The butterfly effect, chaos theory and getting ahead of the trends

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architectural drawing
Computer generated perspective of the Moscow School of Management, by David Adjaye (from Wikipedia article on architectural drawing).
butterfly effect

The butterfly effect in the Lorenz attractor — concepts that may be a bit advanced for a non-mathematical mind — but the concept that seemingly small events in one place can have much larger consequences elsewhere — is easier to comprehend.

Scott Butcher and William Long have written a provocative story: The Butterfly Effect and its Impact on AEC Firms, in The SMPS Marketer, precursor to a presentation they will give at the association’s annual conference in Philadelphia in August.

Their point: Seemingly minor qualities can predict larger developments, and if you can understand these elements, you can get ahead of the curve in your business planning and decision-making.

They point out, for example, that residential subdivision starts have real influences on the infrastructure and ICI world, but what influences residential construction?

So what’s the butterfly? Things like high student loan debt and a generational shift toward marrying at an older age has tempered the housing recovery until recently. Those may be trends, but the fact that manufacturing or retail has suffered as a result is a downstream effect. Beyond housing, there are so many things that have the potential to impact the AEC industry.

The challenge with understanding the Butterfly Effect, of course, is seeing through the noise and capturing the right variables worthy of consideration. Many of these are at a granular, local, and immediate level, however.

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