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28 Apr 2014

Human Lessons from a Bourbon Tornado

OZA No 414 (Human Lessons from Bourbon Tornado)A tornado demolished a Buffalo Trace Distillery’s warehouse miraculously leaving all barrels of aging bourbon undamaged but exposed to the elements for months. More miraculously, those barrels produced some of the best bourbon ever (“The New Science of Old Whiskey” by Wayne Curtis [The Atlantic, November 2013 edition]) and caused the distillery to revisit what conditions produced perfect bourbon. This quest also held three allegoric lessons about humans.

The first is that many factors influence human development. Buffalo Trace identified dozens of variables affecting barrels, and thus bourbon. Yet, personality tests often confine people to five traits or fewer, and human development research often focuses on isolated influences rather than the holistically integration of even several.

Second, no two people, no matter how similar are the same. Producing two identical barrels for Buffalo Trace’s research proved difficult. If problematical with barrels, it’s certainly dubious with humans. Just as two barrels might seem the same because they look similar, they could easily produce vastly different bourbons. We often make the same mistake with humans. Similar is not same and very possibly quite different.

The last of three lessons is that our desire to control often prevents unexpected advances. Highly controlled factors inside a bourbon warehouse were a given, the tornado threw this into doubt. Variability encourages adaptability. When we control, we restrict variability and the potential to learn especially from people when we compel them to standardize their thoughts and behaviors.

Nevertheless, whether it’s bourbon or people, it’s human nature to think there is one determining factor, the silver bullet, that makes something what it is or successful, but such thought is faulty. These silver bullets often appear as generalizations which fail frequently with the individual. Thus, people are different from individuals, the bourbon tornado’s overarching lesson.


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