Every once in a while it doesn’t hurt us to be reminded that the work we do is review the work of human beings. (As someone said to me the other day as we were rescheduling for the umpty-umpth time, “They’re people, not spreadsheet cells.”) Yes we look at figures, yes we look at entries, yes we analyze processes, yes we verify controls. But, when all is said, done, and put in a report, we are evaluating what has been accomplished by the human beings with which we interact.
And because we are looking at the work of human beings, we see a lot of errors. Heck, if there were no errors (from small little merry mix-ups to major errors of ethical judgment), we would be out of jobs. Controls are about ensuring these errors - big, small, middle-sized, grande, venti, trenta - are identified and eliminated.
So, it seems a decent idea that auditors, if they are going to understand how errors can be stopped, go beyond trying to understand the kind of errors that can occur and try to understand why errors occur. (And I don’t mean trying to find out why errors occur as in “what was the breakdown in controls”. This ain’t a root cause class.)
This gets us, finally, to the book Bozo Sapiens: Why to Err is Human by Michael and Ellen Kaplan. (Quick double-check. Did we lose anyone on that three paragraph path back there? Everyone still with us? Anyone remember this was supposed to be a book review? Everyone still got their buddy? All present and accounted for? Good, let’s continue.)
By taking a cross-functional look at the various attributes of the thought processes that impact how we take actions, this book provides a broad perspective on how and why people make mistakes. Starting in Chapter One with the fundamentals of fallacy - how logic, for all its wonders, can fail us – the book works toward more and more esoteric aspects of why we fail. This includes how our decisions are swayed by “good stuff”, how we are “hardwired” to make so many bad decisions, how our prejudices (fear of “the Other”) sway our decisions, and even exploring how morality can fit into all this.
This book covers a lot of territory in 250 pages, pulls from many disciplines, and, at times, feels like it may be trying to go too many directions at once. But it doesn’t falter, and this approach results in a great high-level examination of, well, why we are human. And, if those 250 pages are not enough for you, there are also another 25 pages of notes and references (again, spanning a great many disciplines) for the reader who wants to learn more.
Don't get me wrong. This is not the dry dust of academia. Rather it is an entertaining dance through the landscape of who we are and why to err is human