Creating Critical Mass

Creating Critical Mass

Creating critical mass is an important principle and art in strategic thinking. The principle part of it is very much about Who, How Many, and When you bring together people, ideas, and actions in ways that create energy, excitement, and forward motion. When critical mass is achieved, the What and the Who that are brought together are always greater than the What and the Who as they are individually and apart from each other. At the point of critical mass, there is a tipping point after which it can be said and felt that the movement you have created has a life of its own.

In the work of changing societal actions and values, creating critical mass has obvious advantages.  At some point along the arc of creating critical mass, the values and goals of the movement “take hold” and begin to have actions and impacts that are farther and farther out from the small group of people you started with and in ways that align with the vision but not requiring constant care and feeding from a small group of people.

Have you seen a video of a flash mob? Check out this video of one of a series of flash mobs that started in California and the Pacific Northwest. At first it is just an ordinary day in an ordinary, public place.

One passerby stops and begins to dance a Hawaiian dance – a hula. Now she is joined by another, and yet another. At some point, the viewer knows that there will be many more dancers. That “point” is the tipping point between just having people join in, and the promise of even greater things to come – the tipping point to achieving critical mass. Can you identify the tipping point in this video? 

The art part of critical mass is in making it happen in ways that are exciting and contagious, and that spark participation – even from those that are not intending to be involved. In the flash hula mob example, the art is in the art. Still, you can see how it wouldn’t work if the first dancer started and then hesitated, or had to dance for a long time before someone joined her, or if the pace between additional dancers didn’t pick up, or if they chose a place where there was no one to watch. Such is the art.

Because critical mass is a physical thing – it literally did not exist as a term until the dawn of the nuclear age, learning how to create critical mass is best done through physical experimentation. In this example, four teams were given the following “ingredients”:  a pile of colorful beads, a glass jar with a cover, waxed string, tape, and a tray to carry everything. Each team’s job was to demonstrate critical mass. Take a look at this one team’s most excellent demonstration, and see if you can identify the tipping point!

Norma Wong
Norma Wong

Norma Wong supports leaders and organizations interested in the application of Zen principles and training to their work and lives. As part of Move to End Violence, Norma brings these principles to life in an experiential and secular practice, focusing on what is needed for individual, organizational, movement, and societal change. Learn More

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