How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
When a new idea is being introduced into a group of people, even if many think the idea is good, they will be loathe to adopt the idea until they are persuaded that others are moving, then their is a rush to adopt the idea.
The effect is a slow start until a critical mass is reached, then a runaway snowball effect takes place.
For a critical mass to be reached, you typically need between 5% and 25% of the population. The point where critical mass is achieved is often called the 'tipping point'.
A child has a new toy and shows her friends. Some like it so much they persuade their parents to buy it. In a while most children are begging their parents with arguments such as 'everybody's got one!'
A politician decides on a campaign based on the principle of 'fair play'. They use the word as often as possible. Their supporters start using the words and talking more about what it means. One newspapers uses the term for headlines. Soon after, all the newspapers are using the words and the politician's opponents are being cast as being unfair.
The principle of the critical mass works with people because most people, particularly the early majority, act like a herd. They do not want to stand out, initially by adopting and, after critical mass is achieved, by not adopting. For many people, this process is driven by the fear of rejection. It can also be driven by financial motives, such as greed in a rising house market.
There are many factors that can hasten or slow the development of a critical mass, such as whether social leaders are quick or slow to adopt and whether the idea is clear to understand and has clear and immediate benefits.
In selling and business change you know you have reached a critical mass when push turns to pull, and rather than you calling customers, they are calling you. Your problem may then change from getting sales to having sufficient stock to supply demand.
Ball,. P. (). Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Gladwell, M. (2002). The Tipping Point: How Little Things can make a Big Difference. New York: Back Bay Books