The Butterfly Effect

Many people have heard about the butterfly effect. It suggests that the butterfly, when flapping its wings, could either stop or cause a tornado. This term was coined by Edward Lorenz when he worked with weather models. In his research, he found that a very small change in initial conditions created significantly different outcomes.

Researchers within chaos theory have similarly found that when there are tiny changes in one state of a nonlinear system there could be large differences in a later state. Organizations are most often nonlinear. Even if they sometimes create linear structures as a visual of their work, it is usually in an effort to make it comprehensible. In everyday life, the work gets done in the way that is most efficient and possible in the moment. So even when people think they do things the same way every time there are always different conditions that will change the outcome of their actions.

The butterfly effect shows that achieving a certain outcome is not only about flapping the wings (or acting on something), but about how the conditions are when this is done. Some of these are more easily observed than others. The initial conditions of an organization might be the ones they seldom think about when trying to find out why the outcome is not as expected. More often they think about what is seen on the surface, such as external conditions. Even if these also have an impact, making that small change in the initial conditions might be what is needed to change the results.

Changing the initial conditions could be to simply look for what worldview the decisions and actions are based on. The worldview of an organization could be implicitly embedded in the organizational structure and not recognized or outspoken. It could be the view of the world that was held by its founders or that was prevalent when the organization was born. Not all organizations are aware of what worldview their decisions are based on. There is often more than one worldview present in each situation since the people involved could have different worldviews and the organization another one. Some might look at their decisions and actions from a mechanistic view, observing the world as a machine with easily exchangeable parts. Another might look at it from a systemic view where you can find cause and effect and others still have a metaphysical view where everything is energy. Just the conversation about what the different worldviews are could change the initial conditions where the work is being done.

It is worth a try to do as Edward Lorenz and make a small change to the initial conditions or the foundational values of the organization where we do our work, to see if this will give us the results we are looking for. It is not as if we can manage change since there will always be a changing environment. Rather it is like something to hold on to, a values foundation or a culture that supports us when circumstances are rocking the boat and we still want to move on.

To learn more about worldviews and how they impact organizations, look at the workshop Path to Organizational Health & Balance, Foundational Module 1 of the Genuine Contact™ Program. This workshop is short, could be found in many different locations around the world and it could help you to work on the butterfly effect.



Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash


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