Correlation is Culture

Malcolm Ryder
2 min readAug 3


Too much of the time, the forest that can’t be seen because of the trees is an environment having complexity beyond re-engineering. This complexity has two major features: one being that the coincidence of things can provoke unmanageable effects (let’s call it “unstable”), and the other being that navigating it takes more time than destinations (goals) remain approachable.

Over some time, we may be able to identify statistical probabilities of one thing or another occurring; typically we then want to know whether that probability is a causal outcome of one thing from another, or instead just a correlation of occurrence — perhaps because both things are outcomes, independently of each other, from the same root.

Either way, the existing co-incidence of multiple outcomes creates an environment that may be extremely resistant to any one aspect offering enough leverage to strongly influence enough other influences to reduce the complexity.

In some quarters this refers to “wicked problems”… As summarized in Wikipedia, “in planning and policy, a wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize.”

Recognition, however, is not necessarily insufficient; rather, it may simply expose that existing opportunities to exert constructive (or “progressive”) influence are not up to the challenge.

Insufficient recognition also commonly stems from a limited perceptual perspective, due perhaps to ignorance or exclusionary bias. Ironically, “missing” factors can make the appearance of circumstances to be less complex, but while that is in effect the true complexity remains resistant to inadequate scopes of effort.

This illustration reflects a compilation of factors that sometimes may be thought of as having systemically causal relationships, but usually fall into serious debate when viewed that way. Meanwhile, what is more evident is that multiple different factors can “deposit” outcomes that pile up with each other into an aggregate condition that is intractable or sometimes toxic, triggering reactions that as feedback further challenge any harmony of changes being more likely to obtain rather than less likely. One of the punchlines from this feedback mechanism is of course that feedback in a mechanism converts an output into an input.

Below we can see outcomes that not only are corrupting as feedback into a familiar causal chain of their respective sources, but that also tend to exacerbate each other as elements of the environment that their coincidence (a correlation, not a causation) creates. This model, for example, suggests why homelessness seems to be so unsolvable: it exists in an overal culture — a stew of coincident outcomes from other persistent factors — that keeps exacerbating it or recreating it

© 2023 Malcolm Ryder / Archestra Research



Malcolm Ryder

Malcolm is a strategist, solution developer and knowledge management professional in both profit and non-profit companies across business, IT and the arts.