Collinearity is an area in research that can be a slippery slope, and laypeople who try to execute their own research can easily get tripped up by it. Basically, it refers to the coincidence factor involved in seemingly related events or activities.

Collinearity would refer to just two things; multicollinearity refers to, naturally, more than two. Where the tricky part comes in is differentiating between causal relationships and relationships that are simply occurring at the same time.

Let’s paint a picture to further explain the concept…shark bites, sunscreen, and popsicles. It’s a measurable fact that the sale of sunscreen and the consumption of popsicles increase at the same time as the number of shark bites rise.

So, is it safe to say that if you eat a popsicle or drench yourself in sunscreen that you will be more likely to be bitten by a shark? Do sharks really like the added flavor sunscreen adds or are they drawn to the red stains on the fingers and lips of popsicle eaters? Is there a particular brand of sunscreen that’s most attractive to sharks?

Of course not.

The relationship being horribly skewed here is referred to as causation, when one activity is responsible for making another activity happen. And this is certainly not the case with shark bites, sunscreen, and popsicles.

The relationship these things have is collinearity or correlation, not causation. Because during summer months more people are at beaches, 1) they use more sunscreen because the UV is beating down on them; 2) they’re hot so a nice refreshing popsicle hits the spot; and three, if they’re in the ocean, that’s really the only way to come in contact with a shark. So these three things happen at the same time, but they are really only related in the context of the increase of activity on beaches, not because one or the other makes the other happen.

Professional research companies are able to distinguish between things that have causal relationships and those that just happen at the same time, which is an incredibly important distinction. If you are under the assumption that one thing is causing another, then changes you make in your business based on this “fact” can seriously thwart your goals.

Causation is actually very rare and difficult to prove, but colinearity can be seen in many aspects of business and life in general. The key is finding and capitalizing on this to position your business to take advantage of any opportunity that comes about. And, hey, don’t worry about the sharks…except maybe the ones that want to steal your customers!