Why your secrets don’t matter

Homemade Wheat Bread

If you traveled to a certain town in the south of France, you would know that they had only one baker.

Oh, there were plenty of people who made loaves of bread, but they were merely workmen. Standing far above them all was… Arnaud.

Arnaud! So many tales told of Arnaud! Of his incredible perfectionism – did you hear that once he threw out an apprentice for stirring a batch of dough with the wrong spoon? And then he threw out the batch of dough and started afresh?

And his secrecy! Mon dieu, no-one knows even where he buys his salt! It appears in mysterious vans in the early hours, in boxes which have been painted over! Just his salt!

For twenty years it was thus, and then the unthinkable occurred: a new artisan baker opened his doors. Ha, said the wise ones. This new shop won’t last a month.

But it lasted the month. And the next one. Any by the end of the third month, it was a raging success. People lined up outside the shop in the mornings to buy their baguettes, the same way they not-so-long-ago lined up outside Arnaud’s.

It was a sensation.

Reporters arrived, as reporters do. They interviewed a very grim Arnaud, who bit off every word and glared at the boom operator.

And then they followed the smell of delicious baking to Sebastien’s. Sebastien himself came out to meet the reporters, and escorted them in to the shop. Inside was a riot of colour on the walls, with two very large posters.

One said, “Bread brings us together. It is a feast for all the senses, and nourishes our soul as much as our body. Bread is comfort and certainty. Bread is who we are.”

The other, “Our Recipe” – the classic five-ingredient mix, with every supplier named. A receipe so simple that you could make it at home, if you were so inclined.

The reporters elbowed each other furiously in order to be the first to ask, “Why do you have your recipe on your wall? Aren’t you worried that people could just use the recipe and make the bread at home?”

Sebastien laughed. “If they wanted to make this recipe, well, it is published on more than 1200 websites. It is a classic recipe. I lose nothing by putting it up here, or by taking people through the back to show them how their bread is made.”

“But what about the mystique?”

“People are not paying me for mystique.”

“Well, what are they paying you for then?”

“Some are paying for an extra twenty-minute sleep in the morning. Some are paying for my beautifully even-cooking oven that will bake the crust exactly right. But the rest are paying for love.”

He laughed again at their bemused faces. “I love my customers, and I let them know it. It gives them pleasure – we all need to be loved, n’est-çe pas? Also, I love bread. I am passionate about it, I am determined to make it as excellent as it can possibly be. Continually, I experiment! Just last week I found that by raising the oven temperature 2 degrees I can improve the texture of the bread, to make it have just a little more of the elasticity we enjoy without becoming dry.”

“But what about Arnaud? He too is a perfectionist.”

“I must correct you: I am not a perfectionist, I am a striver for excellence. Arnaud is making bread for Arnaud; I am making it for my people. I am seeking to please them, to delight them, to make them smile. And that is what they pay me for.”

“So why do you list your recipe then?”

“Because I knew it would get you to come here to interview me.” And Sebastien laughed yet once more.

The moral of the story

Paranoia about sharing the details of how you work is a sign that you don’t think there’s anything unique or amazing about what you’re doing.

I could cheerfully tell you everything I can think of about how I help people name their amazing products and websites and such, because it doesn’t matter. There are so many factors that I bring to my work – word nerdery, empathy, humour, long years of marketing study – that you couldn’t do it in just the same way. Of course you could do it in different ways, but then you’d be offering something completely different anyway. So why should I worry?

When you create magnificent work, you create something that can be analysed but not duplicated. And, free of the fear that sharing your secrets would make you redundant, you can talk openly about your methods, ingredients, inspirations… all the kind of details that help me build trust in you.

If you want to know more about how to create magnificence, then have a look at DIY Magnificence. It’ll get your dough rising.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Emily Carlin