The limits of spreadsheets

The one question that reframes everything and cuts through it all.

The limits of spreadsheets
Photo by Avi Werde / Unsplash

Last October, my partner Lisa and I sat down with her parents to get advice on if we should rent a particular home in Denver. We showed up like McKinsey consultants: multi-tab financial spreadsheet, an analysis of opportunity costs and trade-offs, detailed insights into commute times, heating bills, and comparable rentals.

Before we got too far into our presentation, Lisa’s mom told us she trusted our financial analysis, but wisely noted that it should not be the main calculus when considering the pros and cons of making a home. She shared a story of the first time she visited the home of her mother-in-law. The specs and location of the home didn’t matter, she explained, but when she was welcomed inside for the first time, she felt an overwhelming sense of peace. The sense of calm and love was undeniable, extending from the people who lived there into the space itself. Would this home, she asked us, be a home of peace for us in our first year of marriage? Would it allow us to cultivate a sense of financial peace between us? Would people notice it when they stepped inside? Suddenly my extensive quantitative research seemed unimportant.

We moved forward and have been slowly making the house our own. Sometimes, to get to the other side of all the complexity and analysis, you just need that one question that reframes everything and cuts through it all.