Do you suffer from "Breadmaker Syndrome"?

Jeff Cole

A famous comedian (I forget who) once had a bit in his act where he talked about searching for a lost item. "It’s always the last place you look. Of course it is. Who finds something and then keeps looking for it?" This month we investigate whether or not you should keep looking for certain things once you’ve found them. It involves something I call the "Breadmaker Syndrome"

Are you familiar with those home bread making machines? The ones where you load in the raw ingredients and it mixes them and bakes a loaf all in one unit? Nice product that produces great results. I first became aware of them in the early 90’s. In my town nobody carried them, until one day one department store got one brand in for $300. (This was also before I had internet access). I got one and was very happy with it. Several years later I go to sell it at our garage sale, put a reasonable price of $150 on it and was promptly laughed at. "You can get a brand new one at any corner grocery or Wal-Mart for under $100!" I was told.

That’s when it hit me – you don’t know what you don’t know! In actuality there were many brands of breadmakers available in a wide price range when I bought mine. I had peeped through the keyhole into the "solution space" of available breadmakers. My visibility was severely limited but I didn’t realize it. This is what I call the "breadmaker syndrome" and it manifests in several different ways.

‘Nothing is more dangerous than an idea if it’s the only one you have"

– Roger von Oech

Have you ever seen anyone who latches onto the first idea they come up with to solve a business process problem? The first idea you get may not necessarily be the best idea. For some people, the first idea is simply a launching point for further discussion, refinement, exploration and a flow of new thoughts. Other people set into place 24" thick steel-reinforced, concrete walls around their first idea and further thinking (if any) is strictly through the lens and parameters set forth by that first idea. "Eureka! I’ve got the solution – let’s go!"


Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for fast action. Sometimes though, it’s good to maybe spend a minute looking over a map before you take off running. Run east all you want looking for a sunset – you’ll never find one.

"They can’t take my red stapler…"

(Apologies to those who are lost re: the above quote – please rent Office Space and thank me later…) The very first time you learn something that you resonate with such as a concept, method or practice is special. There’s even an OD phrase for it – "original awareness." It’s human nature to sometimes place a high value on that learning, especially when you come face to face with alternate ways of doing things or alternate definitions/explanations. Time and again, people who have their original understanding of a concept (which may or may not be the best or even right…) are exposed to the full array of alternate ‘versions’ of that concept (some of which may be superior) and in the end? You guessed it – they hold onto their default original impression as being the best.

Understandable – they’ve known it the longest and maybe had some success with it, but again first is not always best.

Case in point. I’ve trained over 4000 people in Lean Six Sigma across a wide variety of industries and have subcontracted for a number of major firms. I’ve seen pretty much how all the big players teach certain things. In the Define step of Six Sigma, you learn about a simple process map called a SIPOC diagram (an acronym for Supplier, Input, Process, Output, Customer). Almost everyone teaches the SIPOC – with one big exception being GE. At GE it’s called COPIS (that’s SIPOC spelled backwards). As fate happens, occasionally you get a student who had already been trained in Six Sigma at another company (but their new company is making them sit through their version). In one class I had a student who had previously trained at GE and was now with her new company. After explaining SIPOC to the class and acknowledging that GE did, in fact, do it differently, we broke into sub-teams and gave them the exercise to build a simple SIPOC.

After 3 teams shared their SIPOCs it was time for my new ex-GE friend to present her team’s work. She stood up, crossed her arms, and with a very stern face declared – "We did a COPIS and here’s our findings". They got the same results (albeit presented in reverse), but I immediately sensed she was not going to let go of her red stapler. She had a chance to expand her horizons and become "multi-lingual" but her loyalty to the first way she learned overrode that. I imagine her going to into the old folks home grumbling about COPIS as I’m sure she had to explain herself at every new company where she worked.

So what?

What does this mean to us in the world of change? Well, for one thing, there are many different models to drive change in an organization. Have you explored the top 10-12 methods and chosen the best for your situation or do you continue to follow the first method you learned? Have you ever seen a problem in your organization that was solved more than once? Probably means the first solution didn’t stick. How many solution ideas did they evaluate before implementing? If the answer is one, that’s a problem. Same with the project you’re working on now – once you find the first viable solution, do you keep looking for others or do you cut and run?

Bottom line – avoid the breadmaker syndrome in your life by raising an awareness of your possible solution space, exploring it, and not falling in love with the first idea or solution you happen to uncover!