Time And Punishment

Homer Creates a Perfect World… 
Except it Has no Donuts

Imagine a modern world without spreadsheets

Here’s a story I find myself telling a lot these days:  imagine a world in which all of today’s technology exists except spreadsheets.  In that world, we have all of the computing hardware, software, and networking of 2011, but for some reason, spreadsheets have just never been invented.

That would be a very interesting place, and very different from our world.  The evolution of the spreadsheet and the evolution of the PC are largely the same story in our world – they both spread in parallel, starting in the early 1980’s.  It took about 10 years for both to become common in the workplace, with each one driving adoption of the other.

Release the hounds (of Excel 2000)!

Now imagine that suddenly, Microsoft released Excel into that world.  (Or Lotus released 1-2-3).  And not version one of Excel, but something like Excel 2000 or later.

Here’s what I think would happen:

1) It would take time for spreadsheets to reach broad adoption.  People would need to hear about this new invention.  They would need to comprehend the value they offer.  They’d need to overcome their natural skepticism about the latest “next best thing.”  And they’d need to learn how to use them.

2) But it would NOT take as long as it did in the 1980’s.  Remember, the PC itself wasn’t widely adopted when spreadsheets were first invented, and that was a big impediment to their adoption.  But in our 2011 imaginary world, the PC is already everywhere – a world primed for more rapid adoption.

3) The early adopters would enjoy a tremendous advantage.  It would seem like magic to them.  Their competitive advantages would dwarf those enjoyed by the early adopters of the 1980’s.  The CPU and RAM of 2011 desktop hardware combined with the advanced feature set of even Excel 2000 would deliver a transformational capability.

OK, so what’s the point of this thought experiment?

PowerPivot’s Release in 2010 is Just as Impactful

The #1 reason why I’ve been telling that story above is this: I think PowerPivot’s impact on today’s world will eventually be judged to be as every bit as big as the invention of spreadsheets themselves.

Now, as Vincent Vega would say, that’s a bold statement.  But you have to consider the source here (me) – I’m not a Microsoft fanboy.  My employment at Microsoft over 13 years jaded me more than stoking my religion.  In fact, in the “ask the experts” session this weekend at SharePoint Saturday, I was clearly the most cynical panelist.  (Come see me in person to see what I’m talking about).

So when someone like me says something bold like that, I encourage you to pay attention.  I was NOT saying (or expecting) that degree of impact when I was at MS, and I was not saying it when I started this blog.  It’s really just been the past year – after many months of seeing it for myself.

The Magic Eyedropper:  How PowerPivot is Spreading

How about speed of adoption?  I think it’s going to be just like Excel 2000 landing on our imaginary world.  There’s another relevant thought experiment that I love, but I didn’t come up with this one.  Here it is, copy/pasted from another website:

Suppose I had a magic eye dropper and I placed a single drop of water in the middle of your left hand. The magic part is that this drop of water is going to double in size every minute.

At first nothing seems to be happening, but by the end of a minute, that tiny drop is now the size of two tiny drops.  After another minute, you now have a little pool of water that is slightly smaller in diameter than a dime sitting in your hand.  After six minutes, you have a blob of water that would fill a thimble.

Now suppose we take our magic eye dropper to Fenway Park, and, right at 12:00 p.m. in the afternoon, we place a magic drop way down there on the pitcher’s mound.

To make this really interesting, suppose that the park is watertight and that you are handcuffed to one of the very highest bleacher seats.

My question to you is, “How long do you have to escape from the handcuffs?” When would it be completely filled? In days? Weeks? Months? Years? How long would that take?  I’ll give you a few seconds to think about it.

The answer is, you have until 12:49 on that same day to figure out how you are going to get out of those handcuffs. In less than 50 minutes, our modest little drop of water has managed to completely fill Fenway Park.

Now let me ask you this – at what time of the day would Fenway Park still be 93% empty space, and how many of you would realize the severity of your predicament?

Any guesses? The answer is 12:45. If you were squirming in your bleacher seat waiting for help to arrive, by the time the field is covered with less than 5 feet of water, you would now have less than 4 minutes left to get free.

I’ve recently seen traffic to this blog jump to double its longstanding average.  I’ve seen the post frequency on LinkedIn quadruple.  Incoming requests for HostedPowerPivot have also quadrupled.  Every metric like that is telling a similar story.

Is it 12:45 yet?  Probably not.  But I’d say it’s around 12:30.