Saturday, April 17, 2010

Master the tools of your trade

Would you call yourself an expert in Microsoft Excel? Or Word? Or Visio? Or Photoshop? Or whatever applications dominate in your industry?

Well, if not, why not?

Have you invested the extra time to buy the manual and learn all the short-cuts, what all those extra features on the menu bar do that most people in the office never touch?

It is a shockingly good investment and amazing how few people do it.

If you know how to do Pivot Tables in Excel, you can do analyses in 5 minutes that could take anywhere from an hour to all week or up without the Pivot Table tool. And a shocking number of people in the business world never bother to learn Pivot Tables, or if they do, they have only the most basic familiarity with them.

Learning to use the tool opens up opportunities that would not even occur to you if you didn't know the tool exists. Rather than seeking out just what I think I need to know, my approach with a new application is to learn what every function, every button, every menu drop-down item does. When I get a new tool, I don't know what I don't know. I don't know what function might come in handy some day.

But most people don't take the initiative to teach themselves a tool beyond the bare minimum of what it takes to get by day-to-day. This includes MBA students. In a lot of situations, I'd rather have someone on my team who is an absolute master in Excel than someone with an MBA from a top business school. The MBA costs $100K or more and two years of your life, while mastering Excel takes about 40-80 hours and $35 for a good manual.

In just about any business environment, mastering Excel will give you an advantage over most people in the office. Mastering Word will also help. Most business environments will have specific applications where mastery will give you a further edge.

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