The ‘critical mass’ concept, as the number of people required to move forward, to change collective behaviours, to see a visible change in an organization, it’s not a simple numerical issue. The critical mass required is a combination of:
- Numbers, yes. Definitely we need a good number of people to ‘flip’ the page (the culture, the norms, the changes), otherwise we will have ‘small changes’. Many of traditional HR/OD interventions (such as coaching, or specific team development) are not scalable. They may be fantastic interventions for small scale. The threshold needed has been the object of research activities for years. See my summary and comments here (‘Engage to flip’)
- Visibility. It may sound obvious but I don’t think it is. The critical mass needs to be visible to other critical masses. A critical (numerical) mass of people doing yoga at home, not visible to others, will not spread yoga as a practice.
- ‘Common knowledge’. This is a social sciences term. Of course it also has its own normal linguistic use, common knowledge being the one that does not require people to ‘google it’. For us, in the mobilization of people in the organization (my area of work), ‘common knowledge’ means that we need people not only to know that other people have changed (scale and visibility as above) but also that they know that I know that they have changed. The ‘mutual knowing’ is a greater multiplier of change.
Take domestic violence. There is probably more of it than we are aware. There may be significant critical mass of cases (numbers) but largely invisible. Invisibility comes from fear (to be penalized if gone public, or to the police, or not being believed). Also perhaps the belief that ‘there are not many others like me’ as victim, since, precisely, it is not visible. Making it visible would significantly increase the changes of ‘flipping it’.
You would have thought that the #meetoo movement solved this problem. However, its large concentration of public and visible cases on high profile people in the arts, or high echelons of society, may be acting as a deterrent for ‘normal people’ who have no access to, say, expensive lawyers.
A desired state of change in organizations is the one in which not only (1) changes are happening but these (2) are publicised at a scale and (3) with special care so not only ‘we know this is happening’ but also other people know that we know that they are changing. Then the changes become ‘common knowledge’. A robust storytelling system, as we have in Viral Change™, takes care of this. Then we are talking.
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