There is something interesting happening to us as we grow older, something that hinders us from personal growth, or limits the ability of companies to ensure constant innovation.
Protecting the Cake
Think of all the things you own as “your cake” — the money you make, your apartment with all that great furniture and all the cool gadgets you might own. Even your personal image to a certain degree, not just physical goods.
Those things make up your personal cake. It’s a great feeling having this big tasty cake in your life right in front of you. You worked for it, so you deserve a big cake , right?
Most of our time is now devoted to protecting all those things. Because who likes to take a pay cut or move from a bigger apartment into a smaller one, or risk no place to stay at all? The older we get and the bigger our cake grows, the more we get used to a certain standard.
Personal development stagnates and becomes less relevant as our eyes are completely focused on the cake. And the fear of losing it is just too big to take any risks or try something new.
You can even see this happening in big organizations. Most of the time is devoted to protecting the cake, innovation stagnates as every eye focuses on the cake, while a new wave of small companies (some might call them startups) are taking over, beating big established brands with a “nothing to lose” attitude.
The cake is a lie
We’ve all been in those situations where all we wanted is change. Move across the world, start a new career or pivot the product into a much needed new direction.
THE CAKE IS A LIE — Roughly translates to “your promised reward is merely a fictitious motivator”. Popularized by the game “Portal” via Urban Dictionary
Every time I’m stuck, I like to imagine this big cake right in front of me.
Then I ask myself:
Am I protecting the cake again? Or are there any real reasons for me not to make the change?
In most cases, the real reason is that I'm protecting the cake. Every argument I have (even with myself) is based only around protecting what I have, not thinking about what I could have instead. Every time I do this exercise I picture myself building walls around my little cake, protecting it with everything I have. Every minute, every thought and every idea I have resolves around protecting the cake, rather than new exciting opportunities.
In the end, the cake is a lie. The cake is just an embodiment of what we believe is important to us. There is no value in protecting a cake no one can eat. Happiness will come from either baking or eating the cake, but never from protecting it.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the author of this blog, nice to meet you!