When asked about his motivation to get into stand-up comedy, and more importantly, to stick with the rigors the vocation demands, Jerry Seinfeld said, “One day I was watching these construction workers go back to work. I was watching them kind of trudging down the street. It was like a revelation to me. I realized these guys don’t want to go back to work after lunch. But they’re going. That’s their job. If they can exhibit that level of dedication for that job I should be able to do the same. Trudge your ass in.”

This is a great example of an anecdote, a short amusing or interesting story about a real incident or person. The beauty of a good anecdote is that it answers a question or provides a perspective in a much more engaging and memorable way, much like a fable or a fairy tale.

For some time, however, anecdotes have gotten a bad rap. I’m sure we can all remember hearing a story along the lines of, “I meet Angelina Jolie at the airport,” or “I helped George Clooney buy a tie at a mall in Pittsburgh,” or “I saw Joe DiMaggio in Dinky Donuts again.”

Like the stories above, many of these anecdotes and stories we’ve heard (often, many times) are completely unverifiable (or even completely made up by a team of comedy writers). At the least, they are often regarded as unreliable or hearsay. In fact, in the legal world, they are often referred to as anecdotal evidence.

Even with that being said, I love anecdotes. True or not, they are a valuable device in communicating with each other. It just brings them closer to the fable or parable, like this one recounted by Psychology Today in 2009:

A storm descends on a small town, and the downpour soon turns into a flood. As the waters rise, the local preacher kneels in prayer on the church porch, surrounded by water. By and by, one of the townsfolk comes up the street in a canoe.

"Better get in, Preacher. The waters are rising fast."

"No," says the preacher. "I have faith in the Lord. He will save me."

Still the waters rise. Now the preacher is up on the balcony, wringing his hands in supplication, when another guy zips up in a motorboat.

"Come on, Preacher. We need to get you out of here. The levee's gonna break any minute."

Once again, the preacher is unmoved. "I shall remain. The Lord will see me through."

After a while the levee breaks, and the flood rushes over the church until only the steeple remains above water. The preacher is up there, clinging to the cross, when a helicopter descends out of the clouds, and a state trooper calls down to him through a megaphone.

"Grab the ladder, Preacher. This is your last chance."

Once again, the preacher insists the Lord will deliver him.

And, predictably, he drowns.

A pious man, the preacher goes to heaven. After a while he gets an interview with God, and he asks the Almighty, "Lord, I had unwavering faith in you. Why didn't you deliver me from that flood?"

God shakes his head. "What did you want from me? I sent you two boats and a helicopter."

Anecdotes can be long or short, like a clever headline or a recounting of the day 40 years ago that you heard Dr. W. Edwards Deming speak.

So, check out “The Definition of a Fool is a Drowning Man Who Tries to Keep It a Secret” by Greg Cenker and Henry Zumbrun, and “Why Is Quality Important Today? What’s The Big Deal?” by Frank Murdock, as well as everything else we have to offer in this month’s Quality.

Enjoy and thanks for reading!