The butterfly effect, a pile of Post-it notes, and innovation at the Woking Food Festival

The butterfly effect is a term used in chaos theory to describe how even the tiniest change in one area can affect large, complex, seemingly unrelated systems in another. If a butterfly flaps its wings in South America, for example, the result could be a Texan wondering what on earth has happened to the weather.
Tiny influences generate surprisingly large consequences. It happens all the time, without us realising it.
But in our case, it wasn’t a butterfly; it was a simple, yellow Post-it note.


Last April, I participated in an innovation workshop in Woking, organized by Connect 2 Innovation, and part of the @wokingworks program from the Woking Borough Council.

The workshop was titled “Innovation: can and how do you innovate your business?”

Organised into tables of five, we sat and individually brainstormed problems we face, day to day in our business. Soon after, we were invited to pick one to address as a group, and, as it happens, my problem was put on the table.

Each of us begin to write down ideas and solutions based around my particular problem on Post-it notes. After a few minutes, we handed the filled-in Post-its to the person on our left, who read them, reflected, and then added new ideas. Round and round we went until suddenly we were out of time, and I was left with 47 small, sticky bits of paper. With another meeting to get to, they all were stuffed into my backpack, and I was soon thinking about something else.


The day after, I’m standing at Guildford train station, waiting for my train with some time to kill, and end up pulling the Post-its out of my backpack. With all 47 to juggle, I begin running out of hands, and so make use of an available bench to stick them all on, to get a better view.

A bench covered in Post-it notes is quite a sight, it turns out. I snapped a photo and began to reach forward to pull them all off again before I think, what would happen if I left them there? Maybe people would stop by and read them? What would happen next?

I start to get excited about the idea. What if... I added a few spare notes so people could add ideas of their own if they want to. And, maybe a different kind of post was in order, too? On Twitter?
innovation-smartplayds I add one last note: “How to attract investors to our business? Help us with your ideas. Add your post-it to the bench Guildford Station P8”. I take a picture with my phone, tweet it and run to catch my train.

It stays with me, all the rest of the day, however. I can’t help but wonder what happened to my notes. They were probably cleared up sharpish by an eagle-eyed cleaner, but still – the idea had me energised.

I share the story on LinkedIn and am glad to see it’s not just me who’s thinks I’m onto something:


Well, no, this particular butterfly didn’t end up causing an extreme change in the weather, but it did trigger something not altogether dissimilar.

I caught up with Alastair, commenter no.2, the following week and discovered he’d been thinking about the idea ever since. We began to think about how we might enhance the concept and bring it to the Council as a way to gather feedback from the citizens of Woking. We started work on a prototype, to see if it had legs as a technical idea, and several weeks later, arranged a meeting with Sam from the Council – our commenter no.1.

What followed was our participation in the Woking Food Festival, a major event with almost 200,000 visitors, and our innovative Video Engagement solution, a joint effort of SMARTplayds and Create Convo.

You can see the idea in action in the Create Convo blog post, or watch our short video to find out what happened.

Incidentally, it was the Post-its that also led me to meet back up with Mel – that’s right, commenter no.3. Mel is a professional coach who later helped us identify our business values and guided us to produce our first team manifesto, but that’s another story.

Great things happen when you take small chances.

Contact us today to release a butterfly of your own.

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