From family feuds to uplifting comic strips–here’s how seemingly small, unrelated events gave birth to some of the most significant businesses today.
The butterfly effect, a part of chaos theory (a branch of mathematics and mechanics that studies random or unpredictable events in complex systems), is a phenomenon wherein a small or seemingly unrelated event sets in motion the trajectory of something significant. It is fascinating to observe this phenomenon, especially in the dynamic realm of businesses. Let us have a look at the butterfly effect at work in the following stories.
World War II led to the birth of manga and anime
It all started with Japanese cartoon artist Osamu Tezuka, often lauded as the father of manga.
Tezuka endeavored to uplift the spirits of war-worn Japanese citizens in the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Hence, he created immersive stories with the endearing art style that is now characteristic of the genre. The comics were sold as inexpensively as possible in order to make them widely accessible to the economically insecure people of Japan.
These stories are widely attributed to boosting national morale in difficult times and aiding the nation to bounce back from the devastation it had suffered. The widespread circulation of these mangas inspired many young artists to create similar works of their own, popularizing manga and elevating the respectability of the profession of Mangaka (author of a manga).
Anime and manga comics are arguably Japan’s best-known exports to the present day. The anime industry, originating predominantly from manga, contributes approximately JP¥1.24 trillion (US$9.5 billion) annually to Japan’s economy and is an essential aspect of the country’s soft power.
The family feud that created Puma and Adidas
In 1919 in Germany, brothers Adolf (Adi) and Rudolf (Rudi) Dassler launched a shoe company known as Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (GEDA), and it was immensely successful. The popularity of the company increased when Dassler shoes were worn by Olympic athlete Jesse Owens when he won gold in the 1936 Olympics.
Things turned sour after WWII due to internal strife within the family, but the actual causes of the feud can only be speculated. The most commonly believed story is that Adolf, when taking cover in a bomb shelter already occupied by Rudolf and his family, said “The dirty bastards are back again,” when he was referring to the planes. Rudolf, however, believed that the comment was a barb against his family. Others believe that the cause of the rift was Rudolf’s suspicion that Adolf was involved in his conscription during the war and his subsequent imprisonment at the hands of Allied forces. There were also stories about how the brothers’ wives did not get along at all.
The seemingly insignificant feud split GEDA and the brothers’ hometown of Herzogenaurach into opposing factions. The rivalry continued as Rudolf established Puma in 1948 and Adolf established Adidas in 1949. Both companies rose to prominence individually as quality sports shoe brands. As the companies acquired the status of sporting brand giants, preceded only by Nike, the rivalry continues to follow both companies long after the deaths of the brothers. The legendary rivalry between the brands created a sort of cult following for them, where loyal customers would often choose to affiliate only with individuals who supported the same company.
How a cattleman reinvented the American funeral industry
In 1876, E.R. Butterworth moved to Southwest Kansas, where he worked as a cattleman. He also acted as a bone collector, collecting bison bones and selling them to manufacturers to ground down for fertilizer. Butterworth received about US$10 for one ton of bison bones. It was on one of these bone-hauling expeditions that Butterworth encountered a settler digging shallow graves for his wife and newborn baby, who had both died in childbirth. Having lost his first wife in childbirth as well, Butterworth empathized with the man and fashioned a coffin out of the wood of his wagon so that the bodies could have a proper burial.
In 1882, Butterworth moved with his family to Centreville, Washington, where he set up a successful furniture company. When the community was struck by an epidemic of Black Diphtheria, Butterworth found his way into the undertaking by diversifying his furniture business into making ready-made coffins to accommodate the victims of the disease. This made him quite a wealthy man.
It was in Pike Place Market, Seattle, that he established E.R. Butterworth & Sons Funeral Home. The family-owned business operated through a five-story, multi-facility mortuary, the likes of which had never been seen before in the funeral industry of the day. The funeral home was regarded by the Seattle Daily Times as “the most complete establishment in the United States” in 1903.
Butterworth is also credited for coining the terms “Mortician” and “Mortuary”, which have since become industry standards.
These are only a few examples, but they do give us insight into the fascinating realm of businesses, ever-changing industries and how the smallest of decisions can alter the course of history forever.
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