Had a little snafu last week. The title of last Friday’s
blog post was supposed to be “The Customer is Not Always Right.” Vagaries
occurred and, in some situations, that title became “The Customer is Not Awlays
Here’s the thing about that error. It leads to some
interesting thoughts about what customers want, what we deliver, and who is
really right. If the customer wants a mistake (“awlays”), do we go ahead and
give it to them? If we think our mistake is better (for example, that the title
containing the phrase “awlays” will generate more interest and traffic), do we
force/convince our customers that we are correct?
All this from the happy accident of mistyping “always” as “awlays.”
A lot of success in internal audit occurs because of happy
accidents. As much as we’d like to think our successes come from careful
planning; keen observation; and a slavish adherence to protocols, procedures,
and standards, some of our most shining moments come about because of coincidences
that are out of our control.
Think about some of your most memorable internal audit
moments. There’s a more-than-good chance that, if you are honest with yourself,
you will realize the roll chance played in that success.
Here’s three examples from my career to show you what I mean.
I was wrapping up an interview during one of our very first
process mapping projects. I asked the clerk, “Is there anything you wish I had
asked?” (One of my favorite interview-ending questions.)
With barely a pause she responded, “Yes. I wish you had
asked me about the supervisor.”
D’oh! Her answer led to a substantial number of additional
questions for her, the other clerks, the manager, and, of course, the
We would not have identified the issue with our audit
procedures. Instead, we discovered the situation through the happy accident of
asking the right question of the right person at the right time.
Speaking of process mapping, one of my most impactful happy
accidents came about because of the work we were doing in our claims offices. We
were looking for ways to better document the information we got about processes
during operational audits. About that time, we got a flyer from the American Management
Association regarding a new approach called process mapping. (This was a while
ago. You probably guessed that because of my use of the word “flyer.”)
My co-worker and I attended the day-long session and, somewhere
in the first couple of hours, we stared at each other gobsmacked by the opportunity
that had fallen in our laps. We realized we were learning the basics of an
approach that could fundamentally change the way we did our audits.
That one class resulted in transformational change within
our department — in the way we documented, in the way we audited, in the way we
learned about processes, and in the way we provided value to our customers. We
found all this through the happy accident of attending the right class with the
right information at the right time.
And a final example. Back in 2009, my daughter returned from
San Diego Comic-con upset. Seems she had been following the Warner Brothers Twitter
account and had missed a tweet that would have allowed her to get some
As you read this, it probably all makes sense. (Look up any
references that left you lost.) But 10 years ago, a great number of these words
made little sense to those of us not indoctrinated to Cons, swag, or social
media. Listening to her story, I had the sudden realization that social media
was a whole lot more than narcissistic navel-gazing about what someone had for
breakfast that morning. It was a gateway to amazing opportunities for any
organization. But there were also correspondingly large risks.
I set up a few accounts, did some research, and, eventually,
led one of the first audits of social media. I figured this out through the happy
accident of hearing the right information from the right source at the right
Look closely at these stories and you will see an underlying
theme. Happy accidents only provide value when you are ready for them. And you
only become ready for them by exploring, learning, and listening.
There is a familiar quote attributed to Louis Pasteur. “Chance
favors only the prepared mind.”
In other words, the kind of happy accidents that lead to
success for any internal auditor do not happen unless that auditor is constantly
searching, exploring, and learning — preparing for the happy accidents.
You don’t ask the right questions; you don’t find the
problems. You don’t look for learning opportunities; you don’t discover new
approaches. You don’t listen in areas with which you are unfamiliar; you miss
out on new risks.
And note that Pasteur is often misquoted as having said, “chance
favors the prepared mind.” But that word “only” is very important.
Anyone can stumble across something. But, if you want
consistent success — if you want chance to favor you over others — it means you
have to be continuously looking at what is going on around you. It doesn’t
matter where you look, because you never know where those idea are hiding. (See
the Comic-con story above.) Just be looking and learning.
By opening your mind and filling it with new ideas, you will
be prepared for when chance walks up and smacks you with serendipity.