I was familiar with this simple truth when I worked as a data analyst a few years ago. I would go into the far reaches of Excel creating spreadsheets with thousands of lines of data. Maybe I would even create auto-refresh reports that pulled data from Access databases into Excel to suit my needs. It was awesome.
Though a data analyst no-longer, I still use Excel and data compilation for both of my jobs. As someone who appreciates the urgency of an impending deadline (a delicate way of saying a procrastinator by choice), I often find myself staring at an Excel database for hours on end. This causes what I like to think of as the “Excel Effect.” A little known medical phenomena where the cells of an Excel document have been burned onto the retina causing you to see the cells in the world around you. *Note: This is similar to the medical condition that occurs when playing too much WoW. Sitting in a meeting, frustrated with the outcome, and reaching for the hot-key to blast your colleague with your moonfire/wrath/firebolts/etc.
Anyway, I usually get to keep to my Excel-ness for work these days as no one really needs to see printed out reports. I mind a database. I don’t have to run queries off of it or furnish the higher-ups with reports, I am in charge of the data. That’s it. Last week, however, I needed to give some of the raw data I was compiling to a professor for whom I am working. I had a great idea (I thought): I’ll send him my database. Everything he could possibly want to know is in there. Each row contains all of the data to every question for each institution. I thought it was fabulous. He did not. The next day I got an email that he could not “print out the information I sent.” And, that is a very true statement.
I didn’t think he would want to print it. In fact, I think I mentioned in the email that it was best to use the spreadsheet as a quick reference. But, that was not what he wanted. He did not appreciate the simple beauty that was my master database. So, I spent 3 1/2 hours that evening printing out all of the individual responses for our data set. It was time consuming and boring, but it was what he needed.
At our meeting the next day, he flipped through all of the printed responses and was able to pull out all kinds of interesting things. He liked to see the data in front of him. To hold it. We had a very productive meeting when he was able to have the data in a form he understood. The Excel spreadsheet was not what he needed to be productive and make decisions. It might be all pretty and together to me, but to some folks it is just a bunch of lines and squares.
I had forgotten that.