The Muse, Report Writing, and, When It's All Said and Done, a New Year's Resolution

Shy of a post I put up last week, it has been a REALLY long time since I blogged. Well, that ain’t exactly the spirit of blogging, is it? I mean, in this world of instant information (notice how I refrained from saying instant disinformation – dang, guess I did say it), the idea of not blogging because “I just don’t feel creative” or “I don’t have any good ideas” or “I don’t wanna” doesn’t quite work. 

Which got me thinking about an interesting aspect of audit work. Authors and writers (there is a difference) are often given the luxury of “waiting for their muse”.   Now, that isn’t to say there aren’t deadlines (ask any of the industrious people who work on Internal Auditor, the same ones who have to harangue me when the Lighter Side pieces are due.) But auditors – writers of reports – are not afforded as much flexibility in this regard. There are timeframes and milestones and due dates and, whether an auditor feels like it or not, product must be put out.

Which leads me to ask this question: Why is it we expect a superb product (a great audit report) when we are forcing people to work at what may not be their optimum time? Sometimes the thoughts have to gel. Sometimes it just isn’t the right time for an auditor to do their best work. Sometimes such arbitrary deadlines only result in mediocrity.

My first reaction is “What a stupid question!” (This is the manager in me talking.) I don’t want an auditor sitting, waiting for his muse. I want him writing the blankety-blank audit report! There is other work to be done, and it doesn’t include sitting, staring into space, trying to determine if “exacerbate” can be used to proper purpose in the report.

But, as I think about it a little more (staring into space wondering if I might work “exacerbate” into this blog entry) I have a second reaction. Maybe we’re asking for too much in our reports. I have often heard it said (I have often said it) that reports are our most important product because they are the closest thing to a tangible product that we produce. But, is any report so important that it must rival War and Peace? (And I‘ve seen some of your reports. They’re long enough to rival War and Peace. But that’s not what we’re on about here. We’ll talk about report length later.)

All this is to say that 1) yes, deadlines are important, and we have to fulfill our promise of a timely report but 2) maybe we’ve gone overboard on the quality issue.

Haven’t convinced myself yet that either one of these statements is correct, both are correct, or neither is correct – I’m just throwing the thoughts out there for your comments.

Which all leads to another point.

I’m the kind of person who needs deadlines. (I’ve mentioned this before – see this post from last June.) And, for this blog to have any respectability (okay – maybe that’s a bit of a stretch – let’s just go for relevance.) I need to have more output. Ergo, I need deadlines in order to force myself to provide content.

Therefore, a New Year’s resolution which will have an impact on my many followers (both of you.). I am going to set up the following schedule. Monday’s theme will be “Disparate Thoughts, Vague Meanderings, and Weird Concepts” - various concepts and activities (e.g. internal audit, business, daily travels, whatever) that might impact the way we, as internal auditors, act and behave. Wednesday’s theme will be “You Call That Funny?” – an attempt to focus on being humorous. (Worded that way, I’m not sure I’ve got a chance.) And Friday’s theme will be “Books I May or May Not be Reading Right Now that May or May Not (Probably Not) Have Anything to Do with Internal Audit, But I’ll Make Them Fit Somehow.” (I’m still working on that last title.) This last is a real experiment where I try to make some rather eclectic reading habits force connections to internal audit. (This actually came from a creativity seminar I was leading.)

No real promises – I just hope to follow through on this a little longer than most other resolutions. But I’m kind of interested myself to see if forced deadlines will work. (For example, I learned a long time ago that forcing out “humorous” pieces is uglier than a prom queen reject – [see what I mean?]) Actually, one promise. I will try. And together we can see if the muse really does need to strike before anything of value (no matter how questionable that value) can be produced, or if we can strike her until she comes up with something good. (There he goes again, trying to force funny.)

Posted on Jan 2, 2011 by Mike Jacka

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