Fu-Sec, Dunbar Numbers, and Success Catastrophes
In “I Smell a Movement,” Chris talks about the City-sec movement, of security people getting together for beer, and about groups like ISSA.
So the question I’d like to ask is why do these groups keep emerging so chaotically? Why can’t the extant groups, usually formed for the same reasons, succeed?
I think there are two main reasons, the first involving group dynamics, and the second involving
group dynamics success catastrophes.
As a group grows, there are lots of dynamics. One of those is that functional groups can get more done than individuals. There are also communication and alignment costs, which is why adding more programmers to a late project makes it later. Christopher Allen has written extensively about this in his posts on Dunbar numbers, such as “The Dunbar Number as a Limit to Group Sizes.”
As a professional networking group hits some critical mass of interested early adopters, those early adopters put in work and get lots of value. Since a goal of the group is networking, they excitedly invite more people, telling them how great it is. The group grows. Newcomers may not invest the same level of energy (after all, things are working great, let’s drink more!) As that happens, the selection functions that controlled early membership: Did you find out about it because you read the right blogs? Did you make time to attend?
As the group grows, the activities and energy that made it work may no longer suit what the group has become. This is why lots of startup founders leave: They’re great in the early stages, but as they build the company, the very skills that made the early days work become dysfunctional. Startups often do this, at great cost, because there’s a board of directors who are focused on a financial outcome. Professional societies, who take their boards from the enthusiastic membership, may not have that same focus. These groups want more of what made them valuable early on.
Thus, the habits and skills that make a group successful can end up holding it back. It’s the catastrophe that follows success, and its why we have a growing list of professional organizations that don’t do quite what some people want. When the groups don’t serve the purpose, some enthusiastic people will set out to fill that gap, either in a market or in a social setting.
So what can you do about it? Me, I plan to drink lots of beer at the next SeaSec.
Photo: Zombarmy06 by Father.Jack.