody else. There is a lot of wood, poop and deer transported so there must be basic streets and infrastructure. And not everybody wants to drive 50 miles to the next town to get supplies, which is why new folks emerge that create grocery stores. And of course in 2019, someone still opens a gas station. And because winters are long and kids exhausting, there is going to be a bar. Because some people don’T oversize their houses but they will get visitors, there will be a pension or hotel. Quite simple. You look at a typical Western movie community. Or you look at a small neighborhood in a city in the sense that Jane Jacobs describes them.

Now ten hamlets start to form a village. We talk 1500 people already. If 20% are under working age, we have 300 school children that need to be taken care of. If 10% are beyond working age, we have 150 people who need care and possibly gardens. We have remaining 1050 people half of which want to buy groceries on at least weekly basis, another 50% might want to go out on the weekend. And everybody wants a haircut. And everybody wants to be able to receive and send mail. You can run a lot of numbers around those assumptions and add a bank to it. You might not have 10 gas stations yet, but you will have main road and smaller side neighborhoods. And there will be a wealth divide. And very likely there will be a church or spiritual center, a cultural center and people will meet and organize basic community events and government activities. And just by this you get distributions of reasonable number of administrative, education and groceries and retail businesses and banks. And you have a capacity of people able to perform tasks for industrial, agricultural and other forms of production and service activity. That is a village.

Now 10 – 15 villages form a town. School kids now are in the thousands and it makes sense to have a full stack from primary to tertiary education. Lots of churches. A place for social outcasts maybe. A psychiatry and a hospital. Definitely a professional fire fighting squadron. Lots of gas stations and with enough talent pool tied to the place, local businesses will emerge and flourish. Because people are lazy and if they can stay in the village instead of commuting, they will likely do so if the job is stable and secure. We look at structures of 20.000 people. And we realize it is impossible from Dunbar perspective that people meet. There must be hierarchies that create the commons and government. And agency and elections become a topic. Coordinating wants and needs of 20.000 people requires funds. Hence there should be taxes. And with taxes and budget, there will be regulation and administrative orders that put common interest above the individual interest. And so forth.

Adding governance. The idea is always. You geographically combine smaller units, and they start to be co-dependent and influence each other and the relationship levels of people increases, hence a structure forms that requires coordination and agency and support and needs to bear financial structures that facilitate the community. The base units of community at larger scales are limited in # of people that can reasonably meet and greet and groom each other which is why the concept of a neighborhood or a size of 150 people is so important. The connection of higher structures with up to millions of people must go down to the neighborhood level and the entire chain lives from activism and social participation on this level. To not break the chain is vital for ensuring representation. And to avoid nepotism and elite thinking along the line, but cultivating the concept of public service is crucial in making the structure resilient to adverse interests and corruption. The social oversight becomes an issue and is why groups such as fire fighters, teachers and educators, police forces, hospital administrators and so forth need to participate in the local governance systems. They create the checks and balances and transparency around action that need to be there to have a fair system. The fairer the system, the more likely it is accepted and parcipation and service orientation lasts.

Relationships and personal networks in cities. Which then again, asks what does community mean? In families or households you endure each other every day for several hours Your direct neighbors or those part of your dwelling, you run into each other several times a week and you greet each other, and observe each other and have opinions about each other and even might share dinners with each other. Then there is the hamlet, the very close community that creates weekly routine. The people you meet at church. The people you meet at the supermarket. At the bar. At the hairdresser. The people you run into at least once a month and several times a quarter. You know their haircut. You know their marital status. You might even know their biography to some extent. And almost surely are there 5 – 15 people that actively talk about things all the time and organize events and help everyone stay connected. If there is collective decision making, it is informal and friendly. Like in Hollywood Movies. WIth occasional neighbor wars.
Once the structure goes to village, town and city level, the Dunbar circles do no longer produce around local vicinity. Your work place might be in another part of town and of the 50 circle, 20% might now be co-workers. 20% might still be school friends living in the same city from your original neighborhood school district. 20% might be actual neighbors and community members. But the concept of a hamlet sized structure and relationship proximity breaks down in the direct vicinity. Trans-neighborhood networks and communities start to emerge. As long as transportation networks, commutes and distirbution of meeting places facilitate the building of Dunbar-50 circle relationships.
In any case, larger cities with good transportation increase the mingling of equals and proximite characters of similar social, cultural and other identity which may people pursue more individualistic career and personal development models. Artists emerge. World class academics. Entrepreneur communities, lifestyle cults, crime syndicates.

