Publish at June 16 2019 Updated January 28 2022

The power of resonance within human collectives

A man must seek what exists and also what should exist

Doing Better

The challenge is to succeed in the multiple transformations to meet the ecological and societal challenges our world is going through. These transformations will eventually involve a surplus of collective intelligence. The properties of systems offer us avenues to move forward with more synergy. One of these is resonance.

In a group a resonance occurs when the suggestion of one member is taken up and amplified by another. An isolated point of view finds an echo through an effect of oscillation of a message from near and far. It is then a whole collective that is set in motion. This resonance produces, in certain circumstances, systemic effects, i.e., transforming the very nature of the orientation and architecture of the system. You know the instruction given to soldiers to break the rhythm of a step when they cross a bridge? The rhythmic footsteps of the soldiers create a vibration that in turn can vibrate the entire structure. This resonance penetrates the heart of the architecture, touches the joints of the building and ends up making it tremble and even, in certain extreme cases, collapse. Two documented cases attest to this phenomenon, one of which cost the lives of 220 soldiers at the Lower Chain Bridge in the 19th century.

If resonance activates physical systems, it would also act on human systems. Let's take up the idea of vibration again. Is it enough to create a marching band or even a corporate batucada to find the chord and get everyone in rhythm? That's probably a first step because music shakes souls and produces a powerful emotional effect on human groups that leads them to synchronize and drive each other. The music certainly produces fusional impulses, but the energy of which fades away once silence has returned. The question is how to create and sustain this resonance to amplify change in human groups?

Creating resonance

Resonance produces an amplification effect. To amplify social projects mobilizing a maximum number of actors 3 processes can be spotted and combined. In these 3 processes there is a homotheticity (same shape, enlarged or shrunken) that reinforces the coherence of the action and its intelligibility with the consequence of facilitated modeling on a large scale. Consistent behavior is indeed more easily imitable because it requires lower cognitive investment to be appropriate. I understand what is available to me, I grasp the benefits, I can adopt similar behavior.

By imitation, a part of conformity is reinforced helping an individual, then a whole group to resituate itself in a moving environment by adopting the majority behavior. It is the image of the school of fish that maneuvers with ease because the information is understandable from close by. Everything happens as if a wave was going through the school. Whereas it is a fish-to-fish imitation that moves the whole.

For humans behavioral imitation is associated with other forms of language recalled in the processes below.

Process 1 - When Saying is Doing

Linguist Austin describes the perfect meeting between a word and an act. Performative language is that or a set of words, a statement is actually an act. For example the expression "I declare you married" by an official makes a state and its designation coincide. There is then absolutely no gap between saying and doing. It is a proof in the making that combines intention, emotion and cognition.

Performative language or the coherence between acts and words facilitates the understanding of the signal and its propagation in a human group. And when in addition the ritual is pronounced by a legitimate authority, the message is imposed.

Process 2 - The dynamics of a transformation project carried out in co-design

In co-design practices bringing together prescribers, designers, and beneficiaries, there is a very coherent process that is set in motion when design, production, and evaluation combine. Reflexivity on the action in progress is an identified condition to innovate and make this innovation appropriate.

It is also a way to engage the action in a group. To be the initiator of the project is to avoid the gap between sending and receiving messages at the very point of initiation. The project at the same time as it is conceived is adopted because all inconsistencies are regulated implicitly as the project is produced.

Process 3 - The medium is the message

In the same way that performative language imposes its obviousness, Mc Luhan showed on the occasion of the introduction of mass media into every home that the strongest message was the medium itself beyond even the content conveyed. The content and the form are linked in the action. Sometimes the message's vehicle will be remembered more than the content itself, which is often already partly known. And when the message is about the media that carries it the effort of understanding is simplified, because the two sides echo each other.

In these 3 processes the strong adherence between the elements constitutes the main driving lever.

The systemic functioning of a resonance: starting from a central point or from several points

From a central point

Each time a substance/form coherence is set up by an individual initiative or from an isolated point, the system produces a "tipping point" (Malcolm Gladwel) that results in a human energy far greater than the inertia of the elements taken separately. To understand the phenomenon, imagine that you throw a stone into the water. You will observe that bigger and bigger waves are formed from the point of impact of the stone. This illustrates the amplification of an initial gesture and its repercussion on the whole human system.

The elements from near to near are set in motion and by proximity and conformism with their neighbor adopt other practices. From near to near a behavior is imitable because it carries meaning in itself and is more easily replicated because other patterns also offer themselves for comparison in proximity, further reducing the cognitive load and effort of understanding. A form of oscillation unfolds that upsets the equilibrium to transform the entire social system. What happens when this resonance is initiated from several points of impact?

From a multiplicity of points of contact

When it is not from one, but from several points from which the oscillations start, the effect of setting in motion is multiplied. Imagine now that you throw 2 stones into the water. From the points of impact, two circular ripples are formed which cross each other. The elements are activated by two lines of force and the intersections between the two lines are visible, opening up new possibilities for movements that are difficult to predict. Following this image the elements of the human system can potentially adopt several behavioral orientations, following one line or the other or an in-between.

The overall pattern is still understandable and the intersections as visible as the tracings of a compass. The meaning and movement of the system can still be anticipated. But if one throws a handful of stones into the water each produces its local impact but a wave has no time to form that it already strikes the beginning of another and the whole is unintelligible. The whole thing gives the impression of a hailstorm from which one must protect oneself. In a company, this is equivalent to a whole set of projects that fall from a head office to its branches and are too weakly interconnected. The employees do not perceive the line of force and remain immobile. The cognitive load to absorb all the instructions is too heavy and the support in proximity incomprehensible.

Initial coherence

The resonance of a human set goes through the coherence of content / form of messages / projects / Innovations / trainings, the controlled introduction of initiatives, the support of the driving movements by the managements or local supports, the simplicity and the social desirability from close to close.

In the age of the internet, these mechanisms are further multiplied by the effects of rapid imitation made possible by accessibility, the power of dissemination, the visual potential of messages (interactivity, video), the virality of feedback.

Creating resonance in a group to facilitate an organizational transformation, the deployment of training or the adoption of new practices is a way to lead smooth evolutions where everyone has their role to play, without being placed in the box of the rebel or the opponent.


Wikipedia - Resonance

Group dynamics:

Wikipedia lower chain bridge

Science and the Future - Tipping Point -

The Malcolm Gladwel Tipping Point

Management Science Review - The Imitation Strategy: A Competency-Based Perspective

Conformism - Majority Influence

See more articles by this author

Access exclusive services for free

Subscribe and receive newsletters on:

  • The lessons
  • The learning resources
  • The file of the week
  • The events
  • The technologies

In addition, index your favorite resources in your own folders and find your history of consultation.

Subscribe to the newsletter

Add to my playlists

Create a playlist

Receive our news by email

Every day, stay informed about digital learning in all its forms. Great ideas and resources. Take advantage, it's free!