At the conclusion of the Houston International Conference in 2006 I heard one of the best presentations I ever sat through. I wasn't alone in that assessment; there was a certain buzz afterwards that was different than I had ever experienced. People were moved and excited. We headed out charged, invigorated, and ready to take on the world – exactly what everyone expects at the end of a good conference.
(And let me take this moment to provide a completely unsolicited endorsement. This was just one major highlight of the many highlights I've experienced while attending IIA conferences. You should – no wait, let's change that – you need to attend an IIA conference. Did you figure out how to get to London this year? Do you already have your plans for the Vancouver International Conference next year? How about the Governance, Risk, and Control Conference? The All-Star Conference? GAM? Something local? Go to any one of these conferences and you will be hooked. And you will be a better auditor. Again, an unpaid endorsement. We now return to our regularly scheduled blog post.)
The presentation was by Benjamin Zander, conductor for the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra since 1979 and "a leading interpreter of Mahler and Beethoven". Okay, guessing I lost 98 to 99% of you on that last one. No, Mahler is not what you call the manager who mauled your recently completed draft report. (Sorry. Yes, I really reached far for that one. However, a three-day weekend is coming up and you just have to take what I am able to come up with in this short amount of time.) Rather, Mahler was a composer of grand and passionate symphonies that stretch the limits of what orchestras (and their conductors) can accomplish. To be considered a top conductor of Mahler requires great passion, leadership, and creativity. Zander brings all of those to his presentations.
As a group of us headed out afterwards we noted there was almost unanimous agreement on the quality of the presentation. However, we also all agreed that we were having some trouble figuring out a solid connection between the materials and internal audit. But we didn't care. The content spoke to what we try to do as leaders and human beings, which means it spoke to us in a realm that probably had a more profound impact than if we spent our time trying to make it connect to internal audit.
(I will say that we often spend too much time trying to make it all about internal audit. Sometimes – no make that most times – it is better to develop our inner "us" than to develop our inner internal auditor.)
One of the more memorable parts of the presentation occurred at the beginning. I will try to describe it, but the limitations of the written word will not do it justice. In fact, your best bet is to check out this video of Zander's 2008 Ted talk which includes the portion of the presentation I am trying to share. (Watch the entire piece. It will be worth your while.)
He played the beginning of a very famous piano piece the way a beginning student would play it – labored, note-by-note, almost unrecognizable. After playing a little bit in that fashion, he then played it in the way someone with one year's experience would play it, then someone with two years' experience, then someone with three years', and so on. The transformation of the piece was obvious. It went from a halting, hunt-and-peck conglomeration of notes to a beautifully rendered piece of music. What wasn't so obvious was why.
He then went on to explain (and show) the reason for that difference. It has to do with the way the student approaches the piece. When first starting out, the student is focused on the individual notes – trying to get each right. As the student gains more experience, combinations of notes begin to take shape and the measures within the piece of music become more evident. Eventually, the student learns how the combinations of notes and measures lead to musical phrases. And finally, rather than individual notes or measures or phrases, the player understands how those notes, measures, and phrases come together to form the overall work. The student is able to interpret an entire piece of music.
As I said, after the final session the group of us could not make a connection between the presentation and internal audit. Well, such a connection is the epiphany I had a couple of weeks ago (better eight years later than never) and why, two posts ago, I shared two internal audit fails with you. Next week I will finally share with you how this insight into the way music is played can help us understand what I think to be a fundamental (and not well understood) reason for why we fail.