A colleague recently asked me if I was planning on attending the fall annual meeting of a group we have both belonged to for some time. Not likely, I said, since I had not found the topics I'm most interested in to be among those in the list of general sessions and workshops being offered. "Oh, there will be a lot more than what you're seeing right now. They haven't added all the icing on the cake … you know, all the surprise stuff they will reveal on-site during the meeting."
Whenever I think of icing on the cake I flashback to my days as a kid. Every once in awhile my mother would buy one of those grocery store sheet cakes and bring it home to satisfy her sugar fix. She would carefully trim all the icing off the cake taking with it about a half-inch or so of the cake itself. The naked cake would be left in the box like a sheared sheep while the "frosting with a little cake" would be devoured. The cake really was just a convenient carrier for the real star of the show, the creamy icing.
Too many meetings and too many products are only good when you shear off what's on the surface. The icing on these "cakes" is the only valuable and satisfying part of what's being offered. Once shaved away they reveal a dried out, not particularly tasty core, much like the naked cake we used to discard.
We need to make the cake (the meeting, publication, or product) so tasty, so flavorful, so moist, that you don't even need to add any icing. That's what will attract my interest, my participation, my dollars, and my loyalty. Just like baking a real cake, doing so will require the best ingredients, combined in interesting ways, and executed to perfection. In an era where making a cake from scratch is a lost art, it's no wonder that so much of what is available in the marketplace is bland and unsatisfying. We can do better.