I had quite a debate with myself on this one. I got rolling and this post turned out to be rather lengthy – 1600+ words. So, the internal argument was whether to split this into separate posts or let it stand in one, long post. Well, as you can see, I decided to keep the whole thing all in one place. If you feel it is too long, you've got a few choices. First is to just skip it all and go somewhere else. To which I say, "Please, no, no, no...I don't have that many readers; I can't afford to lose another." Second is to jump right to the part that starts "Why is he telling me this?" I've put it in bold so you can find it more easily. But, if you do that, you'll miss the fun (?) of getting there. Third is to read it as if it were written in installments– go through a part of it, absorb it, then come back later. However, the option I prefer you use is to just sit down and read it all in one sitting. And when you've gotten through it all, let me know what you think. By the way, I would prefer if no one (Chuck, I'm talking to you) mentions the fact that I spent an extra 230 words talking about how long this piece is.
Right up front I'm going to be honest on this one. The main reason I'm writing this is so I can brag about the 15 minutes of fame I got at the D23 Expo. Of course, if that was all I wanted to do I'd just mention it on Facebook and revel in that particular kind of glory. But I also think there's an important point to be made here about work, free time, and creativity. Yes, I'm on that creativity bandwagon one more time, but this is also about the plain old issue of trying to do our jobs better. Come along with me and let's see where we wind up.
How's your summer going? Getting a chance to get away? Finding things to do besides work on internal audits? Finding the opportunity to, occasionally, just do nothing? For me, this summer has been particularly eventful.
June: I gave myself a Father's Day present by taking the 14-hour drive up to Yellowstone National Park to watch geysers go off. Yep, I'm a geyser gazer. (That is the actual term. My children have been nice enough to change it into geyser gazer geezer when they refer to me.) I was particularly excited about this trip because Morning Geyser (average height 150 to 200 feet) had just become active after being dormant since the 90's. Unfortunately, it never went off during the four days I was there (and, believe me, I did a lot of waiting and, just to rub a little more salt in that wound, it went off the day I left) but I still got to see Aurum and Beehive and Lion and Castle and Grand and innumerable other geysers.
July: My parents celebrated their 60th anniversary by taking the family on a cruise to Alaska. Saw glaciers and bears and whales and waterfalls and took a zip line across the rain forest and rowed canoes up a river to walk on a glacier and ate a lot of salmon and sat around on the ship doing nothing. (So, Mom, Dad, what are we doing for your 61st?)
August: I attended the D23 Expo. You can see what a D23 is by reading my prior post. At this particular event, for the first time, I participated in cosplay. (Don't know what it is? Look it up. And, for those of you who have been constantly harping that my references focus on old-timey things, let me say, simply, "Neener, neener".) I dressed as Grunkle Stan from Disney Channel's Gravity Falls.
To catch everyone up, Gravity Falls is a cartoon that is (as my grandfather used to say) half a bubble off plumb – weirdly entertaining and just off-beat enough to make you really glad you watched. Grunkle Stan is an older gentleman on the show (why my daughter thought of me for the part, I can't imagine) who owns the Mystery Shack and is the Grand Uncle to Dipper and Mabel. For more details, watch the show. Trust me; it is worth your time. (Come to think of it, don't trust me – watch it and prove that I am correct.)
I was joined in this cosplay by my daughter dressed as Wendy (again, watch the show) and my daughter's boyfriend dressed as Dipper. Apparently, the costumes were good because we kept getting stopped by people who wanted to have their pictures taken with us. I'll skip how it all happened, but the high point was when we were drug up to the "red carpet" to have our pictures taken with Alex Hirsch (the creator of Gravity Falls who also voices Grunkle Stan) and Kristen Schall (another incredibly talented voice actor from the show who also does great work on Bob's Burgers – another strange cartoon which, if you haven't seen, you should check out.)
