What’s the collective noun for accountants?… A ‘boredom’ of accountants. Accounting, it’s fair to say, doesn’t have the reputation for flair and creativity of, say, an artist. Well, I’ve met only two professional artists: people who earned their living solely by selling their artworks. Neither struck me as more or less creative than anyone else you meet. In fact both came across as preoccupied, as we all are, with trying to make the best living they could from the talent and contacts available to them.
A friend of mine in the heat of his English exam decided to write a poem. He was in the top group for English in his year and enjoyed the poetry they had done in class. He described sweating over his poem for over two hours while those around him asked for more paper to complete their prose essays. Finally, while reading over his finished poem with some satisfaction, a sudden moment of horror struck him. This was his analysis of his own work: ‘It wasn’t so far removed from a limerick, along the lines of ‘There was a young man from Tyree!’ ” He didn’t get a particularly high mark in that exam but he subsequently went into marketing, owns his own business and, with a gift for story-telling, is one of the funniest guys I know.
What’s the morale of this story? None. I mention it only because it mirrors my own attempts as a teenager at wood-carving (meant to be a figure of a man, looked like a dildo), composing tunes on the guitar (sounded like someone tuning a guitar), and short-story writing (captain spaceman saved the world). After an enthusiastic start, I would stand back, survey the results and realise that I had plagiarised some other sculpture, or tune, or writing style that I admired. At the time, I was disappointed at my lack of originality but I’ve come to believe that we are all in the same boat. Take a professional artist and ask them to come up with a novel solution to a problem outside of their skill or experience and the result will more than likely be an embarrassment.
For most of my early life I equated creativity with originality, probably because my generation inherited some of the hippy ideals of the sixties and seventies. In adulthood however, I’ve found that creative people have a talent for borrowing – plagiarising if you like – ideas and concepts from all sorts of directions and applying them to a particular problem in their own sphere to produce something new. Accountants do this in just the same as any other profession.
Do I believe what I’ve just written? Yes, but it can’t be the full story because many accountants are indeed boring. At a guess I’d say that in each profession there must be a bit of conditioning where ‘nurture’ takes precedence over ‘nature’. The more expansive a person’s work horizons, the wider the range of influences he or she brings to their job. Artists literally have a blank canvass. A blank spreadsheet just isn’t going to do it, is it? Ah, we’ll. Back to the day job.