By Rex Hammock

While working on a video documentary about multigenerational family businesses, the director and I recently spent time visiting several fascinating people who returned home to run their family businesses after successful careers in other fields.

At a neighborhood bakery in suburban Chicago, we spent time with a couple who both left jobs as Boeing aviation engineers to take over the family business started by the husband’s grandfather and father.  

I couldn’t help myself from asking the question I’m sure he’s heard countless times: “Does it take a rocket scientist to bake these amazing pastries?”

“The short answer is yes—sometimes,” he politely responded, pretending it was the first time anyone has asked.

“As an engineer, you learn to use a scientific method to get to the root of a problem,” he continued. “The problems we solve in a bakery are not that technical—I don’t have to whip out my calculus book—but by using an engineer’s approach to solving problems, you can more quickly come up with solutions. We can then try what we feel is the best one. If it works, we’re good; if not, we go back to the drawing board and try another solution.”

Different minds obviously approach problems differently, he said, and the company tries to play to all of those strengths. “We find that some of our decorators dive into attempting solutions before understanding or defining the problem, whereas my engineering mind can be lacking when it comes to seeing things in the same creative way they do. So we work to make plans and solve problems scientifically, but then count on their creative genius to bake unbelievably beautiful wedding cakes and all of the treats that bring a smile to the face of our customers.”

Bottomline | You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to create a product that has people standing in line to purchase, but it helps. Use a standard methodology to define the problem or challenge. Then, with that understanding and plan, hand it over to the folks who can turn calculus into cookies that melt in your mouth.


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