The Dunbar Paradox


Five years back, I conducted a social network experiment. The premise of the experiment was as follows

“I wanted to figure out how many people in my network I could call up and ask for 500 rupees without any hesitation. In other words, I wanted to find out how many would do a ‘no questions asked’ spend on me and also find out how many I would ask. For some reasons I wished to call this as ‘Effective Social Network Count’ (ESNC) and the total value that I could get as ‘Effective Social Net worth’ somehow drawn from the ‘Portfolio Net worth’. I also wanted to find out the ESNC of people who I could call up. “

My hypothesis was

“The number for me and any given individual would be significantly less than their network size.”


I sent the above premise to around 32 individuals and surprisingly except for one individual the rest of the ESNC was less than 20, and the average ESNC was between 10-11. The outlier’s ESNC was at 81, and surprisingly he was least socially ‘connected’ amongst the 32 individuals.

The people whom I had sent had an average Facebook Friends of more than 350 and average linked in connections more than 200. Even my friend’s connections were around the same number.

Though my hypothesis was proven right, the survey opened up more questions than it answered and the following questions are still running in my mind

  • Will network structure have an effect? For example, suppose you have heavy influencer in your network, will your ESNC change?
  • Is there any correlation between the size of the network and ESNC?
  • Will the responses be different for linked in and facebook network? Will the ESNC increase or decrease?
  • Will the ESNC be dependent on the demographics, cultural factors and the personality of the individual?
  • Is this even a meaningful study?

That is when I stumbled upon the Dunbar Number.

Borrowing from Wikipedia, the Dunbar number is defined as follows

Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships—relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. This number was first proposed in the 1990s by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who found a correlation between primate brain size and average social group size. By using the average human brain size and extrapolating from the results of primates, he proposed that humans can comfortably maintain only 150 stable relationships. Dunbar explained it informally as “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.”

So if I could rephrase the last sentence as and ask you a question

“What is the number of people whose house you would walk in unannounced and ask for a cup of coffee/tea”?

what is your answer?

This question and the question I asked in my experiment about ESN is not different.

I would peg my Dunbar number in the range of 35 to 40.

The paradox I see is that my Dunbar number has not increased significantly with time or the numbers indicated in my social network(Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram,…). They keep increasing inadvertently.

Rather, I have seen a decrease in my Dunbar number over a period . The other observation I have is that my Dunbar number is not a function of my connections in the social network or to put in bluntly, it is indifferent to my social network.

So what do you think?

  • What is your Dunbar number?
  • Is it a function of the connections in your social network?
  • Do you think there are biases in the framing of questions and understanding of the inferences?
  • Do you think my number is low because I am introverted?
  • Is your Dunbar number increasing or decreasing over time?
  • Is there a co-relation between your Dunbar Number and ESNC?

Thinking about this number, gave me interesting insights about the circles of my relationships. Though the number itself is absolute, I infer there is a layering to that number, and I shall discuss the layers in detail next week.

Till then,

See if you can validate your Dunbar Number(s) by walking in unannounced and asking for a cup of coffee/tea?

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)



Pay it Forward – A Pleasant Surprise.


The term “Pay it Forward” was popularized by  Adam Grant, Wharton Professor of Management, in his book Give and Take. He argued that this simple practice was his favorite idea.

What the heck is ‘Pay it forward?’

In very simple terms, it means to help people without expecting anything in return. The act of support can be in any form, time, connections, expertise, stopping to pat someone in the back, leaving a generous tip, having a few kind words with a stranger or anything that does not look like a transaction. Here you part away something of yours graciously without worrying about the famous question of ‘What is in it for me’?

A surprising case

I have started this habit of going for a 10K run every fortnight.

Before going there, I have a tea and bun in a small tea shop, a kilometer away from my house.

One day, I had the tea with my bun, when one guy said hi and paid for me and said bye and went away.

I got the shock of my life. I was wondering who this stranger is, who pays for me, does not even wait for my acknowledgment and walks away!

Needless to say, I was thrilled.

My frequency of free hoarding has increased in the last 18 months, but to be paid by a stranger was the most beautiful thing I have experienced in recent times.

An even more surprising find

After a couple of days of pattern matching, I found the guy next to the temple I visit on Sundays. He is a push cart vendor from whom I buy stuff sporadically.

All pushcart vendors in my surrounding know me, as I do not haggle with them. I just pay the price they ask for, do not check the quality or anything, just go by what they say, and I get the stuff. I have a friendly banter with them inquiring with them about general stuff in life.

I know most times they think me as a scapegoat, overprice me and sneak in some foul stuff, but I do not stop going to them. After a few visits, they feel bad about my stupidity and restore balance by offering best of their stuff at a good price. If I do not go for some days, they enquire about me, when I visit them next.

