Episode 2

Excel is Magical

With a low bar of entry and yet powerful enough to build a career around. All of us use it, all of us love it, all of us hate it. Excel’s flexibility and richness of features make it the 21st century digital swiss army knife.

It is an addicting feeling crushing a messy Excel problem, who cannot recall the first time they INDEX(MATCH)-ed? The Excel problem solving addiction puts power users on the quest path into Excel wizardry and then face to face with the Excelinators Dilemma.1

WARNING: Magic comes with a price

The first payment is due when the value to innovation S-curve begins to peak, yet many power users meet each new problem with more Excel. The second payment comes a little later when the “incumbent” Excel solution has become so large and complicated that the organization has begun erasing value with the time spent in maintenance and errors.2

There are some warning signs:

  • Complicated and time consuming process to produce effective decisions
  • Contains heavy use of macros and VBA script
  • Only a small number of users understand how it works, or the original author has left the organization
  • The Excel sheet is amazing but now everyone wants to use it
  • It is difficult to determine when the spreadsheet has an error, and where it is


It is important to understand the domain competencies of users. Power users are typically professionals that use applications, like Excel, to enhance the value they provide to their employer or clients. A great accountant, financial analyst, or operations manager is defined by the quality of their decisions not the sophistication of their formula nesting and pivot tables.

When has an Excel project used source control, pipelines, boards, backlogs, or quality assurance? These domain practices fall outside the competencies of a typical power user. An organization may lose value when its non-IT professionals are performing roles better suited for software developers or data scientists. Much like when small incumbents disrupt a large organization, to stay technology relevant, there comes a time when new tools and ideas must take over.

Under the right conditions Excel is invaluable, because it is magical. Just remember, extraordinary power comes with a steep price for those that use it irresponsibly.

  1. Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen, a classic book that explores how successful, outstanding companies can do everything “right” and yet still lose their market leadership as new, unexpected competitors rise and take over the market 

  2. Excel horror stories - http://www.eusprig.org/horror-stories.htm