How are cities constructing towards larger entities

SAFe. Scaled Development Organizations

Scaled Agile Framework for enterprises (SAFe) is a modern alternative to large scale scrum and build a structure similar to a city. The smallest group being a development team or two with a scrum master and product owner running sprints to develop stories of the teams backlog and operating a kanban over different sprints. The team size is 5 to 11.

At the level 2, the team of teams level, 5 – 11 (dunbar 5 – dunbar 15) teams are combined to execute a program. Now a project manager is looking at which programs to look at, which are summarized as epics and which are found in the program backlog. Everything is then distributed to the teams. With 11 times 11 people in such a program, we talk 121 people (Dunbar 150).

Up to 5 of such program units can now form a solutions unit, a unit which now can mount up to 500 people (Dunbar 500) and which combine epics into features. Features being connected to solving customer problems and having an ROI case behind it. Business owners or financial stakeholders of the solution are involved and the customer can be directly involved in this process.

And finally, the solution portfolio level scales up to 1200 people (2-3 programs) to form a whole regiment of develoers. An enterprise can then have multiple such portfolio level teams that run in parallel to get infinite scale.

The concept is obviously imitating the layering and adding administrative items concept of a hierarchical organization similar to that of the military organization or the city. Depending on the flavoring. And it is a bottom-up model.


The neurophysiology of group sizes

Dunbars Numbers

Robin Dunbar studied how the time we need to nurture relationships and our mental capacity to process memories and relationships creates circles of trust and network strength. The concept is related to both the above military organization models as well as to how we can understand neighborhoods and communities. And it is used in the Stanford Blitzscaling class.

Must read from Robin Dunbar
Blitzscaling Class (Stanford and Greylock)

Drilling down on the world population

So now coming from bottom up, what can we do top down? With 7.7 billion humans living on earth. What does that all mean? 4.4 billion have internet access.

The top 150 cities in the world host 1.1 billion people. There are 33 cities with 10 million residents or more, hosting 530 million people. And 4,070 cities with residents north of 100,000 residents. Cities from 1 milion to 10 milion, we have 514 and they host 1.2 billion people. 2.4 billion live in cities that are smaller than 1 million. And 3.4 bilion live in villages.

What does that all mean?

Distribution of world population by type of city

Geopolitics in the age of Super Clusters?

Mixing the network society (Manuel Castell) with World System Theory (Immanuel Wallerstein) and taking cities more serious than nations as drivers of economic power (Jane Jacobs), one can use city data and culturo-national clustering to define a new Brzenziskian chessboard of geo-economic and geo-political activity in the 21st century and use this to break down the world into regions. The assumption is then that a majority of the society finds itself competing and growing in influence and power against other people in those regions. This is what stands behind the following model.

People and Households in Geo-Economic Clusters based on population of top 150 cities.

If one applies a 0.05% Rule claiming that 80% of assets are controlled by 0.05% of population in each cluster and we look at households, then 37,000 Households hold excessive assets and financial influence in the Western Suprecluster. 85.000 in the APAC supercluster. Surprisingly, the Russia cluster comprises only 4,000 families. Are such estimations correct? Maybe. But it puts into perspective how wealth and ifluence may reproduce. And it shows that the size of these elite clusters are limited enough to allow and foster collaboration in some sub-clusters.

But why this form of clustering? The concept is that of hubs and centers dominating their networks in a world system theory fashion. And that cities as major areas with high transaction and interaction levels of the population are likely more influential hubs than villages. Hence the city and larger cities matter topic. This falls into the description of e.g. financial hubs in Castells work, as well as modern innovation hubs concepts or industrial and service hubs or trade and global manufacturing hubs.

