1978: Spreadsheets = Sorcery

A Spreadsheet Way of Knowledge

A generation ago, a tool unleashed the power of business modeling — and created the entrepreneurial boom that has transformed our economy


I learned, belatedly, that last October 17 was Spreadsheet Day, marking the 35th anniversary of VisiCalc, the Apple II program that started it all. This moved me to republish a long piece I wrote 30 years ago about the significance, as well as the dangers, of this advance. (This was so long ago that I had to define what a cursor was!) The piece first appeared in , November 1984.

我后来才知道,我得知去年10月17日是Spreadsheet日,这一天是VisiCalc的35周年纪念日,也是Apple II程序的开端。这让我不得不重新发表30年前我写的一篇长篇文章,讲述这一进步的意义和危险。(那是很久以前的事了,以至于我必须定义一下什么是光标!)这篇文章首次出现在1984年11月的《Administrator》上。

As Dan Bricklin remembers it, the idea first came to him in the spring of 1978 while he was sitting in a classroom at the Harvard Business School. It was the kind of idea—so obvious, so right— that made him immediately wonder why no one else had thought of it. And yet it was no accident that this breakthrough should have been his.

丹•布里克林(Dan Bricklin)回忆道,这个想法最初是在1978年春天,当时他正坐在哈佛商学院(Harvard Business School)的一间教室里。 正是这种想法ーー如此明显,如此正确ーー使他立即感到奇怪,为什么没有其他人想到这个主意。 然而,这个突破应该是他的,这并非偶然。

Bricklin had graduated from MIT, where—and this is crucial to the idea he would have that afternoon in 1978— he had worked intimately with computers. Before deciding to go to graduate school he had worked for two major computer companies— first for Wang, then for the Digital Equipment Corporation, for whom he helped design a word-processing program. Like most Harvard MBA candidates, he wanted to be a businessman; but more often than not, his thoughts strayed to the technological.


The question Bricklin was pondering that day in 1978 concerned how he might use what he knew about computers to help him in his finance course. This was the assignment: he and several other students had been asked to project the complicated financial implications- the shift in numbers and dollars, and the shifts resulting from these shifts- of one company’s acquisition of another.


Bricklin and his classmates would need ledger sheets, often called spreadsheets. Only by painstakingly filling in the pale green grids of the spreadsheets would they get an accurate picture of the merger and its consequences. A row on the ledger might represent an expense of a category of revenue; a column might represent a specific period of time – a day, a month, a year. Run your finger across, say, a row of figures representing mortgage payments for a certain property, and the number in each “cell” of the horizontal row would be the figure paid in the time period represented by that particular vertical column. Somewhere on the sheet the columns and rows would be tallied, and that information would be entered on even larger sheets.

布里克林和他的同学们需要账目表,通常被称为电子表格。只有在电子表格的淡绿色格子上认真填写,他们才能准确地了解合并的情况和后果。账本上的一行可能代表某类收入的支出;一列可能代表某段时间--一天、一个月、一年。用手指划过一排数字,比如说,一排数字代表某处房产的抵押贷款付款,水平行的每一个 "单元格 "中的数字就是该垂直列所代表的时间段内支付的数字。在表格的某处,这些列和行将被计算出来,这些信息将被输入到更大的表格中。

The problem with ledger sheets was that if one monthly expense went up or down, everything – everything – had to be recalculated. It was a tedious task, and few people who earned their MBAs at Harvard expected to work with spreadsheets very much. Making spreadsheets, however necessary, was a dull chore best left to accountants, junior analysts, or secretaries. As for sophisticated “modeling” tasks – which, among other things, enable executives to project costs for their companies – these tasks could be done only on big mainframe computers by the data-processing people who worked for the companies Harvard MBAs managed.

账目表的问题是,如果每月有一项支出增加或减少,所有的东西--所有的东西--都要重新计算。这是一项枯燥乏味的工作,在哈佛大学获得MBA学位的人,很少有人会希望用电子表格来工作。制作电子表格,无论多么必要,都是一件枯燥的苦差事,最好留给会计、初级分析员或秘书去做。至于复杂的 "建模 "任务----除其他事项外,这些任务使管理人员能够为公司预测成本----这些任务只能由哈佛大学MBA们管理的公司的数据处理人员在大型主机上完成。

Bricklin knew all this, but he also knew that spreadsheets were needed for the exercise; he wanted an easier way to do them. It occurred to him: why not create the spreadsheets on a microcomputer?


Why not design a program that would produce on a computer screen a green, glowing ledger, so that the calculations, as well as the final tabulations, would be visible to the person “crunching” the numbers? 为什么不设计一个程序,在电脑屏幕上生成一个绿色的、会发光的账本,这样计算结果和最终的表格就能被 "计算 "的人看到呢?

Why not make an electronic spreadsheet, a word processor for figures?


Bricklin’s teachers at Harvard thought he was wasting his time: why would a manager want to do a spreadsheet on one of those “toy” computers? What were secretaries and accountants and the people down in DP for? But Bricklin could not be dissuaded. With a computer programmer friend from MIT named Bob Frankston, he set to work developing the first electronic spreadsheet program. It would be contained on a floppy disk and run on the then brand-new Apple personal computer. Bricklin and Frankson released VisiCalc (the name was derived from Visible Calculation) in late 1979.

Bricklin在哈佛的老师认为他是在浪费时间:一个经理人为什么要在那些 "玩具 "电脑上做电子表格?秘书和会计以及DP公司的那些人下来做什么?但Bricklin无法劝阻。他和一位来自麻省理工学院的计算机程序员朋友鲍勃-弗兰克斯顿(Bob Frankston)一起,开始着手开发第一个电子电子表格程序。它将包含在一张软盘上,并在当时全新的苹果个人电脑上运行。Bricklin和Frankson在1979年底发布了VisiCalc(这个名字来自于Visible Calculation)。

VisiCalc running on Apple IIc, 1983. Photo by 运行在 Apple IIc 上,1983年
VisiCalc running on Apple IIc, 1983. Photo by 运行在 Apple IIc 上,1983年Mark Mathosian 马克 · 马索西安.

