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Where there’s half baked muck, there’s brass!


We’ve all seen them. Many of us have probably eaten them. They’re a convenient way to get something approximating freshly baked bread when you can’t actually get freshly baked bread. Of course, I’m talking about the Part Baked Baguette.

Yes, you’re familiar with the concept; a baguette supplied partly baked, or parbaked to use the technical term, that you can finish off in the oven before you eat it to simulate that fresh baked experience. What you’re perhaps less familiar with is how the idea first came about.

Dr. Oetker is a well known food brand from Germany and they were the first ones to develop the technique of parbaking bread. Just after the Second World War, Rudolf August Oetker, the grandson of the founder, Dr. August Oetker, was overseeing the company’s fastest ever expansion and he needed new product ideas. So he did what most of us would do; he assembled his brightest employees and held a brainstorming session (not that he’d have called it that).

But brainstorming is hard! And most of the ideas his team came out with were either nothing new or totally impractical. After several hours of fruitless toil Rudolf turned angrily to his congregated staff and remarked, “All of these ideas are half baked!!!”.

And there it was! The eureka moment! One of the younger members, his name is not recorded, nervously poked up his hand and suggested that maybe that was it… why not half bake bread, freeze it and pack it and send it out to be finished off at home? The rest, of course, is history.

Now, there’s a reason you’re not familiar with that story. That reason is that I just made it up. Sorry. The more critical readers among you probably smelled a rat when the idea came from an English phrase for which there is probably no German equivalent. No, this was not a true story; but it was an entertaining (I hope) way to introduce something that is true – half baked ideas are gold dust.

If you’ve been one of the countless millions forced through the standardised education system and onwards into employment in the conformity factories that we call corporations then you’ve been well and truly drilled on how silly, fantastical, impractical utterances are worse than useless. Flights of fancy and incomplete thoughts are a waste of time and anyone who comes out with one may as well stamp the word “moron” on his head and dance around the office in flippers and a tutu. But entrepreneurs know different.

By the way, and be honest with me here: when I said entrepreneurs just then, did you have an image in your mind? If you did, like most people, you probably thought about high tech startups, cool, edgy new services or something similarly sexy. Well, for this moment, I’d like you to replace that image with another one: Steptoe and Son. Yup – the rag and bone men of comedy legend! Because that image should bring to mind a well known but sadly underused phrase: where there’s muck, there’s brass!

Entrepreneurs know that the creation of value is in seeing opportunity where others don’t. What you see as old tat, a rag and bone man sees as a potentially saleable item. Entrepreneurs think like that and they know that what others see as half baked ideas are often the seed of something amazing. Because most of us have been so totally trained into the habit of instantly dismissing what seems silly or wrong at first glance, these little flecks of gold dust are just left lying around waiting to be collected by people who know that you need to look past the obvious to create value.

So here is my advice: always have a little homunculus rag and bone man in your head. As you go about your daily life, do your work and interact with the world, try to imagine how someone could see differently what you see in front of you. When you see something that’s been discarded by everyone else, an idea, an opportunity, an object or, and this is more important than all the others combined, a person, start from the premise that there is value in everything and everyone and try, for a moment, to see what others are missing.

If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it. – Albert Einstein

P.S. This applies also to you. You probably have an idea in your head about what you are worth; to an employer, to other people, to society at large. This idea likely comes not from your own examination of your own capabilities, strengths and drive but from the norms around which your sense of self worth was formed. Maybe you’re happy with how the world values you, but if you’re not, remember that most people don’t think like rag and bone men. Most people don’t look for the value that’s hidden away within the absurdity that is you! If you can see value in something others cannot then it stands to reason there is value in you that others can’t see either.

Photo Credit: emmadiscovery via Compfight cc

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