Point to Ponder:
When a butterfly flaps its’ wing in Brazil, why does it create a tornado in Texas; or for that matter creates sunshine in San Francisco?
A few years ago, a brilliant, passionate and intense technologist was leaving his organization. The manager of one of the subgroups in that organization (not his direct boss) stopped by his office. She chatted with him about his great contributions in technology development, supplier development and then thanked him. Till today, every time I talk to or meet this fellow, he recounts that incidence and tells me how good he felt (and still feels) about that experience.
Last night, I was at a dinner table with a supplier executive of a company based in Asia. It so happens that both of us had worked for one same person in our careers; at different times in different US based multi nationals. While we were talking about how persistent and demanding that boss was, Mr. Supplier Executive shared the following experience about that boss.
In the late 90s, he got a job offer and turned in his resignation. Mr. Boss asked him to fly down to headquarters in US and convinced him to stay. Six years later, he again got a job offer; this time to be the chief executive of a company. His boss, who was vacationing in another country in Asia called him and told him, “I am coming to your country. Pick me up from the airport.” When the boss arrived, this fellow was surprised that the boss did not want to go to the office. The boss took him out to lunch, patiently listened about the new job opportunity and told him, “This time it is the right career move for you. I am not going to hold you back.” That night, the boss invited him and his wife for dinner, talked about the great contributions of his employee and thanked both of them. After dinner, the boss left the country and returned to his vacation spot.
As this fellow was finishing the story, I noticed the flush of emotion on his face. I could also feel that he would do anything for that man, even climb Mt.Everest.
One well known example of how a seemingly small thing can make a big negative difference is that of the O-rings on space shuttle challenger. In 1986, the slightly defective rings, combined with cold weather, caused the explosion of Challenger’s fuel tanks after launch.
One may say, “We are in technology field. What are all these soft things that you are talking about? Talk something about technical theory instead of all these philosophy.”
In technical terms above stories are examples of the theory of chaos (or some call it “universal order”), also known as “The Butterfly Effect.” My favorite author Roger von Oech explains this effect in his book “EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED OR YOU WON’T FIND IT.” Here it is:
In 1960, meteorologist Edward Lorenz was attempting to model weather patterns through computer simulation. He plugged data on wind speed, air pressure, and temperature into three equations that were linked, such that the calculations from the first were fed into second which then fed results back to the third which fed results back to the first, thus creating a mathematical feedback loop. Lorenz was able to predict weather with some accuracy.
One day, Lorenz needed to recheck results of a long calculation. He decided to take a shortcut, and entered the same data he had used previously but rounded it to the nearest one thousandth than to the nearest one millionth (for example: .506 instead of .506127). He thought this would have little impact on the overall results- perhaps no more than one tenth of one percent. When he looked at the printout patterns, however, he was amazed to discover that they were significantly different from the first run. He soon realized that an infinitesimal change in the numbers reflecting wind, temperature, or pressure conditions would be magnified by the feedback process, and the results would be greatly altered. This discovery ultimately led Lorenz to wonder with poetic insight, “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wing in Brazil cause tornado in Texas?”
Since then, the Butterfly Effect has become a rich metaphor, used in many fields outside physics to describe how a very small change in variable in a dynamic system can have a huge impact on how system behaves. Indeed, there are countless “butterflies” of subtle varieties and colors exerting their power throughout everyday life.
The butterfly effect should make us more conscious of the consequences of our actions. If the snap of our fingers or a pinecone can change the weather halfway around the world, imagine the impact you can have with single rude remark. Conversely, think about what a word of encouragement or a pat on the back can do for someone working on a difficult problem. (and morale and output)
As science writer Philip Goldberg puts it, “like the Hindu concept of Karma, the Butterfly Effect suggests that cause and effect are applicable in the universe even if the pattern is indecipherable and the precise cause of our predicaments, rooted far away in time and space, are ultimately unfathomable.” Computer scientist Douglas Hofstadter puts it in a slightly different way: “ It turns out that eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a façade of order-yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an eerie type of order.” Perhaps this is one of the deeper truths behind “expecting the unexpected:”
What small changes in your situations might have very large unexpected consequences? What ‘butterflies” are at work in your personal and professional life?
What great results can be achieved with small changes in input (idea, appreciation, proactive reaction to abnormal situations) in dynamic systems: family, organizations, technology development, manufacturing……???