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I had heard it before but it is a good story nonetheless. I was recently at the CIPD Scotland Analytics conference a week or so back in the delightful city of Glasgow. One of the speakers was exploring the difference between correlations and causality using an interesting example. Evidently if one compares the divorce rates in America during the latter part of the twentieth century with the consumption of bananas in America over the same period, there is an almost direct correlation between the two. One is left to assume however that one does not directly cause the other, soft fruits rarely being cited in divorce cases! But it is a great little anecdote and since I was chairing the conference it gave me the opportunity to use more banana-related references throughout the day for the entertainment of delegates.
Then it got really interesting. As can happen at conferences, another presenter then used a similar anecdote, only this time it drew a correlation between the same American divorce rates, and the consumption of margarine. Again, a strong correlation between the two, but probably little in the way of causality.
But on the train back down south I had a couple of glasses of wine and started thinking. Bananas and margarine; surely that couldn’t be a coincidence. Maybe there actually is a link between these staples of the shopping basket and marital disharmony after all?
Perhaps the consumption levels of bananas and margarine in the developed world are actually indicators for increasing levels of wealth and disposable income in the population. These in turn might suggest a greater sense of opportunity and wellbeing, a broader range of life experiences, enhanced variety and frequency of social interactions, a reduction in perceived cultural barriers, changes to traditional family values, enhanced mobility and opportunities for travel etc., etc. All of these may indeed have an influence on social cohesion. It is not too much of a leap of faith to suggest that this in turn could indeed have an impact on divorce rates and therefore there IS a link with bananas after all! Or maybe I just had too many glasses of wine.
Which brings us back to the conference. Data is powerful stuff. It is easy to discount what at first appears to be obvious, but upon further investigation may actually enable us to draw some different and potentially interesting conclusions. The greater the range of factors and the larger the dataset, the greater the chances that we might strike gold. I suppose that it just one of the reasons why big data is such an important topic for HR professionals to get to grips with.
Anyway, it was a super conference, the quality of the speakers was first class and it was very well organised. There were some really valuable insights and the highlights and key topics have been captured in a conference report. If you would like a copy of the report, it can be downloaded here; I hope that you find it of interest.
I, for one, will never look at a banana the same way again.
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