Small Changes Turn into Bigger Things

Flying…Though not Winging It

In 1972, MIT meteorology professor Edward Lorenz asked, “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” His intention was to show that sometimes complex systems (think of weather patterns) can behave unpredictably, with small changes sometimes resulting in many different outcomes.

Lorenz’s question sparked “chaos theory” in the mathematics world. (More recently, in the Avengers movie world, Dr. Strange spun some chaos theory: after a wild mental reconnaissance mission, he told Iron Man that he’d just looked at 14,000,605 futures and only one of them looked good for the future of humanity.)

The butterfly effect stretches its wings to include our industrial world. For example, in 2011 Japan experienced a 9.1-magnitude earthquake, followed 30 minutes later by a tsunami. Three days later, that tsunami caused a nuclear core meltdown at reactors in the city of Fukushima. Alongside the tragic loss of life, business, and shelter, Japan—and a good portion of the world—experienced a disruption in the supply chain.

Here’s how Kimberly Amadeo, writing in The Balance, describes the effect:

“If a disaster is bad enough, it can slow global growth. In 2011, Japan’s earthquake and resultant tsunami damaged enough ports and airports to halt 20% of the world’s supply of semiconductor equipment and materials. The wings, landing gears, and other major airline parts are also made in Japan, so the quake disrupted the production of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. U.S. gross domestic product slowed in 2011 as 22 Japanese auto part plants suspended production.”

(Oddly enough, the nuclear disaster also created a mutation of butterflies.)

Though these are extreme scenarios, it’s not all doom and gloom. Throughout our years in business, we’ve been fortunate to establish, nurture, and strengthen a number of professional relationships—with customers, manufacturers, and vendors alike—that prove the benevolent side of the butterfly effect.

We’ve seen it time and again: one phone call, one transaction, or one handshake can set a positive trajectory in motion.

New steel tariffs sent alarm bells throughout the industry a year ago. We didn’t panic. We networked. Through those conversations, we’ve been able to keep prices competitive and—more often than not—leading.

Like the yard ramp inventory we rent and sell, one foundation of our business model is to work, efficiently and honestly, in the background for our customer base, often with great focus on the small things. The Yard Ramp Guy team emphasizes attention to detail, whether it’s Mike confirming and reconfirming your loading dock dimensions or Jim asking how wide that turn is from the road to your warehouse.

As George Eliot wrote, “Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.”

This week, our man McCoy Fields experiences things following him around. It’s not paranoia. It’s the frequency illusion. And it’s fascinating.

Check out his terrific blog HERE.