making sound visibleJohn Tyndall, the Irish physicist, had a particular
genius for making
sound visible using mechanical means. He read poetry to observe the
distinct flickering of flames in response to the vowels he uttered. He
the effects of sound on water jets and shallow sand. And he reflected
light from tuning forks onto moving paper so he could see the sound of
the forks’ vibrations.

Nearly all objects vibrate when struck. The
frequency that an object tends to vibrate is called its natural frequency. Tuning
forks are designed with that feature in mind. An A440 tuning fork
will vibrate at the precise frequency of a perfect A note, 440 Hz, or
440 times per second.

If you happen to be in possession of a second A440
tuning fork, you will notice that it, too, vibrates when the first fork is
struck… even when the two are some distance away. This is because the
two forks are
connected by air particles. When the first is hit, it vibrates at its
natural frequency. This sets the surrounding air particles into
vibration at the same frequency. As the particles vibrate they cause
other adjacent
particles to take up the vibration and the resulting sound wave
emanates out until it reaches the second tuning fork. Because the
second fork shares the same natural frequency, it easily vibrates in
response. This phenomenon is called resonance.

The interesting thing about resonance is that the
result is always a large vibration – in other words the vibration is amplified.
Regardless of the vibrating system, when two or more objects are set
into motion this way, the size of
the motion increases. This makes it
even easier for other objects to take up the same frequency of

Building a worldLeaders build new worlds through resonance. What I mean
is that when a leader
exhibits a behavior in a group, everyone else who is predisposed to
that behavior will mirror the leader. In a change program, these are
your early
adopters. But, even with minor behavior changes, you will see
people begin to adopt the words and ways of their leader… and a new
world results.

All it takes is for just one other person to begin
the same behavior as the leader, and it is amplified.  Then it is
much easier for others to take up as well. Before you know it these new
behaviors for the basis for a wide variety of derivative activity.

For example, a new CEO comes on
board in an organization where
meetings always begin 10 minutes late and spill over beyond the time
they are set to end. This late meeting syndrome seems to be held in
place by a set of
interlocking behaviors.

People want to stay until a decision is made
and elect to continue the conversation beyond the end time of the
meeting. Meetings are scheduled back-to-back without time to regroup.
As a result of these two factors, people are always late to subsequent
scheduled events. Then the new CEO arrives – she places priority on the
efficient use of time.

She starts meetings on time and forces them to
conclusion ten minutes before the hour. Initially this causes some
discomfort as the new way clashes with the old. But, there are
always some who are relieved to see this new behavior because it is
their preference, too. They adapt immediately and show up prepared and
time for the next meeting. Further, they attempt to conclude ten
minutes before the hour. In short order,
the CEO’s behavior is amplified and it becomes easy for others to mimic.

Ending meetings
on time is not my point. What I want to illustrate is how
leaders lead through resonance as their behavior is adopted,
amplified, and spreads.

Resonance is a powerful force for change. It does
not require new policies, software, or mandates – just a
willingness to model.

May 2011 eventJoin me May 12 & 13 in Wash, DC, for this very
cool, innovative, and seriously fun event. These two days, hosted by
Steve Denning and I, will be dedicated to remaking the management
mindset; that is, reinventing business, governmentt, education, and
All the good information is here.