Growing and Fixed Pies

Okay, the title is a bit of a teaser. “Pies”, in this instance, are a serious business. When I use the term “a fixed pie,” I am referring to a belief system that assumes that if someone has a bigger piece of the pie, others have less.

Have you ever seen children fight over a piece of pie? When one child’s slice is larger, the others complain. (Mostly observed in countries where abundance is rare).

A “growing pie”, is based on a different assumption. Here the reasoning is, “you can have more of the pie if you contribute to make it bigger.” Presumably, the greater the effort and contribution, the larger the pie; and therefore the more there is for everyone.

Look at the culture in America. At least in the past, it was “a growing pie” culture. One was not suspicious or resentful if someone succeeded financially. On the contrary, people viewed “the winners” as models to emulate. Why? Apparently, the culture was one of a “growing pie.” Their efforts and performance increased “the pie”, and more was now available for everyone. Thus, the expression, “in America, the sky is the limit.”

Compare it to a nation where scarcity dominates; or has dominated in the course of its national history. There, if you are an entrepreneur, others try to place sticks in your wheels. To derail you. To demote you. Why? Because if you are too active, too successful, you will take a bigger piece of the pie and there will be less for others. At least that is the perception. (I am aware that the culture in America is changing from “growing pie” to something that more resembles a “fixed pie”, culture).

It does not seem strange then that entrepreneurs immigrate to countries where a “growing pie” culture is dominant, fleeing a society defined by “fixed pie” attitudes.

The concept of “a fixed pie” is not just played out in competitive business circles. It appears to me it stretches all the way to personal relations between the sexes.

It occurred to me recently that men who need their women to be submissive, —macho men— probably believe, subconsciously, that  “the pie is fixed.”

If a woman, for example, attains more success and receives more plaudits, the macho man suddenly fears his stature has dwindled. Less “pie” for him. He probably thinks that if he treats her with respect, he will be less of a man. He tries to conceal his emotions and show no vulnerability. And at all costs to keep the woman under control. Do not let her feel superior in anything and if possible “keep her pregnant and barefoot.” (This form of machismo is often conditioned by cultural experience.)

A man who believes instead that life consists of an “emotional growing pie”, rather than a fixed one, recognizes, or perhaps assumes, that the more we do for one another, the more there is for each one of us. The result: he is not afraid to admire or serve or show love; he is not apprehensive about supporting his partner. None of this makes him less of a man. Deep inside he believes the same treatment will be reciprocated. (Probably the same analysis applies to macho women in their relations to men).

It appears to me that the “fixed pie” syndrome is more prevalent among men while the “growing pie” characterizes more women.

But what happens if one partner believes in a “growing pie” and the other in a “fixed pie”?

The “fixed pie” person will suspect the love and attention; something will nag at him. There is something wrong here. He becomes confused. He asks himself, why do I deserve this treatment, all this love? My partner must be a weakling; or worse, a sucker. I wonder what she is planning. I had better be on my guard.

I have seen a variation of this pattern in Russia where I have been working the last few years. In Russia where a “fixed pie” culture seems to prevail, if a salesperson smiles while serving customers in a store, the customers become suspicious. Why is the saleswoman smiling? What trick or hidden agenda does she have up her sleeve?

A society or a couple can change their attitudes from a fixed to a growing pie culture. But it requires trust; “I let you make change happen, and as a result have a bigger piece of the pie, because I trust the pie will grow.” “I trust that because of your efforts I eventually will have a larger share of the pie too.”

Without trust the reverse can happen, the culture can change from a “growing pie” to a “fixed pie“ culture. Fear rather than faith controls behavior. And the greater the fear, the more obstruction to entrepreneurial initiatives and the pie suddenly looks not only fixed but as though it is becoming smaller and smaller which only increases the fear to the point where social warfare takes place. And in personal relations it leads to an acrimonious divorce.


Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes