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Mind of Jacka: Organization Is Not the Only Thing

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

While reading one of Graham Greene's early novels titled A Gun for Sale, I came across this interesting passage. A detective is talking about his position on the potential for war in the 1930s and his role as a detective. "It doesn't matter to me if there is a war. When it's over I'll still want to be going on with this job. It's the organization I like. I always want to be on the side that organizes. On the other, you get your geniuses, of course, but you get all your shabby tricksters, you get all the cruelty and the selfishness and the pride."

It's an interesting perspective for detectives… and for internal auditors. The phrase "the side that organizes" resonates with all of us.

For detectives, the reliance on organization instead of hunches, gut feelings, and dumb luck is a trademark of their profession and reason for their success (in spite of what you may have seen on television.) My dad worked for a number of years in the Identification Department of the Maricopa County Sherriff's Office handling photography, fingerprinting, and other forensic approaches — the systematic examination and organization of facts, details, and evidence. I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that the work he did was as fundamental to the success of each case as any other work done during the investigations. (And, in at least one significant situation, the primary factor in stopping the inappropriate release of a murderer.)

And so it goes in the performance of internal audits. It is the organization of our research/our workpapers/our data/our interviews/our evidence that creates the building blocks for anything we report. We do not rely on hunches, gut feelings, or dumb luck. We rely on the systematic examination of evidence.

Good on us. This is an important skill and component for the successful completion of our work.

Unfortunately, after I've heaped all that praise and glory upon our ability to organize, I must now say that I believe it to also be an anchor dragging us down.

Look at the rest of Greene's quote. "On the other [side from those who organize], you get your geniuses, of course, but you get all your shabby tricksters, you get all the cruelty and the selfishness and the pride."

While it is true that many of the creatives of the world are not necessarily organizers, to approach them as the evil-twin reflection of organizers is to sell the value of and our need for creatives short. Yes, creatives may be messy. Yes, creatives may not see the world the same way as the organizers. And, yes, creatives may not follow the rules organizers think should be followed. But creatives see and drive the future.

Again, organization is the foundation — the foundation of an audit, the foundation of a plan, the foundation of strategy, the foundation of what we do. But creativity takes that foundation and makes it more.

Unfortunately, far too many in the world of internal audit still identify as and act like organizers. And then we hire more organizers. And organizers breed more organizers. And all those organizers squeeze the creatives until they either fit the form or go somewhere else.

And therein lies our biggest issue today. Not that we don't have a seat at the table. Not that we are not identifying the biggest risks. Not that we are not providing value. Not that we are unable to fulfill the broader promises we make about our profession.

No, our biggest issue is that we are organizers. We are the ones who make sure everything goes exactly the way it should. We are the ones who follow the rules. We are the ones who do our best to keep everything in line, in rows, all made out of ticky-tacky, and all looking the same. (Five points for getting that reference without Googling it.) And, because of this, I'm not sure we get that many geniuses. Note that I am not saying we don't have smart people; we have a basketful of those. No, I'm talking about the geniuses who not only color outside the internal audit lines but recognize that those lines are a trap that will keep us from true success. And by moving beyond those lines, they find us new ways to do things.

Without those creatives, we will not have a seat at the table, we will not be able to identify emerging risks, we will not provide value, and we will never fulfill the promises we make about our profession's future. (Mostly because there may not be one.)

Never ignore the organizers. But find the creatives. Become a creative. Harbor creatives. Support creatives. Organizers are the foundation; creatives are the future.

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

Co-founder and Chief Creative Pilot, Flying Pig Audit, Consulting, and Training Services (FPACTS), based in Phoenix.

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