What baffles me?

Now the question I ask myself is ‘Why did that push cart person pay for me”?

Did he pay out of guilt?

Did he pay out of anticipation?

Did he pay out of sheer spontaneity?

A hard-hitting lesson

Though the why still baffles me, I am positive that he did out of pure impulse and he possibly understands the science behind ‘Paying it forward’ naturally.

I have not had the need to buy anything from him after that incident, but he will remain etched in my memory for imparting a lesson in spontaneity.

I reflect, and I have to accept that my true “Pay it forward’ are between far and few.

A relevant forward

I end with a whatsapp forward that I received when I was pondering about this subject and I am of the view it finds a place in this discussion.

“In 1892 at _Stanford University_ , an 18-year-old student was struggling to pay his fees. He was an orphan, and not knowing where to turn for money, he came up with a bright idea. He and a friend decided to host a musical concert on campus to raise money for their education.


They reached out to the great pianist *Ignacy J. Paderewski*. His manager demanded a guaranteed fee of $2000 for the piano recital. A deal was struck and the boys began to work to make the concert a success.

The big day arrived. But unfortunately, they had not managed to sell enough tickets. The total collection was only $1600. Disappointed, they went to *Paderewski* and explained their plight. They gave him the entire $1600, plus a cheque for the balance $400. They promised to honour the cheque at the soonest possible.


“No,” said *Paderewski*. “This is not acceptable.” He tore up the cheque, returned the $1600 and told the two boys: “Here’s the $1600. Please deduct whatever expenses you have incurred. Keep the money you need for your fees. And just give me whatever is left”. The boys were surprised, and thanked him profusely.

It was a small act of kindness. But it clearly marked out *Paderewski* as a great human being.

Why should he help two people he did not even know? We all come across situations like these in our lives. And most of us only think “If I help them, what would happen to me?” The truly great people think, “If I don’t help them, what will happen to them?” They don’t do it expecting something in return. They do it because they feel it’s the right thing to do.


*Paderewski* later went on to become the *Prime Minister of Poland*. He was a great leader, but unfortunately when the *World War* began, *Poland* was ravaged. There were more than _1.5 million people starving in his country, and no money to feed them_ . *Paderewski* did not know where to turn for help. He reached out to the *US Food and Relief Administration* for help.

He heard there was a man called *Herbert Hoover* — who later went on to become the *US President*. *Hoover* agreed to help and quickly shipped tons of food grains to feed the starving *Polish* people.

_A calamity was averted_. *Paderewski* was relieved. 


He decided to go across to meet *Hoover* and personally thank him. When *Paderewski* began to thank *Hoover* for his _noble gesture_ *Hoover* quickly interjected and said, ” *You shouldn’t be thanking me Mr. Prime Minister. You may not remember this, but several years ago, you helped two young students go through college. I was one of them* .”


_The world is a wonderful place. What goes around comes around. Please help others to the best of your ability. In the long run you may be helping yourself. God never forgets anyone who sows a good seed in other people, never_ .  


*Nothing in nature lives for itself. Rivers don’t drink their own water. Trees don’t eat their own fruit. Sun doesn’t give heat for itself. Flowers don’t spread fragrance for themselves. Living for others is the rule of nature. And therein lies the secret of living.”


What is your view about “Paying it forward”?

Do you agree?


Enjoy Maadi(Have Fun)


Climbing the Seven Summits


Why did I pick this book?

This book was gifted to me by my sister. Seeing my frequency of going to Himalayas, she wanted to inspire me to climb the seven summits. Well, If I manage to do one, I think I would have served her purpose.

What do I like about the book?

It is a very engaging read about climbing the seven summits. Though technically the book talks about eight summits. The eight summits are

The book details the plan that one should have for climbing each of the above summit.

Kilimanjaro seems to be the only one surmountable considering my overall fitness levels!

Ideally, I would like to climb all eight.

What is one interesting idea that I learned?

It is not only the climb up which is important, but also the climb down! People have lost lives on their way back after reaching the summit.

It is an expensive endeavour in all sense.

It is not about conquering the summit, but braving one’s own fear.

How long would it take?

4-5 hours

Paras or Quotes that I liked

For some it is an excuse to travel around the world; others may have climbed several of the mountains already, then simply decide to finish them off for fun; a few may never have climbed before, become captivated by the seven summits, and then sell their climbing boots after completing them. For everyone it’s a huge challenge which demands determination, commitment, fitness , and risk. Whatever the motivation, the reward is great.

Enjoy Maadi(Have Fun)


Algorithms – Can we get it to be compassionate?


