What on earth is anecdotal evidence? Why would anyone use it?
Sometimes I feel like a kid in a candy store with a crazy pick of self-serving terms coined by genius wordsmiths that give it a legitimacy and power beyond anything it should ever be allowed to command! Wow… anecdotal evidence …. Really? Meaning that I can record one instance of the person in a not so positive light and hold it against him for the rest of his life???? Cool!!! I’ve got to get me one of those!!! Its like a paparazzi masterminded sneak attack on a poor hapless celebrity! It has every exhilarating element possible… from the mystery and the suspense, to the sneakiness and voyeurism, to the manipulation that is such an essential element, to finally fully engaging the creative instinct in the form of the final story telling…
I have recently acquired a renewed empathy for my fellow corporate denizens who crunch through mounds of data, facts and figures just so that the rest of us can make some sense out of the world we operate in… mainly because I see this world under threat from the aforementioned genius devious wordsmiths of our century!
But c’mon! What on earth does anecdotal evidence mean? Anecdote … the thesaurus wisely comments is a story or a yarn… the dictionary equally wisely comments that an anecdote refers to a short account of an interesting or humourous incident… Hmmm. And evidence … the thesaurus, again very wisely comments, is proof or confirmation or indication that clearly shows something… Hmmm…. Now I am confused… How do these 2 terms coming from such totally different backgrounds – one scientific and the other story-telling… come together in such a powerful way so as to serve as a vehicle for immense destruction in the wrong hands.
A friend was once describing a situation where a discussion on people in the organization and their performance turned out to be a swapping – stories session… all that was missing was alcohol and a camp-fire! And all this under the guise of science and providing so-called evidence for decisions being taken… Anecdotal evidence can make the most ridiculous of things sound almost scientific…. And the ‘almost’ is all you need…
Anecdotal evidence is the global panacea of all problems… it can be packaged as the new miracle drug of the century… just take a look at its uses below:
For the fact-averse :
Its really useful for anyone who is allergic to facts and numbers. Anytime you don’t have data to support your theory… just tell a story animatedly… don’t have an actual story?… never mind… just cook one up
For the vengeful :
You don’t like somebody’s face…. Anecdotal evidence to your rescue! Everyone has to screw up sometime…. all you have to do is wait … and use that one embarrassing moment to shame your rival for the rest of his / her life. It can be even more useful when fed to the boss so that the ‘much-deserved’ promotion to your rival can be denied!
For the proposal pusher :
Anecdotal evidence is ideal for the poor proposal pusher being booted out the door coz of lack of facts and figures…. just throw in a couple of interesting stories and ‘the-shutting-down-the-profitable-telecom-company-inorder-to-get-into-toxic-assets’ plan may just breeze right in
For the boss trying to rid himself of a team member :
Anecdotal evidence has special use in this situation. Its amazing how easy it is to find fault when you really want to! etc
But let me tell you that it is not as easy as it sounds. These folks perfect their art over time… for whatever Anecdotal Evidence might or might not be… it certainly is an art… How you use it is almost as important as the context in which you use it…
e.g. A senior manager stands in front of a jury of his seniors and peers explaining away an issue that has caused sleepless nights and says… “Well… I always thought I could count on Andy, but one morning when I travelled all the way to his work site at 8.30am, he wasn’t in. I was taken aback and had to wait for him. And then I realized that this must be the reason for his delayed project status!!!” This, my friends, is what a true master of the art looks like. The more unrehearsed you make it sound, the more ‘objective’ and ‘devoid of ulterior motive’ you make it sound… the more it sounds ‘ALMOST’ scientific. For the discerning ear this will sound like the fraud it is…; for the others… the poor employee will surely be in trouble…
It never ceases to amaze me how decisions sometimes come before logic, how prejudice comes before perception and fact; but how unerringly prejudice is followed by persecution.
Well… after several years of trying to make sense out of the corporate world… the one thing that I have figured out is that … you can fight perception… but not prejudice…
Pls note: This article is written as a satirical view on our workplace dynamics. It is an observational commentary on human behavior.