Square Roots are a Critical Mass

Most of us promote ideas and attempt to transform people toward better methods. While it seems we must get all to agree or help those least interested in change, a more straightforward approach is recommended. We should help those interested, not those predisposed to be obstinate. This distinction is essential and is what I teach my students when encouraging healthy behaviors. It is important to work with those interested because:

  1. Working with those who are not interested is exhausting.
  2. Only a few need to change to bring about widespread change.

Critical Mass

Critical mass is defined as the minimum amount of fissile material needed to maintain a nuclear chain reaction. However, as discussed by Everett Rogers in Diffusion of Innovations, a critical mass is the minimum size or amount of something required to start or maintain a movement. The size of a critical mass to start movement has been shown to be quite small.

The best explanation for this concept was captured by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. He is cited to have indicated a critical mass is the square root of an organization. To learn more, I recommend the Deming Institute podcast, In Their Own Words, episode “What is the Critical Mass for Transformation?”

That means if the organization has 100 people, only 10 people need to be followers. If the group is 3000, only 55, and if it is 30,000, only 173 people need to be converted to start a movement. Understanding this, enables us to realize change can happen. This also highlights why Myron Tribus advised we should:

“Preach to the masses, work with volunteers.”

Myron Tribus

What does this mean?

This means change can happen, and we don’t have to change everyone, at least at first. A small critical mass will bring about widespread change. Although we still should promote to all, we should focus on the most receptive to generate comprehensive improvements, not those that require vast resources because they are uninterested. Getting a small critical mass started can start a movement, and improvements will evolve from interested people that create net-positive, pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions so everyone and everything benefits.

Derek Sivers demonstrates all these important lessons about gathering a critical mass to create widespread change in his 3-minute TED presentation, How to Start a Movement. Siver’s excellent talk is also posted at Lets Start (Continue) this Positive Health Movement.

Please share how you start a movement by working with a small group of interested people. As Margaret Meade said long ago,

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead


Craig Becker

Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!


Please share your thoughts and questions below.
Contact me: BeWellr@gmail.com


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