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Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?  I Stay, and Here’s Why.
(Please consider this a makeup post for missing Tuesday.)

A question from an old friend:  “Why do you stay with the MS platform?”

A few months back I was having dinner with an old friend – someone who, like me, used to work at Microsoft but no longer does.

I had very recently been exposed to some prototype thinking from Microsoft regarding a potential future direction for Excel and BI.  I can’t share the details of that direction obviously, but really the details aren’t important.

What IS important is this:  I had hated it.  Not because they were proposing to build bad functionality, but how they were proposing to build it.  It showed me just how much MS wasn’t “getting” that they’d already won the analytics/reporting/BI war, and also that they didn’t get how they had won.

In short, I don’t think MS as a whole understands what makes Excel so great.  (Part of it is the internal network effect I described a few weeks ago.)

Which is, of course, frustrating and disheartening.  So my friend asked me, “why do you stay with their platform if it looks like they themselves don’t understand it?”

For once, I had an answer.

I would qualify his question as a Big Question.  Over my lifetime, I have fared very poorly at Big Questions.  They normally catch me flat-footed.  I think a bit, then I stammer, then I think some more, and then finally offer a bad answer (historically the case) or flat-out admit that I don’t have an answer (as I’ve matured, I do this more often).

So when he asked me that question, part of my brain went off looking for the answer while another part stood and watched, saying “you’re never going to find it, you never do.”

But it only too me half a second, and the answer came out of my mouth before I even had digested it for myself…

“It’s the Excel People!

I think I said something like “it’s the Excel people – I can’t get enough of them.”

To which he replied, “but the Excel team changes every few years, how can you stay attached to them if they aren’t even the same people over time?”

Then I clarified:  “no, not the Excel team at Microsoft.  I mean the people in the real world who use it.”

This might sound sappy or patronizing, but it is the Absolute Truth:  it is You, dear reader (and the millions like you) that keep me hooked on Excel, and by extension, hooked on Microsoft.

One more time:  It’s not Microsoft that keeps me hooked on their software.  It’s you.

What IS it about you?

imageThis covers a lot of ground actually.  Let’s start with a list, and keep in mind that this also applies to Data People as a whole – while Excel is the center of that universe for me, it does tend to overlap a lot with other skill sets:

  1. Camouflaged Nerdery!  Listen, I know most of you aren’t walking around with pocket protectors.  You don’t think of yourselves as engineers or programmers (even though you are).  Many of you may have even been the Cool Kids in high school, and still look like you belong in a J Crew ad.  In fact, some of you are even ex-NFL players!  No matter – you can’t hide your nerdery from me!  And you don’t need to.  Nerdery is beautiful, and when it’s hiding in the real world it’s even better.  You are learning to embrace your inner nerd, don’t deny it!  (I also feel like a Camouflaged Nerd, but I am heading the other direction – a longtime nerd who has become more adept at navigating the real world.  I’ll see you in the middle.)
  2. Resourceful.  I can’t believe some of the stuff you folks make in Excel.  You leverage that Network Effect to the fullest.  Some of the things you show me are Gorgeous – and not in the “looks good” sense, but in the “human ingenuity” sense.  It’s like Thomas Edison sometimes.  There should be a wing in the Smithsonian for this stuff.
  3. Curious.  You ask good questions.  Which is rarer than you think.
  4. Authentic.  I don’t know whether this is cause or effect, but Excel people just tend to value the truth, the Right Thing, more than others.  You often speak truth to power even when it’s a risk to yourself.  And if you’re a bit too wise for that, you still SEE the truth and just wonder why no one else does. 
  5. I Want to Help You.  Because of 1-4 above, I feel a strong kinship with you – ich bin ein Exceller.  And you play an underappreciated role today.  With PowerPivot, there is the opportunity to change that, to redefine the game and come out in a new place – a place where you are more valued and respected, and a place where you aren’t slogging away on gruntwork all the time.  A place where you can actually think.  This changeover is just beginning, and it requires effort and guidance.  I’m really just getting started, but I do consider this to be my Mission in life.  It’s what drives me.  And even though that may sound cheesy, I am absolutely Not Kidding.  Rob’s Unannounced New Company is all about that.

Timely Confirmation – Then and Now

I suspect my old friend may have been trying to subtly recruit me away from the MS ecosystem and over to…  another ecosystem Smile.  Which, if true, is incredibly flattering.

But my answer was sincere, and he could see that.  So the conversation went another direction at that point.

But here’s the punchline, and it falls into the I Am Not Making This Up category.

I left that dinner and drove out into the middle of nowhere to meet an Excel Pro who wanted to show me a spreadsheet.  I had no idea what to expect, because he had been very cautious about revealing details over the phone.  To keep a low profile, we even met at a tiny little bar that looked like it catered to lumberjacks (not kidding).  This spreadsheet was a side project of his, but it was his Life’s Work.  Something he’d been building and revising for ten years.

And it was without doubt the most amazing thing I have ever seen.  It was jawdropping.  This guy is unlocking one of the secrets of the universe in Excel, and I can’t wait for him to eventually go public with his results.  When we open that wing of the Smithsonian, this spreadsheet will be the central exhibit.

How cosmic.  To be asked The Big Question, to have an answer, and then to have it overwhelmingly confirmed a mere 90 minutes later.

What an amazing evening.  I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to write this post.  Thank you – both of you – for giving me that experience.  I am richer for it.

And thank You, Excel People, for being My People, for being literally everywhere, and for energizing me the way you do.  (And for those of you I just visited this week, yes, absolutely, you brought all of this back to the front of my brain.)