I just finished reading The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. [I pause for your accolades. Yes, there are many pages and it has many big words and the print on the pages was very small. However, in spite of such monumental challenges, I managed to read the entire thing. Thank you. Thank you. Now, where were we?] A few years ago, I read his novel The Idiot. The two experiences were night and day. And, I'm willing to go out on a limb here and say that this has much more to do with the reader than it does the author. (Quick application of Occam's Razor: Which is more likely to be at fault – an author considered one of the greatest ever, or an internal auditor who, through some misguided decisions, has been given a blog? Game-set-match Dostoyevsky.)
Comparing the two experiences – Idiot vs. Karamazov (worst movie title of all time) – I have come to the none-too-shocking realization that you have to invest a certain amount of time, reflection, concentration, and introspection into certain activities. I have a vague recollection of the time period in which I was reading The Idiot, and remember that I was in a mood for a breezy read. I picked up the Dostoyevsky. [And, with that, let us pause to ponder just how unintelligent our hero can be at certain, mayhaps all, times. In other words, I was being the biggest type of idiot.]
There are certain authors and certain books which can be read with a certain ease. A few of the authors I enjoy which fall into that style include Jasper Fforde, Christopher Moore, Dashiell Hammett, Stephen King, etc. I am not denigrating their work; I am saying that they write with a style that does not require deep introspection and reflection. Part of the joy of reading these types of books is that you get the gist of the story, you enjoy the tale that is told, you have a good time jumping into their particular universe, and you do it without expending enormous foot-pounds of energy thinking about the words on the page.
My personal experience teaches this lesson: Do not approach Dostoyevsky thinking you will be wading through a shallow creek. That is exactly the way I approached The Idiot. And that makes me the idiot because, by trying to skim through the novel as if it were a brief read on a summer beach, I found myself lost, confused, afloat, and having wasted a great deal of time.
Entering the world of The Brothers Karamazov I decided to take a little more time; I decided (recognized) that I was going to have to invest a bit more than I had in the past. Dostoyevsky put in a lot of work. And I owed him the courtesy of trying to put the same back into it.
In fact, it is always important to remember that anything you come in contact with, anything you use, anything with which you interact, is the product of someone's efforts. Similarly, every area you review, every document you look at, every explanation you receive, every outcome you evaluate, is the result of someone's hard work.
I have the feeling that, when we do audits, we forget that we are looking at the work of human beings. And, by forgetting that, we also forget that every audit, because it is a review of work being done by those human beings, deserves equal consideration, equal concentration, and equal review. I believe we have a tendency to put our audits in categories based on how much time we think they are worth. Oh, they're not official categories; but we pigeonhole them all the same. Think about it. Would you give the same attention to an audit of social media as you would one over petty cash? Better question, do they deserve the same kind of attention?
I realize that every audit is not the same; one area under review will have a different impact than another area being reviewed. Petty cash springs quickly to mind once again. You get assigned an audit of petty cash and you look through the previous workpapers or look up an audit program on line or just wing it because the impact is not that great and it doesn't take a lot to get the gist of what must be done. On the other hand, when you are doing audits of new areas (social media is an example, but even think of the work we all put into Sox when it first came up) there is a concerted effort to fully understand the policies, procedures, risks, potential issues, ramifications, and every dot and tittle with which we come in contact. There is an appreciable increase in concentration and resources.
That may be right and proper. And our results will still be appropriate even when we treat areas differently.
However, here's the caveat with the caviar. There is a significant difference between a quick read and a sloppy read. Because it was quick, my reading of The Idiot was not just quick, it was sloppy. And I got nothing from it. On the other hand, my "quick" reading of The Maltese Falcon was not sloppy. It isn't a tough read – the plot moves along nicely, the dialogue isn't tough, the writing is crisp and to the point - but it becomes sloppy reading when you think you can slide along by reading the first line of each paragraph and then moving on.
My guess is a good portion of us have done a petty cash audit and we can all agree it was not the most groundbreaking moment of our auditing careers. But least groundbreaking does not mean unimportant.
Even in the simplest audits, the groundwork and the framework may be easy, but the hard part is the details – actually listening to what people are telling you, paying close attention to the detailed testing, keeping awake as you perform what might be one of the dullest audits on earth.
We found a fraud while doing petty cash one time. And it never would have happened if the auditor had not understood the difference between summer reading and sloppy reading. Were they facing Dostoyevskian hurdles? Nope; not that tough an audit. But they still needed to stay awake, stay alert, and pay attention to the details in front of them.