Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Critical Mass


In nuclear physics, critical mass is the minimum amount of a given fissile material necessary to achieve a self-sustaining fission chain reaction. A subcritical mass is a mass of fissile material that does not have the ability to sustain a fission chain reaction. You can think subcritical mass as a waste, in a sense that you didn´t achieve the reaction you wanted. A supercritical mass is a mass in which there is an increasing rate of fission. In your purposes, you should understand that all the excess material or effort after the critical mass is reached is wasted. Sometimes supercritical mass can cause more troubles than good results.

Critical mass can be described as a point at which something, for example, an idea or a virus, is dominant enough to grow, or sustain, a process, reaction or adopting new technology. Critical mass has many other names like, the tipping point, the minimal effective dose, break-even point, etc.

Hard to know when critical mass is achieved

It is pretty easy to know when you have enough critical mass in physical reactions before they happen. When it comes to real life everything is much harder. Most often, these moments can only be determined afterwards. When the critical mass is reached, the reaction will accelerate quickly. Most often, it is hard to stop the reaction until the acceleration changes into deceleration of the reaction. For example, the flu is unstoppable in every flu season. After the critical mass of people become sick, the flu is unstoppable until it has reached its peak. This point of no return is very hard to define, if not impossible in many cases.

Critical mass (Tipping Point) in social epidemics

Malcolm Gladwell has written a book called Tipping Point, which describes the three rules of social epidemics which are:

  1. The law of the few: All the social epidemics have some people with the special set of social skills involved. These people have vast social networks, are trusted by others, and willing to share their information with them.
  2. The stickiness factor: All the sticky messages have some common characteristics: they are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and are told through stories.
  3. They are spread through the right environments: These environments are usually optimal for spreading epidemics.

When all these three rules are working at the same time, you have better possibilities to spread your ideas for other people. If one of these things are missing, reaching the critical mass of people is improbable. To reach a tipping point, social epidemics are spread through the combinations of many psychological tendencies like social proof and availability bias.

Critical mass of expertise/skill

Critical mass of expertise or skill is reached only after you have had enough deliberate practice. On average, this takes thousands of hours and many years, depending on the amount of competition and talent you have. In highly competitive fields, like popular sports, for example tennis, most people will never reach the critical mass of skill. This point can be enough income from tennis to be a professional. In working life, critical mass of expertise may help you to get into the point where you become irreplaceable. Then you can have a possitility to choose how much you work, when you work and to whom you work for. At this point, we have many choices to choose from and no one else to tell us what to do. Most people never reach this point.

Minimum Effective Dose (MED)

The minimum effective dose is the amount of work, medicine, and resources, that will produce the desired outcome. In medicine, all the extra dose may produce unintended and unwanted consequences for the human body. If you look at the packaging of the medicine, you see many warnings about side-effects like headache from the medicine you use for feeling or getting better. Without reaching the MED, you cannot get better and using medicine becomes a wasted effort. You can also have many things you really don´t want to do, but you have to, like cleaning the house. MED is the amount of cleaning needed to have your house clean enough for you to live in. The amount of cleaning should be the amount that the most vulnerable of the people who live in the house can stay healthy.

Critical mass is one of the most important models in the latticework. But, in order to understand it better, you need to understand more models.

Peak, Anders Ericsson
4 Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss
Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell


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