Today, VisiCalc and its newer rivals – most notably, a more powerful spreadsheet program designed by the Lotus Development Corporation called 1–2–3 – are making fundamental changes in the way American businesses work. For the first time, businessmen have at their fingertips sophisticated and flexible means to chart all the variables – from interest rates to warehouse space – that make (and break) businesses. The biggest firms, the most diversified corporations, can be neatly translated into spreadsheet “models” – each box of the grid a window on to once-overlooked facts or relationships. These models can be used not only to keep track of transactions but also to analyze the nature of a business itself. They allow businessmen to calculate the effects of sudden changes in the corporate environment (a decrease in the prime rate) and to experiment with scenarios (anything from the expansion of a product line to a merger) – all with an ease inconceivable five years ago.

今天,VisiCalc及其较新的竞争对手--最值得注意的是,由 Lotus 开发公司设计的更强大的电子表格程序1-2-3---正在使美国企业的工作方式发生根本性的变化。商人第一次拥有了复杂而灵活的手段,可以在他们的指尖上绘制出从利率到仓库空间等所有变量的图表,这些变量决定着企业的发展,也决定着企业的衰败。最大的公司,最多元化的企业,都可以被整齐地转化为电子表格的 "模型"--网格的每一个方格都是一个窗口,可以看到曾经被忽视的事实或关系。这些模型不仅可以用来跟踪交易,还可以用来分析企业本身的性质。它们让商人们能够计算出企业环境的突然变化(最优惠利率的下降)的影响,并对各种情况进行实验(从产品线的扩张到合并)--这一切在五年前都是难以想象的。

More than a million computer spreadsheet programs worth more than $250 million will be purchased in the United States this year. There are corporate executives, wholesalers, retailers, and small business owners who talk about their business lives in two time periods: before and after the electronic spreadsheet. They cite prodigious gains in productivity. They speak of having a better handle on their businesses, of knowing more and planning better, of approaching their work more imaginatively.


A virtual cult of the spreadsheet has formed, complete with gurus and initiates, detailed lore, arcane rituals – and an unshakable belief that the way the world works can be embodied in rows and columns of numbers and formulas. 形成了一个虚拟的电子表格崇拜,里面有大师和启蒙者,有详细的传说,有神秘的仪式,还有一个不可动摇的信念,那就是世界的运作方式可以用数字和公式来体现。

It is not far-fetched to imagine that the introduction of the electronic spreadsheet will have an effect like that brought about by the development during the Renaissance of double-entry bookkeeping. Like the new spreadsheet, the double-entry ledger, with its separation of debits and credits, gave merchants a more accurate picture of their businesses and let them see – there, on the page – how they might grow by pruning here, investing there. The electronic spreadsheet is to double entry what an oil painting is to a sketch. And just as double-entry changed not only individual businesses but business, so has the electronic spreadsheet.

不难想象,电子表格的引入将产生类似于文艺复兴时期复式记账的发展所带来的效果。就像新的电子电子表格一样,复式记账本将借方和贷方分开,让商人们更准确地了解他们的业务,并让他们看到--在那里,在页面上--如何通过在这里修剪,在那里投资,使他们的业务增长。电子表格的输入与输出,就像油画之于素描的一样 —— 变得非常立体丰富。就像复式记账簿不仅改变了个人业务,也改变了企业,电子表格也带来了巨大的改变。

Already, the spreadsheet has redefined the nature of some jobs; to be an accountant in the age of spreadsheet program is — well, almost sexy. And the spreadsheet has begun to be a forceful agent of decentralization, breaking down hierarchies in large companies and diminishing the power of data processing.

电子表格已经重新定义了某些作业的性质; 在电子表格程序时代成为一名会计师几乎是性感的。 电子表格已开始成为权力下放的有力推动者,它打破了大公司的层级结构,并削弱了数据处理能力。

There has been much talk in recent years about an “entrepreneurial renaissance” and a new breed of risk-taker who creates businesses where none previously existed. Entrepreneurs and their venture-capitalist backers are emerging as new culture heroes, settlers of another American frontier. Less well known is that most of these new entrepreneurs depend on their economic spreadsheets as much as movie cowboys depend on their horses.

近年来,关于“企业家复兴”和新型风险承担者的讨论很多,后者在以前不存在的情况下创立了企业。 企业家及其风险资本支持者正在崛起,成为新的文化英雄,是另一个美国边疆的移民。 鲜为人知的是,这些新企业家中的大多数依赖于他们的经济电子表格,就像电影牛仔依赖他们的马一样。

Mitch Kapor, age 34, a former teacher of Transcendental Meditation, is chairman of the board of the Lotus Development Corporation. In 1983, less than a year after selling its first 1–2–3 package, Lotus went public, a move that brought Kapor’s personal net worth to more than $75 million. “Compare the expansion of business today to the conquering of the continent in the nineteenth century,” Kapor told me recently as he pulled himself away from his IBM-PC. We were talking in his modest office in the old iron-casting factory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that is now Lotus’s headquarters.

34岁的米奇-卡波尔(Mitch Kapor),曾任超然冥想的老师,是莲花发展公司的董事长。1983年,在卖出第一套1-2-3套餐不到一年后,莲花公司上市,此举使卡波尔的个人净资产达到7500多万美元。"把今天的商业扩张比作十九世纪征服大陆时的商业扩张,"卡波最近把自己从他的IBM-PC上拉下来时告诉我。我们是在他位于马萨诸塞州剑桥市的老炼铁厂的简陋办公室里交谈的,那里现在是莲花公司的总部。

“The spreadsheet in that comparison is like the transcontinental railroad. It accelerated the movement, made it possible, and changed the course of the nation.” "想象一下,电子表格就像横贯大陆的铁路。它加速了这一运动,使之成为可能,并改变了国家的发展方向。"

Kapor’s comparison is an apt one. The computer spreadsheet, like the transcontinental railroad, is more than a means to an end. The spreadsheet embodies, embraces, that end, and ultimately serves to reinforce it. As Marshall McLuhan observed, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” The spreadsheet is a tool, and it is also a world view — reality by the numbers. If the perceptions of those who play a large part in shaping our world are shaped by spreadsheets, it is important that all of us understand what this tool can and cannot do.


