Do you think in spreadsheet?

I’ve been observing something. I have thousands of spreadsheets and I suspect that over 95% of them are lists of things.

They are huge tables of information.

These spreadsheets often contain some calculations, but very few of them are performing anything more significant than a lookup here and a sum there.

  • They are massive check-lists.
  • They are elongated registers of information.
  • They are extensive task-lists.

One spreadsheet that I look at most weeks is 80 columns wide and 16,000 rows long. That’s 1.3 million pieces of information.

I’ve noticed that some people really love to delve deeply into these massive matrices of information. They are looking for insights to guide their thoughts. I can be like that.

There’s another set of people who go beyond using spreadsheets for analysis and understanding, they love to use the spreadsheet as their check-list/task-list of choice. They start at the top of a long list and work their way down. The driving force seems to be to get to the bottom of the list, ticking things off as they go. The ticking appears to motivate them. This way of working baffles me, not because it’s wrong, but because I don’t understand the motivation. I don’t work like that. Any task-list that has more than 5 or 6 things on it makes my eyes glaze over and results in less action, not more. A long list is just not a motivator, if anything it’s a demotivator.

Other people look at any spreadsheet and their eyes glaze over before they’ve even started. Anything bigger than a quadrant view and they are lost.  They are constantly battling with the previous group trying to work out what it is they are supposed to be doing – “what is today’s focus”. The kings and queens of the check-list are normally in charge of the list. The quadrant lovers sit in progress meetings with the spreadsheet fanatics and roll their eyes as they are subjected to a line-by-line-by-line review of the list.

I don’t think any of these groups are right, or wrong, they are just different. What surprises me is the belief that going through a long list is, in some way, progress. The opposite of that argument is that the people who want it simple are, in their own way, wrong.

Speaking as someone who hates being a slave to a list, I marvel at the people who make a huge amount of progress that way. I need to focus on a much smaller set of things and do those. I don’t think spreadsheet.

“The best way to persuade someone is with your…

The best way to persuade someone is with your ears.

Dean Rusk, former U.S. Secretary of State

Are you picturing “The Millennials” correctly?

When I search Google Images for “millennials” these are the first five pictures that are shown to me**:

These images are typical of the images that Google gives.

Look at the faces in these images and ask yourself this question: How old are these people?

I’ll be a more specific: Are any of these people over 25? Anyone over 30? Anyone below the age of 20?

The Millennial generation were born between 1977 and 1997, as such they are aged between 39 and 19.

All of the pictures above seek to be representative of race, creed and sex but none of them (in my view) represents the breadth of age that the Millennial generation covers.

If these faces are what you picture when you think of the Millennial generation then you are missing most of the generation.

  • You are missing the faces of married people, and divorced people.
  • You are missing the faces of people who have worked for the same employer for 20 years.
  • You are missing the faces of home owners.
  • You are missing the faces of people with teenage children. Some of whom will themselves be millennials.

If we are going to generalise we need to make sure that we do it in a way that is reasonably representative.

** I’d expect your images to be different because Google delivers different results to different people.

Concept of the Day: Digital Exhaust

You’re walking down a street in your local town. You have your phone in your pocket with Bluetooth and the GPS turned on. Every second you are exhausting digital information about the location of that phone.

As you walk you get a notification about a Facebook message from a friend – of course you’re available to meet later. Even more digital exhaust is emitted about who you are, where you are and how quickly you respond to messages.

This is a regular route to get your car out of a car park. As you approach your vehicle Google Maps tells you that it’s a 30 minute journey home. How did Google Maps know where your home was and that you were heading that way? More digital exhaust.

Earlier Apple Maps had told you that it had recorded where your car was parked and could help you find it later. How did it know that you had parked up? It used the digital exhaust from your phone to know that you had stopped alongside your phone disconnecting from the car Bluetooth system.

While you were out you’d been to the local store to look at some new clothes, they didn’t have your size available so you checked the store’s online store to see if they had different sizes in stock, they did, but you decided to keep looking in other stores. Next time you go to a news website there are adverts being displayed for the clothes that you didn’t buy. More digital exhaust.

Your exhausting all over the place.

As carbon-dioxide and water is the exhaust of a combustion engine – data is the exhaust of your Internet interactions.

I’m reading…Steve Denning

Steve Denning’s bio on Forbes, where he writes, says:

I write about radical management, leadership, innovation & narrative.

I consult with organizations around the world on leadership, innovation, management and business narrative. For many years I worked at the World Bank, where I held many management positions, including director of knowledge management (1996-2000). I am currently a director of the Scrum Alliance, an Amazon Affiliate and a fellow of the Lean Software Society. I am the author of the Leader’s Guide to Radical Management, The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling and The Secret Language of Leadership.

I really enjoy most of what Steve writes, but there are two areas where I especially appreciate his thought provoking articles:

The World’s Dumbest Idea

The title of these posts come from a quote by Jack Welsh in which he refers to the idea of maximising shareholder value as “the world’s dumbest idea”.

The original quote come from the FT in which Welch says:

“On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world,” he said. “Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy … Your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products.”

So why is it such a dumb idea? To radically over-simplify Denning’s writing the answer is that is reduces innovation and ultimately reduces the value of an organisation by bleeding it dry. An example of where this occurs is share buybacks:

The resources spent on share buybacks are resources that could otherwise be spent by the organization on innovation or compensating workers for their gains in productivity.

What’s the alternative? That’s summarised by another quote from Peter Drucker:

“There is only one valid definition of a business purpose: to create a customer.”

I’ll leave you to read if your interested.

Some posts:


I work in IT and the Agile movement has had a massive impact on the way that we now work.

We used to work on massive projects that regularly resulted in failure. These projects were managed through waterfall plans that were regularly late and over budget. We needed a different way of working and in 2001 a group got together in Snowbird, Utah. The result of this gathering was the Manifesto of Agile Development and the ignition of a massive change across the industry that it still, in many ways, in its infancy.

Denning isn’t a software developer, he approaches Agile, as a mindset, from the perspective of leadership and management. In 2012 he called Agile “the best-kept management secret on the planet”.

The following video is the best summary that I’ve seen, it even starts with a summary of the talk itself:

Some posts: