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The 9-3 limit

Marian Wong is a researcher who was studying the goby fish near Lizard Island, off the coast of Australia. The interesting thing that she noticed about the goby fish was that none of the fish would grow bigger than 0.93 times the size of the dominant fish in the school.

This was not for lack of food nor for the ability of the other fish to grow bigger. In fact, when she provided them an abundance of food, the smaller fish that were near the 0.93x size actually began to fast and control what they ate. They were consciously preventing themselves from growing any bigger.

Among the goby fish, size determines who is dominant. Once any of the fish grows bigger than 0.93x the size of the dominant fish, Marian Wong observed that the dominant fish would then challenge that fish which was almost as big as itself and try to drive it out of the school, to ostracise it, to exile it. When this happened, only one of the two would remain in the school while the other would be banished and would have to fend for itself.

When a goby fish is on its own, it is vulnerable to predators and the probability of its survival goes drastically down.

Hence, whether to grow in size or not is literally a matter of life and death for the goby fish. So they would rather starve to control their size than to risk expulsion from the group which could lead to death.

When I read this, I saw the behaviour and the situation to be very similar to what happens in the work place.

Every workplace has a hierarchy, reporting or otherwise. And whenever an individual starts to get as good and as capable at getting things done as her manager, then this results in a duel and only one of them can continue to remain on the team.

While this is a good scenario in fast growing companies where the one expelled can go and set up their own team to work on a different problem, that is not the case when the company isn't growing fast enough to support that. In such cases, individuals tend to constrain their own growth so as to not challenge their manager for the fear of expulsion.

In that sense, the 9-3 limit isn't restricted to just the goby fish, but extends to the workplace as well. 

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