One measure of the spreadsheet’s impact is clear, however, and it is a source of satisfaction to Dan Bricklin: every student in the Harvard Business School is now required to be proficient in using electronic spreadsheets.

然而,衡量电子表格影响力的一个指标是清楚的,而且它也是丹 · 布里克林满意的来源: 哈佛商学院的每个学生现在都被要求精通电子表格的使用。

Ezra Gottheil, 34 is the senior product-design planner at Lotus. He shows up for work in casual clothes, and his small office is cluttered with piles of manuals and software. When I visited Gottheil he gave me a quick introduction to electronic speadsheeting. Computer programs are said to use different “metaphors” to organize their task; a program might use the metaphor of a Rolodex, or a file cabinet. When you “boot” almost any spreadsheet program into your personal computer, you see little more than some letters running across the top of the display screen and some numbers running down the side. This serves to indicate the grid of a ledger sheet, the metaphor used by Lotus and other best-selling spreadsheets like VisiCalc, Multiplan, and SuperCalc. The “cursor,” a tiny block of light on the screen that acts like a kind of electronic pencil, can be moved (by a touch of the computer keyboard) to any cell on the spreadsheet in order to “input” numbers or formulas. By placing in the cells either figures of formulas that adjust figures according to different variables, it is possible to duplicate the relationships between various aspects of a business and create a “model.” The basic model for a restaurant, for example, world include expenses such as salaries, food and liquor costs, and mortgage or rent payments; revenues might be broken down into “bar” and “food,” perhaps even further by specific dishes. Every week, the figures would be updated, the formulas reworked if necessary (perhaps the price of the olive oil had risen) and the recalculated model provides an accurate snapshot of the business.

34岁的Ezra Gottheil是Lotus公司的高级产品设计师。他穿着休闲装上班,他的小办公室里堆满了手册和软件。当我去拜访Gottheil时,他给我简单介绍了一下电子表格的使用方法。据说计算机程序会用不同的 "隐喻 "来组织他们的任务;一个程序可能用Rolodex的隐喻,也可能用文件柜的隐喻。当你将几乎所有的电子表格程序 "启动 "到个人电脑中时,你看到的只是一些字母横跨显示屏幕的顶部,以及一些数字顺着屏幕的一侧运行。这是用来表示分类账表的网格,Lotus和其他畅销的电子表格(如VisiCalc、Multiplan和SuperCalc)都使用了这个比喻。光标 "是屏幕上的一个小光块,像一种电子铅笔,可以(通过触摸电脑键盘)移动到电子表格上的任何单元格,以 "输入 "数字或公式。通过在单元格中放置根据不同的变量调整数字的公式,可以复制业务各方面的关系并创建一个 "模型"。例如,一个餐厅的基本模型包括工资、食品和酒水成本、房贷或租金等支出;收入可能被细分为 "酒吧 "和 "食品",也许还可以按具体的菜品进一步细分。每个星期,这些数字都会被更新,必要时重新计算公式(也许是橄榄油的价格上涨了),重新计算的模型会提供一个准确的业务快照。

Gottheil turned to the keyboard of the IBM-PC on a table beside his desk and booted a spreadsheet. The screen lit up with the familiar grid, and Gottheil’s hands arched over the keys as gracefully as the hands of a pianist. He pressed the keys that make the blinking cursor hopscotch across the cells and as he changed an item in one cell, there was a ripple-like movement in the other cells; the spreadsheet program was recalculating. His eyebrows rose as he saw the result. Then he punched in another variable, and another ripple of figures washed across the screen. He was offering the computer different hypothetical developments, and it was feeding back to him their probable consequences. “It’s a good tool,” Gottheil noted matter-of-factly. In these, the early days of electronic spreadsheeting, it is most frequently seen as a tool for saving time. Don Jackson is a certified public accountant in Cincinnati. He has between 40 and 50 clients, mostly small businesses. Before he bought an Apple three years ago, he painstakingly did his calculations on light green crosshatched ledger sheets. A client would come in to work out a billing procedure, and after Jackson had put the relevant numbers on a sheet — in light pencil, so erasures could be easily made — various questions would come up. For example, if the billing procedure was based on a 15 percent interest rate, what would happen if the rate went up to 18 percent? To find out, the whole sheet would have to be redone. Each figure would have to be punched into a hand calculator and then checked by one of Jackson’s employees. “I would work for twenty hours,” Jackson said. “With a spreadsheet, it takes me 15 minutes.”


Jackson’s story is a common one. In the first days of electronic spreadsheets — that is, two or three years ago — those who used them got things done so quickly that, despite the evidence of finished reports, bosses and co-workers often had trouble believing the tasks had been completed. Gottheil told me of an accountant who got “a rush task, sat down with his micro and his spreadsheet, finished it in an hour or two, and left it on his desk for two days. Then he Fed Ex-ed it to the client and got all sorts of accolades for working overtime.”

杰克逊的故事是一个常见的故事。在电子表格的最初的日子里--也就是两三年前--使用电子表格的人很快就把事情做完了,尽管有完成报告的证据,但老板和同事们往往很难相信任务已经完成。Gottheil告诉我一个会计师,他 "接到一个紧急任务后,带着他的微机和电子表格坐下来,一两个小时就完成了,然后把它放在办公桌上两天。然后他把它快递给客户,并因为加班加点得到了各种赞誉。"

But saving time is hardly the only benefit of spreadsheets. They encourage businesses to keep track of things that were previously unquantified or altogether overlooked. Executives no longer have to be satisfied with quarterly updates, for it is now an easy matter to compile monthly, weekly, even daily updates. People use spreadsheets to make daily inventory checks, to find out who has paid their bills, to chart the performance of truck drivers over a period of weeks or months. How-to manuals for spreadsheets often use as an example a performance chart for salespeople — the model breaks down how many items they sell week by week and instantly calculates commissions and even bonuses due. If word comes down that a belt-tightening is in order, a few keystrokes will create a sheet that clearly identifies the worst performers.


