Scott Hanselman

The Butterfly Effect of Technology Community

September 04, 2015 Comment on this post [16] Posted in Musings
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Butterfly Effect by Rhett Maxwell used under CC

The Butterfly Effect is everywhere, truly. The best part is, due to confirmation bias, once you start looking for it you'll see it everywhere. ;)

The Butterfly Effect: This effect grants the power to cause a hurricane in China to a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico. It may take a very long time, but the connection is real. If the butterfly had not flapped its wings at just the right point in space/time, the hurricane would not have happened. - Chaos Theory

If you see something cool, share it. If you learn something interesting, share it, and share it in multiple ways. Even a small thing can add up to a big payoff.

I got a great email from a reader this week from Neil of TheSmartFinish. Neil has a small business doing woodworking for connected homes and creates decorative mounts for Nest Thermostats. I have a Nest so Neil reached out to share what he's created.

I tweeted about it. A tiny thing, to be clear. I don't tweet about everything, and I DO get a lot of requests for tweets. My tweets are at my discretion, and I read about it, and shared it.

After a while I thought that Nest should be featuring his stuff themselves. A random tweet from me only goes so far, so I publically told @nest they should feature/RT Neil's stuff. At this point, my butterfly has flapped its wings and I've moved on.

Fast forward and I get the email from Neil. These tweets got some attention and @nest DID actually tweet about him!

This gave him valuable legitimacy and ultimately there was a great article on his project at VentureBeat. Other than the poor title as there are no "ex-marines" - Meet the ex-marine who builds artisanal mounts for connected homes - it's a cool write-up. Now his business is starting to get some new visibility, which is great!

Why am I sharing this story? Absolutely not to toot any horns - certainly not mine - but rather to remind us all about the power of the little things.

I've received hundreds of emails over the last few years with folks sharing stories about "I read this and it got me thinking about" or "listening to this podcast made me quit my job and move overseas" or "my spouse and I were inspired by this post and I switched jobs" and on and on. One reader started a Diabetes non-profit after reading a blog post. Another changed her job and has moved into an industry she really believes in. You might tweet a job opening but never realize that it was the beginning of a move across the country for someone you'll never meet!

I'm a firm believer of the idea that if you put good out there, good stuff will happen. What we do with our tweets, blogs, presentations, podcasts, and books is tiny. We fly our little butterfly wings and try to influence and motivate. What's really amazing are the powerful hurricanes that YOU, Dear Reader, harness for positive change in your life and in the lives of others.

Please, share your Butterfly Effect Stories in the comments! What small things have propelled a huge change in your life?

* Butterfly Effect Photo by Rhett Maxwell used under CC

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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September 04, 2015 7:00
Those small instances of putting things out there can have an effect, but they can take time. I blog and tweet and most of the time it doesn't seem to have any impact, but I keep doing it anyway hoping that my sharing/creating will be useful or inspirational to someone. (If nothing else, it's writing practice for me.)

To be fair, some "flaps of the wings" are bigger than others. It's one thing to be mentioned in the town newsletter, and quite another to be mentioned in a national paper. If you're one of those multiplier nodes in the network, you have way more impact than someone on the edge.
September 04, 2015 9:22
Geoff, one thing to consider is that the hurricane didn't know that the butterfly flapped its wings.

The impact of your contribution can be quite dramatic, you just may not know it :)
September 04, 2015 13:59
11:11 seems to appear far too often.
September 04, 2015 14:25
I first was aware of the Butterfly effect in my personal life back in 1979/1980. Super short version.

* Was considering taking a new job and relocating.
* Passed Interview and would be hired.
* Found Apartment, but did not have Cash with me that day to lock it in.
* Returned to Apartment as it opened the next morning. Manager was not in office. About 5-10 minutes, he appeared with a woman, the woman left. He then informed me the woman had taken the apartment.
* Because of the above, I had time to think about the new job, and did not take it.
* The next weekend I asked the woman who would become my wife and mother of my son out on our first date (we had know each other socially for a while).

That that "random woman" not rented that specific apartment in that few minute window. I would have handed over the money and signed the lease; then taken the job; and my entire life would have been different.

I never knew who she was, and she never even knew I existed.
September 04, 2015 15:40
A project for my son that got a lot bigger than I expected:

Lead to:

and I was inspired to collaborate and share the code by folks that were inspired by:

With or without me, clearly these ideas had found their time. It's wonderful to see how far it's gone and how many people have benefitted.

