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Two Evidences That You Are Not as Small as You Think You Are

By June 27, 2019 Food for thought


If you’re like most people, you likely have no idea how incredible and far-reaching your impact is, whether you are purposefully trying to make a difference or not.  Interestingly, a statistician, Tian Zheng, from Columbia University got a little curious about how far a person’s impact travels and he mathematically determined that the average person’s social network includes six hundred people.  These are the people you know and who know you.

His calculations further determined that your six hundred people also know six hundred people, meaning that just your second-generation impact reaches over 360,000 people.  The third-generation impact equals 21.6 million people, and this third generation influence happens more often than you might think.[1]  Did you ever consider that your life might touch that many people?

You might wonder how you could influence 21.6 million people, but the answer is actually simpler than you may have thought.  You can reach that many people in a matter of days because of one simple reality:  positive emotions travel like wild fire, and have been demonstrated through objective research to be even more contagious than negative ones.[2] According to French neurologists your positive interactions with others, even from something as simple as smiling or sending positive uplifting messages on social media, have the power to shift the entire brain state of other people around you.  So much so that it is as though you had just offered $25,000 in cash or the emotional-high-equivalent of consuming forty bars of excellent quality dark chocolate.[3]  Amazing, isn’t it?

The phenomenon we have been describing in all these examples has a scientific name, by the way – although it doesn’t sound very scientific.  It’s called the “Butterfly Effect.”  Have you ever heard of it?  It is a term coined by Professor Edward Lorenz based on an interesting experience he had as he was re-running weather simulations and trying to predict outcomes. You likely wouldn’t think much about rounding a number like 0.506127 to 0.506. Not a big deal, right?  Well, as it turns out it was a huge deal.  In fact, it messed up his weather forecast model for the next two months in a way that seemed to him to create utter chaos out of his predictions.  He then concluded something you have already discovered:  everything in our world is interdependently connected, and a small change in one part can have far-reaching impacts.

This idea became known as The Butterfly Effect, to suggest that something as small as a butterfly flapping its wings (or an erroneously rounded decimal) can significantly alter something as big as the world’s weather (or a two-month weather prediction pattern). [4]  It could also be used to describe what happens when someone like you decides that their life really does matter and that they need to use their gifts to make the difference only they can make.

What would happen if you showed up today with a determination to be sure that ever person who crosses your path is left different by their time with you?  How long would it take for your ripple effect to reach 21.7 million? (Hint: it might be faster than you think).  The only important question left is will you choose to make a difference today?


Written by DeAnna Murphy, Lisa Gregory, and Steve Jeffs, who lead the People Acuity Thought Leader team and are the authors of the book Shift Up! Strengths Strategies for Optimal Living.  They are also the creators of a validated measurement tool evaluating Work Joy, Team Connection, Confident Vulnerability™ and Proactivity. Between them they have worked in nearly 60% of the Fortune 500 and Global1000 firms and collectively hold over one hundred certifications and international and national recognitions.  To book one of them as a speaker at your next event, contact info@peopleacuity.com.


[1] https://www.princeton.edu/~mjs3/mccormick_salganik_zheng10.pdf

[2] http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0142390

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9cGdRNMdQQ

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect

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