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A game to demostrate the butterfly effect


I'm thinking about something like passing balloons where it is clear for all that if someone does not do his work, the whole process is affected.

Thanks a lot for your help on this


6 Responses

  1. questions and comments

    Hi Julian

    Why a "game"…..and how long can you spend on this…. and what is the intention?

    I was involved with an internal support department who kept dropping ‘relatively small’ clangers that had massive individual impacts further down the line, well out of sight of these folks.  Their only response was to object to people whinging about them!

    I got them to map their day to day support processes and then introduced them to "Downstream Impact"….I then gave them personal profiles of some of the end users of the process and got them to consider the likely personal costs on the end user of even a very small failure (such as a 48 hour delay in final authorisation or a 50p miscalculation in the financial mathematics….they were gobsmacked at the potential they had for seriously damaging people’s lives.  We spent three hours on the whole event and the effect it had on their quality and productivity was absolutely amazing.


  2. Great idea
    Thanks Rus!!

    You are right, I don’t necessarily need a "game". What I want is something that help them to realize de Downstream impact they have and I love your idea. If I understood right, you made them build a map on what happened after they were involved in the process and then realized the impact an error would have in the final user, right?
    You said it took 3 hours, did you map several processes? or had a long discussion? Any specifics on how to build the maps?

    Thanks a lot for your answer; it is giving me lots of clarity



  3. Butterfly effect


    I’m reminded of the ‘for the want of a nail…’ connection. Alongside an exercise a true story often helps bring this to life. My favourite is one from a major oil company.

    A few years ago an ex-student from a leadership programme went back to the office fired up to address some of the big issues in his aea, South America. He spotted that sales had fallen off about two years ago and had stayed flat so he set about trying to find out why. After speaking with a number of maangers he found out that the blame was all being put on the retail outlet – petrol stations – but no one seemed to know the root cause. He then remembered something he had learnt on his leadership course: go speak with the people on the ground, get to know your business from the bottom up, understand your people and help them get rid of the blocks that stop them giving of their best.

    After a few interesting discussions with forecourt staff he knew more about their views on everything, except what he was after. Then he came across an old guy in one of the older outlets just of a main highway. He said he knew exactly what the problem was. About two years ago someone in the company shifted to a new supplier of small rubber washers that fit in the top of the pumps. These washers were pence cheaper but kept failing. As a result more pumps were out of action and for longer. In fact, with fitting costs the new washer was far more expensive.

    When he got back to office he set about sorting this out and ended up going back to the old, more reliable washers – which cost less than 10p. By the end of the year sales were back on the up. The next year profits were up £2m.

    A small action by someone in a back office caused the problem. But it is also woth noting that a small action in that training room also had a big (positive) effect.


  4. Thank you!

    This is an excellent story I plan on using for a problem solving class I am teaching in a month.  I have been looking for a good example for some time.  I loved it, thank you for sharing.

  5. A Game suggestion

    Hi Julian,

    here is one idea of a game which illustrates the effects of small changes which are amplified in the system. It’s from some acting classes I did, so it may or may not fit your audience.

    1. Get everyone in a circle.
    2. Throw a ball across the circle from one person to another. Everyone has to remember to which person she threw the ball.
      Everyone has to get the ball exactly one time.
      The last person throws to the first person.
    3. Repeat it once to check if everyone know their "target".
      Succes check: You have created a closed "chain" of connection between people.
    4. Everyone is told to stand as still as possible and to observer their target.
    5. If they spot a movement of the target, they have to immitate it and amplify it *slightly but noticably*.
      Everyone is doing this at the same time.
      Every movement counts, even (and especially) involuntary ones.
      Noises are included.

    If everything goes right, you see the group going from being absolutely still to completely chaotic and big movements in a very short time.

    All created from two simple rules: Observe and Immitate & Amplify.

    I call this game "Feedback Circle", but I wouldn’t give the name to the participants, it kind of spoils the punchline of the exercise.



  6. Try a chain game.

    Using gummed strips of paper ask delegates to discuss and write down steps in a process, how departments interact, etc, etc, and using this eventually form a literal paper chain.


    Next start to talk through potential problems / issues and things people do which cause issues in a process / procedure… you can do a few things here… you can break the chain, or, you could hang possible issues off the main chain (If you weight these with blutak they will have a visual impact on the length of chain as it will sag… if there are enough issues it will break).


    This works really well for communication and customer experience ‘chains’ but can be scaled up / down.  It is also really useful for team development activities as it is a simple, quick (fairly low tech) exercise which gives powerful results.

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