If a literary author sees the value in using Excel to keep track of more than 150 characters, just imagine what CFOs and their teams could do.
The story of how a U.S. president coped with the sudden death of his son, Lincoln On The Bardo may not be the kind of escapist reading that CFOs and other business leaders would turn to in their downtime. You don’t have to love George Saunders’ novel, however, to appreciate the process he took to create it.
Based on true events in the life of the late Abraham Lincoln, Saunders’ book has been receiving major accolades for its engaging storyline and believable characters. Most of us would probably find creating this kind of serious literature a little intimidating — which makes it a comfort to know he turned to the finance professionals’ most valuable tools when he wrote it:
Of the 166 different voices in the book (he knows the exact number; “I made a spreadsheet”), not all are fictional. “I thought, to do ghosts all the time was not going to work,” Saunders remembered. “It’s almost like there’s too much control in the writer’s hand, since the ghosts can do anything.”
In a certain way, there are actually some similarities between the way an author like Saunders works and how performance management software is changing the way companies operate. The work of any novelist is grounded in some kind of essential, single version of the truth. Exactly how factual and well-researched that truth is depends on the writer, of course. An even bigger portion of the novelist’s task is to imagine possibilities and let them play out on the page.
The Task For CFOs
Now think about the way companies use data — the kind of information that was once locked in spreadsheets but can now take on a new life by (for example) connecting them to a central database and automating the data collection process. The task for the CFO (and his or her team) is to then imagine possibilities based on what the data tells them and let them play out on the page. Or in the board meeting.
In both cases, spreadsheets are a highly effective way to organize information so that the creative, imaginative work can happen more readily. This is where you and your team should be spending your time – not copying and pasting numbers from cell to cell.
A recent article on Adweek, for instance, explored how ad agencies are starting to make use of artificial intelligence (AI). One of those interviews suggested that job security will depend on embracing machine learning and leaving the past behind.
“If your job is really to move numbers around a spreadsheet and optimizing it based on what’s performing, the computer is going to be way better than you and faster,” the article said.
Too often we forget or overlook that spreadsheets are not just places to move numbers around but to move knowledge forward. Excel may always be more of a mainstay among enterprise finance departments than novelists, but there’s no end to the novel ways you can use them to your advantage.
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