Critical Mass and Circle of Influence

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Here’s another epiphany from last weekend’s Deming Institute Conference.  If you agree that new thinking and behaviors are required to achieve sustainable improvement in the results that you want, you do not need to convince everyone in a group or an organization.  Your goal should be a critical mass of people, which can be estimated as approximately the square root of the total number.


The idea of “critical mass” comes from the world of nuclear physics.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is defined as “an amount of material (such as plutonium) that is large enough to allow a nuclear reaction to occur.”  There is an additional definition in the dictionary that extends the idea beyond the nuclear application, “the size, number, or amount of something that is needed to cause a particular result.”

There was some discussion at the Deming Institute Conference about what this number might be in an organization or a group.  Several people recalled Dr. Deming using the estimate of the square root of the total number of people concerned.  I reviewed my notes from the four 4-day seminars that I attended, and I found this to be confirmed in three of those courses.  The comment usually came as a result of questions from the audience, although in one of the seminars Dr. Deming used the estimate without being prompted by a question.

Dr. Deming was also quick to point out that “transformation begins with the individual.”  So, the best way to try to influence or affect a critical mass of people is by thinking about personal actions – what can I do?

This seems to relate to the idea of “circle of concern” and “circle of influence” explained by Dr. Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  The idea is as flows from the habit of “proactivity.” Proactive people don’t react to or worry about conditions over which they have little or no control.  Instead, they focus their energy on things they can control.




This made good sense to me and gives me encouragement for a path forward.  What do you think?

Mike Stoecklein

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