How To Use Circles To Model Social Relationship Structures


Sunday, 8.12pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The whole universe is based on rhythms. Everything happens in circles, in spirals. – John Hartford

I’m still working through Rebel ideas by Matthew Syed and want to note an interesting way in which he uses circles to model the way social relationships operate.

Take two groups of people, reds and blues. Each one believes in different things. Each one is also convinced that the other is wrong. How can we model what might happen as a result?

The first model assumes that the groups don’t communicate – they have enough to talk about with people like themselves that there is no need to talk to others who are wrong.

This is the world of politics where what you say is meant to be heard by people who agree with you. Those who don’t won’t agree with anything you say away.

Now you would think that when these groups are in a situation where they can overlap with other groups that access to information that contradicts what they know would help them broaden their minds. But it doesn’t.

This is the second model, where the group is big enough to have diversity but somehow that doesn’t happen. The Internet is the widest grouping of humans there is and it’s full of little enclaves of people who think the same way and have found their “tribe”. Some of these groups are harmless, some nutty, some dangerous.

It turns out, that there is a Goldilocks zone for openness – when the group is big enough to have people with different views but small enough so that they overlap – they have to engage with each other. And that’s what changes minds, prolonged interaction with those others that you believed thought and acted in one way – but you really didn’t know.

While these ideas are interesting, what I’m musing about is the use of these circles for modelling ideas about organisations. Of course you have Venn diagrams, which are what these are. And then you have the idea of circles of competence – maybe it’s when you get a critical mass of people with overlapping circles of competence that startups reach a tipping point. If you’re too big, too much of a single circle with no connections, that’s a sign that you are heading for trouble.

Something to think about.


Karthik Suresh

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