When you hear the name J.K. Rowling, you probably think “Harry Potter,” “best-selling author” and possibly “imaginative.” The surprising thing is, you could just as accurately think “enterprise business,” “forecasting” and “spreadsheets.”
After all, Rowling’s success as a writer is on an order of magnitude, from a financial perspective, that plenty of businesses only wish they had attained. And as a recent article on Radio Times recently revealed, she approached her work with the kind of granular planning that isn’t far removed from the average finance department.
The article showed a spreadsheet – handwritten in ink, on looseleaf paper – that breaks down all the elements that went into Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
“It details how she worked out what to do with various plot threads, from the mysterious prophesy that lurked in the department of mysteries to the burgeoning love story between the Boy Who Lived and Cho Chang,” the article said. “It’s a lesson in novel planning, and an amusing insight into the mind of the acclaimed author.”
It’s also a good example of how spreadsheets are not merely a solid tool for itemizing data but for thinking through its implications and solving complex problems. Rowling might have made her life a little easier had she used a real spreadsheet program, like Excel, to more easily manipulate the various elements of her novel, but the point is this: if one woman can work this way to generate millions in sales, why couldn’t a company that combines Excel with more powerful CPM capabilities do the same? After all, Excel spreadsheets appeal to a very human need for getting organized, laying out the variables in a simple manner and making changes as required.
Pope Francis as CFO
In most cases, unfortunately, spreadsheets only enter the picture when things go wrong and there’s no easy way to obtain data or to analyze processes informed by data. We’re not just talking about modern-day enterprises here. It even happens at century-old organizations like The Vatican, where, as a result of reliable data, “new rules will put more spreadsheets into the saint-making process,” according to a blog post on NPR.
While you might think that selecting someone to be canonized would be entirely about spiritual reflection, there is a lot of donations involved in funding the research necessary to prove who’s deserving. According to two recently-published books, Pope Francis is cracking down on the lack of reporting that currently takes place:
“Many postulators — the people who spearhead the canonization of a given candidate for sainthood — weren’t keeping track of how the money was spent. No budgets, no expense reports, no financial statements.”
This isn’t meant to be a sermon, but the Catholic Church is demonstrating that it’s never too late to put the processes, the information and even the technology in place to make better decisions. What it does take is a committed vision, whether you’re an author, a Pontiff or the CFO of a major company. Without it, you haven’t got a prayer.
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