Bob Frankston (standing) and Dan Bricklin. 1982. Photo by 鲍勃 · 弗兰克斯顿(站立)和丹 · 布里克林。1982年。照片由
Bob Frankston (standing) and Dan Bricklin. 1982. Photo by 鲍勃 · 弗兰克斯顿(站立)和丹 · 布里克林。1982年。照片由 Jim Raycroft. 吉姆 · 雷克罗夫特

Bob Frankston, the programmer who designed VisiCalc with Dan Bricklin, noted that instant hard figures, so recently a luxury, are quickly becoming a necessity. The spreadsheet tool is shaping us. “There’s an increasing demand for quantitative rather than qualitative justification for decisions,” he said. “In the past, before spreadsheets, people would have taken a guess. Now they feel obligated to run the numbers.”

与Dan Bricklin一起设计VisiCalc的程序员Bob Frankston指出,即时硬性数字,在最近是一种奢侈的东西,但很快就成为一种必需品。电子表格工具正在塑造着我们。"人们对决策的定量而非定性理由的需求越来越多,"他说。"在过去,在电子表格之前,人们会采取猜测的方式。现在,他们觉得有义务去运行数字。"

Yet what really has the spreadsheet users charmed is not the hard and fast figures but the “what if” factor: the ability to create scenarios, explore hypothetical developments, try out different options. The spreadsheet, as one executive put it, allows the user to create and then experiment with “a phantom business within the computer.” 然而,真正让电子表格用户着迷的并不是硬性的、快速的数字,而是 "如果 "的因素:创建情景、探索假设的发展、尝试不同的选择的能力。正如一位高管所说的那样,电子表格让用户可以在电脑中创建并尝试 "在电脑中的虚拟业务"。

“Before the spreadsheet, you barely had enough time to do the totals,” said Archie Barrett, a Capitol Hill staff member who uses an IBM PC-XT to work up spreadsheets for the House Armed Services Committee. “Now you put in a number and see whether you’re above or below the total. You can play what-if games. What if we don’t order as many tanks? What if we order more?”

“在使用电子表格之前,你几乎没有足够的时间来计算总数,”国会山的工作人员阿奇 · 巴雷特(Archie Barrett)说。他使用 IBM PC-XT 为众议院军事委员会(House Armed Services Committee)编制电子表格。 “现在你输入一个数字,看看你是高于还是低于总数。 你可以玩假设游戏。 如果我们不订那么多坦克呢? 如果我们再点一些呢? ”

The what-if factor has changed the way Allen Sneider, a partner in the Boston office of Laventhol & Harwath, a national accounting firm, approaches his job. Sneider bought an Apple in 1978, but he was not able to make it useful in his business until he saw an early copy of VisiCalc and became one of the first professionals to use the program. He explained:

假设因素改变了全国性会计事务所 Laventhol & Harwath 波士顿办事处合伙人艾伦•斯内德(Allen Sneider)的工作方式。 斯奈德在1978年买了一个苹果,但是直到他看到 VisiCalc 的早期副本并成为最早使用这个程序的专业人士之一,他才能使它在他的生意中发挥作用。 他解释道:

Before, you would suggest a change to a client, get a staff member to calculate it, send it to the typist, to the proofreader, and recalculate it to make sure there weren’t any errors. Now you have a machine right there with the client. Want to see what happens with a different return on investment? Sheltering? Interest rates changing by half of a percent? It’s done in a minute. Before you’d be tempted to say, “Let’s leave it the way it was.” The whole mental attitude toward preparing projections has changed.

在此之前,你可以向客户建议更改,让工作人员计算,发送给打字员,校对员,并重新计算以确保没有任何错误。 现在你有一台机器和客户端在一起。 想知道不同的投资回报率会发生什么吗? 避难所? 利率变动了0.5% ? 一分钟就搞定了。 在你想说“让我们保持现状吧”之前 准备投影的整个精神态度已经改变。

The what-if factor has not only changed the nature of jobs such as accounting; it has altered once rigid organizational structures. Junior analysts, without benefit of secretaries or support from data processing departments, can work up 50-page reports, complete with graphs and charts, advocating a complicated course of action for a client. And senior executives who take the time to learn how to use spreadsheets are no longer forced to rely on their subordinates for information.

假设因素不仅改变了会计等工作的性质,而且改变了一度僵化的组织结构。 初级分析师没有秘书的帮助,也没有数据处理部门的支持,他们可以写出50页的报告,包括图表,为客户提供一个复杂的行动过程。 花时间学习如何使用电子表格的高级管理人员不再被迫依靠下属获取信息。

Theodore Stein is an assistant vice president in data processing at the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company in Hartford. After seeing what VisiCalc and the more powerful Lotus 1–2–3 could do, Stein became a passionate disciple of the spreadsheet. Until recently, Connecticut Mutual, like many large corporations, centralized its computer services in one division – data processing. People out in the field, or even at corporate headquarters, were generally not satisfied with the information they got from DP, Stein said.

西奥多 · 斯坦是位于哈特福德的康涅狄格州互助人寿保险公司的数据处理副总裁助理。 在看到 VisiCalc 和更强大的 Lotus 1-2-3可以做什么之后,斯坦成为了电子表格的热情信徒。 直到最近,康涅狄格互惠银行像许多大公司一样,将其计算机服务集中在一个部门——数据处理。 斯坦说,实地工作的人,甚至是公司总部的人,通常都不满意他们从 DP 那里得到的信息。

DP always has more requests than it can handle. There are two kinds of backlog – the obvious one, of things requested, and a hidden one. People say, “I won’t ask for the information because I won’t get it anyway. When those two guys designed VisiCalc, they opened up a whole new way. We realized that in three or four years, you might as well take your big minicomputer out on a boat and make an anchor out of it. With spreadsheets, a microcomputer gives you more power at a tenth the cost. Now people can do the calculations themselves, and they don’t have to deal with the bureaucracy.Dp


Since it was easy to learn how to use spreadsheets – no programming experience is required – all it takes to get into the game is a $3,000 personal computer and a $500 copy of 1–2–3, or even a copy of VisiCalc or the Micro-Soft Company’s Multiplan, both of which cost less than $200. Stein learned then early in Connecticut Mutual’s spreadsheeting days. The company’s chief financial officer wanted certain information, and his top “experts” had difficulty providing it. So one weekend he brought an Apple computer and a copy of VisiCalc home with him. Monday morning, he called his people in and showed them how he had gotten the information he had been clamoring for. “With one swipe of the diskette, he cut them off at the knees.” Stein said. “He out-teched them. His experts! He’d cut the chain. The following week, they all came down to learn VisiCalc – fast.”

