Five Lessons from The Great British Bake Off

The billowing white tent surrounded by a sprawling green field, rivers, and content sheep who look like they’re straight out of a storybook, is a far cry from the corporate world.

Add the cheerful, soothing music, and it seems even farther. 

But inside the picturesque tent, where the contestants of The Great British Bake Off create a surplus of cakes, breads and pastries, isn’t so different from the atmosphere of a well-run, successful open office of a small business.

The amateur bakers have the same mindset as entrepreneurs. They’re passionate, innovative, and driven.

More importantly, they’re productive. In fact, they’re so productive the camera crew keeps forks in their back pockets to keep up with the baked goods that constantly appear.

The season finale of the show’s last round of competitive baking was the BBC’s most watched show of 2015. The show is also a hit in the United States, where it now airs on PBS (under the name The Great British Baking Show).

The appeal of this adored reality show is about much more than the gorgeous confections.

During these difficult times, people need their spirits lifted, and the show does just that.

The baking tent is a loving, happy place where it’s okay to stop and drink a cup of tea even when you’re under pressure.

Jealous? Don’t worry. You and your business can operate the same way. 

Here are our top 5 business tips from “the tent.” 

1. Avoid the Lure of “The Bin”

“The phoenix must burn to emerge.”

~Janet Fitch

The incident is known as “#BinGate.” 

It was a hot day in the tent, and certainly not ideal for making baked Alaska. 

Poor Iain Watters fell victim to a literal and figurative meltdown: 

After throwing away his creation and presenting the judges with the garbage can, he was sent home. 

Compare that to this story: 

The world watched with tremendous empathy and horror as Dorret Conway’s cake collapsed

Host Sue Perkins, in her encouraging way, did her best to stop Dorret’s panic and tears, assuring her that it was “just a cake.” 


LIKE if it’s just a cake LIKE if it’s NOT just a cake

A photo posted by The Great British Bake Off (@britishbakeoff) on

In the end, Sue convinced Dorret to bring her messy cake to the judging table. 

And it’s a good thing she did. The judges found enough positive aspects of Dorret’s cake to keep her in the competition for the next round. 

The Lesson

Did you spill coffee all over your presentation? Did you plug in an incorrect number? Did you accidentally delete an important file? 

Yes, those things are all setbacks. But they aren’t the end. 

Out of the worst disasters, you can always find gems to salvage. 

Let’s not forget that Carrie wouldn’t exist if Stephen King’s wife Tabitha hadn’t pulled an early, extremely flawed draft out of the trash.

Never, ever throw the baby out with the bathwater.

[Update: Iain recently got married. His “showstopping” wedding cake was a baked Alaska!]

2. Lose Until You Win

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

~ Thomas A. Edison

In her first round of competition, Nadiya Hussain came in dead last in the technical competition. For a few episodes, she remained in real danger of elimination. 

By the fifth round, she’d won the coveted title of “star baker.”

By the end of the season, she’d won star baker three times, along with the entire competition

On the heels of her success, Nadiya is a cookbook author and has been featured in a BBC documentary.

As if that weren’t enough, she also baked a birthday cake for the queen:  

The Lesson

Losing once, or continuously, doesn’t mean you can’t eventually win. 

Henry Ford’s first two companies failed and left him broke. Walt Disney was fired for not having enough imagination and creativity. Oprah was fired from her first job as a news anchor

Even if you’re at rock bottom, you can pull yourself up and “win.” 

3. Never Stop Practicing

“Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.”

Guy Kawasaki, founder of AllTop.

Unlike contestants on other competitive baking shows, the bakers are given a chance to practice and perfect their recipes at home (with the exception of the notorious technical challenges). 

The contestants are told about the challenges even before filming starts, so they have plenty to time to prepare and plan. 

Because they practice between tapings, the bakers build confidence, learn to accomplish tasks faster, and know what to watch out for. 

The Lesson

Athletes practice. Actors rehearse. 

Why shouldn’t entrepreneurs do the same? 

No matter how much of an expert you are in your field, it takes practice to master business-related skills, including meeting with clients, making presentations, and marketing on social media. 

By practicing and preparing, you’ll save yourself a lot of anxiety, and become more successful. 

4. Fun is Fuel

Good humor is a tonic for mind and body. It is the best antidote for anxiety and depression. It is a business asset.

~ Grenville Kleiser

Even in the most stressful of moments, The Great British Bake Off includes natural moments of humor. 

It doesn’t hurt that hosts Mel and Sue have a long history of making people laugh:

Though it hasn’t been proven, it’s a pretty safe bet that laughter leads to tastier baked goods. 

The Lesson

According to The Harvard Business Review

Laughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and well-being, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration but also analytic precision and productivity.

Fun in the workplace has been proven to lead to higher productivity and creativity, increases company loyalty, and lowers absenteeism.

Is it any wonder that game rooms in the workplace have become commonplace

Companies like GoDaddy have seen huge boosts in morale and productivity thanks to their epic parties and concerts

As one GoDaddy employee wrote on GlassDoor

Some of the best and brightest people work there and it is a super fun environment.

5. Lead by Mentoring

Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.

~ George S. Patton

Expert bakers Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood are more than just judges. 

They create the challenges, make the rules, teach and guide while allowing the bakers to innovate and find their own way: 

That’s not to say they don’t criticize. They do. And their criticism is constructive and honest

It’s their leadership style that has played a huge role in forming the tent’s positive culture. 

According to Mary Berry

The whole show is totally honest. It’s not hyped up, we don’t want people to cry… it’s a totally true programme and people make friendships among all the bakers. And if you look at them, as they’re baking, they’re never cross with each other – they’re sympathique. I think it’s lovely.

The Lesson

Positive company culture is more important than it’s ever been.

Ruling with an iron fist is out, and mentorship is in. 

53% of Gen Y-ers say that being mentored helps them achieve more and become more valuable to the companies they work for

A “flat” leadership style has been successful for Anthony Casalena, CEO and founder of Squarespace

Like Mary and Paul, he’s clearly in charge. But by sitting in an open space surrounded by his employees and making himself approachable, Casalena has created “a company where people have the freedom and encouragement to do their life’s best work.”

Squarespace has been voted the best place to work in New York two years in a row

The Takeaway

While it’s true that baking has become a more popular activity over the past few years (the show is responsible for a 214% rise in baking-product sales in Britain), The Great British Bake Off is about so much more than baking.  

The success of the show proves that people all over the world appreciate and crave creativity, humor, and civility.

The contestants work so hard for the sake of fulfilling their passions, and the grand prize is a simple glass cake stand. While they’re competing, they’re bonding with and “lending hands” to their rivals. 

If you want your employees to be as motivated and productive as the bakers on the show, take a close look at your business and think about how you can make your business function like the iconic white tent.

But first, sit and enjoy a hot cup of tea.


A photo posted by PBS (@pbs) on

What business lessons have you learned from reality television shows?