The importance of being clear

A formatting fubar involving an Excel spreadsheet has left Barclays Capital with contracts involving collapsed investment bank Lehman Brothers than it never meant to acquire.

Working to a tight deadline, a junior law associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP converted an Excel file into a PDF format document. The doc was to be posted on a bankruptcy court's website before a midnight purchase offer deadline on 18 September, just four hours after Barclays sent the spreadsheet to the lawyers. The Excel file contained 1,000 rows of data and 24,000 cells.

Some of these details on various trading contracts were marked as hidden because they were not intended to form part of Barclays' proposed deal. However, this "hidden" distinction was ignored during the reformatting process so that Barclays ended up offering to take on an additional 179 contracts as part of its bankruptcy buyout deal, Finextra reports.

The Register has the full story. As Merv has always warned, 'horrible things happen when you hide cells in excel'.

I see this as a manifestation of a wider lack of education on the importance of communicating information efficiently. The Spartans, Tufte, Strunk and White, the Economist, Picasso and numerous econometricians have done a lot to improve things, but management-speak, TV advertising and other such phenomena show we still have a long way to go.