Sorry folks, this is a long one. A small thing got me going. If I was smarter I might split this into multiple posts. (If I was smarter I might shy away from whatever it is I'm trying to attempt.) But, somehow, it feels like this all needs to be in one place. We will be taking a rather circuitous route – visiting a book website, a bookstore, reactions to a book review, and, eventually, why auditors should care about any of it. That's what happens when you are on a plane with a few hours to kill and they keep pouring things for you to drink. (Caffeine can be an insidious frenemy.)
I am a participant in the website LibraryThing.com. This is a site which allows people to keep track of their entire libraries. It also allows readers to make connections with others who have similar likes, libraries, collections, etc. I use it to keep track of all my books and I also post reviews of books as I read them. I started the whole review thing because I found that, the more I read, the less I remembered about what I read. I've found that completing these reviews helps it all stick in my quickly-losing-its-grip mind. (Yes. Perfect time for "You're so old..." jokes. Go ahead; get them out of your system; I'll wait. *Sound of mindless whistling as the author waits for the uproarious humor to subside* What's that? All done? Good, let's move on.)
I try my best to keep from reading other people's reviews until I've written mine. I want my thoughts to remain fresh and untainted (lousy, perhaps, but fresh and untainted) by what others have said or thought.
Recently, after posting a review of Hugh MacLeod's book Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity, I then, as I am wont to do, went through and read the other reviews. One in particular caught my eye:
"...there's not much sense in buying it when you can finish the thing in about half an hour while sitting in the Barnes and Noble cafe."
Skipping my disagreement with this overall assessment/dismissal of the book, I had three responses to that particular statement:
Response #1: (I start here with the hope that every auditor reading this shared my reaction.) Going to Barnes and Nobles, pulling out the book, sitting and reading the book, replacing selfsame book in the shelf, and then walking out without paying for the book is theft. When you purchase a book, the physical "thing" is only part of that purchase. What you are really paying for is the insight you gain from that author. You are paying for the words you read, not the pages they are printed on. (And I could go on for quite a while about the mindsets – even among auditors – that allow people to think it is not stealing to just download or read or file share. But now is not the time or place to climb on that soapboxed pulpit.)
Response #2: How can you not want to own a book with which you have shared your life? (This ties into much that follows. I will move on.)
Response #3: (And this is the important one – the others were just appetizers to the main course.) Sitting and reading a book at Barnes and Noble, (and do not get me wrong; I love Barnes and Nobles as I do any bookstore – chain, independent, used. They are bastions of sanity. They are opportunities for serendipitous discovery. They are safe havens and lands of discovery and moments of quiet and realms of imagination and, for all things good and wonderful, they are the Promised Land. But, like so many other comments in this particular blog, and like so many blog posts from the past, I have strayed from the point I am trying to make and, while I would love to tell you why you should support your local book store rather than Amazon [which I love for its own reasons], I must move on.)
(Starting over) Response #3: Sitting and reading a book at any bookstore and then casting that book aside misses the point of reading. (And this is where point number two starts sneaking back in.) No matter how hard you try, you cannot just read a book and then be done. Whether you want it to or not, it will become a part of your thoughts. Whether you want it to or not, it will percolate with other thoughts and concepts you have read. Whether you want it to or not, it will become enmeshed with everything you have previously thought or done or been. Whether you want it to or not, it will become a part of your understanding of the way things work, become a part of the theories you are building about life, become a part of...you.
By casting that book aside, you lose the chance to understand what has helped shape you.
Let me give you a very simplistic example. There is a book I savaged in one of my recent reviews. (I will not share the name with you; I try only to share those things I believe will provide additional value.) It deserved everything I had to say about it. Yet, I kept it. (As Betty White said in a book I just read and will keep, "It is a sin to get rid of a book.") Yet, in the last six months, I have found myself referring to it at least three times. I hated this book – the way it was written, the way the author came on with such sanctimoniousness, the way bad illustrations peppered the text as if applied by a waiter on speed – but it has information I keep realizing I need.
I have found that, when I get rid of a book, it is like the day you finally clean up your desk and start throwing things away and, the next day – that day when the cleaning crew actually came through and emptied the trash and took it to the dumpster which was actually, for the first time in six months, emptied – you realize the one thing you need has been disposed of in that trash.
And lest I, once again, be accused of going in directions where auditors don't even care to tread, there are two reasons internal auditors should care.
First, it is never a good practice to take in information (an interview, a document review, a meeting, a review note, any form of communication) and then, if it isn't exactly what you need, dispose of it – mentally and physically – as unneeded dross. Neither can you take such information in and jump to quick conclusions. It is better to let such information sit long enough (one day? one week?) for the impact to actually be understood. Take a break to think about what you have heard. Wait until the next day to come to a real conclusion. Attempt to understand what was really being said, not just the words that were said. We give a lot of lip service to the concept that internal auditors use critical thinking in arriving at well-conceived conclusions. But I can't tell you the number of times an auditor just heard what they wanted to hear and used that information to support a half-baked prejudice they had already built.
Second, everything you read is affecting the way you work. Everything you read is affecting the way you perceive the way others work. Everything you read is affecting the way you interview/think/talk/interact/etc. You have to recognize the impact inputs have on you. Reading books is only a very small part of it. What you hear, what you say, what you read. Everything comes together to make you the person you are. (The past is buried deep within you, and the present keeps throwing its shovels of conceptualizations onto that grave.) Be cognizant of those effects. I'm not saying go to a shrink and have every nuance of the way you work analyzed. What I am saying is watch what you are allowing in, consider how you want those inputs to change you, understand how they will fit into your world view.
And, as part of that, seek out the ones that will make you a better auditor.
We can just pick something up and read it. We can do it in a way that doesn't cost us; we can do it in a way where we take the information in and then just discard it; we can do it in a way that is gnat-like– a thought flits by, we use it, and then we let it disappear as we wait for the next one (possibly squishing the old one because it bugged us just a little.)
Or, we can recognize that every piece of input (audit or non-audit), every piece of feedback, every piece of communication is part of a huge puzzle we are putting together. Some of that puzzle comes together to form audits. Some comes together to form our careers. And some comes together to form that thing that is us.
But they are all coming together to build something. And it is only by recognizing the impact and importance they have that we can use them rather than allowing them to abuse us.