ASQ sat down with Mike Crossen, the creator of the Mr. Pareto Head comic strip to hear how he finds humor in quality and how Mr. Pareto Head came to be.
Q: What’s your background in quality?
A: I am Electronics Engineer at Rockwell Automation. First introduced to quality as a Component Engineer through failure and root cause analysis. Also starting learning about trending and Pareto analysis during this time (mid 1980s). Little did I know that Pareto would have more meaning in years to come? A deeper interest in quality took root so I became certified by ASQ in Quality Auditing, Quality Engineering, and Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence. I Also pursued Lean Six Sigma training and certification outside ASQ through an employer.
Q: How did you start doing Pareto Head comics? What gave you the idea?
A: Before I worked in engineering function, I spent a few years in the production environment repairing electronic circuit boards. There were typically 15-20 other technicians who worked in our department. We were all about the same age, just out of school. We worked hard but had a lot of laughs. I would sketch comics of the various people in the department and humorous situations that happened all the time. Years later, I noticed that there we also similar funny situations and personalities in a more “professional” engineering environment. So I adapted one of my characters, a stick figure called P-Nut Head to something more closely related to where I was working at the time. I tried to think of a quality term to combine with P-Nut head; Outlier Head, Defect Head, Audit Head, Pareto Head. Pareto Head sounded like potato head. There was a charming and endearing toy from my youth called Mr. Potato Head that was pretty well-known. I re-drew the character and started making some comics.
Q: Is it challenging to find humor in quality?
A: It is not challenging to find humor in the quality field. You just have to know where to draw the line. Defective product sent to the customer is anything but funny. So I am very careful on how I approach that. I created a “make-believe” company called Milky Way Industries (Deming used to say “Off to the Milky Way” when demonstrating funnel experiment). They are the worlds #1 manufacturer of red beads. Well, in Deming’s red bead experiment, the red beads resemble defects. So, I can make a joke that this imaginary company is trying to produce Red Beads.
Q: What’s the role of humor in the quality field?
A: People in quality are typically dealing with problems every hour of every day. Whether we are trying to prevent issues through planning or auditing, or we are in reaction mode when problems occur, quality professionals can often be linked to unpopular things and it can wear on you a bit. Humor in this field, like any other field, will keep things loose.
Q: How do you get your ideas for comic strips?
A: Most ideas come from two sources. One is related to all the various quality terms that can be turned into humor. For example a “Run Chart”. I made a comic where Mr. Pareto Head had a particular chart that showed bad news, so he slipped it under the boss’s door and ran away. Now he knew why they called it a Run Chart. Most ideas probably come from interactions and meetings. When I hear something funny that shows promise, I will jot it down and revisit at a later date. I have quite a list of potential ideas. Some of the funny topics do not translate into a three frame comic strip very well. So I can’t use everything. Every month I work with Associate Editor Mark Edmund on providing a comic. A fair amount of the first drafts are pretty good as-is. Some take a bit of tweaking. Mark and I, with additional help and approval from Editor Seiche Sanders, will come up with the final product. I will add, that after 16 years of doing this each month, it can be a challenge to try and come up with something new and not repeat myself. The staff at ASQ (current and years’ past) have been very supportive.
Q: What has been the best part of creating the Mr. Pareto Head cartoon strip ?
A: There have been several side benefits to doing the comic strip that I did not realize when I started. I get occasional request from ASQ members to use a particular comic in their training material or newsletter to make a point. Also, I have had the opportunity to speak (Meet Mr. Pareto Head) at several ASQ sections near where I live. Elyria, Toledo, Cleveland, Akron/Canton, Erie, Ashtabula, Columbus. My favorite was probably the event at Pittsburgh ASQ. It was at a Brewery/Restaurant. I’m not sure what it was, but everyone seemed to be laughing a bit more and enjoying themselves at this particular event. I must say, for someone who has no artistic skills (stick figures only) it is quite satisfying that I can be doing this for so long and still be hearing positive feedback. It makes it all worth doing for another few years.