Yes, Excel spreadsheets are democratizing the problem-solving capabilities of many people, but those on the CFO’s team may have the most to gain.
What’s more difficult – going through account reconciliations manually, or creating the next Facebook? Financial reporting or coming up with an alternative to Uber?
These may not seem like very fair comparisons, for several reasons. First, the more finance-oriented tasks are just that, tasks. They are things that have to be done on a recurring basis as part of a job. They have nothing to do with innovation that leads to a game-changing start-up that gets valued by billions in Silicon Valley – or at least that would be the assumption.
A recent story on Quartz, however, suggested that developers and finance professionals share at least two things: an interest in solving problems and a high degree of aptitude for using a relatively simple software program:
Elite programmers spend years in universities or hacking in their bedroom to master arcane computer languages. But coding, at its most basic, is something millions of Americans already do every week. It’s called Microsoft Excel. The spreadsheet application, like WordPress Visual Basic and Salesforce, gives anyone a simple way to program the sort of logical instructions computers can run—and that once required coding skills.
In that sense, the Quartz piece, argues, everyone may be some form of software developer even if they don’t describe themselves as such. Instead, they could use Mort, the term Microsoft uses to describe professionals who aren’t quite programmers but who nevertheless apply some of the same technologies and techniques to address business needs.
The idea of “Mort” is far removed from the way we typically think of innovators. We tend to look to examples like Vitalik Buterin, a 22-year-old who has developed an alternative to Bitcoin called Ethereum. Fortune’s profile of his early years sounds almost like a textbook example of the emerging genius:
“Given Legos to play with, Buterin didn’t assemble miniature towers, animals, or people. Instead, he made numerals,” the piece said. “When Dmitry bought his son his first computer at age 4, Buterin took to it instantly. ‘Excel was his favorite toy,’ says Dmitry.”
We don’t have to live in a world of polar extremes from Buterin to Mort, though. Maybe there’s a breed of professionals in between – people who can harness the power of Excel with other tools that vastly increase what they can do to solve problems. If so, the most innovative thing to come next might be a world where the path to genius is much more within reach.