Fractal: a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. (Definition credit: Google)

I, personally, take this word one step further. I’m sure, the smart people who first coined the term never meant for it to be abused in such a blasphemous way, but I would argue it actually works better in the context I am about to explain to you. It’s in the context of social organizations. But, before we dive into that, we should delve into deconstructing, and then, subsequently reconstructing, that definition of the word “fractal”.

“A curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole”. Getting rid of the extraneous information that only pertain to mathematical situations, we are left with, “each part of which has the same character as the whole”. I would argue this is the core of the definition of the word “fractal”. Fractal, then, is a word used to describe anything that has the following trait: the part is representative of the whole. This is the definition we will be using moving forward, so bear this in mind.

Now, what do we mean by “representative of the whole”? I think the best way to see this in a social context is through stereotypes. Unfortunate as this example may be, the truth is, there’s no better way of showing how our minds already incorporate this “fractal” concept to everyday, social interactions. As a Canadian with an attitude (a trait I rather pride myself on), I’ve been told I’m not Canadian enough. The people who tell me this usually are people who have had previous interactions with Canadians who acted within the parameters shown in popular media. As a result, those people jumped to the conclusion that Canadians are, overall, very kind, apologetic people. Something that’s, perhaps, best summarized in the Daily Show’s interview with Justin Trudeau, when the interviewer exclaims, “I thought you guys were supposed to be push overs!”

Companies work in much the same way. And governments. In fact, when you talk with people, the whole reason they hate, or love, any given brand is because of the interactions they’ve had with the people, or things, that represent the brand. The easiest example I can think of is Apple. It’s got a massive, global fan base, and an equally large, and vocal, opposition. But many of these people have not talked to the people in charge of Apple. Many of these people don’t know anyone even remotely related to Apple’s corporate strategy. But they’re still vocal, because their opinions were formed based on the products Apple sells, and the people that sell them.

And this is a company that’s taken an iron fist approach in its sales practice to minimize any negative interactions. This is a company that obsesses over control to make sure the experience of interacting with their product is 100% up to par. Even then, there are errors that cause people to push back.

Humans are, fundamentally, wired to think in algorithms. And fractals offer a simplified view of the world that’s easy to understand: the part is representative of the whole. It’s something that marketing and PR aims to capitalize on, using it to their advantage in creating an image that people believe IS the brand. But, deep inside, we all know there are exceptions to this rule of fractals. The part is not representative of the whole in its entirety. And yet, we find it difficult to act on that knowledge, because it’s easier to generalize, than it is to make room for exceptions.


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