11 Odd (and Mildly Disturbing) Facts About Spreadsheets

How can a collection of rows and columns generate so much emotion? You can buy a coffee mug that says “I 🖤 Spreadsheets” or one that says “I Hate Spreadsheets.” Some people feel the love and the loathing in equal measures. If you’ve ever been frustrated because you had no one to admire your sweet new pivot table or had mixed feelings about being called an “Excel ninja,” you might know what we’re talking about.

We talked to a lot of business operations professionals while researching The Essential Guide to Data-Driven Business Operations. BizOps folks, it turns out, have strong feelings about spreadsheets. Very strong. In honor of their, er...passion, we bring you these facts. (This list goes to 11.)

  1. October 17th, 2019 will be the 40th anniversary of Spreadsheet Day, commemorating the launch of VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program for personal computers. (Make your dinner reservations now!)
  2. A study by an IT management professor at the University of Hawaii concluded that 88 percent of all spreadsheets contain at least one error.
  3. In 2017, John Dumoulin of Woodbridge, VA became the first American in 17 years to win the World Excel Championship.
  4. There is a World Excel Championship.
  5. A 2010 economic study titled "Growth in a Time of Debt" posited that economic growth suffers when a country's public debt level reaches 90 percent of GDP. It was called into question in 2013 in part because the original spreadsheet-based analysis contained an incorrect formula, inadvertently omitting Belgium.
  6. The most popular video on the Mr. Excel YouTube channel is titled “Create a Bell Curve in Excel.” It has received more than 545,000 views over the past five years—more than twice as many as “How I Bathe My Hedgehog,” released at about the same time.
  7. Before computers, spreadsheets were written by hand in ledger books or on ruled sheets known as “analysis paper,” which often had soothing green squares.
  8. In March of 2018, UK beverage wholesaler Conviviality issued an earnings statement 20 percent lower than expected, contributing to a freefall in their stock price that wiped out 60 percent of the company’s share value before trading was suspended. The low earnings report was later found to be  incorrect, caused in part by “a spreadsheet arithmetic error.”
  9. Known as the “Michelangelo of Excel,” Japanese artist Tatsuo Horiuchi uses the vector tools in Microsoft Excel to create digital paintings of Japan’s natural landscape.
  10. The Urban Dictionary includes a definition of “spreadsheet” which is very, very rude. We’ll let you look that one up for yourself.
  11. Ariel Fischman holds the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of spreadsheet software, with more than 500. A spreadsheet user and historian, Fischman told the Microsoft Excel blog that his favorite feature is multi-cell array formulae.

Check out The Essential Guide to Data-Driven Business Operations to find out how process mining can do the data grunt work for you, so that you can spend your time improving your business. No spreadsheets required.

David B. Thomas

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