The intersection between HR strategy and HR technology

The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect

Feb 21, 2011

In 1972, Edward Lorenz wrote a paper called “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?”  In this paper, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings, a minute, very low mass, and quite insignificant action, represents a small initial and remote condition that can lead to major downstream impacts.  Chaos theory is actually the study of initial conditions that lead to large divergences in outcomes. 1

I’m always complaining about meteorologists (I actually long since stopped watching TV news, so now I complain about weather.com).  But considering the numerous possibilities and dynamics of how weather can change, it’s no wonder they can’t quite get the formula right.  I mean, how many butterflies are there in the Amazon in Brazil anyway?  The possibilities are so staggering that any predictability is pretty good – so while they can’t take into account every possible variance, it is possible to look at large inputs that are happening fairly close to the near future and impending events.

HR is quite similar – we have so many individual contributors (pun intended) that watching every employee in the organization, every conversation, IM and email is rather impossible.  But we do know that our ability to engage our workforce happens through communications, whether it’s manager to employee, from project managers giving cool work to people, vendors making good or bad promises, executives steering the company direction with the board of directors or communicating to employees.  It might be the random water cooler conversation that spins out of control and becomes an avalanche of employee sentiment (good or bad).

So while we can’t monitor every single interaction in our workforce, we can indeed monitor major trends that are going on.  We know that wind direction is blowing east at 10 miles an hour in a particular region, and that atmospheric pressure is dropping somewhere else.  We understand that as these two conditions might hit each other, certain predictable events happen.

I’m talking as much about tragedy, a change in benefits providers that leads to major losses in employee engagement, as I am talking about those huge gains, increases in a specific competency that drive the next major innovation.  Our jobs in HR are so incredibly complex as we as we create service delivery, technology and processes that foster growth while at the same time combing through predictive analytics that avert disaster at every turn.  It’s our job to understand those trends in current and fan them so they become stronger or weaker.

The breadth of currents that we look out for is also amazing – from all things rewards which is already extraordinarily broad, to talent which is also extraordinarily broad, to core HR, ER, PR, and whatever else R.  We constantly adapt, to new legislation to new processes, technology and theories.  There is so much “why we hate HR” out there, but we accomplish so much it’s often staggering.

So here, on my 1,000th post, I wanted to offer my congratulations to all of you out there – my readers – for all you do, all you are, all we create, and all we contribute.  We control the chaos.  And while you do it, thank you for reading.


  1. I know you guys don’t like when I talk science, it shows in the hit rates for this site.  But here goes anyway. [back]

One comment

  1. Bill Kutik /

    Dubs, as a former daily newspaper reporter — New York Times, New York Daily News — I am staggered and awestruck by your achieving 1,000 posts. I well remember the days when you were the first HR blogger (I think) and certainly the first to post every day (John Sumser’s earlier daily newsletter was pre-blog technology).

    I still grasp my head in wonderment at your ability to do that since I know you had a high-powered job then as now.

    While you’ve posted less frequently in the last few years, you’ve been no less thoughtful or provocative.

    Thanks for starting so many important conversations. And congratulations, again.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tweets that mention The Butterfly Effect | systematicHR -- Topsy.com - [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by William Tincup, Bret Starr and glolog, Wes Wu. Wes Wu said: The …
  2. Trends HR 2011 » HR Tech Central - [...] The Butterfly Effect Systematic HR Monday, February 21, 2011 HR is quite similar – we have …

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