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Lessons from making 'Stone Soup'

Updated: Jul 13, 2023



The rains were late and the land was parched. The people in the village were struggling to make ends meet.


Afraid that their families would go hungry, people hoarded food and resources unwilling to share them with anyone.


Then one day a wise merchant wandered into the village. Seeking hospitality he asked the different people he met about finding a place to eat and shelter for the night.


The villagers suspicious of the stranger told him, "We ourselves are in want, we have nothing that we can share with you, you better keep moving on."


"Oh, I have everything I need," he said. "In fact, I would like to make some stone soup to share with all of you." He pulled a big pot from his wagon. He filled it with water and built a fire under it. Then, as villagers watched he withdrew from his bag a beautiful stone from a cloth bag and dropped it into the pot.


News spread rapidly about the merchant and his magic stone, more villagers gathered around the merchant and his cooking pot.


"Ahh!", the merchant said aloud to himself, as he sniffed the soup and licked his lips. "I do like a tasty stone soup. Of course, stone soup with cabbage is even better."


Soon an awestruck villager ran from his house into the village square, holding a cabbage. "I have this cabbage from my garden." he said as he held it out for the merchant.


"Fantastic!" cried the merchant as he cut up the cabbage and added it to the pot.


"You know, I once had stone soup with cabbage and a bit of meat, and it was delicious." The butcher said he thought he could find some bones and scraps of meat. As he ran back to his shop, other villagers offered bits of vegetables from their own gardens and homes -potatoes, onions, carrots, some spices, salt etc.. Soon the big black pot was bubbling and steaming. When the soup was ready, everyone in the village drank and consumed delicious bowls of soup.


The villagers offered the merchant money and other little treasures for the magic stone, He had many offers for a cot to sleep on that night. The next day he gifted the stone and the recipe to the villagers in return for their hospitality and set off on his way.


 

This story offers many lessons.

It illustrates that one seemingly insignificant element if valued can unite people in some common purpose. As did the villagers who made themselves a delicious meal by contributing and pooling their resources without even consciously attempting to do so. A successful leader is able to seek out and deploys these elements without people becoming arrogant about their individual contributions.


In the area of project management and problem solving, we jump in with faulty or biased assumptions and or without facts and without adequate planning believing that a few elements or actions will deliver results, just like using a mere stone to make soup.


We start believing all we need is a stone and water. However as the project proceeds, by and by more elements, resources and costs are sucked in. Eventually the project complexity grows, consumes significantly more resources than originally envisaged making the project unviable or even causing it to fail.


 

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