Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Bread Recipe Rule

Imagine making enough bread dough for ten loaves of bread.  The first nine loaves come out perfectly.  As you go to remove the last loaf from the oven, you exclaim “Wait a minute – these aren’t bran muffins” and then proceed to defend your assumption that it’s quite normal to have expected something different for the tenth result.

You would be violating the Bread Recipe Rule, a rule I first read about in a Gerald Weinberg book more than 25 years ago.

Simply stated, the bread recipe rule is this:

If I use the same baker, ingredients and recipe I will always get the same bread.

Others know it as Einstein’s definition of insanity:

I will expect different results from doing the same thing over and over and when I do the same thing over and over, I will be surprised or angered that the results aren’t different.

While this appears to be common sense, perhaps common sense itself has abandoned us.

Look at the financial dilemma we have manufactured in the world. Yes, we manufactured it – it didn’t sneak up on us during the night and spring upon us.  If someone tries to convince you of that, fire them – competence is as much proactive observation and avoidance as it is not contributing to the creation of a problem in the first place.

Despite this, we take the same people who either helped create the challenges or in the very least, didn’t see them coming and we give them lots more cash to fix it.  When they make mistakes, we get angry very quickly.

However, the bread recipe rule dictates that the loaf they produce will probably not look very different than previously baked loaves.  They did the best they could with their life experiences and genetics.  Cold comfort to many but that is life.  We have disappointed people in our lifetimes also.

If I look at my home province of Newfoundland, Canada where they recently had a commission of inquiry into a number of botched cancer screenings within the Eastern Health Care Corporate, it appears that they continue to have struggles of authenticity, honesty and competence (and possibly have condemned some people to die in the process).

The people there were told to “act better and smarter and with greater transparency”.  We don’t act smarter or better because we are told to – we either have it in us or we don’t.  It’s not our fault – again it’s the way we are wired based on our life experiences and genetics.

Yet we act surprised and angered when they continue to bake the same loaf of whatever it is they are baking.

How many of the things in our own lives do we expect to be different, even though we keep using the same recipe, ingredients and baker?

If we are authentic with ourselves and with others, we should realize that if we want to bake something different, we need to mix things up a little.

We can’t always choose the ingredients – sometimes Life calls upon us to use what is at hand and adjust our expectations accordingly.  If I have eggs, lemons, flour and a few other things, maybe I need to adjust my expectation and realize that I have a better chance at success with a lemon meringue pie than a roast chicken.

We can’t always choose the recipe either.  Sometimes Life calls upon us to be flexible with the processes we use to create the intended result.  Maybe the result will be different but at least we know this in advance.

However, we often have a choice of the baker.  If the baker consistently produces an undesired result despite quality ingredients and a great recipe, then perhaps we should find another baker.

Do we really know what we are baking?  Is our expectation of intended result in alignment with what we are putting into the process?

If not, maybe we should take a closer a look at the bread recipe rule.  What should we do differently if we sincerely expect a different result? 

If we don’t change anything in the bread recipe rule, let’s not embarrass ourselves or others by acting surprised anyway.

What loaf are you baking today?

Yours in service and servanthood.



  1. Harry,
    Thanks for a really nice essay on the importance of the Bread Recipe Rule (or Einstein's Rule).

    If your readers want to see more about the source, the can visit my website: The Secrets of Consulting

  2. Gerald,

    It is such an honor and privilege for you to make the first comment on this blog entry.

    Back in the early 80s, when I first started working in IT in Newfoundland, Canada, I read two books that had a profound impact on my career:

    The Secrets of Consulting

    Becoming a Technical Leader

    I'm sure you recognize both titles. :-)

    I later left Newfoundland, Canada and became a strategy advisor and technology consultant on Wall Street in New York.

    Your books provided the initial models and the knowledge contained in those books still serve as a foundation for the manner in which I work today (although I retired from Wall Street some time ago).

    Thank you so much, Gerald, for helping so many people with your profound writing and insight.

    I for one am indebted to you.

    Take care and create a great day!