由于学习使用电子表格很容易---不需要编程经验---所以只要一台3000美元的个人电脑和500美元的1-2-3软件,甚至是VisiCalc或Micro-Soft公司的Multiplan软件,这两款软件的成本都不到200美元,就能上手。斯坦因在康涅狄格互助公司的电子表格编制时代很早就学会了。该公司的首席财务官想要某些信息,而他的顶级 "专家 "很难提供这些信息。于是在一个周末,他带了一台苹果电脑和一份VisiCalc的副本回家。星期一早上,他把他的人叫来,向他们展示了他是如何得到他一直渴望得到的信息的。"用软盘一扫,他就把他们的膝盖砍断了。" 斯坦恩说。"他把他们赶走了。他的专家们!他切断了链条。接下来的一个星期,他们都来学习VisiCalc,很快。"

All this powerful scenario-testing machinery right there on the desktop induces some people to experiment with elaborate models. They talk of “playing” with the numbers, “massaging” the model. Computer “hackers” lose themselves in the intricacies of programming; spreadsheet hackers lose themselves in the world of what-if. Some, like Theodore Stein of Connecticut Mutual, admit that their habit goes beyond the point of diminishing returns: “I can’t begin to tell you how many hours I spend at this,” he said. “This is my pet, in a way. Scratching its ears and brushing its code…it’s almost an obsession.”

所有这些强大的情景测试机器就在桌面上,促使一些人尝试着用精心设计的模型进行实验。他们谈论的是 "玩 "数字,"按摩 "模型。计算机 "黑客 "们在复杂的编程中迷失了自己;电子表格黑客们在 "如果 "的世界中迷失了自己。有些人,比如康涅狄格州互助公司的Theodore Stein,承认他们的习惯已经超出了收益递减的范围。"我不能开始告诉你我花了多少时间在这上面,"他说。"从某种程度上说,这是我的宠物。挠它的耳朵,刷它的代码..........这几乎是一种痴迷。"

The experiments Stein and those like him carry out are far-flung attempts to formulate the ultimate model, the spreadsheet that behaves just like an actual business. Allerton J. Cushman of Morgan Stanley has been a connoisseur of these models since discovering that computer spreadsheets could make forecasts of the property-casualty insurance industry. Cushman wrote a pamphlet about his projections entitled “Confessions of an Apple Byter”, which offered the observation that with VisiCalc, getting your arms around the future seems a trifle easier. Cushman’s office, high above midtown Manhattan, is dominated by IBM-compatible computers and printers, and when I visited him there he explained his fascination with modeling this way: “People like to build elegant models, whether of balsa wood or numbers.”

斯坦因和那些和他一样的人所做的实验,都是远距离的尝试,试图制定出最终的模型,也就是行为像实际业务一样的电子表格。摩根斯坦利的阿勒顿-J-库什曼(Allerton J. Cushman)自从发现计算机电子表格可以对财产保险业进行预测后,就一直是这些模型的行家。Cushman写了一本关于他的预测的小册子,标题为 "一个苹果人的自白",其中提出了这样的观点:有了VisiCalc,让你的双臂对未来的预测似乎更容易一些。Cushman的办公室位于曼哈顿中城的高处,被IBM兼容的电脑和打印机所占据,当我去拜访他时,他这样解释他对建模的着迷。"人们喜欢建造优雅的模型,不管是用木头还是数字做的模型。"

Spreadsheet models have become a form of expression, and the very act of creating them seem to yield a pleasure unrelated to their utility. Unusual models are duplicated and passed around; these templates are sometimes used by other modelers and sometimes only admired for their elegance.


Sterin, Cushman, and others so-called gurus lost themselves in the more esthetic possibilities of spreadsheeting: the perfect model is an end in itself. Power users learn from gurus, but have other ends in mind they can use sophisticated models to gain significant professional advantages. When a guru is not available, there are courses to take, self-help books to study, and magazine articles to examine, like the one in the July 1984 issue of Personal Computing entitled “Power Spreadsheeting,” which warns of “arrested spreadsheet development” and urges users to “think like a spreadsheet”.

Sterin、Cushman和其他所谓的大师们在电子表格的更审美的可能性中迷失了自己:完美的模型本身就是一个目的。核心用户向大师学习,但他们有其他的目的,他们可以利用成熟的模型来获得显著的专业优势。在没有大师的时候,有课程可以上,有自助书籍可以学习,有杂志文章可以研究,就像1984年7月出版的《个人电脑》杂志上的一篇题为 "Power Spreadsheeting "的文章,警告说 "电子表格的发展受阻",并敦促用户 "像电子表格一样思考"。

Mastery is important, not for art’s sake but to win. A brilliant model is not only beautiful, it yields insights impossible to attain by any other method. 掌握好了很重要,不是为了艺术,而是为了胜利。一个优秀的模型不仅是美丽的,它所产生的见解是其他任何方法都无法达到的。

Dick York, a private real estate investor in Sausalito,changed his entire business to revolve around his Lotus 1–2–3. “I’ve used it to reduce everything in my operation to cash flow,” he said. “The spreadsheets give me constant updates, and I’m able to pinpoint property that isn’t bringing in money — I dump those properties immediately. This is information I’d always tried to get manually, but couldn’t.” York told me about the time he negotiated a commercial lease that included both a monthly rental and a percentage of the profit of his operation. In the course of making the spreadsheet model, he discovered there was a point at which going along with a raise in his rent would actually decrease the amount he’d pay the landlord. (The landlord did not have his own spreadsheet to divine this fact.)

