“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”

From Poor Richard’s Almanac by Benjamin Franklin.

We prefer events that impact our lives to have clear, significant causes so that we might understand and control them better. The sad fact is that quite often, small events like those described in the aphorism about horseshoe nails above can initiate far more significant events, for good or ill. 

Social scientist Brian Klass in a fascinating new book writes that “Recognizing that often meaningless, accidental outcomes emerge from an intertwined, complex world is empowering and liberating. We should all take a bit less credit for our triumphs and a bit less blame for our failures.”  

Mr. Klass has traced he outcomes of several small or innocuous events that have had momentous consequences later. One remarkable story is how a city in Japan avoided being a target for one of the first atomic bombs at the end of World War II. The US Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, had visited that city twenty years earlier on vacation and found it so beautiful that he insisted it be stricken from the target list. One man’s vacation decades earlier results in 1.73 million lives saved.  

The Inc Magazine review of his book “Fluke: Chance, Chaos and Why Everything We Do Matters” is worth a quick read. It helps you appreciate what is within your control, what is not, and the implications of every choice you’ll make today.