Check out this graph that summarizes the findings of my scientific study of accountants’ typical response to change.
Our typical response is fear. Not because we’re accountants, but because we’re human.
The fear of change is called metathesiophobia, which comes from the Greek words meta meaning “after” and thesio meaning “pissing in your pants.”
But this graph reveals something amazing about us accountants: We crush regulatory change. If we were the Harlem Globetrotters, regulatory change would be a basketball. If we were dogs, regulatory change would be our ability to remember what butts smell like. If we were the Oakland Raiders, regulatory change would be our ability to suck.
We deal with a butt load of change and uncertainty every year. In 2012 we had the fiscal cliff, we’re still waiting on Congress to retroactively approve 55 tax extenders for this year, and I’m sure something happened in 2013.
From year to year, we don’t know how the IRS or the FASB or the PCAOB are going to change things on us, but we do know that they might leave us hanging until the last minute. We recognize that change is coming, we put systems in place, and we deal with it like pros.
Non-regulatory change is our weakness. But why? Change is change. Non-regulatory change can be broken down into two categories: externally imposed change (like a key employee leaving your firm) and self-imposed change.
And here’s the thing: a synonym for “self-imposed change” is “intentional risk taking.”
So we’re amazing – we’re the best – at dealing with change when other people ram it down our throats. But we seize up when in comes to intentional risk taking (which is just another form of change).
We have a superhuman ability to adapt and change, but we only use our superpower when it’s compulsory. It’s like you’re a superhero at a superhero convention, and when you introduce yourself you say, “Hello. I’m El Contador. My superpower is flight. But I can only fly if someone pushes me off a building.”
Not true! You can jump off that building and fly whenever you want!
But we don’t because we’re too chicken and because we’re too busy and because we have a hard time differentiating between good risk and bad risk.
As a profession, our risk aversion comes from the fact that so much of our professional lives revolve around risk assessment and minimization. Risk is a dirty word in our profession because a huge part of the value we bring to our clients is identifying, avoiding, reducing, and transferring risk.
Some risks have little or no upside. Like punching Chuck Norris¹. Those risks need to be avoided. But, as Ron Baker says, “A business cannot eliminate risk, as that would eliminate profits. The goal is to take calculated risks and choose them wisely.”
The problem is most accountants never take intentional risks. We think we can only fly when we get pushed off the building. If we can’t get over our risk aversion, we’ll never understand the joy of jumping off the damn building and flying.
¹However, no one punches Chuck Norris. Chuck Norris bruises peoples’ knuckles with his face.