Cause and effect rarely exist within a simple one-to-one relationship. In fact, most events in history or business are influenced by many factor. One useful distinction for thinking about causation for any phenomenon is proximate vs. ultimate.
A proximate cause would be an event which is more immediately responsible for causing an observable outcome. Sometimes this is considered a more local cause.
An ultimate cause, which is more often historically more distant or has a global impact, is sometimes considered to be the ‘true’ reason why something occurred.
An Example: Why did this patient have a heart attack?
- Proximate cause: The blood flow to a section of heart muscle became blocked.
- Ultimate cause: The individual’s high-fat, animal-based diet over six decades produced a condition called coronary artery disease (CAD) where a slow build-up of plaque on the inside walls of the coronary arteries. The plaque accumulation resulted in the blockage.
Remember that each type of causation is correct; however, the focus differs for scope and scale. Understanding both is important for developing workable and long-term solutions to problems.