Excel is like life

Life is complex. Problems are complex. And it’s rare that an intricate problem can be solved by a simple solution. Or indeed that a single solution is the only one. Excel is a good analogy here.

It has rows and columns and it was invented to organise data. Simple, huh?

Yet in its 2007 version, it comes with eight standard ribbons. (Further ribbons present themselves in specific situations.) The Home ribbon alone has 42 separate items within it. Twenty of these have dropdowns from which further options can be selected. A very conservative estimate would be that an average of five sub-options are available for each of these. If the other seven ribbons are similar, then that’s 976 options, and that doesn’t account for the plethora of formulae that can be written in each of the cells, and the canvas of colours available. (As a slight aside, that would allow 16 trillion possible actions across the cells of a single worksheet.)

Admittedly, Excel was not designed to solve a single problem. But the arsenal of tools available merely highlights the huge variety of ways in which problems can be addressed. If you give ten people the same problem and ask them to solve it in Excel, each one will address it in a different way, sometimes subtly different, sometimes wildly different. If you don’t tell them which tool to use, then your range of solutions will widen further.

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