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Butterfly Effect Teaches Us That Small Things Matter

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To Be Successful, One Must Develop a Successful Attitude

Ever heard of the butterfly effect? In this week's column MBA student Hana Abdelwahab reflects on what we can learn from the theory that reminds us how small things can have a massive effect.

Butterfly Effect Teaches Us That Small Things Matter.

On a winter day in 1961, Edward Lorenz, a meteorology professor at MIT, entered some numbers into a computer program simulating weather patterns.  Later that same day, he repeated the same simulation, but this time he rounded off one variable from 0.506127 to 0.506.  He then left his office to get a cup of coffee while the machine ran the simulation.  When he returned, he noticed, to his surprise, the result was very much different from the first simulation.  That tiny change had drastically transformed and changed over two months of simulated weather.  How could a tiny difference of 0.000127 cause such a phenomenal change in the weather prediction?

Lorenz commented that because everything in life is part of larger systems, even trivial events can have significant impacts on other things.  In 1963, he wrote a paper and said that if his theory were correct, ‘one flap of a seagull’s wings could change the course of weather forever.”  He then changed that metaphor to a butterfly, and the phenomenon is now widely known as the ‘butterfly effect’.  Many writers define this ‘butterfly effect’ in a more dramatic way by saying that the flap of a butterfly in one country can ‘cause’ (or ‘prevent’) a tornado in another country.  Now this does not mean that the butterfly directly provides energy for the tornado, but it simply means that the flapping of the butterfly’s wings represents a small turbulence in the atmosphere which causes a chain of events (or a domino effect) leading to a much bigger change of events thousands of miles away.  Imagine a small snowball at the top of a mountain.  As it travels down the mountain, not only does it gain momentum and speed, but it also increases in size and becomes a potentially fatal hazard to whatever is in its path.

A few years back, during a science course, the trainer recited a story whereby he saw his wife lifting up a stone in his garden and pulling out a snail.  She was about to smash it to smithereens when he hurriedly rushed to her and stopped her from doing it.  He then gave her a lecture of how killing the snail can affect the food source in the garden food chain, which would ultimately cause a large impact on the interconnecting food web in the whole ecosystem.

What does That Have to Do with Me?

What does this butterfly effect have to do with us, as students or individuals?  Everything, actually.  Just like the butterfly being part of the larger system in nature, we humans are also part of the larger systems in this universe, where various parts interact and affect one another.  So, whatever we do, no matter how small or big, can have a deep impact on our and on others’ lives.

One way of looking at this is "attitude".  Our attitude, good or bad, can affect other people.  To be successful one must develop a successful attitude, regardless of the environment.  Your positivity can affect your work and your relationship with other people.  One bad move from you, no matter how small it is, can affect the system in which you are in.  Likewise, one good move from you, no matter how small it is, can cause a lot of changes in your surroundings.  Such a negative or positive attitude can propagate in larger ways throughout the whole system.

Small Things Matter

The butterfly effect can work both ways, negatively or positively.  The two pertinent things that the butterfly effect teaches us is that small things matter, and we are all connected to a bigger system.  Our action now, today, would have been the result of a previous action and this could in turn, lead to a future action.  With one small gesture, you can change somebody’s life.  Remembering this would make us more aware that whatever we do, no matter how trivial we think it is, would lead to a ripple effect.  One small whiff of a cigarette now can change your whole life down the road, in 10 years, 20 years, or maybe 10 months.  One dollar donated from your money can change your life or somebody else’s life in a more amplified manner than you think.

Don’t ever underestimate the power of small acts.  That small act can change a person’s life as well as your life.  Harness this beautiful butterfly effect in your life.  Do small things each day.  A little progress each day will soon add up to big results.  That darn assignment that you have to write, that laborious reading that you have to complete, or that tiresome housework that you have postponed from one day to another. Do small things at a time if it’s too loathsome.  Don’t leave it to the last minute.

Be Persistent and Consistent

One of my favorite idioms is this quote by Ovid, a Roman poet, which says, “Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence”.  In Chinese, there is a similar aphorism 水滴石穿（shui di shi chuan) which means “Constant dripping of water wears away the stone.”  Tackle that mountainous task bit by bit and soon it will be over.  Be consistent and persistent, no matter how problematic it is or how tiresome.  A mountain isn’t created or destroyed in one day.  It takes years, millions of years for such things to happen.

Because life is so unpredictable, we can never know what will happen to us in the future, but if we can do just one good deed, just one small act, we can hope that the good deed can produce an optimistic future.  A small gesture of kindness, a smiling face, a helping hand, could all make a difference in somebody’s life, or our lives for that matter.  All these simple examples are a part of a bigger picture and if we can just focus and pay more attention to these little details, we may be able to make our lives and others’ lives so much better.

MBA student Hanna Abdelwahab is a regular writer for our ‘Student Column’ for Wittenborg University News.  This column is dedicated to various topics related to student life.  Hanna is originally from Singapore but migrated to Egypt in 2011.  She has a Bachelor of Accountancy Degree and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Education from Singapore and at present is doing her MBA in Education Management.

WUP 9/5/2019
by Hanna Abdelwahab