The flexible yet structured nature of spreadsheets means there's a lot you can do with them.
You can build a budget, track employee performance metrics and project future expenses.
But did you know you can use spreadsheets for creative endeavors, as well?
It’s true. You can create art, plan out the plot to a story or even write music using a spreadsheet. I understand if you’re skeptical, which is why I’m going to take a few minutes to lay out some amazing projects that have been created using nothing but a spreadsheet. You might recognize a few of them.
The Harry Potter Universe
We’ve all heard the story of how JK Rowling started writing Harry Potter on the back of a napkin while riding the train, but spreadsheets played an integral role in fleshing out the entire, complex Potterverse.
For example, in Order of the Phoenix, Rowling had a lot of concurrent storylines to keep track of. To manage it all, she created a hand-drawn spreadsheet with individual columns dedicated to the prophecy Harry is fulfilling throughout the book, his back-and-forth romance between Ginny and Cho, the activities of Dumbledore’s Army, the activities of the Order of the Phoenix, and the relationship between Snape and Harry.
Quite honestly, even as a hard-core Harry Potter fan, the years had eroded my memory of some of these subplots. It was smart on Rowling’s part to document all the little details in her complex world of magic and may reveal the secret to her phenomenal storytelling abilities evidenced throughout the series.
That Epic Picnic on The Great British Bake Off
The last place you might expect to see a spreadsheet is on reality TV, but, oh, did one make an appearance on Season 7 of The Great British Bake Off.
For the finale, contestants were given five hours to create a grandiose picnic. One contestant, Andrew Smyth, created a 49-piece, baked presentation including quiche, cake, tarts, sausage rolls and scones.
Five hours seems like a ridiculously short period of time to prep and bake everything Smyth did. And it is. But Smyth managed his time by creating a spreadsheet, broken up into five-minute increments. It was color coded—complete with legend—to indicate when he should be baking, prepping, chilling or plating any given one of his numerous dishes.
Smyth was the Season 7 runner-up, and proved that spreadsheets aren’t just practical; they can also be delicious.
Weezer’s Pacific Daydream Album
Was anyone else a huge Weezer fan until about ten years ago?
Somehow Rivers Cuomo went from being a charmingly geeky guy who wrote songs in his garage about not getting the girl to writing ridiculously self-interested tunes with lyrics like, “I am the greatest man that ever lived.”
Personal opinions aside, the way Weezer’s latest album, Pacific Daydream, came together is quite interesting— especially to spreadsheet nerds.
With the release of this album, Cuomo revealed that he works in spreadsheets. Most notable is his “Lyrics” spreadsheet, which contains 5,500+ random strings of lyrics. The sheet can be sorted by key, beats per minute and lyric count.
When he’s struggling to find the next line in a song he’s writing, he doesn’t wait for a muse to appear. Instead, he turns to the spreadsheet, looking for previously written lyrics that fit the key, beat, and count of the song he’s working on.
He also uses his sheets to table his ideas. For example, Weekend Woman, one of the tracks on Pacific Daydream, was cobbled together using different parts he had recorded on a sheet while the band was working on The Green Album back in 2001.
Moral of the story: record your good ideas in a spreadsheet. Even if you have over 5,000 of them. You may just be able to turn those ideas into something marketable further down the road.
Traditional Japanese Art by Tatsuo Horiushi
It’s clear that spreadsheets can help you organize your art, but Japanese artist Tatsuo Horiushi takes it a step further. He actually creates art using Excel.
Rather than picking up a paintbrush, Horiushi utilizes the spreadsheet software’s line tool to draw things like trees and volcanoes, and uses the bucket tool to easily work with gradient shading.
The end result is gorgeous, but one of my favorite parts of Horiushi’s story is the reason he got started. Upon retiring, he wanted to learn how to paint, but he was ultra frugal about it. He didn’t want to have to buy paint or brushes. He didn’t want to buy an art software program, for that matter. Instead, he started using Excel—which came preinstalled on his computer—and taught himself to make beautiful masterpieces for free.
Arena-XLSM: The Excel-Based Video Game
Have you ever wondered what would happen if an accountant created a video game?
No, the thought had never crossed my mind either. But as it turns out, what you end up with is a role-playing game with 2,000 potential enemies and four potential outcomes—all within the framework of Microsoft Excel. In Cary Walkin’s full-length game—Arena-XLSM—you can cast 31 different spells, unlock 100 achievements and fight eight different bosses.
When you crunch the numbers, that comes out to nearly endless gameplay experiences. While you might not get the same graphics as the latest PS4 game, you will be in love with the replay value and impressed by the fact that someone has managed to turn a spreadsheet into the polar opposite of boring.