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Correlation, Causation, & Coincidence

A Nutritionist I know told me that she has made a career of listening to people's grumblings --both tummy and opinions. One woman came to her about every 28 days complaining that the food she ate at the meal before had upset her stomach and that she must have a sensitivity to that food and would therefore ban it from her diet from this day forward! When the Nutritionist asked her if it might have to do with premenstrual symptoms which include gastrointestinal discomfort, she denied the prospect and continued building her long list of forbidden foods. While she hasn't seen this client recently, she wonders what is left for her to eat!

Perhaps everything is connected, but in what way?

Causation - Easy, there is a proven, direct, and repeatable connection. One event precedes the other. Science's holy grail.

Correlation - When two things simply travel together it's not always clear if one caused the other or even less obvious, the apparent effect created the apparent cause.

Say you were sick for three days and then took a medication and started to feel better on day four, you might say, "wow, that medication really helped" but think about the timing, you were probably already going to feel better on day four. The CAUSE for improvement was TIME (and an active immune system), not necessarily medication but the medication correlated with your destined improvement.

When we don't know for sure, we can park situations in the category of correlation, or limbo. In other words, we noticed a pattern between these two things, but the jury is out and we don't know -- yet.

Coincidence - My personal observation is that people (including me) attach causation and correlation more often than warranted. While we can't all conduct scientific experiments to see if two events are truly causal, we can reserve our conclusion so that when we don't yet see a repeated pattern, we might just note, "my, what a coincidence!"

So when you're working on your business, whether to sell or grow it, and are making decisions, be careful not to over-connect. Some business owners I've worked with have given up on several paths of great opportunity because a negative outcome resulted for a reason that may have simply been coincidental and not repeated.

What might have been if innovators had forged ahead until they learned that a bad outcome wasn't just coincidence or correlation? Analyze why someone gave up on what seemed like a great idea and you may find many innovations there.

Kris FuehrComment