迪克-约克,索萨利托的私人房地产投资者,改变了他的整个业务,围绕着他的Lotus 1-2-3进行。"他说:"我用它将我的业务中的一切都减少到了现金流。"电子表格给了我不断的更新,我能够准确地指出那些没有赚钱的房产----我马上就把这些房产甩掉。这是我一直试图手动获取的信息,但却无法得到。" 约克告诉我,有一次,他和我谈了一份商业租赁合同,其中包括月租和利润的百分比。在制作电子表格模型的过程中,他发现有一个点,在这个点上,他的租金提高了,实际上会减少他支付给房东的金额。(房东没有自己的电子表格来推断这个事实)。

Allen Sneider of Lowenthol & Horwath once worked a spreadsheet masterpiece. A client representing a finance company wanted to know whether it would be a good idea to pay $12 million for a factory that made artificial turf. Sneider and the client made a model that was sensitive to all sorts of variables. It would let you know the consequences of any change you might want to make in the business. Add a new production line, decrease production, increase inventory, widen the collateral base, change the mortgage rate, increase hourly wages…it was all there, calculated according to highly refined formulas. What happened? Sneider’s client did not buy the factory (the factory employees bought it). Instead, he started his own business — buying and selling spreadsheet templates.

Lowenthol & Horwath公司的Allen Sneider曾经做过一个电子表格的杰作。一位代表一家金融公司的客户想知道,为一家生产人造草坪的工厂支付1200万美元是否是个好主意。Sneider和客户做了一个对各种变量都很敏感的模型。它可以让你知道你想对企业进行的任何改变的后果。增加一条新的生产线,减少产量,增加库存,扩大抵押品基础,改变抵押率,增加时薪..........这一切都在那里,根据高度精确的公式计算出来。结果呢?Sneider的客户没有买下工厂(工厂的员工买下了)。相反,他开始了自己的生意--买卖电子表格模板。

Because spreadsheets can do so many important things, those who use them tend to lose sight of the crucial fact that the imaginary business that they create on their computers are just that-imaginary. You can’t really duplicate a business inside a computer, just aspects of a business. And since numbers are the strength of spreadsheets. The aspects that get emphasized are the ones easily embodied by numbers. Intangible factors aren’t so easily quantified. Jim McNitt, in The Art of Computer Management, tells the story of a restaurant owner named Maxwell who was trying to decide whether to undertake a costly renovation. He ran fifteen different scenarios on his computer, including one in which he took the money set aside for renovation and invested it elsewhere. What Maxwell found was startling: Not only would renovation be foolhardy, but “even the ‘best case’ showed I’d get nearly as good a rate of a return on my investment in a money market fund as staying in the restaurant business.” Get out of the restaurant business! the spreadsheet said. What the spreadsheet left out, of course was the unquantifiable emotional factor — Maxwell loved what he did. He kept the restaurant (though scuttled the renovation).

因为电子表格可以做很多重要的事情,所以那些使用电子表格的人往往会忽略了一个关键的事实,那就是他们在电脑上创建的想象中的业务只是虚构的。你无法在电脑内复制业务,只能复制业务的某些方面。而由于数字是电子表格的强项。得到强调的方面是那些容易被数字体现的方面。无形的因素就不那么容易量化了。吉姆-麦克尼特在《计算机管理的艺术》一书中,讲述了这样一个故事:一个叫麦克斯韦尔的餐馆老板,他正试图决定是否进行一次昂贵的装修。他在电脑上运行了15种不同的方案,其中有一种方案是,他把预留的钱用于装修,并将其投资到其他地方。麦克斯韦尔发现,他的结果让人大吃一惊。翻新不仅是愚蠢的,而且 "即使是'最好的情况'显示,我在货币市场基金中的投资回报率几乎和留在餐馆里的投资一样高。" 滚出餐厅的生意! 电子表格说。电子表格中没有提到的,当然是无法量化的情感因素--麦克斯韦尔爱他所做的事情。他保留了餐厅(虽然把装修给搞砸了)。

Maxwell was his own boss and could follow his instincts. But a corporate executive who ignored such a clear-cut bottom-line conclusion might be risking his professional life. He is more likely to follow the numbers turned out by spreadsheets.


And so it is that spreadsheets help in the drive for paper profits, and are a prime tool of takeover architects. An executive in a acquisition-hungry company might spend his time spreadsheeting in order to find a company ripe for takeover. If his spreadsheet projections were to produce a likely candidate- if the numbers looked good- he would naturally recommend making a takeover bid. Even a hostile takeover seems cut and dried, perfectly logical, in the world of spreadsheets. The spreadsheet user has no way of quantifying a corporate tradition or the misery of stockholders or whether the headaches of a drawn out takeover bid will ultimately harm the corporate climates of the firms involved.


The flexibility of spreadsheets can encourage other heartless moves from headquarters. It is no great drain on an executive’s time to experiment with all sorts of odd, even insidious. He might ask “What if we dropped our pension plan?” Then he might run his idea through a spreadsheet and find a huge gain in capital- and there would be an unthinkable, in hard figures.


Spreadsheets have no way of dealing with hunches, either, no formulas for telling their users when lightning will strike- when a product will be not merely a product but a trend-setting blockbuster. Spreadsheet也没有办法处理预感,没有公式来告诉用户什么时候会有闪电----什么时候一个产品不仅仅是产品,而是引领潮流的大片。

There were no formulas in Lotus’s spreadsheet projections that did justice to the fantastic consumer acceptance of 1–2–3.”Our own projections were violated on a daily basis,” said Ezra Gottheil. “It was beyond our wildest assumptions.”

在Lotus的电子表格预测中,没有任何公式能对得起消费者对1-2-3的奇妙接受度。"我们自己的预测每天都在违反,"Ezra Gottheil说。"这超出了我们最疯狂的假设。"

People tend to forget that even the most elegantly crafted spreadsheet is a house of cards, ready to collapse at the first erroneous assumption. The spreadsheet that looks good but turns makers themselves pay the price. In August 1984, the Wall Street Journal reported that a Texas-based oil and gas company had fired several executives after the firm lost millions of dollars in an acquisition deal because of “errors traced to a faulty financial analysis spread sheet model.”

