Most companies are now results-oriented and fairly relaxed about letting employees occasionally use their desktops to browse social media or surf personal web sites as long as they get things done, but remember the time when management was so tough some software programs came with a “boss button?”
These were the icons you would quickly click on if a supervisor suddenly appeared over your shoulder, which would change the screen to look like you were in the middle of something work-related. You know, like using an Excel spreadsheet.
This is a far cry from Help Button Excel, an experiment of sorts from a budding entrepreneur named Rick Rosenthal which recently won first place at Startup Weekend Stamford. A story in The Stamford Advocate had the details:
Rosenthal’s idea to provide instant, hands-on assistance for people wrestling with Microsoft Excel spreadsheet functions, formatting, macros and other issues. “People have been coming up to me for years almost on a daily basis asking for this kind of help,” Rosenthal said. “I had a hunch that these kinds of issues were going on around the country.”
Often when we think of innovation, we think of creating something entirely new, but this is a good example of where innovation can be built on top of something like Excel.
A second way to innovate with Excel is by applying it to unusually difficult challenges – say, trying to go from being an Uber driver to a Silicon Valley venture capitalist. That’s what Jason Shuman did. As he wrote in a post on TechCrunch, he knew he needed to keep information “maniacally” organized if he was going to reach his goal:
“For me, that meant making a list of the top 30 seed-stage firms I wanted to work for between Boston and New York. With each firm I made a spreadsheet that included every partner’s name, my mutual connections to them, the investments they were responsible for in the portfolio, my thoughts on each and my mutual connections within portfolio companies,” he wrote. “I was laser-focused on learning as much as I could about the firm, the partners and the companies so I could use that knowledge in my interviews and other venture conversations.”
This leaves innovation approach No. 3. If you’re not going to create something innovative on top of Excel, or use Excel to solve an innovative problem, there is plenty of opportunity to use Excel as a platform – connecting the front-end tool to enterprise-grade capabilities – to transform your business.
In other words, using Excel this way can let organizations be more innovative in the way they carry out day-to-day processes, and discover effective solutions to longstanding problems. You don’t have to act like a startup or a Silcon Valley insider to be an innovator – you just have to make smart choices, and then see them through.