In 1826, as soldiers marched across a bridge that spanned the River Irwell in England, the bridge began vibrating in time with their steps, ever more violently until the bridge collapsed. From that point on, British soldiers were ordered to break step when marching across a bridge.
What happened was a physics phenomenon called resonance. Not only were all those soldiers vibrating the bridge at the exact same time, their steps created a vibration that just happened to coincide with the bridge’s own frequency of vibration, magnifying it to tremendous effect.
Resonance occurs in the mechanical and the natural world. Think about pushing a child on a swing. The swing’s motion is its resonance frequency. If you push at the right time and with the right force to match that frequency, the child will swing higher and higher. But if your timing is off, you push too soon or too late, you’ll slow or stop the swing.
This same principle applies to great movements and transitions. The Occupy Wall Street movement is a perfect example of this: People who were essentially vibrating on the same frequency came together at the right time and magnified the frequency collectively, until it grew in impact and in size all over the globe. When our timing is right and we are able to come together with like-minded people, members of our tribe, those who are on the same frequency, we can reshape the world beyond our imagination.
The big question, then, is how do we know when the timing is right?
On an individual level, you need to be on the lookout for messengers and symbols (see “Stop, Look, and Listen”), which you can become more in tune with by awakening your visionary voice and feeding it (see “Feeding Your Visionary”). In other words, you have to keep acting in some way on your vision. The bridge never would have collapsed if the soldiers hadn’t been moving forward across it.
Collectively, however, timing takes an interesting twist, which again relates to physics, specifically dissipative structures. Ilya Prigogine first coined the term to describe ordered structures that arise out of chaos, out of a system that is not in equilibrium. Cyclones, hurricanes, and Bénard cells are examples of dissipative structures, self-organizing systems.
Occupy Wall Street emerged because of the economic chaos we are in as a nation and as a planet. The greater the chaos and uncertainty, the more likely an ordered movement will emerge. In fact, every self-organizing system, including our own human system, planetary system, organizational systems, are affected in the same way. Each can move from the triggering event to collapse, dissipating into nothingness, or reorganize into a new structure.
This is why now is the time for us to pursue our greatest visions yet. Now is the time for visionaries to come together, to pursue individual reinvention of our lives and work that simultaneously makes a difference in the world. Order will emerge from the chaos—economic, environmental, social. We can either watch it happen or we can make it happen, and by doing so, create the future we want to live in and leave behind as a legacy for generations to come.
Image credit: Photography by Alessandro Tredicucci.