"It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing
can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world."
~ Chaos Theory
As humans, we crave control. We set schedules because they are predictable. We plan our future because it offers a course of action. We make comfortable choices because they provide safety. We need control. Yes, this is a generalization. There are some people who can thrive in a world of constant flux. Lucky for us, life is full of curve balls and offers a little bit of both just to keep it interesting. Life is unpredictable and for some this can be a game changer. There is even a whole branch of science dedicated to this phenomenon called chaos theory that studies the unpredictability within a complex system. Essentially, it is the idea that seemingly small changes can lead to drastic results, also known as, the butterfly effect.
It is our nature to read about and study those individuals who are successful because we believe that through these processes we can gain similar success. We discuss the big ideas that helped them achieve greatness looking for clues into a characteristic which can be replicated. We study them with gusto desiring to experience our own “aha” moment. But, what if we are expecting too much? What if their successes are just an anomaly incapable of being duplicated? What if we are wasting our time looking for answers that do not exist? Maybe our focus should not be on the random opportunities we are presented, but rather the small obstacles which drive seemingly insignificant decisions that forever change our path.
Throughout higher education, we increasingly hear about the benefits of data analytics and data-driven decision making. These benefits are all true. Mass quantities of data, meaningfully analyzed can provide a basis for better serving students at scale. According to the Lumina Foundation, 45.8% of Americans have earned a postsecondary credential in the United States. Their goal is to achieve 60% by 2025. The concern is real. There are millions of Americans across the United States who are unable to achieve their educational dream for one reason or another. While we understand that the need is real and we know that individuals with a postsecondary degree earn more over their lifetime, we still struggle to move the needle to reach that “tipping point,” as Malcolm Gladwell wrote about.
Maybe in the midst of the higher education buzzwords and solutions, we are missing the small data, or the flap of the butterfly wings, that caused a promising student to go from enrolled to dropped out. We focus our assessment processes on achieving set benchmarks. We feel successful if our percentages are above 50%. But do we take the time to understand why one student was unable to achieve her goals? Do we re-evaluate our admissions processes to offer one more chance for a student to be accepted? Do we analyze our interactions with students to provide one more opportunity for encouragement? Are we actively looking to remove the little obstacles that seem insurmountable to students who may be overwhelmed with life?
It is easy for us to fall back on the phrase, “well, I had to figure it out the hard way so should everyone else.” Why? What is wrong with making life a little bit easier for others and working a little harder to see the world through their eyes. What if everyone found one student to save from dropping out, to protect him, remove the obstacle, and support that one student in achieving success? We cannot hope to solve the problem for everyone all at once, but we can each seek opportunities to change the outcome for just one more. What we may see as insignificant could save someone from the typhoon.
“Never underestimate your ability to make
someone else’s life better—even if you never know it.”
~ Greg Louganis
How can you help make a difference for just one more?