Jun 20, 2009

Accounting: Using numbers to plan

One of our great advances is our ability to plan. In some cases we plan microseconds into the future. In others we plan days, weeks, even years ahead. How do we do this? If you think about it, being able to imagine a future state for ourselves or objects under our control is an amazing skill. It requires a good sense of self, a good ability to project that self into other circumstances, and an ability to manipulate events. Wow! 

When societies rationed, saved for seed and for bad years, they used accounting to help their plans. Planners had to know: how much grain the population used each year, how much the population grew each year, what the farmer could harvest each year, how much the grain silos could hold, and so on. These numbers were used to  determine what was needed to smooth out the ups and downs of the drought cycle.

In a future post I might talk about microplanning, the calculations a quarterback makes to throw a football to a streaking wide receiver or when we toss keys to our mate over the car at our summer cabin. Accounting scale planning is longer term. We can track things over years and plan years & decades in advance. We use a type of accounting to plan rocket launches, trips to distant planets, and collection of data that will require years of observation to create a useful data set.

As a young child I loved looking at my grandfather's accounting materials. Spreadsheet books, forms that allowed for daily, weekly, monthly and annual entries into journals, sales reports, and other simple records. He entered his clients information with fine mechanical pencils on smooth green tinted pages filled with entries in column and row! I now know that each client used Papa's work to plan, to determine what to buy, whether or not to borrow, when to hire, etc.

As I've gotten older I can see many reasons for accounting even as I try to avoid needing it in my life. I work hard to make a routine that doesn't need records, doesn't need plans, doesn't go past simple, daily acts like: reading, exercising, singing, merry making, bathing, art, and music.

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