Author, Dharsh Dharsh •  • 5 min read

The Butterfly effect
A powerful mental model to view the world by

The Butterfly effect Cover

Ever heard of the phrase, 'a butterfly flapping in New Mexico can lead to a hurricane in China'? This is referred to as 'The Butterfly Effect'. Though this may not be scientifically true, it is still a very beautiful metaphor. When Bob the butterfly flaps his wings in New Mexico, he sets can potentially set off a chain of constantly growing winds that can, with some luck, lead to a hurricane in China. It goes to show that something so small can have a massive influence on the world. Causing a hurricane isn't making Bob want to or not want to flap his wings. He ultimately has a goal of getting somewhere, and one of his flaps in the process leads to a tornado. Who would have thought?

We're all Bob. Every day we do things that influence other people in their journeys, intentional or not. And we in turn also do things because we are influenced by others. Let's take an example in your own life. Think of your latest and greatest success and trackback in time thinking about why you did the things you did and what got you there. It's possible that one or more interactions with someone or something sparked the journey. And the best part, the person that inspired you, may not have had your success as their ultimate goal, but rather, was just flapping their wings.

Some Cool Examples

The butterfly effect applies almost everywhere, in business, the stock market, history, life. This is a verse by Benjamin Franklin that was written around the 13th century even before the butterfly effect was identified. It offers a good poetic explanation of the effect.

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost,
For want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For want of a horse the rider was lost,
For want of a rider the battle was lost,
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

The Butterfly Effect (2004) is a movie featuring Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart and others that I've been meaning to watch. There are also some great real-world examples of the butterfly examples out there. Here are a few interesting ones that I found.

A picture collage of all the examples provided below
  • The Space Shuttle and the Horse's Ass - how a horse's ass determined the width of railway tracks and ultimately a major space shuttle design feature. The reason the early spaceships had two smaller booster rockets on the side was to make it possible to transport by railway through a tunnel towards one of the very few launch pads at that time. And the standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot from about 2000 years back which is about the distance between two horses' assholes standing side-by-side.

  • Cryptocurrency - How the white paper by Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin, is revolutionizing the world of finance and giving birth to so my new technologies like web 3.0

  • The Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna rejected Adolf Hitler’s application, twice - how a young Hitler applied for art school and was rejected, possibly by a Jewish professor. This led him to change the course of his life and ultimately history.

  • Pencil of promise - Adam Braun asked a boy begging on the streets of India, "If there is one thing you wanted in the world, what would it be?". The boy replied, "A Pencil". This led Adam to start a movement "Pencil of Promise". With an initial investment of $25, they ended up raising $50,000,000, setting up 430 schools and providing quality education to over 75,000 children.

Explore more examples ->

It used to be thought that the events that changed the world were things like big bombs, maniac politicians, huge earthquakes, or vast population movements, but it has now been realized that this is a very old-fashioned view held by people totally out of touch with modern thought. The things that change the world, according to Chaos theory, are the tiny things. A butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazonian jungle, and subsequently a storm ravages half of Europe.
— from Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Takeaways:

Although the butterfly effect is less of a fact and more of a metaphor, it is a very powerful one. Here are a few things we can take away from it:

  • The world and life can largely be unpredictable. The systems around us are chaotic and entropic, prone to sudden change and constant influence.

  • Keep putting yourself out there, the more you do, the greater the probability of luck and the potential of you finding something desirable.

  • Keep in mind that you influence people every day and try to be mindful of the kind of influence you put out there

  • Don't make it your ultimate goal to create a hurricane (focus on the end result), rather focus on flapping your wings every day (consistency)

  • No matter how small your audience is, you can still create a hurricane. Put your work out into the world and share your journey.

Resources and More Reading