Why things cause other things

We live in a data-driven world. Where the heroes of distant and more recent antiquity were exalted for their leadership instinct on the field of battle or in the boardroom, today’s bespectacled Masters of the Universe draw upon their skills of deduction and data analysis to make business decisions. The oft-discussed Big Data revolution should therefore have been a panacea, but has in fact muddied the waters, with as much signal as noise accumulating in countless server-farms across the world.

As a result one of the fundamental questions of business decision-making remains unanswered, namely what it is that underlies causation (“the causal relationship between conduct and result”). What fundamentally connects an input with an output? What thread connects and unites the two?

To answer this question, we turned to Search Giant Google’s publicly available search data, in the form of Google Trends. We began looking for search terms which were searched in a similar fashion to the term “causation”, reasoning that if people are searching for things in a similar way, there must be a fundamental connection between the two.

Our initial attempts were frustrating, with early favourite “insight” yielding little relationship, while “synergy” and “connection” met similar fates.

imageWe were on the edge of giving up, when our MBA intern, Jay, discovered an answer in an underrated outsider:


Correlation. Of course! With an R-squared of 0.82, we had our best match – correlation underlies causation. It made perfect sense, that the means we were using to investigate causation should underlie its very essence. After all, if one thing always happens at the same time as another thing, it stands to reason that the first thing is causing the second thing. That’s just common sense!

Jay later built on this finding to demonstrate that ice-creams cause sunburn, as if I needed another reason to stay off the Magnums!

Seriously though, I encourage your Data Analysts to build this fundamental shift into their day-to-day work, to better unpick what is really driving your business.


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