Tales From the Ghetto

During a break in a recent committee meeting, a fellow internal audit professional and I started talking about books. She asked me what I read and I began by explaining that I am a big fan of science fiction. I was unable to describe my other tastes because she got that look. You know the one; the look that combines the pursed lips of having devoured a dozen lemons on the half-shell with the disappointed look your parents gave you after – well, after just about everything you did. (Tell me, what exactly does “not living up to your potential mean”? I know I can look it up, but that seems like a lot of work.)

And thus ended our conversation on reading. It seemed that my admission of reading science fiction was akin to admitting I lived in the ghetto. And her upper Westside upbringing (apparently reading Balzac in the original Gaelic or Cervantes in the preferred Greek translation) would not allow further conversations with dregs of society like me.
More’s the pity, for she knows not what she misses. Not so much because dismissing science fiction means she is missing that rich field of literature (which would be true.) It is because, even though she considers herself a success (did I mention she was a CAE), she will, much like our parents warned us, never reach her full potential. I say this because she dismissed so quickly something that was not within her comfort zone.
I’m not trying to argue that everyone has to like science fiction.   I can get much the same look when I start talking about music and express my interest in jazz, or bluegrass, or big band, or country. And I am not immune to such prejudices. I have to admit that when people say they enjoy romance novels or rap music I have a hard time not dismissing the person (as well as the books or music) out of hand. But, as a famous person once said, taste is all in your mouth. I like country, you like rap, I like science fiction, you like books on statistics. However, unlike Cole Porter would have us believe, the answer is not to just call the whole thing off.
Rather, it is about seeing such differences as a chance to learn, to expand horizons. And any internal auditor who believes he or she is going to make the profession (or themselves as a professional) better while ignoring differences, while dismissing out of hand experiences that have never been experienced or, if experienced, never really explored, is woefully mistaken.
Of course, you can be a success by keeping your nose to the grindstone, your pencil to the spreadsheet, your fingers to the keyboard, your brain to the boredom - but there are just too many opportunities out there; opportunities to change your way of thinking by exploring something you’ve never thought about before. And, from those experiences, you can bring new dimensions to the work you are already doing. You just never know which experience the new ideas are going to come from.
Here’s a quick example (which you may have heard before.) My awakening to social media came from my kids visiting Comic-Con and their use of social media during that convention. From their visit and their stories, I began to explore social media - what it means to companies, what the risks might be, and how audit should respond.
From comic books to internal audit. From trivial ten cent magazines (okay, they’re a couple of bucks now, but in my day….) to an unexplored risk.
Wait. You don’t know what Comic-Con is? Well here is my gift to you. LOOK IT UP!!! You see, there are three types of people in the world. The first hear something they don’t know and dismiss it as useless. The second hear it and hope for an answer. But, the third – ah, the third. Unto the third will be handed the keys to the kingdom. The third hear something they don’t know, cannot wait to learn more, go out, learn more, and then want to learn even more.
And, to the lady who dismissed science fiction. Well, I’m not going to say she belongs square in that first group, but there is a dandy chance she has two hands, a head, and at least one foot in that home base of self-delusion and squandered opportunities.

Posted on Jun 17, 2011 by Mike Jacka

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  1. I think one of the most effective ways to implement the audit saying "Think Out of the Box" is to start exploring something we are not used to do. Especially that sometimes we are obliged to audit some functions that we don't like.

    By the way, there are many cultures and countries encourage the "specialization issue" and where all people study and read only things that are related to their field of expertise.

  1. Good points Jad.  It reminded me of a series of old Doonesbury cartoons.  (The following may get confusing to anyone not familiar with these cartoons, but I think it will make sense in context.)  Zonker is talking to an engineering major who is stressed out about his engineering classes.  The student just feels there is too much to learn and he will never succeed.  Zonker convinces him to audit a liberal arts class.  One class, and the engineering major is hooked.  He can't learn enough about the rest of the world.  Okay, it is much funnier in the cartoon panels, but I believe it is a perfect representation of the trap so many auditors fall into.  We feel like we have so much we have to get done, we forget there are a lot of other things out there - and they are things that will make us better auditors in spite of ourselves.

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