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The Butterfly Effect in Public Service

Does the flap of butterfly’s wing in Brazil change the weather in Texas?

So asked Edward Lorenz in his 1963 study on the analysis of the “sensitive dependence on initial conditions.” Tiny variations amplified over time, like a butterfly’s wing flapping, can be a cause for a great wind far away. He called it “The Butterfly Effect.” This is why today’s weather forecasts are in percentages of likelihood (i.e.: 50% chance of rain) as the slightest condition in the air can change the course of weather.

Such a great wind blew through Stafford recently when citizen Buddy Secor addressed the Board of Supervisors.

Buddy was cutting his grass and suffered a heart attack. He credits his life to the excellent and collaborative work of the paramedics, sheriff’s deputies, 911 telecommunicators, and medical staff at Stafford Hospital.

He thanked the Board of Supervisors for their commitment to good service and ended his presentation with the ultimate in gratitude saying simply, “Thank you for my life.”

If you ever wondered if the work we do is important, Buddy Secor answers a resounding “Yes.”

When did our help to Buddy Secor start? It began well before his wife dialed 911. Did it start the day that HR helped Sheriff and Fire and Rescue select quality employees to start their academies? Did it start the day that Finance helped purchase the ambulance or when IT kept our aging technology functioning to ensure communications? Did it start the day our first responders answered the call to public service? Maybe it began with teaching by a great teacher in the classroom or by a great parent in the family room? You might say the butterfly’s wings were flapping for years before Buddy’s fateful day.

We build a great community through our collective efforts to create the climate for excellence and service. Excellent service is the manifestation of thousands of hours of training, planning, conversation, and commitment that lead to a single act. Most overnight successes are years in the making.

When touring a NASA facility in the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson came across a custodian. He asked the man what his role was at NASA.

The custodian said, “Mr. President, my job is to put a man on the moon.

Like the gentle flutter of a butterfly’s wing can build to a great wind over time, there are no small acts in public service.

 

Thanks for all you do.

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Submitted by Anthony J. Romanello

 

 

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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