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​The Giants Upon Whose Shoulders We Stand

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I’m Old.

(And the crowd responds with shock, awe, and disbelief. “No, Mike. It can’t be true. How can you say such a thing? I just saw you the other day and … Oh, wait. Did you say ‘old'? I thought you said ‘bold.’ Yes, you’re old. Go on.)

Aches and pains are the primary indication of my current state, but it is also very evident in the references I use and the general looks of confusion, bemusement, and toleration I get from my audiences. Recently. I referenced “Badges, we don’t need no steekin’ badges” and (against my better judgement) decided to see if people knew what I was talking about. Upon questioning, a few in the audience proffered that it was a reference to Blazing Saddles, to which I died a little inside and had to explain that its use in Blazing Saddles was itself a reference to an outstanding Humphrey Bogart movie, The Treasure of Sierra Madre. (If you do not know of what I speak, go, find it, watch it, and enrich yourself.)

But, as I previously noted, I’m old. And I have begun to accept that my references to The Monkees or “We are the boys of the chorus” or Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin’s Point/Counterpoint on Saturday Night Live or Dr. Strangelove or Pinky and the Brain or any of the seemingly unending ancient cultural references filed in the useless recesses of my mind will be greeted as if I were speaking Ferengi to the Babylonians.

(And I am a veritable wealth of useless information. For example, Foghorn Leghorn from the Looney Tunes cartoons is based on Fred Allen’s radio show “Allen’s Alley” and the character Senator Claghorn. As I said, speaking Ferengi to the Babylonians. But I digress. For more, join me in my not-soon-to-be-released podcast “Stuff I Know and You Really Don’t Care About.”)

All well and good. I can almost come to grips with such cultural references being buried in the sands of time. I think they have value, but my opinion is not always shared.

On the other hand, there are some references that should not be shuffled to the bottom of the deck — references that speak to important concepts and ideas. Do you know who Kitty Genovese was, what the Maginot Line represented, what occurred in Buchenwald, who Dr. Mudd was, or what is meant by McCarthyism? When I mention these and receive those blank stares, I am a bit more perturbed. These are touchpoints in history that should be remembered, primarily because of what they teach us/warn us about ourselves.

However, I recently became aware of a knowledge vacuum that strikes a little closer to home for internal auditors.

One of the main complaints from executives and the C-suite is that internal auditors lack business acumen. There may be a bigger void than many of us suspected.

Because I often reference these two gentlemen in my presentations, I have begun asking internal auditors how many have read anything by Peter Drucker or Tom Peters, then how many understand the impact Drucker or Peters have had on management and leadership, and, finally, the most damning question, how many have even heard of Drucker or Peters.

A significant majority know not of what I speak.

internal auditors will never be successful unless they understand the giants upon whose shoulders we stand. They are foundational to how modern organizations work, how modern leaders lead, and how anything being reviewed by internal audit succeeds.

Let’s put it this way. If you don’t know the names Tom Peters or Peter Drucker (or Daniel Goleman or Michael Hammer or Robert Kaplan or Clayton Christensen or James Collins or Abraham Maslow or Larry Sawyer – your list will vary), then you need to do the extra work to learn not only who they are but what they have to say.

I realize how easy it is for me to say, “Go read these guys,” and walk off thinking my work here is done. So let me provide a little more. For Tom Peters, I think the best place to start is his most recent book, The Excellence Dividend. But it’s also worth going back to the beginning with In Search of Excellence and Liberation Management. (That last is a favorite of mine because it’s where I first got indoctrinated to Peters.) For Peter Drucker, I’d suggest Managing in a Time of Great Change and The Daily Drucker. What I like about that last one is that it provides a daily dose of great insights.

And one more place to get started. Here’s an article from Inc. that provides a small sampling of the management and leadership experts you should be learning about and from. And the article says in much fewer words the point I’m trying to make. “If you see people in the list below you don't recognize or aren't following, check them out. We're all a product of our influences, so it only makes sense to improve both the quantity and the quality of the people we listen to.”

Ultimately, there is a lot in this world to know. So, sorting out what is important and what isn’t (and delineating what is important to me from what is important to you) can be a daunting. You don’t need to know who Fred Allen is to succeed, but you wouldn’t go wrong finding out about Tom Peters. The key is to keep looking, keep learning, and keep being inquisitive.

The only defense internal auditors have against those who say we don’t know what we are doing is to keep learning what it is we need to know.

And one final note, I’d be interested in hearing who you think the giants are … snd the books from them we should be reading.

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