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Two senses helped our primitive ancestors to survive: seeing, to eat (to find prey), and hearing, to avoid being eaten (to avoid dangers).


Finding something eatable requires focusing ahead, to plan offensive action, to decide where and when, to program. Therefore, our eyes look ahead, respond to our desire s to where to look, when to open and when to close, they can be focused. On the other hand, avoiding threats requires a defensive attitude, an awareness  of dangers 24 hours a day, 360º all around us, always prepared to react. Therefore, our ears cannot be closed (there are no “ear-lids”), must be ever alert for emergencies, sound reaches our senses whether we like it or not.


Likewise, there are two modes of control in organizations: the programmed control and the alert control.


The programmed control consists of all the measurements, comparisons, indicators, audits, observations, reports and the like that have been established in order to asure an organization keeps on track and meets its goals as much as possible.


The alert control has no routine, no formal procedures established a priori, no program. Instead, it consists of an attitude of “being prepared for surprises”, of having our antennas ready to react to any unforeseen signal that may be relevant for the organization’s present or future performance or even survival.


Take the Argentine case. Early 2002 the price of dollars tripled, corporate and individual savings were no longer of free disposal, dollar-denominated contracts were “pesified” by law (wonderful windfall gain for debtors, disaster for creditors), commercial barriers were modified – all in a matter of days (much of this is now changing again, mostly for the better, as quickly as before). Even the best internal control system or audit program will not help you, if you do not have the ability to “hear” the early warnings of unexpected events.


Let us address an ancient contradiction: can we “expect the unexpected”? Certainly not. What we can – and should – do is to be aware of the extreme uncertainty of the world – much greater in countries struggling to develop, but in the increase everywhere – and that therefore “programmed control” is not enough. There are two reasons for this: (1) programmed control takes time and has a tendency to bureaucratization, and (2) it assumes we know what is to be controlled.


 It would help if “someone” in the corporation (or someone’s time – perhaps just an hour a week – in a smaller unit), as a sort of “systemic watchdog” not tied to any particular sector or function, would be in charge of looking out for early warnings in or from unexpected quarters. Thus, action may be taken without waiting for any audit cycle or the like.



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