The title sounds funny, isn’t it?

In some of my previous articles, I highlighted about the filter bubble and how it affects us.

Google, Facebook, Amazon in their searches, feeds, and recommendations throw up what they want us to see. We do not realize the underlying biases behind the mechanics of those operations.  Since we find it to be reasonable, we do not want to dig deeper.

These three giants know everything about our behavior. Last week, I was doing a search on Nike and exactly after a day, I get an email in my gmail with the following subject

“ New Arrivals, NIKEiD, Nike+, and More”


There are very persistent people apart from these as well. Dr. Batra somehow thinks I need hair replenishment, JeevanSathi thinks it has found me a right partner (when after 17 years of marriage me and my wife are still wondering about that!), Reader’s Digest always says I have won a million dollars and I have a pre-approved loan from Citibank for Rs 8,27,328 every day. All these guys are smart enough to beat the Spam filter of gmail and also you can never get to unsubscribe from them. Especially Reader’s Digest, I have unsubscribed five times now, and somehow it seems to me, every time I unsubscribe, the volume of mail increases!

These are the consequences of having something free. In other words, collateral consequences or damage.

I was riding to Whitefield in a cab couple of days back. Getting in and out of Whitefield is like knowing the secret behind getting in and out of Chakravyuha. Only a selected few know the art. I stuck up a conversation with the drive, and the conversation went something like this. I speak in Kannada, as the drivers open up more if I speak in Kannada. My attempt to translation is weak, but nevertheless, I will give it my best shot.

Me: How do you manage in this traffic daily?

Driver: I am used to it, Sir.

Me: How many hours daily you ride?

Driver: Fourteen hours Sir. I start at 4 p.m. and go till 6 AM in the morning

Me: Don’t you feel tired?

Driver: No Sir. I see this as the most optimum time. I have figured that this is the time that I can maximize the number of trips

Me: Since you start after 4 PM, you will get possibly many Airport trips?

Driver: No Sir, they will not give it to me. If I make two Airport trips daily, I am happy, but they will not give it

Afterward, we exchanged many things that are not relevant to this discussion.

However, the point of this article is

“No Sir, they will not give it to me.”

Who is this “they“?

Incidentally, “they” are a set of algorithms!

The organization that provides the cab services designs these algorithms.

Denying or not showing airport trips is just one of the aberrations

There is one more case of we seeing the cab arrival time is one minute, and the cab is just on the opposite side of the road. If the cab person has to take a u-turn and arrive, it adds ten minutes. Despite we knowing the challenges in taking a u-turn in any of the Bangalore traffic signals, we do the following,

  • Curse the cab driver
  • Cancel the cab
  • Give the person a low feedback

As a capitalist, my argument would be this is how the system is. Take it or leave it. You are not forced. Exercise your choice would be my answer.

But at those rare times when I my human side wakes up, I wonder if this is right?

Is this fair?

Are the drivers not being denied something fundamental?

If I am an engineer who is asked to code an algorithm like this which clearly introduces biases that are undetectable or transparent should I do this?

Is this any different from a person who encourages no smoking, but has a profession of selling cigarettes for a living?

Are the above two comparisons valid? Am I missing something?

Are the driver’s willing slaves to these?

What is fair? Who defines it? Who knows it?

As a consumer, I love these cab companies. It solves my pain of moving from point A to point B.

However, in my euphoria, Am I forgetting something? Am I forgetting the human who is taking me?

Who is responsible for them?

I am confused.

Something is not right.

I can sense only these. The initial joy by which I sensed in these drivers when these companies came up is slowly eroding.

The new buzzword called AI, Machine Learning, Deep Learning are claiming to take over our lives shortly, and I am clueless on how we can make them more humane!

Are we going to make an effort in that direction or remain conveniently ignorant?

What are your thoughts?

Is it just I am paranoid?

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)


Summers – The Past, and Present – Is it an issue of Trust?


I have currently the luxury of idling in summer unlike most of you. Irrespective of you idling or not; the dreaded question is ‘What is the plan for summer’?

Well, if you have kids, the camouflaged question is ‘How are you going to keep them busy’?

It is a question that I ask myself.

I just rewind in time, and I become envious of my parents, who never worried about keeping me busy in summer.

The only challenge they had was, how to get me back in home in time. Most of the times, it was my Grandmother, who had the arduous task of feeding my friends and me with something or the other.  It was similar in other houses as well. They have to feed the gang that comes in. The only rule was to get back to home before 9 PM.

Every one of us nurtured the dreams of being a KapilDev or Sunil Gavaskar and gamed the harsh sun out of our way. I do not think any of us made it into cricket, though we would still start bowling or batting impromptu if we feel like doing it and we do not mind the place where we do it. Sometimes I do it in the middle of the road and suddenly become aware of everyone around me and restrain my cover drive or reverse swing.