人们往往会忘记,即使是最优雅的电子表格,也是一个纸牌屋,只要一有错误的假设,就会倒塌。 看起来很好的电子表格,却让制作者自己付出了代价。1984年8月,《华尔街日报》报道,一家位于德克萨斯州的石油和天然气公司在一次收购交易中损失了数百万美元后,解雇了几位高管,原因是 "错误的财务分析电子表格模型有问题"。

An often-repeated truism about computers is “Garbage in, Garbage Out.” Any computer program, no matter how costly, sophisticated, or popular, will yield worthless results if the data fed into it is faulty. With spreadsheets, the danger is not so much that incorrect figures can be fed into them as that “garbage” can be embedded in the models themselves. The accuracy of a spreadsheet model is dependent on the accuracy of the formulas that govern the relationships between various figures. These formulas are based on assumptions made by the model maker. An assumption might be an educated guess about a complicated cause-and-effect relationship. It might also be a wild guess, or a dishonestly optimistic view.

关于计算机的一个经常被重复的道理是 "垃圾进,垃圾出"。任何计算机程序,无论多么昂贵、复杂或流行,如果输入的数据有问题,都会产生毫无价值的结果。对于电子表格来说,危险不在于将不正确的数据输入其中,而在于模型本身就会有 "垃圾"。电子表格模型的准确性取决于控制各种数字之间关系的公式的准确性。这些公式是基于模型制作者所做的假设。假设可能是对复杂的因果关系的一种有经验的猜测。它也可能是一种胡乱猜测,或者是一种不诚实的乐观看法。

For instance, a 5 percent increase in the cost of raw materials used to make widgets might lead to 10 percent increase in the retail price, according to an established cost-price ratio. Anyone projecting a budget for a widget company could confidently integrate that formula into his model. But to determine the effect of a 10 percent price increase on the number of widgets actually sold, he would have to take into account all sorts of market factors, as well as how people tend to behave in certain situations. Perhaps the spreadsheeter has access to a study that definitively shows that a 5 percent increase in widget prices results in a 6 percent decrease in sales. But maybe no study exists. Or maybe the spreadsheeter knows that the widget company plans to use the projection to seek new financing and therefore doesn’t want to reveal the company’s vulnerability to fluctuations in the price of raw materials. So he might make the ludicrously optimistic assumption that a 5 percent price increase would result in only a 1 percent decrease in sales.


A notorious example of this kind of fiddling occurred when David Stockman, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, was drawing up the budget for Ronald Reagan’s first presidential term. According to William Greider’s book The Education of David Stockman and Other Americans, a mainframe computer had been programmed with an elaborate model of the nation’s economic behavior. When Stockman used the model to project the effects of Reagan’s plan to reduce income taxes and increase defense spending, the computer calculated that the plan would lead to unprecedented federal deficits. Did Stockman warn his president that they were on a dangerous course? No. “He changed the economic assumptions fed into computer model,” writes Greider. “[He] assumed a swift decline in prices and interest rates. …The new model was based on a dramatic surge in the nation’s productivity.” So Stockman was able to fortify the Administration with figures — generated by a computer — showing that the deficit would not be problem.

在罗纳德-里根的第一个总统任期内,管理和预算办公室主任大卫-斯托克曼在为罗纳德-里根的第一个总统任期起草预算时,就发生了这样一个臭名昭著的例子。根据威廉-格雷德的《大卫-斯托克曼和其他美国人的教育》一书中的记载,一台大型机计算机被编入了一个精心设计的国家经济行为模型。当斯托克曼用这个模型来预测里根减少所得税和增加国防开支的计划的影响时,计算机计算出该计划将导致前所未有的联邦赤字。斯托克曼有警告他的总统,他们走的是一条危险的道路吗?没有。"他改变了计算机模型中的经济假设,"Greider写道。"[他]假设价格和利率会迅速下降。...新的模型是建立在国家生产力急剧上升的基础上。" 因此,斯托克曼能够用计算机生成的数字来证明政府的赤字不会有问题。

Stockman’s sleight of hand was fairly easy to discern. In 1981, electronic spreadsheets were just coming into their own, and the kind of sophisticated modeling Stockman did was still done chiefly on mainframe computers. The output he was working with wasn’t in the now-familiar spreadsheet format; instead, the formulas appeared in one place and the results in another. You could see what you were getting. That cannot be said of electronic spreadsheets, which don’t display the formulas that govern their calculations.

斯托克曼的花招很容易看出来。 1981年,电子电子表格才刚刚发挥作用,斯托克曼所做的那种复杂的建模工作主要还是在大型计算机上完成的。 他使用的输出不是现在熟悉的电子表格格式; 相反,公式出现在一个地方,结果出现在另一个地方。 你可以看到你得到了什么。 电子表格就不是这样了,它们不显示管理其计算的公式。

As Mitch Kapor explained, with electronic spreadsheets, “You can just randomly make formulas, all of which depend on each other. And when you look at the final results, you have no way of knowing what the rules are, unless somebody tells you.”

正如米奇 · 卡普尔(mitchkapor)在电子表格中解释的那样,“你可以随机地制作公式,所有的公式都是相互依赖的。 当你看到最终结果时,你无法知道规则是什么,除非有人告诉你。”

Lotus 1–2–3 on the screen of the Tandy 3000NL computer used in 1988. Photo by 1988年使用的 Tandy 3000NL 电脑屏幕上的莲花1-2-3
Lotus 1–2–3 on the screen of the Tandy 3000NL computer used in 1988. Photo by 1988年使用的 Tandy 3000NL 电脑屏幕上的莲花1-2-3Rick Payette 里克 · 帕耶特.

Increasingly, however, businessmen are not telling but letting their spreadsheets do the talking. Because a spreadsheet looks so authoritative – and it was done by a computer, wasn’t it? – the hypothetical models get accepted as gospel. The spreadsheet presentation is becoming both more commonplace and more sophisticated: not only the numbers but the formats of the sheets themselves are designed to make eloquent points. This use of spreadsheets has less to do with productivity or insightful analysis than with the art of persuasion. “People doing negotiations now sit down with spreadsheets,” Bob Frankston said. “When you’re trying to sell a car, the standard technique is to ask for the other person’s objections, and then argue them away. If two people are in front of a spreadsheet, and one says, ‘Well, the numbers say this,’ the other can’t say, ‘Yes, but there’s something I can’t quite point to.’”