September 04, 2015 16:25
I am glad I have subscribed to your blog, Scott. These stories are cool, and educational to the newbs like myself that are trying to better understand Twitter and marketing an idea/product in general.
September 04, 2015 16:56
While I agree with the sentiment of your post, I don't think describing yourself as a butterfly flapping its wings is an accurate portrayal. You're very well known in tech circles- a tweet from you to the general public or to Nest is a much bigger deal and reaches a far wider audience than Joe Smith doing something similar. Many tech companies feature even a single sentence of praise from you prominently on their company pages as a badge of legitimacy.
September 04, 2015 17:20
The movies always get this wrong. If you went back in time at all, the air you displace would change the timeline drastically. I tend to believe in an event-based temporal multiverse, so go ahead. This timeline is written in stone.
September 07, 2015 9:19
Well done Scott and thanks for sharing.
September 07, 2015 19:24
I believe if you share, tweet, you are pushing something that it is gonna happen anyway. At least I like to think it that way.
If you quite your job, its not because you read a blog article, but because you have though it thru many times and that article help you take the final decision. My point its that off course small thing matter (a lot), but help pushing things in a path that was already started to be transited.
September 08, 2015 21:37
I've had my own fair share of butterfly stories, many of them involving kick-starting people in the games and software industries by my passion for the craft.

At MSOE, during my sophomore year, I met an incoming freshman who was a little... odd. He was enthusiastic, but had some ill-conceived notions about how things like electricity worked. I sat by him and tried to explain that his enthusiasm was in the right place, but what he was talking about wasn't physically possible, and I tried to guide him in the right direction to figure out what he was talking about. From that point on, we became decent friends, and he grew and devoured anything that took his interest. A couple of summers ago, he ended up interning at NASA Ames, got involved in the robotics team on campus, and lead a group on learning game development with Unity, among his many other hobbies.

Another friend of mine was an artist I met in middle school, when I stood up to a bully who was harassing her on the bus. Her and I would sit together and draw stuff on our way home from school. We decided that when we grew up, we'd both try to make video games. Her sister is now a voice actress and community sponsor for Riot Games, and she graduated from DigiPen to become a game artist, getting her feet wet on a project for King (of Candy Crush fame).

Another friend of mine, inspired by my successful attempt to get into E3 in 2010, switched his major from electrical and computer engineering to software engineering, and now works for a game studio in Seattle while attending college in Milwaukee.
September 09, 2015 16:51
Hey Scott, you really got the real meaning out from there. The Butterfly Effect is definitely being effective in this tech savy world. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I'm looking forward to read more blog posts like these. Thanks again for sharing :)
September 09, 2015 20:52
Here's one for you, from a registered Dave (I'm a registered Dave at the Dave Registry);
So I went to high school in Pittsburgh. I graduated in 1989, so it's been a while. Just about a month ago I started a new job here in South Carolina. I struck up a conversation with someone I now work with, and my growing up in Pittsburgh came up. This person I was talking with had an aunt who grew up there as well. After asking her aunt about where she went to high school, we realized we had gone to the same high school (her aunt and I). Neither of us remember the others' name, but after looking at her old year book, her aunt recognized me. She still lives in Pittsburgh, but she took some photos of her yearbook and sent them to her niece (the woman I work with now). Her niece (my coworker) found me the next day and showed me the pictures of her aunt, and me, from the yearbook. They brought back memories, and something that I had not thought of in 30 years came flooding back into my head. I had given this girl the Heimlich in the cafeteria one day when I was a freshman and she was a sophomore. She was choking and couldn't breath, so I grabbed her and gave her the Heimlich. She spit out a huge piece of hot dog, and after a moment, she was fine. She told her niece (my coworker) that she had always remembered that day as the day she could have died, but she never had thanked the kid who "saved" her. In high school, as kids, we didn't make a big deal of it, but over time, after having kids, and recognizing what had happened that day, she had always wanted to say "thank you" to the kid who did that. Well, through her niece, she was finally able to tell me 'thank you' after over 30 years of wondering if she ever could.
September 12, 2015 17:23
Great article Scott! Just the title is enough to attract people to read this article.
September 15, 2015 2:00
You're not wrong, Scott. My blog has all of two public posts, but about 10 draft's. One is about Linq and examples of how to use each of the methods. I used it today at work as a reference, but after reading this I'm going to work on it further and make it public. If it can help others, even a little with a project, then it's worth sharing.
November 02, 2015 23:59
Thank you Scott!

5 months ago, I took a new job at a small company, 35 people. They have Office 365 and no one knows what MySite, Skype or OneDrive for Business is. Living off local files and email attachments is sad, really. I started a personal blog, because there are only so many, and respond sparingly to email - usually just a link. One of the Execs is coming around to think it's a good idea.

Even if I left today, there will be something that remains to make a difference for the company in the future. Hopefully, I can enroll several more coworkers to get past the tipping point.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.