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Mind of Jacka: It's the End of the World as We Know It

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Aug 04, 2022

Sometimes you just get tired of fighting. Sometimes it seems the losers are winning. Sometimes you just wonder what's it all about.

Nothing new there. Any auditor that's been around for any length of time has gone through this. I was just talking to an internal auditor who lamented the fact that they felt they weren't making a difference; all the findings were starting to feel the same and it was hard to see how change was being accomplished. (Remember that word change; it's a theme you're going to see pop up quite a bit today.) The ensuing conversation was eerily similar to ones I have had with almost every auditor who ever worked for me — auditors who had reached that same level of burnout. It was a conversation emphasizing that, while our impact often seems incremental, when you take the long view, you see positive change.

But incremental change currently seems inadequate. (Look out, here comes number one on the top 10 list of understatements.) The world is going through significant changes right now. And, yes, I know every generation says the same thing. In the '80s, we thought the advent of computers made sweeping changes. In the '60s, we thought societal awareness made sweeping changes. And in ancient Greece, the Greeks probably thought the implementation of democracy made sweeping changes. And those changes led to frustration and fear. How many of us relate to Socrates, who once remarked, "What's wrong with these kids today?!" (Okay, he actually said, "The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise." But, when he wasn't being quoted for attribution, I think he just said, "These kids today...")

However, change is currently rushing along at a frantic pace, one previously unseen. We are in the midst of a multi-year revolution. And, as a result, we face fear, uneasiness, unrest, and division. And, in the face of all this change and backlash, internal auditors have to be asking themselves, "Why bother?"

To quote REM, "It's the end of the world as we know it."

The consensus among experts (in case anyone missed that day in history class) is that we are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution. Definitions vary, but in general, the first industrial revolution is defined as the advent of steam power, the second is the age of science and mass production, the third is the digital revolution, and the fourth is the increase in interconnectivity and smart automation. It represents the blurring of physical, digital, and biological worlds.

Like in every other revolution, there is disruption afoot. It was rapidly creeping upon us, and then the pandemic slapped us upside the head and said, "You think things were changing before?"

The end of the world as we know it.

Of course, every day is the end of the world as we know it, at least the world as we know it within that particular second. But the cosmic shift of this fourth revolution — the age of AI, the age of smart factories, the age of driverless everything, the age of publication democratization, the age of the Internet of Things, the age of big data, the age of augmented reality, the age of I-don't-know-what's-next-because-it's-beyond-my-comprehension — is resulting in the complete disintegration of everything we have taken for granted.

Humans don't handle such change well. Shoot, we don't handle any change well. And this wholesale reformation of how we work, think, and act is not going down well with our conservative side — the lizard brain that screams, "We will not change!" There is a swell of conservatism throughout the world. I am not just talking about political parties and persuasions, but the way our conservative mindsets are taking more and more control as we resist more and more change. We don't like change, and it is occurring fast. And so, we hold on and try to get back to the "way things were" before "the end of the world as we know it." Such conservatism cuts a swath through all aspects of our lives.

My human brain fully understands all this. But my lizard brain freezes in fear. I fall into the pattern of wishing for the "good old days," even if those days were only a few years ago and not really that "good." I have to fight the natural inclination to resist change, particularly change as seismic as we are now experiencing.

Accepting such change means we all must take a close look at the stands we take and be sure we are taking them because they are the right thing to do, not because we are resisting change or wanting to travel back in time. That means we must set aside some of our firmest convictions, or at least take a long, hard look at them. ("When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" a quote credited to a lot of different people.) It means we must accept that change happens and, rather than entrench ourselves in a state of mind that no longer has relevance, figure out how best to adapt to change — to changes in our work, our business, our laws, our nations, our families, our faith, and our allegiances.

I believe internal auditors have the skills that can allow us to understand, react, and lead during change. We evaluate overall situations and use that information to determine how best to move forward in the changing business world. We excel at seeing the big picture. We know how departments within the organization work together to achieve objectives. And we understand the current, emerging, and future risks that are out there. Put it all together, and we are equipped to help an organization move forward with change.

And many of us are already applying the same skills to our own departments. Take, for example, all this computer stuff. I often rant and rail about how internal audit should be a better adapter. But that is my "we can do better" side. In fact, there is a lot of adaptation going on, and I see many shops taking advantage of the technology, changing the way their departments get things done. Speaking at the international conference with Bryant Richards about RPA, we heard stories from people who are doing amazing things with the tool. They are just scratching the surface, but they are scratching at it rather than cursing the dark.

Of course, in spite of those strengths, internal auditors fall into the same conservatism as everyone else. The lizard brain at work. We are loathe to remove some controls. We take a while to adapt to technologies. We do not change the way we do our work. We do not change our structures. We sit back and wait.

But we have the intelligence and the insight to see past the lizard brain's attempt to stifle us. And the first step is to look at how your internal audit department is doing its work. Make sure you are not trying to take on the future by burying yourself in the past. And make sure you are not ready to die on hills that are no longer part of the war. Then look at how your organization works and ask those same questions. Is it trying to take on the future by burying itself in the past? Is it ready to die on hills that are no longer part of the war?

And at the same time, take this personally. Look at your role in the world. Make sure your reactions to change are not knee-jerk, defensive responses. Accept that change is going to happen. And move with that change instead of against it.

I started all this with the fact that I am tired. And, you know, 40 years of internal audit — of constantly reminding people of the need to get things done correctly — will do that. And, as noted above, that is why so many in the profession occasionally need that pep talk — a reminder of the impact of our persistence. There will continue to be battles, both in your profession and in your life. Remember that, in spite of what you may feel, you are making a difference. Also, take that difference you are making in your organization and do what you can to spread it throughout your world.

We can live in better organizations. We can live in better communities. We can live in a better world. It just means that, rather than cower in fear trying to rebuild a past that is no longer of value because it no longer exists, we must embrace change.

That's reason enough to fight. So maybe I do have some fight left in me. And I hope you do, too. It's not the end of the world as we know it; it is the beginning of a world we need to get to know.

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

Mike Jacka is co-founder and chief creative pilot of Flying Pig Audit, Consulting, and Training Services (FPACTS), based in Phoenix.

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