Chaos Theory At Work

We were on our way for two weeks of vacation on Vancouver Island. We were up early and out the door by 7AM armed with lattes, tunes and a picnic lunch. The drive was a spectacular one as the sun rose and painted various colours and shapes on the mountain canvas. Kendra and I love road trips. Our favourite music playing, great conversation, wind through the sunroof and a new beautiful sight around every corner.

Almost four hours into our trip it came to a sudden halt on the mountainous approach to Rogers Pass, a beautiful but remote section of road in British Columbia where even cellular coverage is spotty. We are in a line of cars that stretches by accounts a kilometre ahead of us. There has been a horrific accident. By word of mouth we hear that there has been a collision between two pickup trucks resulting in the loss of at least one life. In the end thankfully no one died, but three people were seriously injured.

The road was closed for a police investigation. Before it was over we had sat for three and a half hours before we slowly crawled off merging two lanes of a kilometre or more of cars into one and then slowly spreading out to get up to driving speed.

We found the whole environment to be an interesting place for connection with others. Most everyone was remarkably calm and easy going about the whole thing … a sense of fatalism settled over the place for most although a number of cars decided it wasn’t worth the wait and either abandoned their trip or sought other routes to their destination.

For us there was no choice so we waited, we conversed, we played with the children around us and engaged in speculation about what had happened. The first sense was one of sadness for the people involved. There’s just something not believable about these types of events. Things shift. Lives changed forever. Families disrupted. Coworkers missing from their teams. Knowledge and unique skills no longer available to the world.


The next thing we contemplated was the effect on us. We were on a schedule to catch a ferry that we ended up missing. We ended up catching a ferry two hours later with just enough time to grab a take out meal to take on board. We will arrive at our destination late and tired but otherwise no worse for wear.

But how about the others We shared this experience with? while sitting in the line we began to wonder about what other stories unfolded around us.

“Maybe that guy over there is rushing to see his girlfriend off at the airport in Vancouver and misses her. What if that breaks the bond between them and they don’t end up together and don’t have children who DON’T turn out to be … ”

“Maybe those two people talking in the lineup to the rest stop restrooms are complete strangers but have a connection that leads to a relationship that leads to children who DO turn out to be …”

“Perhaps because we will miss our reservation on the ferry tonight the person that takes our place will strike up a conversation with another traveler and be inspired by that conversation to undertake a new venture which makes a significant contribution …”

These are all fanciful ideas, but I am certain that there will be numerous stories of impact from the thousands of people affected by the unintentional mistake of a single driver, and it isn’t beyond the realm to think that these impacts will ripple outward a few more degrees.

Even those not directly affected noticed the effect today. With so many people stranded hotels, restaurants and shops along the route experienced an unusually boom in business today. Who knows what spin-offs might come from that boon, or if longer working hours for the day took their toll in other ways.

This was a big event. And there will be consequences that ripple out that are felt for quite a while.

I wonder how this plays out with all of the smaller decisions, actions and inactions we are involved with on a day to day basis? I wonder if it is worth being more conscious of how we affect the flow of things around us as well as our impact on others?

Does a cranky sort of day send someone home in a bad mood where a relationship suffers?

Does not making a quick enough decision on a new hire ripple outward when that person hires on with a competitor instead?

Does a hastily made decision eventually turn into a money losing situation that impacts the organization’s ability to grow which means they don’t hire people who then don’t grow … ?

Overall, what is the impact if I don’t put my best self forward every day? I want to spend some time thinking about the application of chaos theory at work. One thing that is probably true to me is that this awareness of the ripple effect associated with chaos theory can never hold me back. I can’t worry about what happens as the ripples spread, only that I made the ripples with my best efforts and greatest of intents.

An interesting treatise
An interesting treatise

I am closing with a picture I took of some prose that really resonated with me. I found this on Hornby Island which is three ferry hops from mainland North America. People go here to pursue a quieter and simpler life.

I think if we could follow this every day we would not worry about the effects of our ripples quite so much.

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Ian Munro @

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

9 thoughts on “Chaos Theory At Work

  1. When I was 19, I was supposed to catch a ride on the back of a motorcycle to a party. My mom phoned and I missed my ride. I was upset and grabbed a taxi, only to find out once I’d arrived that the driver of the motorcycle had crashed into a poll and had died. I’m not the most patient person, yet when a flight is delayed or canceled or I am otherwise held up in traffic, I always wonder if it saved my life somehow…or at the very least saved me a lot of trouble.

  2. I just watched a documentary last night called “I Am” by Tom Shadyac (on Netflix right now). It’s about what’s wrong with the world today and what we can we do about it. What I found very interesting within the documentary is the fact that our hearts generate an electromagnetic field which radiates external to the body. This field can be detected by other people (and vise-versa) which can have a physiological effect. We are connected to one another and the heart can be considered the primary access point to our spirit or higher self. We are all part of a universal energy field. The ripples that you mention, which we create, are quite real and our actions have profound effects. Thanks for this blog Ian, I have started reading up on Chaos theory and the butterfly effect.

      1. I’ve already bookmarked as they mentioned it in the documentary. I’m also going to check out a book called “The Field” by Lynne McTaggart. Lots of good stuff here!

  3. A great post, Ian. I really like the way you surrendered to the road block situation, and it went on from there.

    I appreciate your thoughts re how a bad mood can affect a relationship. I’ve been through shit at work and it has affected my end of the day, how I’ve dealt with Daniel at the end of the day (my son) – you know, cheerfully or glumly. I’ve rethought that, too.

    I think I told you some long time ago “my boss is eating my soul”. Well, I got retrenched. A relief, but now in the horror of not knowing where my rent is coming from.

    Enjoy your holiday! 🙂

  4. I will start by thanking you Ian for inviting me to follow your blog, I look forward to reading about your thoughts on life and leadership.

    I agree with your thoughts, our life is made up of a serious of seconds we don’t know what the next one will bring us. Each moment in life we make choices these choices have a ripple effect through those who our life reaches and so on. Personally I take a moment every morning before my feet hit the floor and I think about having a super day, I try and bring to the world the best Heather I can be…this will hopefully bring calmer waters to all those I see that day or at least a smile 🙂

    Hornby Island is one of my favorite places to relax and unwind. The sign you photographed there is great, I agree with that completely we should all have this posted somewhere as a reminder.


    1. Thanks for following!!

      I love your thought about intentionally having a great day every day. We will still make ripples and we won’t know what they do when they bump into someone else, but we have a much better chance of it being positive!!

  5. Thanks for the marvelous posting! I seriously enjoyed reading it, you can be a great author.
    I will make sure to bookmark your blog and definitely will come
    back in the future. I want to encourage yourself to continue your
    great job, have a nice morning!

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