然而,越来越多的商人不是在说话,而是让他们的电子表格来说话。 因为电子表格看起来很权威,而且是用电脑做的,不是吗? 假设的模型被当作福音书来接受。 电子表格演示越来越普遍,也越来越复杂: 不仅数字,而且表格本身的格式都是为了表达雄辩的观点而设计的。 这种电子表格的使用与其说是为了提高生产力,不如说服的艺术。 “现在进行谈判的人都坐下来看电子表格,”鲍勃 · 弗兰克斯顿说。 “当你试图销售一辆汽车时,标准的做法是征求对方的反对意见,然后将其驳回。 如果两个人站在电子表格前,一个人说,‘好吧,数字说这个,’另一个人不能说,‘是的,但是有些东西我不能完全指向。 ”’

As spreadsheets are used more for persuasion and negotiation, people are becoming rather sly about their design. Lotus 1–2–3 can turn figures and formulas into graphs—graphs that spreadsheeters can use to skew and oversimplify reality. “With graphs, things take on greater weight,” Allen Sneider said. Sneider expects spreadsheets to become more persuasive – and the distortion of reality greater – when color printers become more common. “If I wanted to, I could skew the picture by choosing a particular color in a bar graph. Some people think red is very negative. They might think green indicates profitability.” All of this has made some people who work with spreadsheets regularly skeptical of what they see. “I know of one venture capital firm that assumes people manipulate spreadsheets,” Kapor said. “So they have this other model to put against the first one, to factor the stuff out.”

随着电子表格被越来越多地用于说服和谈判,人们对自己的设计也变得越来越狡猾。 Lotus 1-2-3可以将图形和公式转换成图形ーー电子数据表可以用来歪曲和过度简化现实。 “有了图表,事情就有了更大的分量,”艾伦 · 斯奈德说。 斯奈德预计,当彩色打印机变得越来越普遍时,电子表格将变得越来越有说服力,对现实的歪曲也会越来越严重。 “如果我愿意,我可以通过在条形图中选择一种特定的颜色来扭曲图片。 有些人认为红色是非常负面的。 他们可能认为,绿色代表着盈利能力。” 所有这些都使得一些使用电子表格的人经常对他们所看到的东西持怀疑态度。 “我知道有一家风险投资公司假设人们操纵电子表格,”卡普尔说。 “因此,他们有另一种模式来对抗第一种模式,把东西分解出来。”

Obviously, not all the millions of people who use spreadsheets (VisiCalc alone has sold over 700,000 copies) are accountants, financial analysts, or middle managers. VisiCalc’s co-designer Bob Frankston attributes some of his program’s popularity to these other users: “It turns out there are a number of people who are running their own businesses or doing financial management. The ‘own business’ might be something like renting an apartment. If you’’ve got to project costs for a year, it makes sense to do it with a spreadsheet.” More than 10 million people filed Schedule C “self-employment” reports with the IRS last year: we are becoming a nation of businesspeople. Moreover, we are becoming a society of businesspeople. We speak in a jargon derived from the business world (“What’s the bottom line on this?”). We read columns on “personal money management” that urge us to speculate in markets once reserved for the very few. We have accepted the venture capitalist as a role model. The buzz word these days in computer software firms looking to expand their markets is “personal productivity,” as if the home itself — maybe life itself – were best viewed as a business.

显然,并非所有使用电子表格的数百万人(仅 VisiCalc 就售出了70万份)都是会计师、财务分析师或中层管理人员。 Visicalc 的联合设计师鲍勃 · 弗兰克斯顿(Bob Frankston)将他的程序的一些受欢迎程度归功于这些其他用户: “事实证明,有许多人正在经营自己的企业或从事财务管理。 “自己的生意”可能类似于租一套公寓。 如果你已经计划了一年的成本,使用电子表格是有意义的 去年,超过1000万人向美国国税局提交了附表 c 中的“自营职业”报告: 我们正在成为一个商人的国家。 此外,我们正在成为一个商人的社会。 我们使用的行话来自于商业世界(“这件事的底线是什么? ”) . 我们阅读有关“个人资金管理”的专栏文章,敦促我们在曾经只有极少数人才能涉足的市场进行投机。 我们已经接受了风险投资家作为榜样。 如今,计算机软件公司希望拓展市场的时髦词是“个人生产力” ,仿佛家庭本身——也许是生活本身——最好被视为一门生意。

Spreadsheets are at the heart of this movement. Using electronic spreadsheets, everyone can run his or her own business. Thousands of Americans are attending classes to learn about the spreadsheet way of knowledge. 电子表格是这场运动的核心。使用电子电子电子表格,每个人都可以经营自己的企业。成千上万的美国人正在上课学习电子表格的知识方式。

Some will lose themselves in the rows of columns, the grids becoming their windows on the world. They will spend their evenings in front of their computers, the dark dimly lit by the glow of green phosphorescent numbers, fiddling with scenarios, trying to make the profit line perfect.


There is no doubt that the electronic spreadsheet saves time and provides insight; there is no doubt that even greater benefits will one day be derived from these grids. Yet all these benefits will be meaningless if the spreadsheet metaphor is taken too much to heart. After all, it is only a metaphor. Fortunately, few would argue that all relations between people can be quantified and manipulated by formulas. Of human behavior, no faultless assumptions – and so no perfect model — can be made.

毫无疑问,电子表格节省了时间,提供了洞察力; 毫无疑问,有一天这些表格会带来更大的好处。 然而,如果把电子表格的比喻放在心上,所有这些好处都将毫无意义。 毕竟,这只是一个比喻。 幸运的是,很少有人认为人与人之间的所有关系都可以用公式来量化和操纵。 关于人类行为,没有完美的假设——因此也没有完美的模型——是不可能做出来的。

Copyright © 1984 by Steven Levy, reprinted by permission.