Beware of spreadsheet people

Why do companies grant most decision-making power to employees who are best with Excel? How come we put our biggest financial institutions, housing corporations and multinationals into the hands of people who in every other context would be diagnosed as sociopaths or as having Asperger´s Syndrome?

Numbers and financial models give an air of confidence. Collectively we have surrendered to the belief that those with the best command of numbers (and Excel) have the best grip on things. Data seem to be independent and untouchable. But actually there’s nothing more open to subjective interpretation.

The Dutch Railways spent 400 million Euros to knock 50 minutes off the journey from Amsterdam to Brussels. And that happened while every user benefit was scrapped. No comfortable tables, no plug sockets and no free wifi. Only a hyper-rational spreadsheet idiot could come up with ´travel time saved´ as the only metric to determine an investment of 400 million.

Every marketing department employee knows that emotional and subjective factors weigh heavier in the overall value customers experience. Like the hotel chain where they discovered that the check-in experience determined the experience of the hotel. If the check-in was pleasant, guests seemed inclined to find it a good hotel throughout their stay. The extra staffing and the bag of chocolates that you receive when checking in to The Four Seasons, is a cost on your balance sheet. Yet economizing them away would destroy the perceived value of the hotel.

Nothing is so irrational and dangerous as a hyper-rational policy based on spreadsheet logic. And yet this is what our companies, our boardrooms and our administrations follow. Only marketeers can expose the truth.

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