Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

November 2013

Do you remember Visicalc? It was the first spreadsheet program that could run on a personal computer. Originally offered on the Apple II, it was adapted to PCs and brought business applications to the desktop computer.

One of its creators told of being inspired in a Harvard Business School class when a professor was illustrating a business plan on a blackboard. When the prof discovered an error in an early calculation, he had to erase everything based on that miscalculation and start over. Dan Bricklin, the designer of the Visicalc program, saw how he could devise an electronic worksheet that would allow changes to be made to any assumption and automatically recast the results.

The structure of an electronic spreadsheet allows for the best of two worlds — speedy arithmetic accuracy and logical deduction. Before the advent of Visicalc, to get the arithmetic right you had to hide the  process inside custom software to manipulate data entered, typically, on punch cards or magnetic tape drives. It was easy to lose your way  in the process. It was not unusual, in the days of special rooms to house the computer and clerks to code the data, to find you couldn’t get an answer to questions like what happens if something changes.

That’s why from time to time, enterprises are forced to use our “meat” computers instead of  minis, mainframes, or Crays to manage change.

Visicalc was the home of “what if ...?” What if we reduced inventory by two sales days? Across all the SKUs? And increased the price point on the low end and put half the increase into advertising?

Right, always increase advertising. You don’t need a computer to tell you that.