The Patterns

we have discovered for designing the future

501. A Small Group of Like-Minded People ***

(Image) Stewart Brand, 32, publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog, works on the last issue of the Whole Earth Catalog at Menlo Park, Calif., May 28, 1971.


New designs for the future always gestate as conspiracies – not committees.   They have to.   They aim to upset the status quo.    Hence, they start small and furtive.  Even when – especially when – they are embedded in large organizations. 

The optimum breeding ground for designing the future is a small group of folk who are like-minded about the challenge, but who come from differing points of view.   Multiple perspectives and talents are required to constantly reality-check each other.   That bold but loving function is especially important if one of the members of the small group is a notorious visionary.   No isolated human ever thrives.  



The most functional and self-regulating insurgency  groups, history shows, have between three and eight core members.   Fewer risks tunnel vision.  As well as an absence of key skills.   More, and the group risks splitting into factions, endangering cohesion.

Research shows this to be a deep pattern rooted in the human brain’s trust and cognition capabilities.   Since at least Roman times, across cultures and technologies, the smallest and most cohesive military unit has been a squad, typically made up of four to 10 soldiers.1  Most Americans know just 10 to 25 people well enough to say they trust them. 2   Most religious congregations in the U.S. average 75 worshipers on any given Sunday.3  “Dunbar's number”45 – 150 – 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.  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".  Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group.

History shows that with a good story, twelve apostles, four evangelists and a St. Paul, you can change the world.   You really can.



When embarking on designing a novel future, make sure your initial core human element – the passionate who are willing to devote considerable time – is of the self-regulating single-digit size.   If you need, want, or have more devotees, try creating a second, less intensive level of attachment to the project.   Calling it a Brain Trust is an approach that has had success.