First, I will share a link to Alex's tweet that showed all five of us. (You may need a Twitter account to see it.) I'm the tall one in the middle. Yes, we were impressive enough that the creator posted our picture on his personal account. And Alex was apparently wowed by the Grunkle Stan costume because he used his own camera phone to take a picture of the two of us. That one made it to his Twitter account also.
You have your fifteen minutes of fame; I have mine
Why is he telling us this? Well, as much as I relish sharing with you the summer I've had, and as much as I really wanted to brag about the success of my cosplay (you have no idea what an ego boost you get when the creator of a character says you have successfully become that character), and while, if nothing else, I have enjoyed typing "Grunkle Stan" as many times as possible, there really are some important points that come from all this.
If you pay any attention to how often I actually post here (and do me a favor, don't let me know the truth – I'm in a pretty good mood and your answer might be a little depressing) you may have noticed that, prior to my last piece about the D23 Expo, it had been a while since I posted. And, while part of the excuse was I had gotten real busy (building a Grunkle Stan costume is time consuming), the main reason was that, prior to this sabbatical, I put together six posts in three days related to the International Conference. That meant that, for quite a while, I had trouble looking at the blank Word document and coming up with anything I could care about. Classic burn out.
So, point one: You have to take breaks. And I don't mean coffee breaks; I mean real breaks/separations from the work you are doing. You cannot work non-stop and expect brilliance, excellence, or even adequacy. A recent study (and I can't find the link on this one, so you will have to take my word for it) showed that woolgathering (the researcher's term) increases the ability to think. In other words, mental fatigue leads to mediocrity. And I believe that internal audit's constant focus on schedules, timeframes, and noses to grindstones drives mediocre audit work. There are times when looking at a blank test sheet, plan document, risk/control matrix, or report may lead to serious side effects – most significant of which is an inability to get anything done. Do not force it. Take an hour, a day, a week, whatever you can in order to allow your mind the vacation necessary to get real work accomplished.
But there is more than just being fatigued with the actual work. It is just as true that constantly thinking about one subject leads to fatigue in your thinking. I love the question "When do you get your best ideas?" because I have never once heard "While working really hard." And I am willing to bet you could go on almost non-stop about situations where you had hit a brick wall in the audit – either the test wasn't making sense or you couldn't even figure out how to test it or the information you were getting from the client was making no sense or you had rewritten the report 15 times and it was all just a bunch of words – and the solution came to you after you stepped away from the work for a while.
So, point two: Solutions do not come from just working hard. Yes, implementing solutions takes hard work. But some of the best answers bubble to the top when we separate ourselves from the problem.
But the real value of this break from work is in the mantra I have been chanting most recently – creativity. I once heard an auditor say "The only time I'm not thinking about internal audit is when I'm hitting a bucket of balls." Now, that isn't all bad. As suggested in point one – he is taking a break. That will help the quality of his work. As suggested in point two – he has an approach that allows him to get past the road blocks by separating himself from the problem. However, he is missing out on the greatest value of these excursions from reality, the discovery of truly new and different things.
It is by escaping into the exploration of unconnected concepts that creativity and innovation are generated. What can anyone learn from geysers or glaciers or cruise ships or D23 or Imagineers or Grunkle Stan? Before I escaped to these experiences I couldn't have told you. However, I'm starting to see connections; and you are seeing some of them reflected in the blog posts I'm putting together.
And, there it is – point three: Creativity and innovation come from an escaping mind. The opportunity to explore dissimilar ideas, to find concepts that seem to have no relation to each other, to woolgather, to waste time, to escape; these are the sources of insights beyond anything you can imagine.
Sure, the success rate from these flights of fancy may not be as high as "the powers that be" might like. And there may be no way to build metrics around it all. And a lot of times it can all seem like a waste of "valuable" time. But what price can be put on that concept that fundamentally changes the way internal audit succeeds? And, you know what, even if there is no immediate fruit, just like a really good vacation, the joy is in the journey and the exploration.
And a quick note to Alex Hirsch. If you ever need someone to voice Grunkle Stan's brother – someone who sounds a little like Regis Philbin with a phlegm problem – you know where to reach me.