Headless horsemen, sort of

Two thoughts here. Rode again in the monthly Critical Mass ride on November 24, the day after Thanksgiving. About 20 people showed up. That’s not many for a ride that often has 200 participants. Those of us there looked around and wondered where all the others were. One guy let us know that plenty of people showed up the Friday after Thanksgiving last year. We waited and waited and the guy who always has food to hand out (apparently he picks up the throwaway stuff at Trader Joe’s) asked everyone if they knew of anyone else who was coming. Finally we gave up on waiting and this small group hit the streets.

A few days later I met Rod Beckstrom, co-author of The Starfish and the Spider, which is subtitled, “The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations.” It wasn’t until that moment that I realized that Critical Mass is a leaderless organization. I haven’t read the book yet but Rod told me about the extended analogy in the book which is that when you cut off a starfish’s leg, it grows a new one. And if you cut off all 5 legs, a new starfish grows from each of those 5 cuts. And this happens because the starfish does not have a central nervous system. It does not have a head; it does not have a leader.

And that’s who we are, a bunch of bicyclists without a leader. And so the ride happens every month, whether 200 show up or only 2. (Which I’m guessing is how many show up the last Friday in February. Brrrrr!) But we were 20, which isn’t many, certainly not enough to stop traffic as the larger group can do. So we took off, but because there were so few people, everyone was in fact a leader. The unwritten rule of the ride is that the person in front determines which way the whole group will go.

Given the small number of people, I found myself becoming more active in the ride. Usually I stay in the middle somewhere, just following along with the crowd, enjoying the joie de vivre and energy of the people around me, but this week I did peel off at one intersection and placed my body and bike in front of cars at a green light. No one helped out, however. But the other 19 did proceed through the red light. So, I’d done my piece. I’d contributed to the ride. I was content.

And our small and leaderless group pedalled into the evening, eventually making our way to Cambridge where everyone gave up near Harvard Square and went their separate ways.

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