There’s a turning point where the glorious beast starts to feed on it’s own momentum…
It’s called the hitting critical mass.
Answers.com defines that point as:
- The smallest mass of a fissionable material that will sustain a nuclear chain reaction at a constant level.
- The amount of matter needed to generate sufficient gravitational force to halt the current expansion of the universe.
- An amount or level needed for a specific result or new action to occur: “The sudden national uproar over drugs and drug abuse has reached politically critical mass in Washington” (Tom Morganthau).
In simpler terms, it’s the moment some kind of movement or reaction becomes self-sustaining, gains it’s momentum without being pushed from the outside and begins to take off.
I’ve lived through it in business, in publishing, in blogging, in school and life.
In business, it’s the moment your client base begins to grow largely by referrals or word of mouth. In publishing, it’s the moment you’ve got enough readers who love your work that the impact of their voice outstrips the impact of your marketing. In blogging, it’s the moment that you move beyond having a small number of friends help promote a particular post or idea and watch it just explode across social media.
Thing is, critical mass can be either magical or horrific.
Chances are we’ve all been on the short and long end of both. When a business hits that point where it’s clientbase becomes big and vocal enough to generate enough new business through word of mouth…it’s magic. And, when enough people want to tear you down that their message, whether based in truth or not, becomes self-fueling and propagating…it’s disastrous.
So, the question becomes, how do you reach critical mass that’s magic and avoid the critical mass that horrific?
And, the big challenge in answering both is…nobody knows exactly where those points lie. They’re moving targets. Every initiative carries with it different momentum, evangelists and detractors. For one business, it could take weeks, while another might take years.These days, in social media, it could take seconds.
Some ventures never hit it.
And, when that happens on the magic side of the equation, you end up with a business that requires exponentially more time, money and effort to grow, indefinitely. That doesn’t mean it’s a failure, it just takes a lot more to sustain it and the burden will likely never ease.
While I can’t say where the critical mass point for any given venture, though, I can say I’ve noticed certain critical elements need to be present:
- Energy/remarkability – the idea, subject or business needs to be remarkable in it’s own right, it needs to emit energy.
- Transferability – that energy/remarkability needs to be easily transferable. There needs to be some easy mechanism to spread it or spread news about it.
- Innate desire to share – it needs to inspire people to evangelize the idea, not because they are compensated, but because they are innately energized by it.
Are there other elements? Sure. In fact, I’d love know others you think of in the comments.
Can you pump money into a market to create a bazillion buyers and a huge installed client base faster? Yup. But in my experience, the likelihood of that working is far less than if you facilitate mechanisms to share the idea, then encourage it to happen more organically.
So, I’m curious, what do you think about the concept of critical mass?
Any other elements to add to the recipe for it?
Can you buy it? Or, must it be grown?
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