Impact-Driven Category Design — The Category of Activism Needs an Atomic-Sized Redesign

Karthiga Ratnam
5 min readSep 4, 2021

“It became a domino effect, as infected people took foolish risks, knowing full well they could spread the virus.”― Jason Medina, The Manhattanville Incident: An Undead Novel

I spent the last few weeks binging on the 12 seasons of Big Bang Theory. I also read the book Contagious — Why Things Catch On and re-read Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point. And then I read Richard — A curious character. This led me down a rabbit hole of the big bang, atoms, tipping points/domino effects and pandemics.

And then I read this poem by Richard Feynman — I, a universe of atoms, an atom in the universe. The last few lines stuck with me.

Out of the cradle

onto dry land

here it is


atoms with consciousness;

matter with curiosity.

Stands at the sea,

wonders at wondering: I

a universe of atoms

an atom in the Universe.

What are we if not “a universe of atoms and an atom in the universe”. This led me to think about atomic moments and atomic marketing. Now I know I am oversimplifying it. But The Big Bang was just a moment in time. The moment before that there was “nothing” and then the universe started its existence so to speak. This is what I would call an atomic moment.

Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

But they have always existed. These singularities with the potential to cause massive change. I have always been passionate about impact and designing categories for impact. But I have always thought of impact as something large. Some lightning strike event with fireworks and brass bands. But lately I have been thinking what if impact is caused by moments so small, so atomic that only in hindsight do we even recognize it?

If a few years ago, someone told you a 15-year-old teenager skipping school to strike against climate change would mobilize hundreds of thousands all over the world and start a real conversation about climate change, would you have believed it?

Greta Thunberg was just like millions others on this planet. Some one none of us would have been a passing glance. And yet. Her decision that day in 2015 to walk out of school and strike for climate change has started this movement for good. This movement to save humanity’s soul.

This lead me to thinking about positive and negative atomic moments. Here’s an example from World War I.

Spiro Princip was just a regular lad born in Bosnia. Due to a series of events he get radicalized. He assassinates the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria — the heir to the throne of Austrian empire. An atomic moment that lead to the First World War. This is what I would term a negative atomic moment.

The day was December 1, 1955. It was a Thursday. Just like any other day in Montgomery, Alabama. It should have been uneventful. But this day was the day, Rosa Parks, got on the bus and refused to give up her seat. Now contrary to popular rhetoric, she didn’t do it because she was tired or old. She did it to stand up to her convictions. She will not give up her seat on the basis of race. She was subsequently arrested. This was a positive singularity. One atomic moment, that invigorated the civil rights movement. And triggered a massive change. A positive atomic moment.

Ask yourselves. What was it about that day that made Rosa Parks stand up? What would have happened if she hadn’t? Would racial segregation still be around? What if Rosa had made a different choice? What if Spiro Princip had chosen differently?

Here’s I’m reminded of something that Dumbledore told Harry.

“It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.”

In each of these examples, it wasn’t the ability of the individual that created an atomic moment. It was their choices.

In an article, the carbon brief has highlighted nine tipping points. Amazon rainforest dieback, West Antarctic ice sheet disintegration, and so on. But to me, these are outcomes of seeds that were planted a long time ago. What if Drake’s Folly had never happened? That was an atomic moment with epic repercussions.

Similarly bees. What would happen if nature pollinators go extinct? There would be no chocolate for one. And what would the repercussions be to the world?

If each of these individuals choosing differently led to such exponential change, what would happen if we all make an atomic change in our lives?

According to our world in data, for every 100 kilocalories, you feed a cow, you only get 2 kilocalories of beef back. Here’s an atomic change you can make right now. If you dropped meat from your diet for one day:

Multiplied by all the people in the world who eat meat, suddenly your atomic change has created exponential change.

As Lady Galadriel said in the Lord of the Rings — “even the smaller person can change the course of the future”.

Looking at the world, the capitalistic machine, the billionaires, and big tech can be daunting. The powers that be are creating atomic moments that will lead to the detriment of us all. And what can one do in the face of such evil?

We seem to have forgotten that each of us is a universe of atoms, an atom in the Universe. And within each of us lies the capacity to make atomic changes that lead to atomic moments that lead to exponential change.

Greta, the Extinction Rebellion, and others cannot do this alone. It's up to each of us. Activism doesn’t just have to be marching on the streets, holding rallies, and protesting.

Activism can be as simple as forgoing meat for one day of the week. Who knows your decision to skip meat one day of the week might just be the atomic moment that was needed to change the course of humanity.

Next week I hope to explore how businesses can use an atomic marketing framework to bring about exponential growth.



Karthiga Ratnam

Impact-Driven Category Designer | Working group member Wicked 7