Beyond that, the geographic, national-economic, supply-chain and cultural connections and divides and the geopolitical doctrines and power spheres have an impact on the connectivity of regions. Which is why adding Brzezinski and some cultural aspects may mae sense.

The reasoning is simple: You abandon the nationalist view on the economy, and look at networks of big cities to understand economic forces. Economy as a networks and city networks in which networks of business networks are settling, Mixing back some Brzezinski-like thoughts on geo-political, geo-cultural spheres of influence and defining regional clusters by again mapping countries to geopolitical regions, you get the APAC, Westerners, Arab, Indus, South American and Russian Supercluster. Given that there is a sufficient political nepotism in and rivalry between those culturally isolated or membranized clusters, this could be an economic battlefield for the years to come.

The reasonabilty is a bit more tricky. Are such isolated networks plausible? Yes and no. If elites are friendly and diplomatic, the clusters should enjoy free trade. But the interest of elites to prevent people lower in income from participating in the benefits of this global scale trade will possible lead to increased tensions between the blocks at the lower level.

Urbanization Measures

Cities exist for several reasons. Some are cultural hubs and attraction centers of talent. Some are special purpose cities that do one thjing very well and sell to the entire globe. #specializedcities And some others are a room for education, relaxation and growth.

Really Big Cities

Logistics issues in big cities

Some cities are just really big (above). They are „impossible“ in the purest sense. There is no possibility. They do not exist as such. They just are. If you are in a supercity like Tokyo, you do not longer identify of being part of Tokyo. You talk about Shibuya. Or a local residential area. The distance to traverse such cities in time is too large to maintain meaningful relationships up the the 150 Dunbar circle. It is a choice problem. If you are lucky, you create a couple (1.5 circle) or a small family circle (5). Almost impossible to have a reasonable 50 circle. Big cities swallow the nurturing circles from 15 to 150. They are monstrocities. And the healing of all of this is hustle – allowing 50 circles and networks -, consumerism – staying alone.

Why is that? Logistics. There is no logistics technology that allows meaningful traversel of the cities to meet a friend across the city. If it takes a citizen 3 hours to get to the place, where must this person be in the Dunbar circle to be visited daily or weekly? On top of that, the agency issue of having small social groups form come into play. If you know 50 very cool people which are all unreachable within a certain time frame, you have to bring all 50 to one place. But if there is no habit or social gathering technology that makes that feasible or if the 50 are partially disjoint groups which need to be schmoozed and visited distinctly and if each group has varying or even very high need of physical commitment, this breaks down the 50 circle. And likely kind of like Maslows pyramid. If your 15 or 50 circle breaks, the meaning of the 50 or 150 is likely going to zero. A person in a very happy relationship, with some very good 5 friends, a very good contrabandof 15 close friends, and 50 closely held personal network friends is more likely to enjoy a 150 dunbar that is fullfilling. Break down the first one, the „single“, and you lose 15, you lose the 50, you lose the 150. And you look at depression.

The problem with all circles is a staged one. The first stage of willingness to commit is one. If you are not committed to your 150 circle, you are not a networker. If you are not committed to a 50 circle, you are not a „lovable person“. If you are not committed to 15 or 5, you are a loner. And so forth.

The next stage is the proximity requirement. If you require people that are very similar to you, you will have logistics problems. And your total touchdowns with your relationships will be lower. And your network will be less strong and fullilling. Unless you are in a strong online community. But that is something different.

And then there is the pure geo and distance component. Even if you are not very complicated and you let anyone in your vicinity into your 50 circle. the question remains: how big is the logistical nightmare to stay connected?

Distribution of world population by type of city

And sometimes, it is more important to understand where people reside. Rural household enjoy worse access to highest education instutions. They have an overall lower score in hustle. They usually do not own property comparables to the key people of a city network. But, of course, city network rulers can move to the country side and destroy the economics of the local vicinity while flooding tax income.

Looking at per capita data

The first thing everybody gets taught is per capital GDP. That is a quite unreasonable measure. Per capita indvidual income is more interesting. Take out the taxes and margins. You get this measure. But then still not really helping. But the per capita contribution to production and growth is important for making geospatial decisions on government subsidies. And per capita wealth is more important to unerstand where economic control is residing.


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