Home > SocialCRM Data, technology > Why do leaves change colors?

Why do leaves change colors?

We are smack in the middle of my favorite time of year, autumn in New England. Cool crisp mornings, right temperature days and a painted landscape. Thinking that I needed to contribute to my blog, I wanted to figure out how to best work in (and share) a New England landscape.

mitch lieberman - champlain valley fall 2008

In an attempt to keep up on my reading, I find it difficult to escape the cacophony of ‘advice’ about how you (as a business) must jump on the Social Media bandwagon and of course how you should go about it as well. I do believe in the power, but these initiatives do have a cost (people, technology…) What seems to be lacking are the scientifically based details which illustrate the return on these investments of time and money.

Yes, there are some proof points (the exciting stories which everyone points at), and we all have a visceral sense on where things are going – but each business is different. As we undertake these ventures (adventures?), we need to be sure which ones are working, and why they are working and make mid-course corrections as necessary. Anecdotal evidence will only get us so far…

Putting the two together

Autumn in this part of the world is quite colorful, nature puts on quite a show. The question is why do leaves change colors? Allow me 30 seconds to make sure we are all on the same page, in regards to what is actually happening:

During the growing season, chlorophyll (responsible for energy production and the green color) is continually being produced and broken down by leaves. In the Autumn, the chlorophyll production slows down and then eventually stops altogether. Other pigments, which have been present all along, now have a chance to show themselves.

Why does this happen?

If you look at the first chart, it is clear that it must be because the temperature gets colder which causes the production of chlorophyll to slow, then stop.  Here is a chart (scientifically done in Photoshop)  that shows a graph of the average daily temperature in October (for Burlington, VT) against the percentage of leaves which have changed color (Peak being 60-100%):

Proof, right?  There is a clear and direct correlation between the daily high temperature and amount of colors displayed by the leaves.  But, wait, what about the chart below? I did a similar exercise (equally scientific)  charting the amount of daylight, as the calendar moves through the month of October.

The amount of daylight hours against the percentage of leaves which have changed color:

The real answer is believed to be that hours of daylight is the determining factor, but that temperature plays an influencing role. But, this was not really the purpose of this note.

Causality and correlation are where many of us get ourselves in trouble. The first chart shows a correlation between temperature and the leaves, as does the second chart – but only after further experimentation which isolates one from the other can you determine cause and effect – causality. You can find many examples of correlation, some presented in a joking manner, some trying to actually show proof of cause and effect.

As you begin to experiment in Social Media, or Social CRM – be very clear on what you are measuring and what other variables might be impacting your assessment. 100% proof may or may not be attainable – if this were the barrier, we might not try anything, this is not my point. My key point is to go in with an open mind, but clear and measurable objectives.

  1. Esteban Kolsky
    October 5, 2009 at 12:38 am


    Could not have said it better msyelf. The key to measuring is not to just look at one metric, even a set of metrics, but to correlate the ones that affect each other. This is better explained in the theory behind NPS (although the implementation always leaves lots to be desired) which mentions that it is not sufficient to know the promoters, but you must be able to relate their promotion to bottom-line results. In other words, if you know who the promoters are you don’t know much, but if you know that promoters spend 3 times longer at your site, and spend 40% more in the first two weeks of initial purchase than non-promoters — then you have something you can work with.

    very nice post, thanks for sharing…

    • Mitch Lieberman
      October 5, 2009 at 10:49 am

      Thanks Esteban,

      I Was just trying to raise awareness a bit. Your mentioning of NPS in the context is appreciated, as that is one of those ‘single’ measures that needs people to pay attention. Interestingly, just the other day I received a one question survey (yes, exactly that one question). They asked ‘if I would’… But, as you point out, in isolation it does not have much meaning.

  2. October 5, 2009 at 2:06 am

    This is an excellent post – pointing exactly to the lack of rigor in building metrics, analyzing them and understanding the systems under which they influence each other. How many times have we all heard sentences like “the survey results have improved year over year, and even though we don’t know what we have done, we must have done something right, let’s print the t-shirts and go celebrate”? Or seen metrics interpreted very superficially even by people who have scientific training and should understand complexity? Too many to count, at least in my experience.

    I have now a whole spiel where I explain the different components of a customer support experience and how interpretation of different metrics will shift as changes are introduced and adopted. Always fun watching the dropping jaws.


    • Mitch Lieberman
      October 5, 2009 at 10:51 am


      Appreciate the thoughts, skewed interpretations of statistics is a personal peeve, as the blog denotes. Where can we gain more insights into your “spiel”? I would love to see them.

  3. scorpfromhell
    October 5, 2009 at 5:57 am

    Great landscape Mitch! You are blessed! 🙂 I do not get to see such vistas here, we have almost no deciduous trees in my part of the world. 😦 I guess some are maybe what are called semi-evergreen, so I do get to see some trees losing their leaves during the fall/winter. I do not get to see the change of seasons in the color of the landscape as I could in Switzerland.

    Now coming to your post … a maxim I always remember when it comes to statistics – correlation is not proof of causation. 🙂

  4. Mitch Lieberman
    October 5, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Come visit, you are welcome anytime. You can even stop by my class and teach a bit…

  5. October 5, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    Mitch, good post and I appreciate the analogy (and images of fall in New England)

    Correlation and Causation – an important lesson to remember. Thanks for the tidbit of wisdom!

  1. October 4, 2009 at 6:34 pm

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