An Add-In, or a high level tool (like a widget) makes it easy for us to carry out a specific task but only if what you want is exactly what the Add In developer intended. You simply follow the wizard. But you’re limited to what that widget was designed to do.

If you want to do something different, even slightly, you need to come out of that widget/Add-In and take a different path. Just like if you find yourself in a cul-de-sac, and you fancy taking a stroll by the river, you gotta turn round and escape from that dead-end.

On the other hand, a gateway to an open space immediately gives you the freedom to roam. The downside is, you don’t have a track to run on. But the upside is, you’re not limited by someone else’s boundaries.

That freedom does mean needing to get acquainted with the key bits that make the widgets work.

Here’s an example. In PowerQuery, if you simply want to get data from a data source, you can roll your own. The key bits you need are ADO and SQL, tied together with VBA. If you fancy rolling your own. Or, if all you want is a crosstab then you do a crosstab – you don’t need a Pivot Table if you don’t intend to pivot!

True, it’s not for everyone.

But, not everyone needs to innovate new code. Anyone can copy and paste a block of code that has already been written and thoroughly tested, and tweak as necessary from cookbook-style instruction.

If you already do Excel, that should be well within your capabilities. Copying and pasting.

A example of a cookbook-style instruction book is ‘Ribbon Recipes’ by Craig Hatmaker. You’ll see, no cul-de-sac there. Just clear instruction to roll your own.

Enter. Enjoy the wide open spaces!

But remember

I’m not saying a ‘cul-de-sac is bad’ and ‘wide open space is good’. I used to live in a cul-de-sac!

For some things the cul-de-sac has everything you will need. Take the (non-Excel) example of a WordPress website. They’ve done everything possible for us, and made it easy to extend it with a Plugin architecture. Another example? MailChimp. If you want to do an email campaign and you need everything all done for you a platform like MailChimp makes it easy to do. Dozens of YouTubers are teaching us how to use both these.

But here’s the thing!

These brilliant pieces of tech makes it easy for us to enjoy the wide open spaces (of possibilities) with minimum fuss.

In my rant above, the problem is with the high-level apps and Add Ins that limit the possibilities. And the YouTubers that demonstrate them (and they do a great job) can only demonstrate the things they do, rather than how to tackle the tough solutions to want to create with them.

I’ll have some examples of the difference I’m talking about at some stage. TBA.

Hiran de Silva

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