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Inspirational Excel Spreadsheet Creativity for Finance Pros Everywhere

March 16, 2016 Mitchell Buchanan  
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When the senior management team isn’t happy with the numbers that come out of the finance department — and this is bound to happen every now and then — there’s probably a temptation to say something along the lines of, “What do you want us to do? Paint you a pretty picture?”

But unless you’re, that’s hard to do using an Excel spreadsheet.

Horiuchi is a 75-year-old Japanese artist recently profiled on CNTV for the work he’s been doing the past 15 years with Excel, the same tool finance departments have relied on for decades. His award-winning landscapes can be attributed in part to the fact that  Excel was preinstalled on his PC.  

“It’s a sense of achievement when I draw something I like. It motivates me to draw another and then another. And it continues,” Horiuchi said told the TV station.

The Creative Impulse in Finance

Of course, finance teams have to use Excel for more traditional purposes, but that doesn’t mean they might not be equally motivated to produce something creative. In fact, the increased integration of spreadsheets with corporate performance management applications, business intelligence software and other tools is bringing a wealth of information to the forefront. Using that information strategically is predicated on how creative our minds work.

Fortunately, there is every reason to believe that simple spreadsheets are a perfect way to unlock the imagination. This was a point made recently by a U.K. professor and author named John Naughton, who wrote about spreadsheets in The Guardian newspaper. He noted that entrepreneurs in the tech startup space almost always use spreadsheets to create “fantasy models” of what they’re trying to build. But that’s only one example:

Years ago, I began to wonder if the popularity of spreadsheets might be due to the fact that humans are genetically programmed to understand them. At the time, I was teaching mathematics to complete beginners . . . The moment one said “let x be the number of apples”, their eyes would glaze and one knew they were lost. But the same people had no problem entering a number into a spreadsheet cell labelled “Number of apples”, happily changing it at will and observing the ensuing results. In other words, they intuitively understood the concept of a variable.

The rise of analytics means there are more variables than ever before to consider, and finance departments have many creative challenges ahead of them. They may never create something as beautiful as a Tatsuo Horiuchi painting, but they might achieve something more important: an ability to show their senior leadership team the art of the possible.

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