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a blog by Chris Barrow

The dark side of Dunbar's Number

For many years I have enjoyed lecturing on internal marketing and including the background to and explanation of Prof. Robin Dunbar's theory that we are all connected to 150 people.

Dunbar proposed back in the 90's that our hunter-gatherer origins were based upon an optimal tribe size of 150 and that the brain evolved second. He then turned his attention to social media and pointed out that Facebook reported a similar average for the number of "friends" on their platform.

In a marketing context, this gave rise to the "reach" we can expect when posting, whether a politician, celebrity or influencer with millions of followers to you and I with our small online communities. In there was the message that if your posts are sufficiently curious or interesting, they would be shared.

To quote my own conclusion, "news travels further, faster than at any time in history".

Up until now, Covid-19 has been, for the majority, something that happened to other people on the TV.

The Government's refusal (it would appear) to showcase the victims as a warning to us all, has been one of the factors in widespread complacency since the summer.

In lockdown 1.0 we all took it very seriously but, as 2020 progressed we became confused by the tier system and fatigued by the repetition (in much the same way as the original Brexit debate).

In December we were given messages of hope by the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary, as the first vaccines were injected into the arms of suitably photogenic octogenarians and then told to have some fun but be careful as we crowded the streets to complete our Christmas shopping and visited with selected loved ones on Christmas Day (an occasion for widespread non-compliance).

Just a few short weeks later, we have a daily diet of gloom around the new strains of Covid-19, rapid transmission and the long-term nature of the vaccination programme.

So now to the dark side.

This morning, 81,960 people in the UK have died within 28 days of a positive diagnosis.

Multiply by 150 and that's over 12.25 million people who know them.

I've noticed in my client's weekly progress reports since we came back to work a sudden and significant increase in the reports that dental team members have been affected by their connection to a family member, friend or colleague who has lost their life.

Since 1st January, Covid-19 has become a deadly reality for more people than ever - and I believe that single fact will do more than any number of Downing Street press conferences to alter our attitude and habits.

On the ground, dental teams are once more having to pivot and adjust to staff shortages, team members are having to multi-task and older patients are choosing to delay attendance for both routine and more complex treatments until "after I have had the vaccine".

It behoves any Dental Principal to be mindful this morning that the game is changing as the dark side of Dunbar spreads through the population - and to make sure that their messaging to teams and patients reflects an appreciation of that reality.

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