Perhaps you’ve heard of the butterfly effect, an interesting concept that small causes may have large effects on life. The term is associated with mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz, who in the 1960s questioned if the flap of a butterfly’s wing in Brazil could set off a tornado in Texas. In part, his question asks, could something seemingly inconsequential cause a significant outcome? Today, the butterfly effect has since been applied broadly, with the idea that small change can indeed cause a larger consequence.
Some might be tempted to laugh at the question Lorenz posed. However, in life, we have all likely experienced some type of “ripple effect.” Take this example into consideration. You set the button on your alarm to wake up early for work. The alarm sounds in the morning, but you accidentally hit off instead of snooze. You oversleep and miss your train to work. As a result, you miss an important meeting. Your boss becomes angry with you for being absent from the meeting and chooses someone else for a promotion. Theoretically, all of this occurred because of one small action, hitting the wrong button on the alarm. One small event led to one large outcome.
Many entrepreneurs believe that simple actions can indeed yield larger rewards. Thus, they apply those principles in their daily business operations, from marketing to how they treat their customers and employees. Years back, Forbes described how Mary Kay Ash, a woman who founded a multibillion-dollar cosmetic company out of a $5,000 initial investment, applied aspects of the butterfly effect to her business. Her success was attributed to making individuals feel important, a simple policy in which she treated her staff, customers, and suppliers with care and consideration. This, in turn, created excellent relationships, which helped her business to blossom. Ash said, “I’ve often said that we are doing something far more important than selling cosmetics; we are changing lives.” Because she made individuals feel important, she ultimately produced a higher yield which enabled her company to grow by leaps and bounds, small actions equaling big results.
Often, the butterfly effect is cited in terms of history. The WWII Bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, Japan, is a prime example. Many are surprised to learn that historically Nagasaki was not the initial target of the second bombing campaign. Instead, the town of Kokura, a populated city where the Japanese were producing chemical weapons, was supposed to be hit. However, due to inclement weather and poor visibility, changed the second U.S. bomb drop in Japan. For this reason, Kokura is often referred to as the luckiest Japanese city in the war. One small change in weather altered history.
One can argue that in life, things are somewhat predictable. For example, it is likely inevitable that an employee who is late will suffer some consequence. However, Lorenz’s theory, which laid the foundation for a branch of mathematics called the chaos theory, is based on the concept of trying to predict the behavior of inherently unpredictable systems. Thus, the concept is often misinterpreted. Despite this, we can see that chain reactions and ripple effects can occur, and those small things can impact larger events and outcomes. Applying this knowledge wisely in life, by delivering the best of ourselves even on the smallest scale, can likely lead to much greater things.