Recently, maybe because of time, maybe because of circumstance, maybe because of the vicissitudes of fate, I have found myself reading a lot more business/leadership/creativity/marketing books than normal. In no particular order, I have recently read (or am reading) Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies From a Life at Disney by Lee Cockerell, Winning the Zero Moment of Truth by Jim Lecinski from Google, Hatch! Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Designer by C. McNair Wilson, All I Did Was Ask by Terry Gross, and If You Ask Me by Betty White. (Those last two belong in the listed categories; trust me on that one.) I strongly recommend them all.
Now, as the creator of some rather bizarre humor pieces (let's face it, if you combine internal audit and humor you will get bizarre results), I often get the question "Where do you get your ideas?" I always think of the way Harlan Ellison handles that question. He answers "Schenectady." When the questioner looks at him quizzically, he goes on to say that there is a swell idea service in Schenectady. Every week he sends them twenty-five bucks and every week they send him a fresh six-pack of ideas. Invariably, someone will ask for the address.
In general, there are two types of people who ask me that question. The first are those who seem to genuinely be entertained by my efforts. The less said about them the better, and I know the meds will help them greatly.
The second are the ones who ask the question with a hint of disbelief. These are the ones who act as if I am involved in one of the stupidest endeavors humankind has ever attempted. They are the tip of an icy iceberg.
There is a significant population out there in internal audit land who cannot believe anyone would waste their time on such insipidness. They are the ones who, when they realize who I am, look at me as if I just desecrated the Standards, a look that says "You are wasting my time, my auditors' time, and your time with this tomfoolery." They see this type of endeavor (shoot, any endeavor which does not appear to instantly contribute to the profession) as a significant waste of time, space, and effort.
Now, let's talk about the way these same people react in a different situation. I have been fortunate enough to be involved in development of such things as the use of process mapping as an internal audit tool, auditing social media, analysis of marketing operations, and evaluating reputation risk and response. So far, three of those four topics resulted in books. The same people who frown when they hear the term "internal audit humor" are the ones who come up to me, thank me for my insights in these areas, and ask me "where do you get your ideas?"
I so want to tell them Schenectady.
Ideas for internal audit humor and ideas for new ways internal audit can provide value all come from the same place. They come from learning all I can about seemingly disparate ideas, they come from allowing myself to waste time by exploring new concepts, and they come from allowing myself to have fun. And, maybe most importantly, they come from exercising creative thinking at every possible moment – to such a point that it is no longer a conscious effort, it just happens.
And that is why, when interesting and creative and new ideas travel to most internal audit departments, they die a lonely death. Most internal audit departments do not build creative environments that foster new ideas. No, creativity and innovation is crushed by workloads and timelines and meaningless measures of success.
You want new ideas? Then you have to turn around one of the fundamental misconceptions most audit departments have about creativity. It is not a waste of time. It may be a while before you see results. But what results you will see. (A quote I heard [and it pains me to not remember the source; every source deserves recognition if it is good enough to be quoted]: Creativity is like a joke, you don't get it until the end.)
Take a chance and allow time for stimulating creative thought. That is how your department will be best practice. And that is how your department will be an incubator of talent. And that is how your department will be seen as a driving force within the organization. And that is how your department will be seen as adding value.
The last couple of weeks, a lot of my ideas are coming from the reading I'm doing on innovation and creativity and marketing and leadership. In the past, some of those ideas have come from reading "Alice in Wonderland" and "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test", and from listening to the Gin Blossoms and Warren Zevon, and from watching "Kinky Boots" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show".
The source of creativity and innovation can be anything. And so it comes to this. Explore, waste time, ask questions, and make creativity second nature for yourself and for your department. In no time at all you'll be answering "Schenectady."