The games we played were just too many and just too much fun. So many impromptu games and creativity deployed to keep us away from home till 9 PM! We would be so tired by the time we reach home and crash. No ‘AC.’ It is just the ‘Usha Ceiling or Table’ fans humming tirelessly.

That brings me to the case of my children.

I do not think they have a clue.

I do not think I have a clue.

Every morning the question is ‘What should I do today’?

Since I am out of interesting ideas, they just laze themselves into gadgets or couch potatoes.

It would be easy for me to blame them or wonder about their lack of eagerness in outdoor play or any activity where they lose a sense of time. (Video games are an exception)

I think the answer is ‘Mea Culpa.’

I think I know the reason also.

The operative model for my parents was unconditional trust or gross indifference. I have reason to believe it is the former.

They trusted us to deal with things that come our way and expected me to bring to their notice, things that were above our comprehension. It is also possible that they were too focused on ensuring the next day’s daily meal was on the plate, that they did not have the luxury of ‘Planning for Summer.’ Summer, Winter, Spring or Autumn. Their number one mission was to get the next meal on the plate without fail, and they did that with a six sigma precision.

I lack an operative model, and I have realized it is because there is too much of ‘What if’ scenarios that play out in my mind, that I play a spoilsport to the absolute fun that they should be having.

It is not that I do not trust them, but my trust is like

I trust you, but …

and the but’s are ad-infinitum, and my children get confused.

So they put the ball back in my court and ask

What should I do?

When I can say, ‘Figure out’ to that question, that would be the day I think I would have allowed them to grow.

I think, now I beginning to understand the motivation behind ‘Summer Camps’ and the tour packages cleverly labeled as ‘Summer Escapes’

However, the broader questions are

Is Trust Absolute or Relative?

Is Trust subject to conditions?

So, if I may ask, what then are your summer plans?

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)





Why did I pick this book?

Call it a heavy degree of Bias. I hoard books that say there is a science behind discovering one’s inner core. If the books lay out a process for that, I get tempted and buy it.

What do I like about the book?

There is a lot of research that has gone beyond the book, and the book gives a gradual ascent towards attaining mastery in any chosen field, which incidentally could be inner knowledge as well.

What is one interesting idea that I learned?

‘Alter your perspective.’ This is a neat technique that allows me to fit any new patterns I find in the outside word to the patterns that I already in my mind immediately. Instead, the technique is to observe these new patterns from different angles for an extended period of time, and that could reveal to me some new insights. Especially it can help us to eliminate making snap judgments on people who we interact with.

How long would it take?

5 to 6 hours.

Paras or Quotes that I liked

Understand: Your Life’s task does not always appear to you through some grand or promising inclination. It can appear in the guise of your deficiencies, making you focus on the one or two things that you are inevitably good at.

The brain is an instrument developed for making connections. It operates as a dual processing system, in which every bit of information that comes in at the same time compared to other information. The brain is constantly searching for similarities, differences, and relationships between what it processes. Your task is to feed this natural inclination, to create the optimal conditions for it to make new and original associations between ideas and experiences. And one of the best ways to accomplish this is by letting go of conscious control and allowing chance to enter into the processes.

Your false self is the accumulation of all the voice you have internalized from other people- parents and friends who want you to conform to their ideas of what you should be like and what you should do, as well as societal pressures to adhere to certain values that can easily seduce you.     

Educate and Empower Five Children for One Year


I will be frank.

I am not good at asking for money.

I have done it in the past once as part of a group and was pretty successful at it. Also, we stuck to the commitment we made.

OK, I will get to the point.

I am running in the TCS 10K marathon.

I want to raise money for Isha Vidya. The project brief is here.

I want your help and grace to raise money for the education of five kids for a year.

I want to raise around 75000 rupees or more.

As you would possibly know, I hesitate to ask you to do anything that I do not do. I have been sponsoring a child for close to five years now. The latest report card for the child is available here.

I humbly request you to contribute in any way you could. No amount is small. No amount is big 🙂

I also request you to share this amongst your friends in social media and help in the smooth sailing of five kids for a year.

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela

There could be many ifs and but in your mind and even as I write this, there are so many ifs and buts, however, I have seen the schools, students and everyone in that system are doing their best with the resources available to them. Most time it is necessary to take that leap of faith and place our trust in something bigger than ourselves. I am taking that chance and I trust you will take that chance owing to the cause.

All I can guarantee is that I will finish the marathon, and promise some surprise personally curated e-goodies to you.

Just like you, I keep my promises.

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

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