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​What, Exactly, Was That?

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We interrupt our regularly scheduled screeds …

This is all a little — a lot — strange. I’m not sure how to start. Maybe …

I know I’m old and don’t always catch on to this weirdly evolving world. But I preach with evangelical fervor the need for us all to try our best to keep up. And I try to practice what I preach.

But I recently learned about a technological … thing … that has left me dumbfounded, befuddled, flummoxed, flabbergasted, thunderstruck, gobsmacked, and other words that haven’t even been invented yet. And it has effectively been around since 2007.

I was rereading a small book titled Four Dead Kings at Work that my cousin, David Rolston, wrote in 2013. Even though it was written seven years ago, it has some interesting and still relevant things to say about the way we work and the ways we will work in the future. Unfortunately, it looks like it is no longer available. (Luckily, that does eliminate the shadow of nepotism that might lurk overhead if I were to suggest you look it up.)

In the book, Dave makes a quick mention of Hatsune Miku. I followed up on the reference and discovered one of the strangest phenomena I’ve seen — something that speaks to so many changes in our perceptions that I don’t quite know how to start.

If you know about the event/image/technology that is Hatsune Miku, then congratulations. I’m guessing that puts you ahead of 99.99% of the rest of us. If I’m wrong, and my cave just needs better internet, then let me know. But, for any other fellow cave dwellers, let me try to explain.

In 2007, Hatsune Miku started as a vocaloid software voicebank — synthesized voice and music. Today, Miku is an anime-based hologram that performs live on stage. Now, if that was all there was to talk about — the technology — then it would be interesting and perhaps still worth thinking about. But what has really struck my thunder, gasted my flabber, and smacked my gob is the human element.

As I type this, I am listening to a Hatsune Miku concert from 2016. The hologram is performing. She is surrounded by live musicians. And there are fans — hundreds, thousands of fans; real, live people — dancing; waving glowsticks; singing along; watching their star with adoration, passion, and joy; acting like any crowd at any major concert you ever attended.

Let me repeat something. Hatsune Miku does not exist; she is an anime hologram. But that is irrelevant to a fan base that seems to know every song, every inflection, every expected audience interaction — a fan base that supports an expanding Miku empire. There is a Hatsune Miku Expo. In 2020 she is performing throughout the U.S. And this coming March, she is performing at Coachella. Both weekends. Coachella!!?

I know I’ve gone into paroxysms of description that do not help any of this make any sense. But that may be part of the point. I can’t make complete sense out of it to myself.

What I see when I watch the videos of this concert is transformative. I don’t mean transformative as in life changing — a movie that moves you, a poem that speaks to you, a song that redefines you, art that transforms how you think about yourself. No, I mean it is a mind-altering example of how our understanding of the world, business, and culture is being transformed.

I’ve been listening for almost an hour now and, every once in a while, I still get chills. Not because of the music (which is actually pretty good), but because of what I keep seeing on stage, and the response of a crowd of people to … a … hologram. Right this second, I’m hearing her interact with the crowd — speaking to them, the crowd responding, the crowd cheering, a call and response to an anime hologram.

And I think this says something to internal auditors. I’m just not sure what. I know it is important to our fundamental understandings of how things work and how things change — but I don’t know that I can make a coherent connection.

Except maybe this. We think we are caught up. We think we have a vague hint of what Plato’s shadows on the wall are telling us about the challenges, opportunities, and change that we and our organizations face.

And we have no idea.

Keep looking, keep learning, keep watching. I watch a hologram perform for an adoring crowd and I wonder: Does Miku have an application for organizations? Does it say something about the way organizations should interact with customers? Does she speak to something new that will change the organization or the industry? And what does she have to say about internal audit?

Go out and search YouTube for her performances. Come for the technology, but stay for the crowds. I watch this video and realize I have not even scratched the surface of what technology is going to do for and to us — how it will change our cultures, our perceptions, our humanity.

And I have no answers. I just know that, once again, I find myself eating the dust of a world that seems to enjoy letting me think I’ve caught up — throwing open the door and telling me to jump in — then hitting the gas, laughing as it drives away.

Here's the good news. Every once in a while, our foundational understanding of what is going on in the world needs to be shattered. Kind of helps us look at things a little differently as we pick up the pieces of internal audit psyche scattered around us. All we can do is hang on, try to understand, and do our best to prepare ourselves and our organizations for things we can’t even imagine.

(And one, final, parenthetical aside. After all this, I listened to John Coltrane’s Giant Steps. It felt good to go back to something that was much easier to understand.)

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