The topic this week is “Correlation vs Causation” and how we sometimes mistake the two. Just because two phenomenon frequently occur together, does not mean that one is actually causing the other. I think the general public falls for this a lot, it’s an easy association and doesn’t require a lot of thought.
Let’s assume there is a study of the 50 habits of America’s Most Wealthy. Among other things, the study shows that the vast majority drink tomato juice with breakfast. A writer reads the study and produces an article for popular consumption. The headlines reads: “Drinking Orange Juice with Breakfast Just Might Make You a Millionaire.”
If that sounds ridiculous. How about this example: Eating Breakfast May Beat Teen Obesity. That actually sounds plausible. Does the study behind the article support that conclusion?. Here is a video form the Khan Academy. You be the judge. Is skipping breakfast the cause, and eating breakfast the cure of their weight problem? Or is the problem a little more complex.
This error is very common when it comes to the Self Help and Business Success industries. A study is conducted on successful people and/or businesses (or sometimes just anecdotal evidence). Then the characteristics of the person or business is marketed as a recipe for success. Most of us are not achieving the level of personal or business success we desire, so we’re easily sold on these products. There are so many self help and business success products on the market I wouldn’t know where to start, and I don’t want to imply any (or all) of them are not legit and sometimes work. But, I’ll mention one that is interesting.
The Miracle Morning
I’ve seen this system mentioned a lot recently; it originated in 2008. The originator is Hal Elrod. I’m reading his book and some of the testimonials. I “think” he is sincere and believes the methodology is sound and I’m sure it may be helping many people. The 6 practices he identifies as the Miracle Morning are frequently mentioned as daily habits of some very successful people. Does mimicking the practices of highly successful people lead to our own success? Are these 6 practices causation or correlation. What are the habits?
- Silence (meditation, prayer)
- Affirmations (your positive traits)
- Visualizations (your success)
- Scribing (a journal)
- Reading (something to improve your skills or knowledge)
I can’t argue this is a bad way to start the morning. But does it warrant so many over-the-top testimonials? How much of this is lasting change vs a temporary placebo effect? Naturally the book does not mention individuals that did not benefit from the habits. I simply looked at the Amazon’s 1 star reviews for that information.
Looking at Amazon’s 1 star reviews is risky. It’s a good way to discourage yourself from ever purchasing anything. Some of the review of this book are cruel. I guess that comes with the territory: self-help books and uncensored internet comments.
My personal experience: Yes, developing a habit of the 6 practices is a great way to start the day. No argument from me, my mornings are more productive. Have I turned into a massively successful person. Not exactly. Time to add a 7th habit, start the day with orange juice.
Taking this lesson to business; read all the “formulas for success” books you desire. Note that it’s not hard to find some attributes of success in one book are the opposite of what another book is touting. Much of success is situation specific. Many of the successes we experienced in our business at IDEATIVE were not a “direct” predictable result of our efforts. We worked hard to make a quality product at a good price and treat our suppliers and customer with respect, honesty and high ethical standards. We pitched our products to a lot of potential customers, but some of the biggest ones came “out of the blue”. We couldn’t exactly connect the dots, but they surely existed.
Was something supernatural happening, ie, the concept that the “universe reacted to our intentions”. I won’t even get started on that topic or I won’t stop for another 1,000 words. Doing things the “right” way sometimes leads to good results through causation. But not always. Those stores don’t make good copy.