The second column I ever wrote for Internal Auditor magazine (way back in April 2012) was based on an experience when I was speaking to a small group of professionals that worked for Farmers Insurance. I told the story of being somewhat taken aback when not a single one of the participants knew the classic Stanley Kubrick movie Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Not a single one. Not an iota or glimmer of recognition. They just did…not…know.
Later in the column, I listed a number of other cultural touchpoints (of varying importance) that it seemed many people did not recognize. These included Kitty Genovese, the Maginot Line, Dachau, McCarthyism, Dr. Mudd, and Jack Kerouac.
(Quick. How many of these do you know? How many at least look familiar? How many do you greet with a blank stare? If there are any gaps, please take the time to look them up and see what they have to say about today's world. You have my permission to not return. Trust me, gaining an understanding of these people and these events is a much better use of your time than reading through whatever dribblings I'm about to produce.)
Speaking to groups, I often bring up this topic. What I am trying to emphasize is the importance of internal auditors understanding more than just their profession — they need to understand how the world works, how it has gotten to where it is, and how it should be changed in the future. And an important part of that is knowing the events that have shaped our current condition.
It is generally a very interesting discussion. For example, during recent training I found that almost no one knew anything about the movies The Treasure of Sierra Madre or 12 Angry Men. Now, while it is a good thing to know the first one (and you will be enriched if you take the time to watch it,) 12 Angry Men rates a little higher on the "auditors should watch this one" scale. It is an incredible study of the way people interact, the impact of their prejudices, and the role of group dynamics in decision-making.
But not knowing these two movies was not the thing that really floored me. I'm getting used to these kinds of voids in individuals' cultural knowledge. We all have them. (For example, I couldn't tell you a single Taylor Swift song — and I never want to be able to do so.)
What completely stopped me in my tracks was when I provided a quote from Peter Drucker. For some reason, I asked a question I had never asked before; I asked if they knew who Peter Drucker was.
Even the crickets grew silent in the deafening stillness.
No one recognized the name of one of the foremost business educators/authors/consultants/thinkers; the man for whom the term "business guru" was coined; the man for whom the Drucker Prize for innovation was named; the man who shaped business theory and philosophy for over 50 years. No one knew Peter Drucker.
I wanted to stand with mouth agape. I wanted to shake my head in disbelief. I wanted to weep silently. However, I did none of that. I provided an explanation who this giant among giants was and went on with the class.
Now, don't worry. In spite of the tone this is all taking, it is not meant as a condemnation. I am not intending to pick on anyone's knowledge, training, or education. No, this is about learning. It is about personally taking on the challenge to better understand the important things — to understand what is important to the world of internal audit, to understand what is important to the world of business, and to understand what is important to the world in general.
I find many people believe they should be doing more reading and learning, but they constantly lament, "I just don't have the time." I won't go into how much time each of us spends in front of a television or a computer screen except to point out that the inability to find time for reading and learning is not a reflection of the time you think you do not have available — it is a reflection of what you think is more important than reading and learning.
You want to get ahead? You want to know what the future holds? You want to know how to succeed? You just want to be a better person?
Find the time. Read.
If you don't know who Peter Drucker is, read Peter Drucker. If you don't know who Tom Peters is, read Tom Peters. If you don't know who Steven Covey, Jim Collins, Clayton M. Christenson, Michael Lewis, Ed Catmull, Daniel Goleman, Sun Tzu, or Machiavelli are, read them. (Hint: They are all experts in business or areas that speak directly to the business world.) If you don't know who Jack Kerouac or Tom Wolfe or Harlan Ellison or Hunter S. Thompson or Sarah Vowell are, read them. (No, they aren't writing about business. But they are writing about the world in ways that can change your world view.) I have my personal reasons for each person on this list, and if you want suggestions, just let me know. But you don't need me to be Virgil to your Dante. Just get out there and start reading.
Even if it is just the back of a Cheerios box, read. Even if it is just the International Professional Practices Framework, read. Even if it is just The Babysitter's Club, read. Even if it is just to your children, read.
In a recent blog post about training, I mentioned this quote from Eric Hoffer: "In times of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists."
We are in times of drastic change and the world we know will quickly no longer exist. Reading is learning. It is becoming aware of a world you may not have known existed and a broadening of the knowledge base that is fundamental to an internal auditor's success.
You need to know more than you have ever known before. You need to read.
(Okay, I'll go ahead and put away my soapbox now.)