How the Butterfly Effect Impacts Productivity

In a paper entitled, “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set off a Tornado in Texas?” the mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz suggested that any event, no matter how small, could impact something else at a later time and in a different location.

Like many remarkable discoveries, this was not what he had originally set out to do. Instead, he wanted to understand why good weather forecasts were so difficult to make – something the rest of us have wondered about as well.

His studies led to a revolution in scientific thinking – what we now call chaos theory.

 

Chaos Theory

Lorenz proposed that one very small change in a system that is already changing – something that may seem unrelated to everything else – can have huge ramifications for the outcome later on. And what makes this so tricky is the unlikelihood that the change would be identified as the cause. There would be no apparent correlation between it and the outcome. It probably wouldn’t even be on your radar.

 

The Butterfly Effect

The so-called Butterfly Effect can be seen in organizational change. Whether you want it to or not, your organization is changing either into what you would like it to be or into something else. You’re not standing still. Even if you have no turnover of staff and no one is ever sick, they are gaining more experience, becoming more knowledgeable, facing different issues at home and with their relatives; and all of these things and a lot more will have an impact on how they think and act at work – whether they’re more productive or less.

It has been suggested that these external factors are the most important “drivers for change”. There’s certainly some truth to the assertion. Consumer trends, competition, and the economic climate do have any impact on what you as a change manager do. So does your organization’s reason-for-being, its strategic management, leadership, and culture. And let’s not forget the hierarchy, interpersonal relationships, and knowledge, skills, and abilities required to do the work. Change any one of these things a little or a lot, and eventually you’ll see a change, good or bad, in your organization.

 

So what’s the problem?

It’s this: We can get so caught up in fixing blame for why something went wrong that we can lose sight of the fact that changes we make have the greater influence.

For example, the health of the economy is an external factor. During recessions, it’s more difficult to make a profit than it is when it is growing. But the fact is that some companies grow whether there is a recession or not, and some even increase their profits as a result. So that particular external factor may be more of a scapegoat than a reason.

There’s another thing that you must remember about external factors and that is that by definition, they are external – that is, they are outside of the control of organizations. They are outside of your control. So to blame them for a lack of productivity in your organization is unhelpful. You must focus on the things you can change; not the things you can’t. If all you do is look at what is out of your hands, then that will paralyze. Soon you won’t be able to do anything. Once again, you will be the cause of decreased organizational productivity.

 

It’s the culture’s fault

Organizational culture is another one that often figures at the top of a manager’s “blame list”. Underlying this is the idea that it’s the fault of the employees that morale is low or that people are unproductive. But the truth is that internal organizational structures may prevent employees from being productive because of all the forms they have to complete or the inaccessibility they have to those who can make decisions.

So you can see that these things are all interrelated. This is why attempts to reduce unproductivity down to this cause or that one are themselves an unproductive exercise. Everything is connected to everything else.

 

Awareness is an answer

While you can’t lay all of the blame for unproductivity on these things, you nevertheless still have to deal with them. And so by keeping yourself informed of their existence and constantly evaluating their likely impact on your organization you can make the changes necessary to stay ahead of the game. And the game, by the way, is not to be “competitive”. Any profit-making company is competitive; so claiming that you are is nothing to brag about. If you’re in the black, then you’re competitive. You have to get a head of that. You have to learn how to anticipate what could change in your industry and then change yourself so that you can offer new solutions to your customers at just the right time.

Apple is a perfect example. One of the reasons that they are as productive as they are is because they ask different questions than anyone else. Their iPhones reinvented the portable telephone, music, news, and personal productivity industries in a single appliance. What would a revolution on that scale look like in your industry? What questions could you ask that would drive that kind of productivity in your organization?

 

Here’s a question to get you started.

What would happen if the most common commodity or service in your industry suddenly became available for free? Look at what has happened to “expert” information. It’s available for free on the Internet if you know where to look and have the time to find it. You can learn how to do almost anything by searching on it.

Google is the largest search engine on the Internet. You probably knew that. YouTube, which Google owns, is the second largest search engine on the Web. Did you know that? There’s a lot more than entertainment on that site. There’s a lifetime of education, too.

Take some time to think about what a revolution in your industry would look like and then ask yourself how you could lead it. If you wait in the hopes that it won’t happen, someone else will steal the march on you.

 

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