[IMGCAP(1)]There are many differences between the media and the accounting profession (which is a subject of gratitude, I'm sure, for all of you reading this), but I've recently been struck by this difference in particular: Journalists are happy to divulge everyone else's secrets, but not their own, while you accountants are very careful with other people's secrets, but willing to share your own at the drop of a hat.
This is always brought home to me during the spate of conferences, state society meetings, trade shows and other professional gatherings that always follows tax season. This year, it started with an anecdote told by a guest speaker at the American Institute of CPAs' Spring Meeting of Council, about the unseemly lengths that no less an icon of journalistic integrity than Walter Cronkite went to in order to get a scoop on as insignificant a story as whether Gerald Ford had gotten a flu shot. As a profession, we are famously as jealous about protecting our scoops from other journalists as we are reputedly unscrupulous in revealing the details of other peoples' lives.
At the same meeting, the institute conducted a number of open votes in front of the attending media, and also offered up a fairly detailed account of its financial statements to everyone who happened to be on hand. No accountant would reveal a client's information like that - but when it comes to their own books, they're wide open.
Every issue of Accounting Today is filled with information, ideas and insights that we learn from your peers at firms from all over the country. We get them to tell us the secrets of their success -- and, for some of our rankings and special reports, the actual dollar figures associated with that success -- and then we share them all with you.
But it's not as if we have to trick them; they're happy to share. At every trade show and conference I attend, I'm always astonished at how session presenters from firms of all sizes will gleefully give valuable information to fellow accountants. I've seen CPAs teach potential competitors how to conduct a forensic investigation and build a financial planning practice; I've listened to them share staffing practices and technology strategies that in any other field would be considered trade secrets that should be kept secret at all costs; and, in one of my favorites, I heard an accountant describe how she successfully balanced her firm's workload by finding other accounting firms to share assignments with during periods of overload. And in all those sessions, many of the accountants in the audience were always willing to chime in with their own experiences, thoughts and ideas.
As far as I can tell, this kind of professional generosity is almost unique to accountants. It's definitely not the rule in journalism, nor in most other fields. Perhaps it's born out of a common desire to protect, develop and improve the profession as a whole, but accounting is one of the few professions whose members almost reflexively share their best.
Obviously, I'm not suggesting that accountants don't compete; in fact, they are doing so more and more fiercely in the current tough environment. But that you've managed to still maintain this willingness to share is to your credit as a group -- and it's in your individual interest to make the most of it. Get out to the conferences where not just the speaker, but your fellow attendees share their secrets (blatant plug: like our Growth & Profitability Summit, in October); get involved in your state society, since they probably offer forums where you can get in touch with firms that share your profile and your concerns; join a network or association (less blatant plug: like those described in our feature story on page 8) that pool best practices and also refer clients among their members.
Make the most of your profession's generosity, its collegiality and its willingness to see that, when you make each other stronger, you all benefit. It's a very rare thing.
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