3 Tips for Creating a Chain Reaction

A chain reaction is a string of interactions, each of which creates a by-product that starts another reaction. When the number of reactions grows exponentially, you get a cascade as one reaction begets two and each of these begets two more and so on.

In 1933 Hungarian physicist, Leó Szilárd, moved to London to avoid Nazi persecution. There he learned about the awesome nature of atomic power. He had a history-altering insight, theorizing that an atomic chain reaction was possible if he could only find an element that would release two neutrons when bombarded by one. He foresaw that this would release amazing amounts of energy.

On March 30, 1936 his patent, Improvements in or relating to the Transmutation of Chemical Elementsi, was published. Szilárd was also co-holder, with Nobel Laureate, Enrico Fermi, of the patent on the nuclear reactorii.

His theory was correct. He found the element, Uranium, while doing research at Columbia University with Fermi. Szilárd later participated in the Manhattan Project. His work made it possible for US scientists to create the nuclear chain reaction that lead to the atomic bomb. Amazing amounts of energy, indeed.

Just so, when you create an interaction that then generates other interactions, you produce amazing impact. As one person talks to two and two talk to four, the number of conversations grows exponentially creating powerful increases in the speed and spread of change.

Communicating so people get it and spread it is not about circulating a concept through the system until it has infiltrated everyone’s thinking and changed their behavior. Yet, this is precisely what most people try to engineer. It is instead a conversation that travels through the population, an interaction. Each conversation generates more conversations, exciting others with possibilities, enrolling them in the cause, lighting the way to contribute, and inspiring action.

If you want your idea to spread, you need to become expert at:

  1. Leading conversations that engage. These are interactions that weave people into your work, making them collaborators, co-creators of a shared future.
  2. Generating cascades of activity. Set off chain reactions of meetings and conversations that are carried from those who experience you first-hand out into to their social networks.
  3. Conducting strategic engagement. Here you are like the conductor of an orchestra, only instead of music you are coordinating events. You adjust the timing, create emphasis, highlight virtuosos, provide critical feedback and create a balanced effort that is cohesive, compelling and powerful.

i Improvements in or relating to the transmutation of chemical elements, European Patent Office, Publication Number GB630726 (A), March 39, 1936 – available on the web.


ii Neutronic Reactor, United States Patent Office, Patent 2,708, 656 – available on the web.


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