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Confusing Cause and Coincidence


A cause is something that makes something else happen. Out of two events, it is the event that happens first. To determine the cause, ask “Why did it happen?”.An effect is what happens as a result of a cause. Of two related events, it is the event that happens second. To determine the effect, ask “What happened?”.One can logically deduce an effect based on the cause and can describe it using connecting words in the following format “cause connecting word effect“. Examples of connecting words are: as a result, because, consequently, due to the fact, nevertheless, the reason for, therefore, thus, since and soAn example of a cause/effect statement: “It is raining therefore the ground is wet.”. However, one cannot flip the order of the cause/effect statement and have it still make sense “The ground is wet therefore it is raining” may not be true. The ground could be wet for a number of reasons, it could have rained earlier, but not currently, sprinklers could be running, a fire hydrant could be open, somebody could have spilt a glass of water, or the water table may be rising. Any number of things could cause the ground to be wet. As I was reading a blog from a colleague Matthew Stein titled Does the customer really know best? I was reminded of how often we confuse cause with coincidence and how difficult our job is to properly model cause/effect scenarios and how difficult it is to determine the right cause based on an effect.Let’s examine in more detail how difficult it is to determine cause and effect and how easy it is to confuse cause with coincidence…Matthew talked about the evolution of the microwave oven and how the market wouldn’t have exploded if it wasn’t for a collusion between microwave oven companies and ready made “TV Dinner” makers. The cause being now that there were ready made dinners the effect is that microwave ovens would sell. This sounds far to conspiracy theory to me.What if the need for ready made TV dinners was an effect? What could the underlying cause be? The microwave oven was developed in the 1940’s yet didn’t become mainstream until the 1970’s. In that time was World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, which resulted in many US citizens and enlisted (predominantly male) shipping overseas. This left a void in the US workforce that was backfilled by those who remained in the US (predominantly female), who now didn’t have all day to go shopping for groceries and make dinner from scratch. Now time is of the essence and there is a need for ready made TV dinners and a need for affordable microwave ovens to cook them. Then BOOM!!! the microwave oven market exploded. This I consider confusing cause with coincidence. It was a coincidence that ready made TV dinners were being developed and marketed along with the explosion in microwave oven sales, related yes, but not necessarily the direct cause/effect. Unless you really believe that ready made TV dinners are so much more tasty and delicious then homemade from scratch cooking.It’s never easy to model the cause/effect of different and new business processes nor to model how one effect can be the cause of another effect, which can cause yet another effect and so on and so on. When you deploy enterprise applications and they don’t work as expected, what is the underlying cause? And, what is the overall effect? When an enterprise application doesn’t perform is it because the application isn’t developed properly? Is it because the data schema’s aren’t optimized? Is it because the network isn’t fast enough? Is it because the end-users don’t understand the procedure? Just as important, what is the overall effect? Is it internal and/or external customer satisfaction? Loss of revenue? Increased operating expenses?Tell us your cause and effect stories or when there’s been a confusion of cause and coincidence. Tell us how you determined the final cause, effect and solution and how the issue was resolved.

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