It’s that time of year again: The Great British Bake Off has returned for its tenth season and once more everybody is a bit too emotionally invested in a competition about cake.
A show filmed in the spring documenting dropped cakes, bread disasters and often overly ambitious showstoppers certainly seems a world away from returning to work on a drizzly Monday morning, but there are some lessons we can take away from the tent. From keeping calm in a high-pressure environment to getting on with colleagues, here are ten skills for the workplace that we can learn from The Great British Bake Off.
Everyone’s had that bad day when everything seems to be going wrong despite all the effort you’re putting in. In the tent, a ‘soggy bottom’ in pie week or coming last in the technical challenge can be hard to recover from.
However, time and time again bakers have surprised viewers by coming back from disaster. John Whaite of series two managed to mix up his salt and sugar in the first episode while making rum babas, causing Paul Hollywood to exclaim in disgust that they were ‘unusually salty’. That wasn’t his only blip, however, as in a later episode he cut open his finger while making a strudel – but he bounced back and went on to win the show.
If you feel like you can’t do anything right at the moment, the bakers have shown the importance of persevering. Like last year’s winner Rahul who, when asked to describe himself in one word, chose ‘depressing’, you’re probably doing better than you think.
2. Keeping calm under pressure
Montages of shaking hands piping delicate icing and even a few tears are commonplace on the Bake Off. The pressure has got to the bakers on more than one occasion, seen most recently with Henry breaking his carefully constructed sugar house in the first episode of the new series.
If you’re feeling stressed about deadlines, even without the judgemental stares of Paul Hollywood, the Bake Off shows the importance of remaining cool, calm and collected. One baker stands out from all the rest: Selasi, ‘King of Chill’, in series seven. While his fellow bakers anxiously watched their creations in the oven, Selasi lay on the floor and imitated presenters Mel and Sue. Though he described himself as ‘too laid back’, Selasi’s chilled-out attitude helped get him all the way to the semi-final.
Careful planning has often resulted in some of the most successful bakes on the Bake Off. Take prison governor Paul’s ‘King of the Jungle’ lion bread in series six for example, which was fully mapped out on paper beforehand. Bread week can be less exciting than cake week in my opinion, but the lion, made completely of bread and finished with almond claws, made even Paul Hollywood admit that it was ‘one of the best things I’ve seen in bread, ever’. Similarly, planning ahead and keeping organised can also get you far in the workplace.
4. Communication skills
The Bake Off has repeatedly shown the importance of listening to and communicating with your colleagues. The infamous Baked Alaska disaster of series five, known as ‘Bincident’ or ‘Bingate’, was the result of a miscommunication between Diana and Ian. Diana took Ian’s Baked Alaska out of the freezer early, resulting in Ian binning it, storming out of the tent and presenting the bin to the judges. Equally, ‘Custardgate’ of the previous year saw Deborah accidentally using Howard’s custard for her trifle after forgetting what her bowl looked like. The custards were judged separately, but Deborah was sent home that week. Listening to your colleagues will help you avoid the calamity of such mistakes.
The saying ‘teamwork makes the dream work’ rings true both in the Bake Off and in the workplace. Unlike most competitive shows, the Bake Off’s fiercest rivalries go no further than an envious glance or some friendly competition.
In fact, the show usually sees friendships spring up, such as that between Selasi and Benjamina in series seven. It’s not uncommon to see a contestant that finished early helping another (the recent team effort to save Jamie’s chocolate bars in the second episode of the new series is just one example of many). You can also expect to see hugs (of both congratulations and commiseration) after the results and smiles of congratulations after positive comments from the judges. Equally, working together in the workplace can help you to solve a problem, as a colleague will often be able to look at it in a new light.
6. Time management
How often have we seen the presenters call ‘five minutes remaining’ while some poor baker has their cake still half uncooked in the oven? Good time management in the tent means leaving time to start again if a disaster occurs. Biscuits cracking, accidentally burning the caramel or even forgetting to put the oven on (Marie from series six, I’m looking at you) frequently occur due to bakers failing to plan ahead. Similarly, planning your time wisely at work so that you don’t spend too long on one task will help you to remain on top of deadlines.
The Bake Off’s most important message for the workplace is perhaps to be innovative and think outside the box (though it may be difficult sometimes!). Some of the most creative and inventive cakes on the Bake Off include Candice’s blueberry-filled peacock cake in Tudor week, Yan’s ramen cake, Nadiya’s fizzy pop cheesecake and Nancy’s Moulin Rouge. Have a google: you won’t be disappointed. Even if you’re not making cakes, fresh and innovative thinking will always impress your boss.
8. … With a pinch of realism
On the flipside, contestants on the Bake Off have often been criticised for ‘style over substance’, often ending up with beautiful cakes that didn’t taste too great. Who can forget Terry’s collapsed Eiffel Tower in last year’s show? Too much ambition can be costly and may even end in disaster. Being realistic in your goals will often help you produce better results.
Don’t make the same mistake as Enwezor in series five and try to take a shortcut. Mary Berry’s horrified stare at his admission of using shop-bought fondant icing serves as a reminder that it is always appreciated when you go the extra mile. Going above and beyond will get you far in the workplace (unlike poor Enwezor who didn’t survive the fondant scandal and went home that week).
It’s not only the bakers who need to be careful, as the judges and presenters have been known to make hasty mistakes too. Mary Berry once let slip the candidate that was going home that week, Mel knocked over Frances’ biscuit tower in series four and poor new judge Prue Leith accidentally congratulated Sophie on winning the show 12 hours before the final was aired in series eight. You can avoid committing blunders like these by showing a bit of caution in the workplace, especially when making big decisions and working on important tasks.