This weekend I was in Anaheim attending Wondercon. You were doing what?! I was attending the comics convention at Anaheim that is called Wondercon. It is sponsored by Comic-Con International – the people who, every July, bring the single largest comics-oriented convention in the world to San Diego (Don't know what Comic-Con is? Ask just about anyone in their teens or twenties. Or you could just look it up.)
Now, there is probably a whole group of you out there who didn't bother reading past that first paragraph. (Which raises the question "Why am I writing to you", which has no good answer, but I will persevere, nonetheless.) Your assumption may have been that comics in particular and pop culture in general have no bearing on the world of internal audit.
Wrong again, Weedhopper. In fact, there is nothing more important to internal audit than the life that is going on around us. And comics conventions happen to include important aspects of that life. Further, even if such conventions did not contain touchpoints to the world around us, I would still say your ambivalence or disregard of such conventions would be wrong because part of being creative, innovative, and making our own little internal audit world better is looking for outside influences – sometimes in the strangest of places.
If all you do with your life is look at internal audit, then it is a poor life indeed. If all you do is look at business, it is a poor life indeed. And if you don't do more than just watch the world going on around you, then it is poor on poor on poor.
Now, don't worry, it is not my intent to go on about why you should dive knee-deep into cosplay or seek out Lou Ferrigno and the Soup Nazi for their signatures or fight the mob to be the first to play the latest version of Mario Kart or wade through the throngs in order to talk to every artist at every booth in Artist's Alley or stand in line for two hours to see the Adventure Time panel (all events snatched from the real world of Wondercon). No, this is about how experiencing various aspects of the world– the mundane and the strange (and I would say that Wondercon falls into the latter category) – can actually improve your ideas and concepts about the profession of internal audit.
For portions of three days I actually did some (not all) of the activities listed above and throughout it all (I am not making this up), without meaning to (let me repeat, I am not making this up) I would occasionally find myself thinking "I can see how this might apply to internal audit."
I won't say that such ruminations led to pay dirt every time. However, I want to share with you three experiences – "Internal Audit Moments from Wondercon" if you will – where some chord was struck.
I'll start with a session where Barbara Randall Kesel's topic was "Where Do Ideas Come From?" (I will not belabor Ms. Kesel's bona fides. Trust me on this – she has the reputation and the chops. Suffice to say that she has worked for DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Crossgen, Image Comics and Dark Horse Comics, and that if you need to know more about her you can check out her
nascent web page.)
Now, we all know that a discussion which focuses on where ideas come from is a fool's game, but what Ms. Kesel presented was various ways people should think about the processes they use for generating ideas and then putting those ideas into action. (Actually, considering the group to whom she spoke, it was more than that; it was about putting
dreams into action.)
On the one hand, I don't know that I heard anything one could pronounce as "profound". In particular I remember discussions on having a routine to ensure you get your mind ready for the work it is going to do, being ready to break that routine when ideas refuse to come forward, setting a minimum amount of work to complete each day to ensure that you get
something done, and viewing large projects in terms of the small hunks of work that can get done lest one be intimidated by the breadth and scope of the project. (I do not do her presentation justice; my synopsis does not carry the impact of what she had to say. We'll just have to move past that.)
The entire presentation resonated for me because the context in which she spoke (attempting to help new artists and writers) put a spin on these points that forced me to look at the approaches in a new way. Just one quick example. Rather than take a break when we have worked too long on a single project, how often do we try to work ourselves through the downturn and, in the process, produce decidedly inferior work? Do we ever think about taking a break and metaphorically walking the dog? Or are we so obsessed with the timelines and due dates and measures of success and other methods of showing we "got the job done" that we would rather put out mediocre work than take a break and give ourselves the breather we desperately need?
Which leads to another question. When we slog through and work when we shouldn't, how often do we then fall under the misapprehension that the minute words are put to paper (or pixels to computer screen) the work has to stay as it is – that it is done, finis, a Mark VII Production – and it must never be changed until reviewed by a higher-up who will tell us it isn't right? Again, our slavish adherence to arbitrary measures sometimes keeps us from throwing bad work away and starting over.
The next experience I would like to share is an interesting book from Brett DeWall titled "101 Random Conversations from Strangers (Most of Which are True.) I was drawn to Mr. DeWall's booth by the title of his comic: "Orky the Porky Orca". Seriously, how can someone
not be drawn to such a name? But I never got to take a look at the related materials because I was immediately drawn to the concept of his book.
I chatted with him and he told me that he had set the task of having 100 random conversations with strangers and then creating a drawing and synopsis for each conversation. A quick glance and I bought the book.
Let me start by telling you that the book is fun and that the descriptions are as revealing about the author as they are about the people. But here is where the auditor in me came out. I have talked to and worked with so many auditors who are struggling with communication. Part of it is writing, part of it is presentations, part of it is just keeping from passing out in front of an executive. But the root of it seems to be that so many auditors are just not sure how to approach people.
You want a solution? How about setting yourself the task that, for the next 100 work days, you will talk to 100 random people at work or in the profession or any other social (or non-social) situations? Then write down what you heard or what you learned about the people and about yourself.
And while you're at it,
buy the book and see where it can lead.
The final experience I'd like to share is as nontangential as anything here. In fact, it will take a bit of a stretch to make this about internal audit. And yet, I still want to share. I came across the art of Mark S. Brunner. (You can see his work at Human Tree Robot.) My wife and I were walking the exhibitor hall when we saw his booth. Everything else became secondary as we headed straight for the art. We stayed at the booth for quite a long time. We kept looking and finding something new and different we liked. It was the colors, it was the subject, it was something that seemed familiar and yet completely different. We finally left having made a purchase. But we also made the commitment to ourselves that additional purchases would be made.
So let me make this about auditing. What is it that draws people to what you do? What in the work you accomplish within internal audit keeps people in the office? What do you do that, if seen across the building, will bring people to talk to you? How are you experimenting with the product to make something different? How are you juxtaposing the familiar with the unfamiliar in your work?
Those are the lessons internal auditors can take from Mr. Brunner's art.
And let's put all these comparisons aside momentarily and ask a more pragmatic question. Aside from drawing people to your office because of the work your department does, is there anything in the decoration or design of that office that would either make it a location that draws people or, at the very least, make it somewhere people want to stick around? Professional does not mean white walls and a few motivational posters.
Trust me, look to
Human Tree Robot for art ideas and your office will have many new visitors.
This has all gone on much longer than I planned. (And you should have seen the first draft.) But there is an important point that I may well have far-too-deeply buried here. You never know where ideas are going to come from – what wind will blow a thought into the fertile soil of that mush we call a brain allowing germination into the next great thing.
That is why I want to end by repeating: Get out there and do something – something different, something weird, something you can get excited about. Do NOT (am I emphasizing this enough? Do you get the image of me yelling those words so loudly your ear drums come bursting out of your head like in a Friz Freleng cartoon ) just look for something new by exploring the world of business. And a double DO NOT (this time imagine a trumpet going in one ear and out the other with your toupee flying in the air – again a la Mr. Freleng) just look for something new by exploring the world of audit.
Yes, you will find ideas by exploring the worlds of business and internal audit. But if you really want to make a difference, if you really want to find new and better ways to do things (and trust me on this one – you do) then explore the unexplored regions of your mind.
And, if in the process, you cosplay as Darkwing Duck, Freakazoid, or the Warner Brothers (all of whom I saw this weekend), so much the better.