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Butterfly Effect & Chaos Theory
Butterfly Effect & Chaos Theory
Butterfly Effect & Chaos Theory
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Overview

Just in case you were becoming too accustomed to the anxiety of living in a complex world, use this model to appreciate it's real volatility.&n ...

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Deinde prima illa, quae in congressu solemus: Quid tu, inquit, huc? Hoc loco discipulos quaerere videtur, ut, qui asoti esse velint, philosophi ante fiant. An hoc usque quaque, aliter in vita? -, sed ut hoc iudicaremus, non esse in iis partem maximam positam beate aut secus vivendi. Et ille ridens: Video, inquit, quid agas; Multa sunt dicta ab antiquis de contemnendis ac despiciendis rebus humanis; Iubet igitur nos Pythius Apollo noscere nosmet ipsos. Nunc omni virtuti vitium contrario nomine opponitur. Virtutis, magnitudinis animi, patientiae, fortitudinis fomentis dolor mitigari solet. Haec mihi videtur delicatior, ut ita dicam, molliorque ratio, quam virtutis vis gravitasque postulat.

An vero, inquit, quisquam potest probare, quod perceptfum, quod. Ego quoque, inquit, didicerim libentius si quid attuleris, quam te reprehenderim. Intellegi quidem, ut propter aliam quampiam rem, verbi gratia propter voluptatem, nos amemus; Quod mihi quidem visus est, cum sciret, velle tamen confitentem audire Torquatum. Sed ego in hoc resisto; Nam illud vehementer repugnat, eundem beatum esse et multis malis oppressum.

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Actionable Takeaways
  • Embrace unpredictability and ambiguity

The butterfly effect is another reminder that, even within system ...

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Duo Reges: constructio interrete. Te enim iudicem aequum puto, modo quae dicat ille bene noris. Tum Piso: Quoniam igitur aliquid omnes, quid Lucius noster?

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Limitations

The Butterfly Effect tends to be misunderstood in popular culture. The idea of a butterfly flapping its wings and causing a typhoon is fascinating but has been interpreted as a linear explanation behind major events, rather than the intended emphasis towards complex and unpredictable patterns.

It should also not be interpreted as arguing that minor changes always have major impacts. Sometimes a butterfly will flap its wings and there will be no perceivable impact on a complex system. Sensitivity is in itself unpredictable.

Thus, one criticism of the Butterfly Effect might be the ‘so what?’ If we embrace the unpredictability that it argues, what can we do with that, how do we plan, how do we trust any other model, theory or prediction? However, a more balanced view would see it as a grounding warning.

In Practice

A Butterfly Effect at Twitter

Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey has discussed the impact of early decisions on Twitter. In a podcast interview, Dorsey explained he would have hired “a game theorist to just really understand the ramifications of tiny decisions that we make, such as what happens with retweet versus retweet with comment and what happens when you put a count next to a like button?”

He attributes that early decision and it’s implicit rewarding of liked and shared content over other metrics such as diversity, accuracy or relevance, with the ‘clickbait’ and sensationalist culture found in some parts of Twitter. 

His plan for the future embraces this unpredictability — advocating a considered and iterative approach that embraces the scientific method to continually improve the product and experience. 

Build your latticework
This model will help you to:

The butterfly effect points to uncertainty and unpredictable complex systems. 

Use the following examples of connected and complementary models to weave butterfly effect and chaos theory into your broader latticework of mental models. Alternatively, discover your own connections by exploring the category list above. 

Connected models: 

  • The ripple effect, avalanche effect and domino effect: all similar mental models pointing to the exponential impact of small factors, though they don’t emphasise the unpredictable and nonlinear nature of chaos in the same way.
  • The map is not the territory: another reminder that our simplified understanding of reality are in fact not reality.
  • Black swan events: linked to major events taking us by surprise and how we react and want to explain them afterwards.
  • Catalyst: similar mental model with a minor element promoting change at a large scale.
  • Compounding: speaks to the exponential impact of a small starting point. 

Complementary models: 

  • Diversification: in an unpredictable world best be prepared for, well, unpredictability.
  • Leverage: not to be mistaken with the butterfly effect, leverage works with more controlled and predictable elements to create an amplified impact. 
  • 4Ps of marketing: aim to apply small improvements to these factors to test long term impact.
  • Scientific method: use this method to continually test and update understanding in a complex world.
  • Occam’s razor: sometimes it wasn’t the butterfly flapping, sometimes it was just a more direct and obvious causal relationship.
Origins & Resources

The Butterfly Effect concept was coined by American mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz who imagined the metaphor of a tornado being determined by perturbations as minor as the flapping of the wings of a butterfly weeks earlier.

The idea of small actions having large effects had been described before by many mathematicians and philosophers, with the most famous probably being that of Johann Gottlieb Fichte who said in his 1800 work The Vocation of Man that "you could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby ... changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole".

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