As I previously have used this space to confide in you my shortcomings as a student, I will also tell you about a marvelously inventive science teacher I had in junior high school who employed trick questions to get suspect minds like mine to think.
For example, he once asked a student "What is the only liquid that isn't wet?" Once the instructor assessed in full the vacant stare he received in return, he finally had to end the suspense and explain that it was mercury.
Another time he quizzed the class on what was the strongest grass in the world. Well, I knew it wasn't the kind my father used to plant each spring, because shortly after the first hard rain most of it would disguise itself as mud.
For those who haven't already guessed, the staunch survivor turns out to be bamboo, which I did not even realize was categorized as a grass. Even more interesting, I discovered, is that bamboo survives conditions that would shred most things, such as typhoons, tsunamis and hurricane-force winds that often exceed the final lap at the Indy 500.
For me it hit close to home - literally. Once, after expressing my displeasure about dinner in the form of a four-letter word, Pop "allowed" me to experience the business end of a bamboo cane. While painful, it didn't seem to have the sting of the more traditional walking aids. That's because its strength stems from the fact that it's not rigid - it is malleable to its environment. It doesn't resist change, but rather flexes its branches with the inclement weather.
I recalled this 35-year-old science lesson while attending the American Institute of CPAs recent Fall Meeting of Council in Orlando. Specifically, it came back to me as I listened to the formal remarks of 2004-2005 AICPA chairman Robert Bunting, who urged his colleagues not only to embrace change, but to actually initiate it.
"Great professions don't just accept change," Bunting said. "They don't just embrace change. Great professions initiate change - for their own good, for the public good and for the sake of the future."
Now that's a lot to ponder, especially for a profession whose historic acceptance of change has been less than spectacular. Traditionally, CPAs have viewed change with as much enthusiasm as a root canal procedure sans novocaine. Heretofore, a CPA's idea of radical change was moving the filing cabinet from the left corner to the right.
But that was then and this is now.
For some, it has been and still is hard to digest the fact that this is not your father's profession. The playing field is different, as are the players. Firms with public clients are taking their marching orders from Washington, while those auditing non-Securities and Exchange Commission clients wonder if that oft-heard hyphenate, Sarbanes-Oxley, will slowly wend its way into their practices as well. As a result, the new chair stressed that members must determine the balance between serving clients, representing the interests of stakeholders and responding to regulators. In other words, for the foreseeable future Capitol Hill is going to be an integral part of the profession, so we all have to play nice.
Bunting spliced hot-button topics such as increased peer review, greater financial transparency and tax shelters in between the usual optimism-laden metaphors delivered at the onset of a leader's term, i.e. "roads to greatness" and "new blood." But to me, none made more of an impression than the plea to initiate change. Because when the next accounting typhoon hits, you would be far better off as bamboo than oak.
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